As I rose in the dark for the two-hour drive to Torres del Paine, the piercing winds coming off Last Hope Sound in Puerto Natales reminded me that the environment in Patagonia remains a force to be reckoned with, no matter how many luxuries that the Hotel Singular provided. Clearly, dressing for the day would be a challenge.
I had some serious packing issues before my trip. Based on the research that I had done, I figured that Patagonia in April – their fall – would be a lot like Alaska, only much windier (and it’s even windier during their summer months, believe it or not). My husband Don is a gear-hound – I swear his favorite part of going on vacation is accessing what stuff he’ll need to buy – and so I had plenty of warm clothes and layers from our Alaska Inside Passage cruise.
Yet while I have rain pants for kayaking and a windbreaker that I bought in New Zealand, I had never purchased true hiking pants, the kind from REI that everyone on the trail wears. Don decided that I needed to remedy that, so we went to the flagship REI before my trip. While I thought I’d hate the selection, I did find a pair of (how appropriate) Patagonia-brand wind pants. “She’s going to actually wear them in Patagonia,” Don boasted to the clerk.
Besides the wind pants, I packed my REI fleece tights, a neck scarf, a wool hat, gloves and wool arm warmers. I also had my warmer Scottevest coat, a fleece sweatshirt and an REI-brand, long-sleeve undershirt that I borrowed from Don.
There’s no shame in borrowing outdoor gear from friends or loved ones, especially if it’s a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Luckily, the one thing that you don’t want to skimp on – warm, quick-drying hiking socks – is relatively inexpensive.
I added a Shetland sweater for evenings in the hotel, along with jeans that I wore on the airplane (jeans aren’t the best choice for hiking, because if they get wet, they can take forever to dry out). Hiking boots and a pair of walking boots made up my footwear.
It all seemed like overkill when I was putting the suitcase together. But surprise! I ended up wearing everything at least once and – best of all – I didn’t get cold through activities that included hiking, boat rides, horseback riding and glacier sightseeing. That qualifies as a success in my book.
So how windy was it? There were times when the blasts of cold air from the snow-capped peaks above were so fierce that we had to double over just to walk a few feet. For proof, check out the video I took on the walk to the Salto Grande waterfall. You can’t hear it, but here’s what one person in our party is saying at the end – “Does anyone else have rocks in their butt?” I’m not sure how you pack for that.