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There are two ways to say “windy” in Spanish: viento means wind, and ventoso means windy. It’s perfectly normal to hear about mucho viento while in Chilean Patagonia.
I received this lesson after passing through the Lago Sarmiento gate of Torres del Paine National Park. My guide and I were talking about the area’s extraordinary winds and gusts, and I learned that excursions can get canceled when gusts top 60 mph.
I braced myself as I exited the car to take photos of horses against one of the park’s unreal mountain range backdrops — in this case, the lesser-known cuernos (horns) of the Paine massif.
“The park should be called Cuernos del Paine,” said Juan Ignacio, aka “Nacho,” my guide from Tierra Patagonia, a park-adjacent hotel that offers guests uninterrupted views of the entire mountain ensemble from nearly every window.
Most come to see the three vertical masses of granite — the torres (towers) that make up Torres del Paine — despite the fact that these horns are much older.
I was no exception: The day before, I hiked 12 miles to the base of the towers, an all-day trek that weaves through alpine landscapes such as forest, rocky moraine and what’s known as “the windy passage,” an exposed narrow trail that often features the extraordinary gusts one can expect from Patagonia. During the trek, I got caught in a snowstorm, and gusts reached about 50 mph. Another Tierra guide, Sebastian, instructed me to kneel and dig my trekking poles into the ground — a humbling form of self-protection from pachamama (Mother Nature).
It’s easy to get spiritual or philosophical when outside in this kind of weather. After adoring the cuernos, Nacho and I agreed that nature is ambivalent about man, and he reminded me that Patagonia’s weather is unpredictable and can change quickly.
So, I was hopeful for our next adventure to Grey Glacier, a 14-mile jaunt through mainly old-growth forest that parallels the park’s famous glacier and glacial lake. With Nacho, I boarded a boat, which was to drop us off at the start of the trail. Just as the crew began passing out pisco sours, the captain consulted us about a new wind advisory that predicted conditions unadvisable for hiking. But we decided to test our chances.
We caught a blissful “window” of wind-less, sun-drenched warmth (a relative concept, to be sure) and basked in the views of Grey Glacier, an impressive piece of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field that we often enjoyed to ourselves. Along the way, we were amused by woodpeckers pecking, glaciers calving and waterfalls gushing.
As we neared the end of the trek, the wind began to pick up. This time, though, I didn’t mind the mucho viento — we were in the zone and going with the flow.
The DetailsTierra Hotels www.tierrahotels.com