It seems that the owners here have thought of every tiny detail: the indoor area is a constant serenade of calming music, the wooded backyard has trees perfectly spaced to hang half a dozen hammocks, a tiny brook runs through the outdoor garden to ensure the only sound is falling water, and most importantly there's an on-site restaurant serving up delicious food and homemade beer. As I sunk into a hammock just minutes after arriving, a deep feeling of inner calm washed over me, a stark contrast to the hubbub of the city and the pulsating beats of music that seemed to constantly permeate our campsite. The trees blanketed me in shade throughout a scorching afternoon, ensuring that depending which way the wind blew I was subject to the smells of either pine trees, lavender flowers, or eucalyptus leaves.
Flanked on all sides by luscious green mountains heavily dominated by tree cover, the beautiful setting of Futaleufu was instantly a refreshing sight to our worn bodies after four full days of hitchhiking. The fresh mountain air was crisp, cool, and inviting, welcoming us to a gorgeous place. Juxtaposed against the chilled out vibe of the town is the true reason why most people find themselves here, where normal civilization feels so far away: the roaring Futaleufu river. The river rolls through the surrounding valley and is one of the best in the world for adventure sports like rafting and white-water kayaking, drawing tourists and professional adventure seekers from all over the globe.
Just as we crossed the top the weather began to clear, starting a long and beautiful afternoon with plenty of sunshine and beautiful views all around. Oddly enough, heading down the other side turned out to be twice as hard as the ascent. Once the snow petered out, the rocks offered no sense of support or control, leaving us half-sliding half-stepping alongside a forceful river. We triggered more than a few rockslides, as one step on an unstable rock could send a whole cascade down the mountainside. Eventually the river turned into a waterfall and it was too steep to follow any further, so we hopped over a ridge and under up with a full frontal view of a tremendous hanging glacier. Just below a scraggly set of peaks was the packed sheet of ice, so wide that it’s run-off was producing a score of waterfalls slowly carving out smooth features in the rock wall.
Before even finding a campsite, we were whisked away on a boat tour to the city’s main attraction: Las Capillas de Marmol (The Marble Chapels). Over millions of years, the imperceptibly slow erosion of the lake cutting into nearby stone has caused nature to carve out the most unbelievable caverns my eyes have ever seen. Marble white rocks hang precipitously over openings wide enough for boats and kayaks to navigate directly through, allowing us to get up close and personal with the smooth rocks and the perfect reflection along the still water.
Quickly the trail gave way to open plains and we lost our way, slogging through swamps, crossing forests and streams, and eventually climbing a steep tree-lined hillside. I was out of breath by the time I reached the top after one last rock scramble, but before I could catch my breath - WHAM! - the wind hit me straight in the face. Perched at the top of a ridge, nothing stopped the ferocious gusts coming down off the ice sheet, so we couldn't even stand up for a few minutes without getting knocked down again.
As we continued down the stairs to the overlooking balconies, it immediately became clear why glaciers like this one are capable of retreating or advancing up to two meters in a single day: in the peaceful morning light birds chirping were continuously interrupted by the intense sound of ice calving off and falling into the lake from a height of 40 or 50 yards high. The constant threat of spying one of these awesome breaks had us swinging our necks back and forth along the front wall, which is an astounding 3 miles long and an average height of 240 feet!
Like a broken foot protruding off the leg that is South America, Tierra del Fuego is one of the most rugged and wild lands that man has ever civilized. It was originally named for the incessant bonfires that naked local tribes burned to stay alive through their grueling winters, but unfortunately Spanish colonization largely exterminated their culture and languages. After crossing the Strait we worked our way across unmarked dirt roads, the landscape flat for as long as the eye could see without any signs of civilization
Once we reached the trail’s highest point I kept my eyes fixed firmly on the horizon, knowing what was in store ahead. Soon enough, I got my first glimpse of the monstrosity known as Glacier Grey. One of the park’s centerpieces, the massive chunk of ice spans across the entire width of the lake and farther back than the eye can see, steadily rising in height. At the front precipice is a sheer vertical wall of ice, at risk of calving off and sending great chunks into the abyss at any time.
In the morning light we pulled into the port of Balmaceda, and what a glorious site it was. Sun-draped in the morning, with placed waters reflecting the sun’s light, it was surrounded by numerous islands of mossy green rocks. Unexplored forests abounded in the background and right in front of us there were calm sandy beaches with waves gently lapping at the surface. The only sign of civilization was a roughly built gangway sticking out into the secluded bay; if there’s a slice of paradise left, this is it.
Friday dawned as a completely different day. From our hillside perch we head a gorgeous vista of the one thing we desired most for the hike back the trailhead: sunshine, and plenty of it! The wave still crashed on the rocks with reckless abandon, but the wind had ceased its incessant howling and left us with the dawning of a gorgeous day in Chiloe’s remote wilderness.
At this point we concluded that due to the morning’s poor weather - which had long since given way to luxurious sunshine - no one else had even entered the park that day. We were the only two souls, enraptured in a mythical wonderland. Just when I thought the views couldn’t get any better, we saw one more surprise: snow! We had gained enough elevation throughout the course of the day that we were now above the snow line. It was a harbinger of a cold night ahead, but added another level of serene beauty to our environment.