127 Minutes

This blog entry about the events of Sunday, December 26, 2010 was originally posted on January 03, 2011.

DAY 11:  “Where’s Felix?” I asked the missing German’s other half, Simone. 

“I don’t know,” she answered with a bit of worry in her eyes.

“FELIX!!!” the others called, looking for him in the Valle Frances, nestled in between the Cerro Paine Grande and the peaks famously known as Los Cuernos (The Horns).  A small search team went out up and down the trail; we didn’t know if he was ahead or behind us after he had strayed off the trail to go rock scrambling towards a waterfall.

“[If he’s gone,] here’s his last picture,” Florin said to Simone, showing her a photo off his DSLR. 

She chuckled with optimism.  “[Felix trekking in Torres del Paine.]”

“No,” the wisecracking Romanian said.  “He will be anonymous.”

We trekked on, hoping the German attorney from Stuttgart would turn up soon.  We looked behind us down the French Valley, and asked trekkers coming from the opposite way if they’d seen him.  The problem was, he was sort of hard to find, being in camouflage.

“Have you seen a German wearing all tan?”


EARLIER THAT MORNING wasn’t so stressful.  I woke up and had another moment by myself, admiring the white waters of the Rio del Francès and the snowy peaks from which it was born.  This is the exact opposite of everything I have back home, I thought.  Patagonian bliss.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but we were quite lucky for what was shaping up to be another sunny day.

“We are very lucky,” Jorge said in his Spanish accent.  “Usually [Los Cuernos] is very difficult to see.”

“It’s beautiful, man,” Florin said.  “Good morning.”

We had a leisurely breakfast with a pair of Israelis and left our tents as is; as recommended by our pre-trek guide Chris, we would do the middle ascender of the cursive W without gear because we’d come back the way we came to grab our things before hiking the hour and a half to our third campsite.

“Looks like the day tourists are coming,” I told everyone.  “We should race.  Campers versus day tourists.” 

“Let’s get out of here,” Florin said. 

It might not have been a fair competition when I noticed the early trekkers from from the fancy lodge wearing jeans and for some, nothing but Crocs on their feet.  However, my knees were still sore, and I had to use my “Gandalf staff” as a cane like an old man. 

“You look like a hobo [with the bandanas wrapped around it,]” said Kay, the New Yorker from the night before, mocked me.  Florin decided to nickname her “Bee-Bee,” as he did to all the Asian girls at the United Nations, where he worked in Geneva for the World Health Organization.

“It’s my magic stick,” I said.

“Turn me into a wild pig or a condor,” Florin interjected.  “So I can shit on you from a distance.”

What made me more like a hobo was the fact that I didn’t pack a daypack or a water bottle; I merely brought a Ziploc bag to drink from so I could reduce the load off my knees and simply refill water from the stream.  John just brought one of our plastic tea cups and drank water like it was tea time at any opportunity — a funny scene when juxtaposed to other trekkers futzing around with a hand pump to fill a Camelbak water bladder.

Our international gang of Germans, Basque Spaniards, a Romanian, and people from the USA, continued the semi-lush trail upwards, a trail that hugged the rapids from higher ground; it was a pretty steep drop down to where the water was.  The water was strong and fast, probably because the sun was working hard to melt the upper layers of the snow above.  We even saw a few avalanches that morning, some seemingly small from afar which looked like waterfalls, and two really big ones where huge slabs of snow would rush down the mountain, emitting a cloud of snow particles and a monstrous roar through the entire valley.  I’d hate to be caught in that, I thought from the safety of the other side of the valley.

“THIS IS FUCKIN’ WEIRD,” John confided in me, as we went looking for Felix.  “He goes climbing and we can’t find him.”

“Did you just see 127 Hours or something?” I replied, citing the 2010 movie starring James Franco as a lone rock climber who gets lost and trapped for said period of time (a movie I wanted to see until someone ruined the ending for me, oblivious that not everyone was living in the U.S. when the true story made headlines).  John knew very little about the story and I promised not to spoil it for him.

“If I were [Simone,] I’d worry,” he told me.  The landscape was so big and grand, anyone could have been lost without wearing bright colors like Simone

With no trace behind us, we trekked forward and lo and behold, Felix was waiting up near a plateau in the trail. 

“We found you,” I told him, relieved.

“I found myself,” he said, smirking.

“She was already looking for other guys,” Florin joked at him.  Simone was in fact, happy to find him albeit a little irked at his wandering off.  With the gang reunited, we continued on, but not until after a reunified group photo.

“Can you take our picture,” I asked an American from Arizona.

“You want to pay in pesos or dollars,” she joked.

“We only pay in trail mix,” John interjected.

“Only if there are chocolate chips.”

ABOUT ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY SEVEN MINUTES after we’d left camp, it was us that was climbing — including myself since my painkillers and adrenaline had kicked in — bouldering up big rocks along the trail for the sake of photos.  (Jorge and Florin were regular rock gym climbers.)  We continued under fallen trees and up the path at our own paces — Kay strayed behind us — until we made it to a clearing where we could finally start to see the peaks we were making the effort for, including the obvious-looking  

“God, I love mountains,” John said in awe.  I was soon learning he loved mountains more than anything else, and was quite the hobbyist geologist.  “This is stupid,” he raved.

“Oh my God!  Oh my God!” Jorge cried out in a contrived, mockingly funny way at the ridiculous beauty of it all, which was only wonderfully contrasted by the fire-torn forest around us (picture above) that reminded me of Deadvlei in Namibia.  It was only a short twenty-minute walk from there up above the tree line to the mirador, to see everything from the highest and greatest vantage point of the middle line of the cursive W trail.  In front of us, to the left, was the “Cathedral,” “Black Point,” “the Twins,” “the White Throne,” the “Shark’s Fin,” and “Catalina Point.”  To the right, the “Head of the Indian,” the “Shield,” and the “Fortress.”  We all had our moments for photos at the top, plus some bouldering photos, as we took a breather and ate snacks.  John passed me some M&Ms and half of a Milky Way.

“You can’t tell me this is better than Yosemite,” I said to him; he was always making comparisons between Torres del Paine National Park and Yosemite — where up until this moment he claimed to be the most beautiful spot on earth.

“This is pretty hard to beat,” he admitted.

“FELIX!” WE CALLED OUT only ten minutes on the way back down.  The German had gotten lost again, straying off the trail to use “nature’s toilet.”  It wasn’t so dramatic this time because he showed up with his toilet paper; it was me that was getting dramatic with my dodgy knees, especially since my ibuprofen was wearing off and I had foolishly left my bottle of pills in camp. 

“How are your knees?” Simone asked me.

“I think my drugs wore off.”

She gave me another anti-inflammatory pill and had me soak my socks-turned-knee-braces with cold water from a nearby stream.  Felix lent me his trekking poles, which was perfect for me to lean on as I descended.  “Vielen Danke,” I thanked him.

“Just don’t lose them.  Or break them.  Or I’ll break you,” he joked.

The trek down was just as it was going up, only with reverse views, the mountains and peaks behind us, and more pressure to my knees, with the force of gravity pounding in at every step.  I managed though, with the help of Felix’s poles and the occasional water stop.  I was the last to arrive back in camp, but was quick to pack up our tent and gear, and soon we were off eastbound towards the next campsite and refugio, Campamento y Refugio Los Cuernos, near the shore of Lago Nordenskjöld.

“Alright, who’s ready to do some trekkin’!” John announced to the group.

“It looks like something out of Lord of the Rings,” I told John as we continued forward into a grassy field

“Florin is definitely Gollum,” he told me.  And like two hobbits out of The Shire holding “Gandalf staffs,” John and I led the others to the beach.

“You know that song ‘Vamos a la playa?’” I asked Jorge; it seemed whenever I mentioned the beach in a Spanish-speaking country, inevitably that song was brought up — one I’d only heard of but never heard.  “[Sing it for my video.]”

Jorge obliged, with the 60s version of the song, setting the happy mood on the way to camp. 

“It’s the perfect day,” Simone said, admiring the clear blue skies. 

Before we knew it the beach was before us, with the refugio and campsite in the distance.  “I can see the refugio!” Felix said excitedly.  “I can smell the beer!” 

“Beers on the beach, man,” Florin said.  We skipped a couple of stones and trekked on, only to be overwhelmed with how crowded the place was, with campers, day tourists, high-end tourists staying in the chalets perched on the hill (meager at $240/night USD), and big trekking tour groups all fighting for space to chill out.  John and I managed to find a spot to pitch our tent on a small hill where we’d have to sleep on the extreme sides of the tent so as not to slide one side down.  However, that wasn’t the only concern.

“I can smell myself,” I told my tentmate.

“I think you smell some of me.”

True, after over three days of not showering, and sweating extremely each day, the collective stench was less-than-pleasing.  Fortunately with our paid tickets to use the camp, it came with use of the refugio’s hot showers, which everyone immediately head for — except for John who really wanted the full Mountain Man experience.

“I’m going to stink it up,” he told me.  “You can blog about that.”

There was no where to sit near the refugio, so we set up camp dinner atop the hill near The Germans’ tent.  We slummed it up with pasta and soup again, which didn’t really bother anyone, except for Florin, who ordered a sandwich from the refugio’s kitchen.  “Don’t be mad of my sandwich, man,” he said when he went down to get it.  However, he regret paying the whopping $10 USD for such a skimpy thing; two slabs of bread with a little flat piece of chicken in between, with no vegetable fixings or condiments.  Thankfully, he saved the bread and shared it with the rest of us.  It had only been three days, but we had developed a kinship where boundaries were automatically crossed; we had no qualms about sharing the same bottle of water without wiping, and even Alaitz picked at Florin’s blisters for him.

“Want to make [the chalet tourists] in the hot tub feel uncomfortable?” John asked the rest of us.  “Stare at them.”

We observed from our little nook, the fancier tourists in the mountain stream hot tub made for their higher priced tag.  It was a thing to do until the big fat dude walked out and exposed his carpet-heavy hairy back.  That was the only ugly site on what was otherwise another breathtaking place — perfect for sunset beers

“It looks like the Caribbean over there, and the Alps over there,” Felix noticed.  “And there?  I don’t know.”

“The moon,” I said, referring to the rocky skyline that looked more lunar as the sun went down around 11:30pm, exposing the stars — the ones bright enough to shine through the austral glow (as John put it).  He was quite the astronomy hobbyist too, using my star chart book and iPhone compass to figure out the constellations. 

The stars would lead us to our next destination the next day, hopefully with Felix straying not too far away from us again.  If not, I was sure he’d find his way back — sans stars — as he always did.

Next entry: The Fellowship Of The W

Previous entry: Eat What You Like

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Comments for “127 Minutes”

  • More to come, in piecemeal…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/03  at  10:29 PM

  • every pic is screensaver worthy
    sunset beers!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/04  at  03:22 AM

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This blog post is one of nineteen travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: Chill Out in Chile," which chronicled a trip through the country of Chile, from the central and coastal cities of Santiago and Valparaiso (plus a quick jaunt to Argentina's nearby wine region of Mendoza), followed by a trek through southern Patagonia, and a journey to Easter Island.

Next entry:
The Fellowship Of The W

Previous entry:
Eat What You Like


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