Patagonia
Chile

From Patagonia to the Atacama

Within the trail running religion, there are many holy sites: Mont Blanc, the Dolomites, basically all of New Zealand, and of course our beloved Mt. Tamalpais. But one spot had captivated our interest for many years: Patagonia. Patagonia (the region, not the brand) is huge, encompassing the entirety of southern Chile and Argentina. We visited only a small part, but one which is often considered the jewel in the crown of the puffy-jacket: Torres del Paine National Park. It is a strange and beautiful places that feels like an alpine or sub-alpine zone brought magically to sea level. In place of sheep and deer, there are guanacos and rheas (large flightless birds like an ostrich). Trails of crushed granite wind between mountains through scrubland and dwarf forests, but there’s so much oxygen! The lakes are a deep glacial blue, like looking into someones eyes. A holy place indeed.

The weather is usually awful but we lucked out and arrived on a bluebird-clear day with nary a wisp of wind. We took full advantage and ran up the right-most leg of the famous W trail up to Mirador Las Torres: three granite monoliths extending up above a sublime alpine lake. On our second day, we ran from the same trailhead on the right to the middle section of the W and explored French Valley before catching the ferry back across lake Pehoé. We didn’t have enough time to see the Gray Glacier, but that just means we’ll have to come back some day.

From Southern Chile we made our way north to the Atacama desert, the driest desert in the world. It is a high plateau situated in the dual rain shadows cast by the Andes to the East and the Chilean Coast Range to the West. Some areas receive a little precipitation, but other haven’t seen a drop of rain in 500 years. Did I mention that we brought our Camelbaks? But there’s more to see than just desert and salt flats. The higher you go, the wetter it gets (relatively), until at 14,000 feet you find a marshland pock-marked with thermal geysers. Strange and wonderful!

Torres del Paine on the evening of our arrival.
Torres del Paine on the evening of our arrival.
Sean Pont
Torres del Paine at sunrise.
Torres del Paine at sunrise.
Sean Pont
The lake at the base of the Torres inspires meditative thoughts.
The lake at the base of the Torres inspires meditative thoughts.
Sean Pont
Bronze-winged duck (Speculanas specularis), also known as the spectacled duck.
Bronze-winged duck (Speculanas specularis), also known as the spectacled duck.
Sean Pont
A fire raged through the park several years ago, leaving behind this ghost forest.
A fire raged through the park several years ago, leaving behind this ghost forest.
Sean Pont
Hiking is slow. Running is fast! By running all the day hikes, we were able to cover twice as much ground while eating only 3 times as many calories. What a deal!
Hiking is slow. Running is fast! By running all the day hikes, we were able to cover twice as much ground while eating only 3 times as many calories. What a deal!
Sean Pont
Torres del Paine is rarely this clear and almost never this still. The Andean mountain range is seldom visible from the lodge, as it was this afternoon.
Torres del Paine is rarely this clear and almost never this still. The Andean mountain range is seldom visible from the lodge, as it was this afternoon.
Sean Pont
What a difference a day makes! We flew from Torres del Paine to San Pedro de Atacama.
What a difference a day makes! We flew from Torres del Paine to San Pedro de Atacama.
Sean Pont
Above moon valley, looking up towards the volcanoes. It had snowed a few days before our arrival and the peaks still had a dusting of white.
Above moon valley, looking up towards the volcanoes. It had snowed a few days before our arrival and the peaks still had a dusting of white.
Sean Pont
Looking down upon the Valley of the Moon. There is no life down there, only mud, salt, and sand.
Looking down upon the Valley of the Moon. There is no life down there, only mud, salt, and sand.
Sean Pont
YiOu couldn't resist running ahead into the Valley of the Moon.
YiOu couldn't resist running ahead into the Valley of the Moon.
Sean Pont
It was very dry and sandy. It has not rained here for 500 years.
It was very dry and sandy. It has not rained here for 500 years.
Sean Pont
Red mud formations formed during flash floods and what little precipitation has occurred over the eons.
Red mud formations formed during flash floods and what little precipitation has occurred over the eons.
Sean Pont
A skin of mud and salt has formed on the floor of this cave. The entire cave is made of salt and you can hear it crinkle and snap as the sun sets and the temperature changes.
A skin of mud and salt has formed on the floor of this cave. The entire cave is made of salt and you can hear it crinkle and snap as the sun sets and the temperature changes.
Sean Pont
As you walk down the canyon, the ground goes from red mud to bright white salt.
As you walk down the canyon, the ground goes from red mud to bright white salt.
Sean Pont
Crazy formations in the Valley of the Moon.
Crazy formations in the Valley of the Moon.
Sean Pont
The low Atacama cannot support life, but there is plenty of water higher up. Signs of civilization dating back thousands of years can be seen clearly in the rocks.
The low Atacama cannot support life, but there is plenty of water higher up. Signs of civilization dating back thousands of years can be seen clearly in the rocks.
Sean Pont
Geothermal hot springs in the high Atacama.
Geothermal hot springs in the high Atacama.
YiOu Wang
YiOu enjoys a hot cup of joe in front of a steaming stream at 14,000 feet.
YiOu enjoys a hot cup of joe in front of a steaming stream at 14,000 feet.
Sean Pont
YiOu strikes a pose.
YiOu strikes a pose.
Sean Pont
The sun hits the speculum of a Puna teal (Spatula puna) as it comes in for a landing in a marsh in the High Atacama. A giant coot (Fulica gigantea)  and several more Puna teals can be seen in the background.
The sun hits the speculum of a Puna teal (Spatula puna) as it comes in for a landing in a marsh in the High Atacama. A giant coot (Fulica gigantea) and several more Puna teals can be seen in the background.
Sean Pont
A giant coot (Fulica gigantea) feeds her chicks.
A giant coot (Fulica gigantea) feeds her chicks.
Sean Pont
Immature vicuñas fighting / necking.
Immature vicuñas fighting / necking.
Sean Pont
Sean gets some encouragement at the end of a long run in Torres del Paine. He needed it!
Sean gets some encouragement at the end of a long run in Torres del Paine. He needed it!
The person holding the camera

Full-res images: https://photos.app.goo.gl/0LoJhVaUSRN8woyo1