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!