Journey to the End of the World (aka That Time I Thought I Might Die in the Wilderness)
Since Torres del Paine was burning, and I had already psyched myself up to be Super-Wilderness-Trekking-Camping-Travel-Chica, I decided to join up with some people from my hostel to do the Cabo Froward trek.
Cabo Froward is dramatically referred to as “The End of the World,” or at least one of them. It is the southernmost point of mainland South America. And in true Latin American style, there is a big cross at the top of a hill to climb at the end.
To be honest, I didn’t really care about where we were going or seeing a silly cross.
I wanted to go trekking. I wanted to take photos of a beautiful and different landscape.
Had I bothered to do any research on this trek before we left, I would have learned from Wikipedia that it is “extremely challenging” and covers “remote territory where help could be days away.”
This was the most challenging 5 days of my life, both physically and psychologically.
I am not exaggerating about how I felt during this trek.
There were times when I thought I may seriously injure myself.
There was a time when I thought I may develop frostbite and lose my feet, or at least my toes.
There was a time when I thought I may die of hypothermia.
I am not telling you this story to discourage you from doing this trek. In fact, I am trying to encourage tourism to this part of Chile as much as possible.
If you are a hardcore trekking/ camping/ outdoorsy person (or German), you will probably love it.
But if you do this trek, be prepared for what you are getting yourself into. Bring good gear (warm and waterproof). And you should never do this trek alone.
I lost my sense of humor quickly.
Luckily, the people I was with did not.
Our group included:
- Paul and Cham, two crazy (in a good way) Kiwis who trekked in rugby shorts despite the cold and biting Patagonian wind;
- Julie, the world traveler from the south of France who baked delicious goodies at my hostel in Puerto Natales;
- Claudia, the American career-breaker who really is a Super-Wildness-Trekking-Camping-Travel-Chica and had just spent a month camping in the back-country of Torres del Paine on a volunteer assignment;
- and Rich, the American world traveler who trekked around 30km in one day to escape the park during the fire.
Despite the dreary weather, we started out in good spirits.
In addition to being more experienced trekkers/ campers than me, they are also more positive than me. When I was wallowing in self-hatred for coming on this trek, they were still able to make light of our misery.
The quote of the trip is from Julie.
When I was complaining about something (or everything) and we saw a tourist boat transporting people to Cabo Froward, she said,
“That’s not the same experience. You have to earn it. You have to fight for it.”
Well, we certainly earned it.
I felt like I went through a physical and psychological battle to get there.
Now that my sense of humor has returned…
Let’s all have a laugh at the 7 Miseries suffered to reach The End of the World.
Misery #1 – Trekking in Sand
I knew the trek was along the coast, but I did not realize how much of it was actually in the sand. The first day started off with 2 solid hours of this which completely zapped my energy.
Imagine doing this with a full pack.
Misery #2 – Trekking on Slippery-You-Will-Break-a-Bone-if-You-Fall-Rocks
The rocks were wet from the rain. Many of them had this bizarre algae that made them even more slick.
Imagine doing this with a full pack.
Misery #3 – The Hobbit Forest
After trekking in sand and slippery rocks, I thought it would be a relief to get on a trail and climb into the forest for a bit.
No, not really.
I call it the hobbit forest because it was like some mythical, evil setting with tree roots that tried to grab your feet, mud that tried to steal your boots, steep drops, and possibly witches and elves lurking around the corner.
Many times we had to climb over giant fallen trees and pull ourselves up using tree roots and limbs.
Did I mention the full pack?
Misery #4 – The Sponge
It was some sort of mutant moss-like substance that just carpeted the whole area. At first, it was kind of fun because you were bouncing like on a trampoline as you walked. Then you realized you were just soaking your boots with water each step.
Misery #5 – Day 3: Driving Rain, Hypothermia, and an Asshole Fox
I am listing all of Day 3 as a misery we suffered. Nothing good happened on Day 3. In fact, I felt like I was being punished. Even though we were able to leave our packs at camp this day to make the final push to Cabo Froward, this was still the worst day.
At one point I said to the group:
I feel like that scene from Office Space where he says that every day you see him is the worst day of his life. Yesterday was horrible but today it actually got worse.
Our terrain involved Miseries #2 and #3.
Plus, we had a solid rain for most of the trek that turned into a driving downpour just when we got to the ridiculously steep hill we had to climb. Apparently, Chileans like to take the shortest path, and the shortest path between two points is a straight line. The so-called trail was basically a 70-degree angle of mud.
I was freezing.
My water-resistant jacket had given up the fight long ago. When I got back to camp later that evening, I realized that even my camera case (yep, the D-SLR) was soaked through to the inside even though it was underneath my rain jacket.
I took no other photos during this hike due to the extreme rain and my lack of joy, but I did get this one at the top. I figured I might as well have proof that I made it to the top in case someone found my camera next to my frozen body.
Then we had to go back. In the driving rain. Soaking wet and freezing.
This is when everyone else lost their sense of humor.
This is when I thought I might die.
I have never been so cold in my life. I was moving slow, afraid of slipping on the rocks and breaking a bone out in the wilderness with no help to be found.
The only thing that kept my feet moving was the fear that I would go into hypothermic shock, and nobody would help me because they were too far ahead to hear my cries for help.
As a special little FU, we discovered on our arrival back to camp that a fox had slashed all of our tents to take a look around. He didn’t even get any food out of my tent. He was just being an a-hole.
Misery #6 – Destroyed Feet
After a full day of trekking in the downpour, our Goretex boots were fully soaked. I warn you this is gross….
Here is what my feet looked like.
We still had two full days of trekking to do, and our feet were completely destroyed. By the last day, I could barely walk. Even when we finished the trek, my feet were painfully swollen for 4 more days, and I hobbled around like an old lady.
Misery #7 – River Crossings
Yep, that’s right. We had to do three river crossings to get to Cabo Froward, and that means three river crossings to get back to civilization.
The river crossings had to be timed correctly with the tides.
We met other trekkers who did not cross at the right spot or arrived at high tide and had water up to their chests.
They were all Germans. Germans are hard core.
We got lucky and never had the water above the top of our thighs. Otherwise, I probably would have cried like a little girl.
It was after a river crossing the morning of Day 4, so cold and traumatized from the day before, that I thought I might lose my feet to frostbite. They were past the numb stage and felt like they were burning.
One more sign that we were getting closer to frostbite.
I was told by others who experienced both treks that Cabo Froward is more difficult than Torres del Paine.
Wish I had known that before.
Yes, this post is all about how miserable I was. However, I will admit that despite the pain, the last two days were quite pleasant (didn’t take much to make us happy by that point).