We drove the three hundred or so kilometers up from the city of Punta Arenas in four hours of hard driving, pushing our rented camper van to its very limits of speed. But now, finally at the park entrance we had a sense of freedom for we could convert our van to a sleeper by deftly moving a few cushions about and have a place to sleep.

The park had implemented a new reservation system just this year and would not let you enter the park overnight unless you had a previously made a reservation. We could, however, find suitable places to park a vehicle within the park boundary, or at the very least just outside the park along the roadside. The new reservation system is an attempt to resolve the same problem with many of the parks out west. Too many people, not enough camping sites. Indeed, we heard stories of folks squishing five hundred tents in camp site areas set up for one hundred tents.

Torres del Paine is a wonder; vast, huge and spectacular all at the same time. While in the park we enjoyed a couple day long hikes, taking plenty of snapshots trying to capture glimpses of the spectacle.

We sandwiched a day between our longer hikes to see if hiring a beast of burden would allow us to simultaneously enter the depths of the mountain and give our sore feet a rest. My mount, whom I had rechristened with the help of google translate, “Lentemente.” And slow he was! Always lucky to avoid the short straw, Denise exclaimed with an earnest smile, “My horse is great! … just does what she’s supposed to!” Ignoring her cheerfulness, we plodded upward toward some climbers’ camp. Though never reaching it, we were entreated with some wonderful views. At the end our guide/leader thought, undeterred by my complaining, our little gang could be named “The great gringo gauchos.” I thought it had a certain ring to it, not that it changed how I felt my mount was a better fit for the glue factory, or at least a small child out for the “family ride experience.”

Finally, we left and started our next great adventure in El Chalten to see “Fitz Roy”… and with some of that famous luck of the Irish, his buddy G Biv. However, the story about our chase of that pot of gold is for next time.