We’re in a short lull between portrait sessions now, so I’m posting some shots from a quick mission I did through Patagonia in early February.
Peter Mehrhof, a childhood friend from Mammoth, came up with the idea to do some Southern Hemisphere summer backpacking down there this February, which is an ideal time for a wedding photographer to travel. Most of the summer is spent shooting weddings around the West Coast, so I figured it would be perfect to spend a few weeks enjoying the South American summer while we were getting pounded with snow in the north.
Turns out it was much more winter-esque down there–we were in snow, rain and never-ending winds for almost the whole trip. I was in this part of Patagonia about five years ago as well, during their winter, and I feel like the weather then was a bit better despite the opposite seasons.
But the weather didn’t stop us from having an epic trip. We flew into Punta Arenas, on the Straight of Magellan, and rented a sweet four-door Hyundai before heading north to Puerto Natales. Natales is the gateway to the Torres del Paine National Park, which you might call Chile’s version of Yosemite. It’s an incredible granite range with several massive monoliths carved out by generations of glacial erosion. Like Yosemite, the park is littered with iconic peaks and rock formations. It’s touristy by Patagonian standards, but we went a few days without seeing more than a handful of people.
We started the mission with a night at Puerto Natales’ Erratic Rock hostel. It’s owned by two brothers from Oregon, and they lead nightly informational talks about trekking in the park. A fire shut down part of the park a few weeks before we got there, and they had the inside scoop on where we could, and couldn’t go, and how that would change the dynamic our chosen route.
We decided to do the Circuit around the entire massif, which was hardly affected by the fire and gave a look at the park from all angles.
Other shorter routes just hit the park’s ubiquitous highlights. But as I’ve now seen twice, there’s a solid chance that the Cuernos del Paine, Valle de Frances and the Paine Grande (the park’s version of Half Dome, El Capitan and Yosemite Falls), will likely be enshrouded in clouds for much of the trip. The Circuit was a good way to hedge your bet and see a lot more impressive Patagonian landscapes.
As it would come to be, we were seven days on the trail and the high mountains only appeared a handful of times. The odyssey around the park proved to be worth every grueling step though. Each day, the scenery changed dramatically. From the High Sierra-like Patagonian Steppe to rugged Andean peaks, we hit it all.
The trail kicked my ass. I thought I was in better shape then I was, but the 70-some miles in seven days was humbling. Below is a sample of what I’ve edited thus far. It starts out with some break dancing and BMXing in Punta Arenas, to the approach from Puerto Natales to the Torres del Paine in the Hyundai. From there, we parked the car and started the trek. We spent nights in five different camps; Seron, Lago Dixon, El Paso, Lago Grey, and Los Cuernos. There are shots of guanacos (Southern Andean Alpacas), a fox, various species of birds, and several of shots of Peter on the trail.
On day seven, when it became clear the sun was not going to appear and the wind was never going to let up, we decided to pack it in and hobble back to the car to watch the Super Bowl at Erratic Rock in Puerto Natales. We also went on a mission to see the discovery site of the elusive Milodon-AKA, the Chilean Bear-a-saurus. It was a massive cave where scientists found a pile of bones and got creative with their vision of what must have lived there. It looked like a prehistoric bear-sloth, with an enormous tail. The younger Chilenos visiting the Milodon at the same time ran away in fear, but Peter loved the Milodon and may or may not have bought a Milodon T-Shirt on the way out.
We ran into a Chilean couple, Augustin and Josefina, that we recognized from several different campsites on the Circuit, and finished the trip with a few days with them at a penguin colony north of Punta Arenas, drinking wine overlooking the north end of Tierra del Fuego, and finally putting back Pisco Sours at the Punta Arenas airport as we left the country. Agustin and Josefina are an incredible couple from Santiago that work for an outfit called Un Techo Para mi Pais which builds sustainable and affordable housing for impoverished families across Latin America. Josefina’s brother runs a hostel at a ski resort south of Santiago called Las Trancas, so I have a feeling they haven’t seen the last of us.
That’s it for this week’s off topic, lengthy and meandering blog post. We’re back to the grind soon, with several engagement sessions coming in the next few weeks. Josh is also opening an exhibition of his landscape work in Reno today, and we’ll have more details on that soon. Thanks for reading and check back in soon.