After a quick drive where we nearly ran out of gas thanks to limits on how much fuel you can buy per day at gas stations, we arrived in El Calafate and wasted no time driving straight out to the Perito Moreno glacier. It was astounding. When we drove around the corner and saw it for the first time I was absolutely astonished by its size and how close we were to it!
It is truly immense, creeping from an endless field that disappears into a stormy blur of white responsible for its relentless rejuvenation.
All of this–the glacier, the mountains, this impossibly harsh place–ends abruptly, right in front of your face, courtesy of a natural peninsula jutting across from it in Lago Argentiono.
We walked around a series of catwalks with incredible views from many angles while listening to the thunderous cracking as the field shifted and giant chunks of it fell into the lake with colossal force. It was an impressive sight.
Periton Moreno glacier is one of only three actively advancing glacier in Patagonia. This advance is what pushes the wall into the lake causing pieces of the 74 meter high wall to break off and fall into the lake which is called calving. The sunset when we returned to Calafate did not disappoint either. It was one of those long, drawn-out, Patagonian sunsets where the sun seems to tight rope walk the horizon, stubbornly refusing to completely set.
Before you know it we’re already cruising on to our next destination, hustling with the anticipation of concluding our journey. We both keenly felt the excitement and energetic push that seems to come out of nowhere as the finish line nears and begins to come into sight. Were we finally going to make it? We never really doubted that we would, but given the countless other variables, not including driving an aging Ford several tens of thousands of miles across difficult terrain in adverse conditions to the literal end of the world… well, it’s a bit surreal approaching the end of it all. We’ve been driving for nearly 14 months and now, and in an easy full day of driving, we could find ourselves with no more road to drive!
But first, despite the urge to just do it, we certainly couldn’t pass up Chile’s most spectacular national park, and quite possibly the single most impressive backpacking trip on the planet! So we crossed the border to Chile, abandoning our long dance with Argentina’s indefatigable route 40, and drove into the famous Parque Nacional Torres del Paine.
We camped in a grassy parking lot in front of Hotel Torres and celebrated Christmas while we were battered by winds so fierce that Niccole asked at one point if the van might actually get blown over! We came to find later that the storm had destroyed numerous tents at the campgrounds and we were glad to be starting our trip the next day in much better conditions.
Each day of the W is about 10 miles making it about 40 in total. The first day we hiked a steep trail into a beautiful forest and then finally up a gorge to the viewpoint for the famous Towers of Paine.
Beautiful monolithic granite towers stretch up from the glacier and reach into the sky.
The granite looks excellent and climbing here must be treacherous due to the crazy weather. Periodic wind blasts would catch tourists by surprise even knocking them over at times.
On the second day we walked along Lago Nordenskjold to Camp Italiano. Strangely, the winds we had come to accept as a permanent part of life in Patagonia were completely and totally absent. The lake turned into an amazing green-blue mirror and bounced the sky directly into my camera lens. It’s such a beautiful park!
At Camp Italiano we camped right next to two guys from Colorado and ended up chatting for the remainder of the evening while the alpenglow worked its magic on Grand Paine!
From Camp Italiano we hiked up Valle Frances while avalanches and ice falls from the mountain on the other side of the valley tumbled down to the river beside us. More astonishing views, and only a brief sprinkle of rain.
We returned to camp, packed everything up, and hiked the remaining distance to the Grand Paine campground. We were able to get our tent up before the rain really began to fall and after a Jetboil dinner and a little wine we were sleeping like the dead. The crowds are a little strange to us – usually when we backpack we find a bit more… umm… solitude.
But hey, how could you keep something like this a secret! It spectacular and people come from all over the world to see it. We met some great people from all over the world too!
The final day took us to the Glacier Grey which has three separate noses ending at different parts of the massive lake.
Like the beginning of the W, this leg must be repeated so we returned to Grand Paine in a crazy, but brief wind/rain/snow storm. Putting the flip flops on at the end of the trip was pure relief. With my hiking boots and approach shoes destroyed, I had hiked the entirety of the W in my tennis shoes – which after day 2 were completely destroyed as well. Niccole, too, was suffering with her broken down footwear as much or more and we ignored our blistered feet over cold beers while admiring the views and laughing about how it was a few less items we’d have to figure out how to pack up and get home!
The next day we made our way down the last part of the mainland in Chile to Punta Arenas where we would have to wait till the next morning to catch a ferry that would transport our globe trotting van two hours across the Straight of Magellen to Tierre del Fuego.
With some time to kill we visited an impressive graveyard in the city and snapped a few pics.
In the morning we drove off of the ferry and found ourselves on an island that would contain the last highway in the world! Adrenaline, excitement, awe, nerves, even disbelief. We sped off on the dirt road pushing the van on the gravel roads like only a team that had driven over 20,000 miles in it could do without crashing.
We crossed our final border back into Argentina and popped right out on Highway 3. Wind. Gas. Pedal to the medal. The final leg of a race against no one.
Pulling into Ushuaia was like crossing through mystical gates to some place in a fictional story. We stopped for some photos and decided the modern-classic “boss” shot would be most appropriate. I dare you to disagree.
And with that, we found a parking lot full of other overlanders, turned the ignition off, and celebrated the turning of the New Year! What a way to end 2014 and usher in the next. I truly don’t have the words to describe the things we were thinking and feeling on New Years Eve, 2014. It was the conclusion to a big dream for us and one helluva of an epic journey!
Interestingly, highway 3 continues another 20 kilometers or so along a dirt road in Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego. Having arrived a day before the buyers, we took the obligatory spin through the park in search of the true end. The absolute terminus. The kill switch to transcontinental southern bound transit.
And find it we did. We pulled around a corner, passed a small parking lot, and continued on the dirt track until it ended at a row of small wooden stakes with a couple of signs behind them. To be honest, it was a bit anticlimactic. I don’t know, I sort of figured there’d be a leprechaun watching over a pot of gold or a stadium full of people cheering. But nope, just a little sign that says the highway ends here.
And that, my friends, is it. We made it!!! We can no longer drive south for it is simply not possible. Trust me. But the blog is not over! Traveling like this is not the same as vacationing. There is still work to be done and reports to be drafted. We have Germans to meet and vans to sell! Papers to transfer and bags to pack. Wrapping that stuff up will be a relief. But whatever happens in the next few days, one thing is for certain: we did it. We managed to drive 21,863 miles to the end of the world! THE END OF THE FREAKING WORLD I TELL YOU!!! We are so stoked!!
More soon. E&N from the end of the world. Ciao.