When you think back over your life, what sticks out in your memory the most? Is it what proportionally takes up most of our time: the daily grind of answering of emails, food prep, commuting in traffic? Or is it instead those heightened moments where we feel most alive: the birth of a child, a milestone achieved, the Milky Way seen for the first time?
For me, it’s memories of my time spent in wild places. Where at the same point in space, mountains move mere inches over many lifetimes and clouds form in the blink of an eye. Feeling small, my sense of space and time start to melt, relax, and shift. My senses on alert in anticipation; I don’t know what is going to happen next, and I don’t want to.
In April 2018, I had the privilege of trekking though the Jeinimeni Natural Reserve and the new Parque Patagonia in the Chacabuco Valley in northern Patagonia on our On the Smuggler’s Trail trip. Our small band of hikers, porters, and guides were the only other humans within a two day hike in an area that sees about 250 visitors a year.
The second day of the trip, the first true hiking day, was an epic 16+ miles through glacial valleys of softball-sized rocks, crisscrossing countless rivulets up to our thighs. Yes, our boots got soaked. But we drank straight out of streams with no need for water purification tablets. We were buzzed unexpectedly by a flock of Austral parakeets. We observed the stretched wings of juvenile Andean condors catching their first thermals. We nicknamed our location the “Wow Valley” because there was something new and jaw-dropping around every corner: hanging glaciers, waterfalls, a surreal green lake, unnamed and unclimbed snowcapped peaks, even just the shifting late autumn sunlight on the red and yellow nirre and lenga trees.
A couple of days farther on, the constant burble and chatter of the running water suddenly changed to absolute stillness as soon as we stepped into a 300 year old growth forest dripping and lush with hundreds of species of mosses. Even the Patagonian wind hushed itself in reverence. Still later, we woke to a pink sky and a sunrise rainbow. Who knew something like that was even possible?
It’s not only overcoming the challenges that pull you out of yourself, that make you a better person, that make the trip worth the going. It’s awe.
Recently one of our Patagonia guides visited our office and asked me, “Would you ever want to go back?” “Go back?” I replied, “I’m still there every night in my dreams.”
Kathryn Gritt, Adventure Coordinator MT Sobek
MT Sobek Trip: On the Smuggler’s Trail in Patagonia, 2018