When the Cold Wind Blows in Patagonia

When the Cold Wind Blows in Patagonia

A Singaporean hiker shares his experience on the trails around El Chaltén, a small village tucked in the Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina.

There’s an army cheer that goes: “when the cold wind blows”. I remembered liking it a lot when I was doing my military service because I found it rather evocative.

That said, even though the cheer reflects very well every recruit’s universal longing for the comforts of home, it falls flat on one count: there’s no cold wind in Singapore!

Whatever pitiful movement of air we have is nothing compared to the cold Patagonian winds that greeted me the moment I stepped out of the bus into El Chaltén, supposedly the “trekking capital” of Argentina.

While walking to my hostel, I was stopped dead in my tracks by nothing more than gusts of air that were moving in the opposite direction as me. And the rain here actually hurt, with the wind sending little raindrops hurling across the air, hitting my exposed skin with blistering intensity.

Here in Patagonia, the cold wind really blows.

At Laguna Torre, I witnessed—for the first time in my life—a person actually falling down due to the sheer force of the wind. I also remembered how the winds were sufficiently strong to whip up misty sprays of water from the lagoon, creating a deceiving image of a hot spring, with steam wafting from the water’s surface.

The first time I saw this, I was so enthralled by the sight that I received a rude shock when the avalanche of air and water droplets hit me squarely in the face. It felt like I was doused with a bucket of tiny icy sprinkles.

Since then, every time I saw the “sprays” wafting from the water and coming close, I took cover and lay on the ground, as if there was a sergeant beside me screaming “Arty! Arty!” to simulate an impending artillery strike.

Thankfully, one can still find plenty of respite from the wind.

All the trails I did were still very walkable despite the occasional strong winds. After all, the pockets of forests that lined the valleys surrounding El Chaltén could shield us trekkers from the elements.

More than just blocking out the wind and rain, the forest cover at times also significantly restricted light, creating a dark and surreal landscape straight out of a fairy-tale.

As the leaves sashayed from the wind, an intricate dance of light and shadows played out on the forest floor, evoking the ripples of refracted light that are cast at the bottom of any water body. The gusts of air brushing against the forest canopy also produced a soaring sound reminiscent of powerful waves crashing against the shore.

In fact, if I stretched my imagination a little, I could very well be walking underwater.

Walking against the wind is tiring, but rewarding.

As I gingerly trudged on against the wind, rain, and fatigue while trekking the various trails around El Chaltén, the thought of “what am I doing here?” came up a number of times.

Once, I even said to an Argentine woman, “Nos torturamos” (We are torturing ourselves), as we hobbled back to El Chaltén after a day trek to see the majestic Fitz Roy mountain up close from Laguna de los Tres.

Nevertheless, I do believe that there is something to be said about the sensory experience of walking—one that is polished immeasurably by the awareness and presence borne out of solitude.

Walking alone through the meadows, valleys, and forests of Patagonia, the greenery did seem a little more luxuriant, the rustling of leaves a little more melodic, and the feel of the gravel a little more tactile.

And when I stopped, the refreshing effusions brought forth by drawing the fresh mountain air deep into my body just felt much more uplifting, as my field of vision rolled perceptibly further along the grand and expansive vistas.

I was alone for most of the approximately 80km worth of trails that I walked—and I never felt more alive.

This solitude for most parts was liberating, even while I was inching forward against the howling wind and rain on the rocky and exposed hilltop of Loma del Pliegue Tumbado. The supposedly impressive views of Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy were completely obscured by the rain clouds then. But it did not matter.

I just kept walking forward, in a trance-like state, engulfed with an overriding sense of submission to the circumstances around me. The cold wind was blowing and whatever conscious notion of my being was swept along with it, melting into the vastness that was Nature.

That was supposed to be my final hike in Patagonia, but perhaps, I was already gone with the wind by then.

About Author

Eugene Ang
Eugene Ang

A self-declared connoisseur of Turkish culture, Eugene has a soft spot for anything connected to Turkey and the now-defunct Ottoman Empire. While he has travelled extensively to a number of what we call emerging economies, he now spends most of his time in a cubicle in Singapore earning his keep. Check out his travel photos on Instagram.