I can see it coming. My legs tense up as the kayak rocks from side to side. The wind is a full frontal assault trying it’s best to rip my hat off my head. The brim is blown back and the string it is attached with is pulling against my chin ready to snap. For a moment I wonder if the wind may just win this game. I’m quickly jolted back into what’s in front of me as water sprays up onto my face with a cold splash! It stings like a slap in the face.
I look ahead and see wave after wave coming each one with more power. Our little blue kayak’s nose goes up in the air over the next wave and lands with a hard thwak! Water once again is sprays all over me. I squeeze my eyes shut hard trying to get the sting of sunscreen in my eyes to subside. I am aware of the subsequent burn in my arms – paddling, paddling but feeling like I’m making little progress towards the waterfall that Alex pointed out to me in the distance – our campsite for the night. I’m reminded that without Alex – I’d be getting absolutely nowhere – so I ignore my burning arms and just try to put my head down and keep paddling. Another splash hits me and Alex yells up to me, “You didn’t know you were going to be on the log ride did you?” I laugh and yell back “No!” with a grin on my face. In some weird way I love this.
My mind wanders back to my childhood summers taking family trips to Six Flags in St. Louis. We would all fight over who got to be in front in the log flume ride so that we would get the beautiful sensation of being drenched as you plummeted down the last hill. Alex was right – here I was in something millions of times better than the log ride 30 years later. I was experiencing the very real thrill of kayaking in Patagonia, Chile.
I smile at the thought as another cold blast of water hit my face and reminded me to keep paddling.
Video of the windy lake we were crossing
I hadn’t originally intended to go kayaking until Adventure Life suggested it to me. Kayaking down the Serano River and camping overnight near the Tyndall glacier sounded like a nice break from using my legs after hiking for the last 4 days. Day 2 we were to continue kayaking down the river and stay overnight at a simple lodge and end the trip kayaking in the Last Hope Fjord near the Balmeceda glacier before hopping on a boat and heading back to Puerto Natales.
Alex, my guide for 3 days of kayaking, had a quiet, reserved demeanor but he was an excellent kayaker. I was lucky enough to share a double kayak with him else I doubt I would have made any progress in the strong winds of Patagonia. There were also a couple of spots where he had to walk/drag the kayak through shallow water as well as port it overland to avoid a water fall. He didn’t simply only provide muscle – but he also cooked dinners, helped set up and take down camp and was great at answering all of my inane questions about currents and paddling form. It was just the two of us for 3 days together – a great way to experience this remote part of the park. Especially after being on the busy trails of the W trek for the last few days. I relished the quiet and Alex’s laid back style.
He cooked up a feast for the first night on a single burner as I sat and drank wine and watched him make salmon and vegetables. I sat on the big rocks on the beach and listened to the lapping waves, and enjoyed our private secluded area with the perfect view. I love camping when the conditions are right and that night they were perfect. I slept like a rock after such an active day.
The next day we got up, assessed the lake conditions, packed up the kayak , and headed towards the Tyndall Glacier which is part of the Southern Ice Field. It wasn’t long before my arms were burned again trying to confront the wind and waves. Alex would try to steer us into windbreaks – but there as no real escaping the powerful gusts. I fantasized about what it would be to have the wind at our back. But soon enough my dream came true and we turned around and the whole world changed. Paddle strokes were easy – practically effortless – but at the same time is was a bit more scary as Alex had us actually ‘surfing’ on the waves.
Alex navigated us through the changing currents as rivers collided and joined until we finally came to the Last Hope Fjord in the late afternoon. Here we didn’t have to pitch tents – instead we had our room in a little cabin. This is also when I found out that Alex was great at killing spiders too.
Finally the last morning we got up and did the impossible. As I looked at the glacial lake I saw the glacier on one side, a lake full of icebergs and a waterfall on the other side. Alex motioned for me to pick up my end of the kayak and he started off towards the rocks. I thought to myself that there was no way we were getting to the glacier – it seemed to be impossible to get across all of the lose ice that was jammed up near the mouth of the rocky waterfall. Alex’s determination won out as he waded through freezing water up to his chest pulling the kayak through as I waded through the water simply not trying to fall down. I think I was in so much shock at what he was having us do that I didn’t even snap a photo! We did have extremely high quality dry suits which stood the test of this mission. The precarious wading was completely worth it as we were where no others really get to go – through the icebergs and in the glacial lake.
This was the a perfect unique way to see parts of the park you can’t hike into. In fact the first night we camped there was no sign of humans anywhere. You can only get to the Tyndall Glacier area by horse or kayak. I didn’t see another sole on the river or anywhere. For these 3 days, this park belonged to Alex and me.
All photos of the kayaking trip:
More Info on Kayaking in Torres Del Paine:
By Barbara Weibel February 26, 2013 - 11:56 am
You go to some of the most amazing places!
By Cam @ Traveling Canucks February 26, 2013 - 12:05 pm
What a cool experience. The image of the lake view from the tent says it all.
By travel March 12, 2013 - 12:54 am
Such a adventurous trip it was. After reading yours i just remember mine in 2001 when i was with my friends on a unplanned tour. But i must say you have showed a great courage and i appreciate you for this.Awesome photography and cool experience.
By Mike Chirlston - Water Sports Planet May 18, 2017 - 7:23 pm
Great photos and great article which captures why I love kayaking