Patagonia should be on every hiker's bucket list. Or at least that's what Rachel Broomhead reckons in this month's Country Walking magazine. Here's a taste of her adventure among jagged peaks, rampaging winds and thundering glaciers...
"There is nothing ordinary about Patagonia. If ever there is the faintest whiff of mediocrity in the air, it's hurried away with a flourish of madness. It makes great fun for hikers. As an example, I'm currently inching backwards up a hill with my eyes closed. Up ahead, there is one of the greatest views in all of Patagonia, probably in all of South America, but something usually known as wind - in Patagonia more closely resembling a vortex, or a tornado maybe - is thumping its way down the trail, challenging me to a head-on duel. Right now, I'd say it has the upper hand.
"Patagonia and its extreme ways are best understood by looking at its place on the world map. Where every other land mass in the southern hemisphere stops, Patagonia keeps going. Shared by Chile and Argentina, it occupies the southern third of South America: that twisted, curling finger which reaches obstinately towards Antarctica where every other continent has the good sense to leave it well alone. In times past, those who made it this far south were breaking the limits of human discovery: Magellan, Darwin, Shackleton. "Patagonia is the farthest place to which man walked from his place of origins," reads the introduction to Bruce Chatwin's travel literature classic, In Patagonia. "It is therefore a symbol of his restlessness."
"The restless and itchy-footed now arrive more and more frequently, though with backpacks and hiking boots rather than dog sleds and snow shoes, and what they find is a place as restless as themselves. The landscape always errs on the side of sensation: if there's water, it's a torrent; if there's ice, it's a 20km-long glacier. On the west side, the spur-end of the Andes kicks out into sawing, outlandish peaks, while in the east, the mountains simply stop. There are no foothills, no middle ground. Just hundreds of miles of Patagonian Steppe, a desert-like plain where merino sheep and Argentine gauchos suddenly disappear into swirling clouds of dust and earth. Because when the wind blows here, it really blows.
"I'm in the far south of Chilean Patagonia in Torres del Paine National Park, and I'm a few hundred metres away from the jewel in its crown: Las Torres themselves - the granite towers which give the park its name. A pair of sunglasses hurtle by, quickly followed by a hiker, miraculously still on his feet, who races after them into the undergrowth.
"And then as quickly as it came, the wind stops. An Andean condor soars on a thermal overhead, surely admiring the prongs of rock which have so far remained hidden to me. I emerge from behind my rock and follow him upwards. How high do I have to go?"
Continue reading Rachel's story in the October issue of Country Walking, on sale now!