Torres del Paine: John Gardner Pass Summit Day!

John Gardner Pass - Torres del Paine: Patagonia Chile

When the alarm went off at 6am it was accompanied by rain and lots of it. So we stayed in the tent hoping it would taper off. About 7 am it did and we quickly grabbed our stuff and decided it would be smart to pack our bag in the dry/warm cooking shelter… we weren’t the only ones with that idea. Campamento Perros, Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile

We quickly ate some breakfast, got our bags packed and discussed our plan to go over the pass with a couple of fellow hikers. One in particular, a search and rescuer from Oregon, warned us not to go, that the weather wasn’t great. A couple of others said they were waiting it out too. But we felt good, and Liz had eaten her “summit day apple”, that she had carried with her for the last 7 days, for breakfast, so we headed out for John Gardner Pass. We were moving really quickly, in the zone to get over the pass, and not ones to spend more time than necessary in the cold and rain. We passed two larger groups of trekkers as we made our way through the woods, and all the other people who had been in front of us. It was now raining quite a bit again. As we reached treeline we were feeling good and we could still see the trail in spite of the rain turning to snow. That was our rule for the pass, “If you can’t see the trail from treeline turn back.” We can see the trail, we’re feeling good and we’re moving quickly, we’ll be on the summit in no time!

John Gardner Pass - Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile

Torres del Paine: Patagonia Chile

Above treeline the wind really starts to pick up. The snow is now blowing directly into our face. As the snow continues to dump and starts to stick in places, we realize most of the trail markers are spray-painted rocks, not an issue, unless they’re covered in snow. We’re now flowing the few cairns and poles that are spread along the trail. This begins to prove difficult as the wind and snow are making it near impossible to look uphill for more than a couple of seconds at a time and searching for the next trail marker is becoming a real challenge. We’ve lost the pep-in-our step we started the morning with and stopped taking pictures because our hands were freezing cold. We’ve now resorted to Liz hanging back at a trail marker while I go uphill looking for the next one then call for her to come up once I find it. We agree that if we don’t make it to the summit in the next 20 minutes, we have to turn back.

But we knew we were getting close to the top of the pass when the wind started to accumulate the snow in drifts that went up higher than our knees. We fought through the deep snow for the last 50m of the climb, and just as we could see the summit we got a glimpse of blue sky as well.

At the top the wind is the first thing to give away that we’ve arrived. It’s blowing so hard the snow can hardly stick (which resulted in the deep drifts we just climbed). We see a small rod with a Chilean flag and few other things attached to it we now know were at the top of John Gardner Pass and we’re elated!

John Gardner Pass - Torres del Paine: Patagonia Chile

We snap a few pictures, smile at the small window of blue sky above us knowing that God spared us from disaster then we see the enormous Glacier Grey with a rainbow over it. Glacier Grey is just a small part of the Southern Ice field but it goes on almost as far as you can see. The ice field that its attached to is the second largest ice field in the entire world, after Antarctica. As you can imagine the wind coming off of this is COOOOOOLD!

Torres del Paine: Patagonia Chile Torres del Paine: Patagonia Chile John Gardner Pass - Torres del Paine: Patagonia Chile

We are momentarily relieved to find that there’s no snow on west side of the pass just a lot of rain… and slippery mud! We skid and slide our way down to tree line then through the woods to Campamento Passo where we take a quick break and continue our decent. Shortly after we caught up with Brad who had taken a late start out of Paso that morning.

Torres del Paine: Patagonia Chile Torres del Paine: Patagonia Chile Torres del Paine: Patagonia Chile Torres del Paine: Patagonia Chile

Torres del Paine: Patagonia Chile

We climb some rickety ladders and a brand new bridge before reaching the end of Glacier Grey where it melts into Lago Grey and occasional calves an iceberg. We make it to Refugio Grey, our goal for the day, with extremely sore bodies, blisters and plenty of daylight to make it down to Refugio Paine Grande. We decided if we stopped moving we wouldn’t be able to start again so we keep moving. As we reached Paine Grande we saw Diego and Jacky who left Paso early that morning. We had a quick celebratory huge with them then saw the boat coming across Lago Pehoé. We could catch the boat and the bus back to Puerto Natales and be at Erratic Rock by dinner! It was a no brainer once we realized that camping at Paine Grande is almost as much as a stay at the hostel and the hostel comes with hot showers and an amazing breakfast.

Torres del Paine: Patagonia Chile

As we boarded the boat, tired, muddy and a little dazed we sat down next to a guy from Mississippi and in exchange the usual, “Where you from? What are you doing?” He asked about our hike. He was on a National Geographic group tour and his guide over heard us say we came down from Perros today. He corrected us and said, “You mean Paso?”

“No, Perros, on the other side of the pass. It was pretty nasty up there this morning knee-deep snow for the last 50m.”

The guide is clearly surprised and then points out our route for the day on map on the wall next to us to our Mississippi friend, “They went from here, all the way around the mountains to here!” Then, turns to us and says “I gotta buy you a beer. You deserve it!”

We savored our “well deserved” beers as the boat made it’s way across the lake then found our bus and a few hours later we walked into Erratic Rock a day early!

We totaled 138K!

A Very Bavarian Birthday

Neuschwanstein Castle - Germany

Well I’m 31 now. I’m into my 30’s officially. To be honest, I’m not feeling super great about it. I liked being 30 and wasn’t totally ready for that to be over. But oh well, no real choice about it, so I figured we should get on with the celebrating!

We debated on where to go for a while – a birthday in Paris would be so romantic, a birthday skiing in the Alps would be so exciting, or maybe Amsterdam? But turns out that Europe is stinkin’ expensive!! Just the train ticket to Paris is $350 Euros! And that’s before you get a hotel. And I’m quite certain that if I was in Paris for my birthday there is no hope of me stopping myself from going out to incredible meals, eating my weight in cheese and pastries and drinking ridiculous wine – that is to say it would have gotten really expensive really fast. Same goes for skiing (plus, the snow reports say there’s not any good snow yet).

So we decided to go to one of the “must see” sights in Germany – the Neuschwanstein Castle. It’s this gorgeous castle set up on a rugged mountain surrounded by gorges, and it’s right on the border of Austria in the beginning of the Alps. It was the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle, you can really see the similarities.

Neuschwanstein Castle - Germany So that was the plan, but of course plans go awry! Its supposed to be a four hour drive to the castle, so we left early in the morning with plans to make to the castle, then spend the night in the hour-away mountain town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Oh important tidbit, while we didn’t get a white Christmas, we got a white day after Christmas… and every day since then! So there’s a good amount of snow already, and as we’re leaving it starts coming heavily down again. So our four hour drive turned into eight+ hours to get to the castle. We arrive there and park, but can’t see the castle because of the snow coming down. We go to buy tickets to go up, and learn that we got there 10 minutes AFTER the ticket office closed. So no princess castle for Lizzy on her birthday.

Snow Driving - Germany

Knowing it’s taken twice as long to drive as we had planned, we decide to leave for our hotel immediately since it’s going to take a couple hours and make the most of it. The drive was absolutely gorgeous and took us through Austria for the majority of the time. The snow was really fluffy and I just couldn’t help myself, when we got stuck in traffic I jumped out and made snow angels!

Snow drive to Neuschwanstein Castle - Germany

Snow drive to Neuschwanstein Castle - Germany The hotel was great and we quickly headed into town to grab dinner and figure out where to celebrate. We walked a couple blocks and found the “Grill und Wein” restaurant we were hoping for, and then found it was closed for the holidays, as were most of the other nice places in town. So what did we do??? Exactly what you do anywhere in the world when you’re celebration plans don’t work out… you find the Irish Pub! And there was one just down the street. After a birthday pint of Bavarian brew there, we went to grab pizza for dinner, promising our new Irish pub friends to be back shortly.

Birthday Bavarian style

After our quick dinner we returned to a big welcome from the Irish pub. Seriously, how is it that every Irish pub in the world consistently delivers a guaranteed good night?! We made lots of friends there and closed the place down at about 4:00 AM!

Birthday party

The next morning we were up early and ready to see this castle! We made it back to the castle and this time were able to get tickets AND we could see the castle from a distance. It definitely lived up to the hype!!

Neuschwanstein Castle - Germany It’s a 40 minute walk up the hill, which was like walking in a winter wonderland.

Neuschwanstein Castle - Germany

We took the required tour to see the inside and it was equally as impressive. Both Rick and I agreed that of all of the famous, historical buildings we’ve seen on this trip and others, this was our favorite! It’s beautifully made inside, and intricate and in great condition. Sorry, no photos allowed inside so I don’t have any share 🙁

Neuschwanstein Castle - Germany

King Ludwig II who built it was considered insane. I can see why from even just the exterior design, it’s so different from other castles. It took 23 years to build. The king moved in before it was completed… and good thing because he only got to live in it for one year before he died. King Ludwig was a recluse and built it for complete seclusion, the plan was for the castle to be “sacred and out of reach” from people… and only six weeks after he died the castle was opened to the public. It’s in the top three most visited places in Germany. Guess that didn’t work out so well for him!

It was pretty awesome to see. I’m really glad we visited while we were in Germany.

Neuschwanstein Castle - GermanySnow Flake

But I have to admit the 18+ hours of driving was kind of a beat down so it was really great to get lots of emails and Facebook comments from everyone back home! Thanks for making me feel special on my birthday! Cheers!Birthday Bavarian style