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!

Kilimanjaro Journal: Day 5 – Summit Day!

Kilimanjaro Summit Day Uhuru Peak

Day 5 (well kinda, starting at midnight on Day 4) — Jan 28, 2015 

I didn’t sleep too much before our midnight wake up call, but I still felt wide awake to begin our summit. Our guides told us that you have to start around midnight and climb the 4,000+ feet in the dark, so you make it to the summit right at sunrise… because as soon as the sun comes up the wind starts up. The wind is extremely strong, basically it’s blowing from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic with nothing to slow it town at that elevation on the whole continent. We had also heard that the clouds start to move in soon after the sun is up, and based on what we’d seen so far with the weather, we had no doubt.

Kilimanjaro Summit Day

We had been warned that it would be cold and windy and COLD! We probably didn’t have the best attire to summit Kili, let’s review. I had:

  • a very cute trenchcoat rain jacket from REI (it’s from REI, yes, but let’s just say it’s not exactly “technical alpine wear”)
  • a nano-weight down jacket that we’ve been carrying everywhere, it’s lightweight… it’s the lightest weight down jacket they make
  • nano-weight down vest (same deal)
  • lightweight hiking pants
  • pair of leggings
  • charming charlie’s cheap-o cotton scarfy thing
  • 2 tank tops
  • 1 t-shirt
  • 1 thin long sleeve t-shirt
  • Buff to be used as a hat like thing
  • My ole reliable hiking boots
  • A pair of borrowed gloves from a porter

And I wore every single piece of clothing I could…. Kinda felt like the Pillsbury Doughboy.

Rick had:

  • Hiking shorts
  • Lightweight hiking pants
  • Ski pants (yep, he wore all three!)
  • 2 Icebreaker t-shirts
  • 1 long sleeve Icebreaker t-shirt
  • Marmot nano-weight, very well loved down jacket
  • rain jacket
  • Merrell trail running shoes
  • Buff to be used as a hat like thing
  • A pair of borrowed gloves from a porter

Basically, we proceeded to put on EVERYTHING we had with us and hoped for the best!

Turns out that almost all of the other groups left at midnight. But thanks to our guide’s amazing confidence in our speed hiking abilities, or more likely his lack of desire to get up any earlier, we left at 1:15 AM. He assured us that we would have plenty of time to make the summit by sunrise… he failed to mention that was conditional on us basically doing a light jog up the 4,000+ feet to the summit. Okay, maybe it wasn’t a jog, but it felt like a powerwalking death march, as we passed group after group after group. More on that later…

We started up by the light of our headlamps. We could see other trekkers far ahead of us on the mountain, like a small trail of ants shown only by their headlamp light. Marching up the mountain in the dark only being able to see the back of the person in front of you and about a 4 foot circle of rock illuminated by head lamp gives you a lot of time to think… or sing. I sang the only song I’ve found that I know all the words too, Roger Creager’s, Everclear. Thanks, college. Thanks, Anne Jenkins Roberts. Rick was thinking “Strong Like Lion. Slow Like Turtle. Gassy Like Antelope.” Did I mention it was freezing cold and dark? Turns out we don’t take many pictures when it’s freezing cold and dark.

Luckily the sun does come up eventually to and way before you see the sun you can start making up the ridge line and then rocks around you and then finally the glacier and crater. We’re almost to the summit.

Kilimanjaro Summit Day

Kilimanjaro Summit Day


There is another peak “Stella” of sorts that is on one side of the crater that stopped at briefly before climbing the last hundred meters past the glacier around the edge of the crater on the way to Uhuru Peak, the summit of Kilimanjaro, the highest point on the continent of Africa and the highest freestanding mountain in the world!
19,341 feet above sea level (5985 meter).Kilimanjaro Summit Day

Kilimanjaro Summit Day


Kilimanjaro Summit Day Uhuru Peak


We made it! We tried to keep up the tradition of “Airplane” on the summit, unfortunately we didn’t get a great photo of it. It just looks like Rick is kicking me in the stomach WWE style.Kilimanjaro Summit Day Uhuru Peak Then it was Down. Down. Down.