We made friends with a Park Ranger during the supposed 5 hour hike from the Grey Glacier Ranger station check point, to the Paso checkpoint. I am pretty sure the Park Rangers are the only reason Heather didn’t murder me in the backcountry of Torres. Let me explain. The Paso checkpoint is not part of the W trail but the full circuit which most people attack in a counter clockwise direction. This made sense because this entire section would have been all downhill. However, Heather and I took a ferry (which was amazing and I highly recommend it) across Pehoe Lake to the Paine Grande Ranger Station and Camp where locals raved of the view from Paso John Gardner. This was only 11 hours of additional hiking past the W trail according to the trail maps. What we didn’t take into account was that the locals were taking tiny daypacks and day hiking only halfway to this location for a view of the glacier. So 35-ish pounds on each of our backs as we did the steep incline for this 11 hour hike… with 90 mile an hour wind gusts that caused us to hit the deck several times for fear of being blown off the side of the steep mountain, our nerves were a bit frazzled.
With the sporadic downpours causing mud slides, the waterfalls double in size. We were covered in mud and had matted hair like stray dogs. Missing my Cotopaxi sweatshirt because it blew off my backpack and down a 1,009 ft. cliff. It was a real life “Wild” moment, losing my only hoodie I had packed for the trip.
I knew we were both wondering why we couldn’t just be girly girls shopping, buying pumpkin non-fat extra whip frappe chia tea grande mocha-choco-latte-ya-yas and stalking ex’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Myspace, tax returns, arrest records… You know, normal stuff. Instead we were on a trail with darkness approaching and a roaring waterfall somewhere ahead.
It had been three hours since we came across another person on the trail and they warned us that with the rains the path was washed out. Laughing like maniacs, partly a result of wanting to cry from our aching muscles and partly on the breaking point ready to set up camp right there on the trail and defend ourselves against the predators here in the wilderness… we heard a friendly, “Hola!”A tan hobbit like ranger popped out of the bushes and took a sip of water. “American?” I wanted to know why he assumed we were Americans but I just nodded. I asked how much further till camp Paso and he said only half an hour and to follow him.
We struggled to keep up and eventually told him we were fine and we would see him at the camp. Almost 90 minutes later Heather and I crawled up the last of the trail towards the camp. The thought of having to hike another 5 hours to the Paso John Gardner brought us to tears. We sat in the rain pathetically and ate one of our protein bars. Setting up a tent in this mud pit of a camp in the 40 degree rain seemed equally miserable. Weighing our options under a shed like, structure two park rangers came out and greeted us. Apparently the ranger we came across on the trail had arrived more than an hour ahead of us and had told them of the two blondes driving a major struggle bus and that they might have to come check on us if we didn’t check in soon. We tried to laugh it off, but were clearly done. Kindly, they invited us to stay in their storage tent for a night and come in and warm ourselves by the fire and have some tea.
Heather lead the way into the green domed tent and quickly requested a light. Standing in the complete darkness I fished for my black diamond headlamp. It took our eyes a second to focus after the light came on, and a few more seconds to register what the contents of the tent actually were. At my feet was a broken toilet on its side. Before I could comment to Heather, the hobbit Park Ranger pulled the tent flap back and said the cabin was full tonight so he would be sleeping in here with us. He then proceeded to tell us it was his dream to sleep between two American twins and Heather turned to me with an incredulous look on her face. I quickly assured him that my sister had anxiety issues and needed to sleep by my side. Winking at her and thinking I had resolved the issue when he turned to me and said, “Fine you can sleep in the middle then.” Aw come on man. We then proceeded to set up our sleeping bags, attempted to brush our hair and ate some more protein bars. Making our way towards the tiny two room Ranger Station the door flung open and the smell of fresh bread and music came rushing out to welcome us to the Paso Camp party.
The kitchen/dinning area was at capacity already with four female and five male park rangers cooking, dancing and drinking El Gato (the local boxed wine). Two guys jumped up offered us their seats and quickly poured us each a glass of red wine. Next they passed around the tray of papas fritas. Freshly fried french fries topped with caramelized onions. It was heaven. Well worth the pain in our legs from the lactic acid building up. The rangers were all clearly making jokes about the two doe eyed Americans who were in way over their head when the Hobbit Ranger started to translate for us. The girls wanted to know if we hiked much and continued to giggle. This bruised my ego but I laughed as well and said, “Not enough I guess.” Then he translated again and told us that our packs were too big for us. I shrugged my shoulders and became extremely interested in the burnt edge of a french fry on my plate. Then one of the girls asked us if we stayed in the Grey Glacier cabins last night. Heather pulled out her map, obviously tired of being the butt of the female ranger’s jokes and poked aggressively at Paine Grande Ranger Station and Camp. The girls talked amongst themselves and then spoke quickly to the Hobbit.
Apparently we weren’t a bunch of sissy girls after all. They were all impressed and made a second helping of the delicious french fried carbs for us. All smiles they all spoke in broken english and while Heather and I tried to speak in Spanish and help the Hobbit translate parts of the conversations we recognized from Spanish class. Just as Heather and I were about to thank them for their hospitality and turn in for the night, they filled our glasses with more wine and told us we were going to watch an episode of National Geographic that was filmed the previous summer in the park before the bearded ranger walked home to his tree. I tilted my head to the side and clearly demonstrated an expression of utter confusion. The bearded ranger stroked his beard and let out a deep belly laugh. With two rangers assisting him with his words, the bearded ranger we lovingly nicknamed Gandalf, explained that he built a platform 40 feet up a tree and he had a sleeping bag there. He didn’t care that it was pouring down rain or that the wind was snapping trees? Impressive. After the movie was over, Heather and I made our way back to the tent. Before turning off the lantern, we shared a long look. “We wanted adventure. Honey, I think we’ve found it.” And with that, I turned off the light and fell to sleep instantly.
The next morning I woke up to the Hobbit scooting closer to me ass first. I turned and whispered in Heather’s ear “help me.” Not knowing if it was my whisper or bad breath that woke her she opened one eye. I pointed to the tiny 19-year-old now trying to spoon me and she snorted. Yeahhhhh thanks for the help sis. I sat up and figured now would be a great time to start the day. I could hear the rain hitting the tent and the howling of the wind through the trees. Today was going to be an interesting hike day. I slipped on my hiking boots and my Westcomb rain jacket and headed out the tent with my toothbrush in hand. I almost walked right into the two cute park rangers from the night before one of which we had started calling Nat Geo. Nat Geo and the other ranger invited us to have breakfast with them. Grateful for another hot meal I ran back into the tent to tell Heather the good news.
She was staring at the Hobbit who was now snoring. We quickly got dressed headed to the ranger station/their home for six months out of the year. I grabbed a few candy bars I brought for treats for us on the trail
and decided we had to give them something in return for their kindness. They were thrilled with the chocolates and hugged us. Nat Geo went for a walk while the other ranger cooked for us. I cleaned up trash left over from the night before and then did dishes in the tiny sink while Heather played the card game, Uno, with the clearly hungover Hobbit. The other cute ranger earned the name Hefe Chef when the hobbit asked when food would be ready and he shyly covered his face and said something then quickly kissed his hand and made a sprinkling motion over one of the bubbling pots. The Hobbit turned to us and translated, “It takes a while because you have to cook with love. Or else it doesn’t taste right.” AWWWW! Hefe Chef! He blushed and said thank you. He loved his nickname.
Eight rounds of yerba mate later, breakfast/lunch was served; Pasta with a thick tomato sauce and pasta with a creamy fish sauce. Once we finished eating he cleared our plates and served us dessert. A man that could cook and clean, the guys back home could learn a hell of a lot from these Park Rangers.
Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better they asked us if we wanted to see the Ice Caves with them. We joked with them. “Is this how you pick up girls?” I thought they were kidding. When they asked again looking more serious this time I said that I didn’t want to get in trouble. For the first time, Hefe Chef spoke English in a thick accent, “We are the park rangers. We decide who gets in trouble.” Without a second of hesitation, Heather and I chirped “down!” Then quickly changed our answer to yes because “down” just doesn’t translate properly. 10 minutes later they had us wearing their spare waterproof pants and gloves and out the door…