Racing the Sun

On the final day of the “W” trek in Torres del Paine National Park, my girlfriend Kalyn and I raced the sun. Our goal was to hike up to the famous “towers of Paine”, or Las Torres, at the butt crack of dawn to catch the sunrise hitting the massive granite rocks. The sunrise hike to the towers is the classic ending to the “W” trek that we read so much about before our trip, so we structured our trek to make sure we did just that. However, we ran into a few hiccups along the way that put this ending, the pinnacle of our trek, in total jeopardy.

One thing we knew about hiking to the towers was that if the weather wasn’t good, meaning cloud cover, then we wouldn’t be able to see shit. And because it rained all day the day before, we had some serious doubts about getting up super early, humping it up a mountain, and staring at some clouds. Additionally, we felt like we totally botched it in terms of our campsite. We had hopes and dreams of camping at the foot of the mountain at the Torres camp site, which would put us a measly 45 minutes from the towers the next morning. The camp site we wanted was full, so we had to settle for a spot at Refugio Chileno, about 1.5 hours away from the trailhead up to the towers. So that would mean we had just over two hours of hiking the next morning to see the sunrise at 6:30am.

Fortunately for us, the weather began to clear up that evening at Refugio Chileno. With our hopes beginning to rise for good weather the next morning, we were totally un-stoked about how early we would have to get up to start hiking in order to beat the sun. While cooking dinner that night we talked to a Chilean named Martín, who told us he was leaving at 4:30am the next morning to head up to the towers. Me and Kalyn looked at each other and realized this was not going to be a super fun ending to the trek. On top of that, we were half way through a box of wine, which probably wouldn’t do us any favors in the morning.

Our plan was to wake up at 4:30am, check the weather to make sure it was clear and try to head out from our tent at 4:45am. We had our hiking stuff together the night before so we could just wake up and go. If we left at 4:45am, it would still be quite the haul to reach the mirador by 6:30am. I remember at like 3am I got up to take a piss and noticed how clear the night sky was. I was confident that we would have an awesome view of the towers if we made it up there in time. Our alarm went off at 4:30am, and naturally, we snoozed it for 15 minutes. At 4:45am we began to roll around and get awake. It was pitch black outside, but we could tell from the stars the sky was totally clear. Right on plan (not at all), we were ready to rock at 5:15am. With our headlamps on, we hit the trail practically running. We had no clue if we were actually following the trail because it was still dark. Our only hope was following somebody else with a headlamp just ahead of us.

We started hauling ass. We passed one hiker, then another, then 5 more. Within 45 minutes, we reached the Torres campsite and trailhead up to the towers. We absolutely flew through the first stretch of the hike, in total darkness. Dawn was beginning to light up the sky, but the sun hadn’t peeked out yet. We had 30 minutes to reach the top, on a trail straight uphill, climbing roughly 1,000ft. And guess what, we frickin’ crushed it. We beasted a 2+ hour hike from Refugio Chileno in just 1 hour and 15 minutes. We raced the sun, and we won.

Here’s how it went down:

The crack of dawn, beginning our ascent.
A little more light…
The Ascencio Valley beginning to light up.
Our first peek of the towers.
Looking back, the sky was beginning to ignite.
Then the sky lit on fire. So close to the top! Hurry!
Just feet away as the sun began to hit the towers!
We made it to the top! The towers were pink and sun hadn’t quite hit yet…
Then an absolute explosion of light smacks the granite towers with a red hue.
Looking back at the other hikers watching the sunrise.
From pink to red, and now yellow.
Yellow to a light orange.
Feeling quite accomplished!
The final stage of sunlight, stone cold grey.