Nature had won.
It was time to turn back.
We were at the bottom of the world, at the tip of South America. After five days of backpacking in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park, we were just minutes away from the final camp of the “W Treck.”
But the weather had turned.
Snow fell. The farther we walked into the mountain valley, the bigger the cold feeling in the pit of my stomach grew. I knew that even if we reached the camp, the path would be covered in black ice tomorrow morning, when it was time to descend.
Suddenly, my traveling companion and I stopped at the top of a hill. The path descended into a tunnel of trees.
“I don’t want to go down there,” is all we said.
To this day, I don’t know what made us stop at that moment. We were so close! Why stop now? There were even a few people ahead of us. Of course, it would be fine. Why go back now?
But the heart overruled the head.
As we began the hike back down, the sickening feeling in my stomach dissolved away. A calmness and deep relief settled over me.
We made it back to “Campamento Chileno” at dusk. Staff welcomed us in, we joined a table by the fire, and uncorked a bottle of Carmenere wine. It was a Canadian man, Anti’s, birthday, and we all raised a glass.
Suddenly, I realized that those famous granite towers at the end of the hike did not matter at all. We turned back when we were so close to the most iconic sight in the park! But it did not matter. I was grateful to simply be sheltered inside, with others, enjoying a warm meal and wine together next to a fire.
To this day, I am glad my friend and I listened to our gut feeling. I am glad we respected Mother Nature’s power, the snow, and did not let our pride of finishing the hike cloud our judgement.
At the end of the day, it’s not always grand achievements or “completing” something that matter most. Sometimes it’s just sharing in a community with others. That last day in Patagonia, in those cold, wild mountains, I understood what that meant.