'Moses' and mountain lion make for adventure in Patagonia

PUMA! Puma! Puma!

The excited tones of a deep, male voice ripple across the mountainside as hotel guests and guides scramble outside.

There on a ridge, just a couple of hundred metres from our hotel, stands one of the 'ghosts' of Patagonia, Chile - an elusive mountain lion rarely seen during daylight.

I had literally come down from the mountain after meeting with 'Moses' - an American adventurer with a long white beard and the wooden stick to go with it.

I race back to my room to grab my camera before joining guides and hotel staff already on the hunt for the puma which disappears into bushland before emerging on another ridge in the distance.

The large, light brown cat's colours allow it easily to disappear into its bushland backdrop. But as it moves, it is easily spotted by binocular or through a zoom lens.

A Puma strolls along along the ridge opposite Las Torres hotel.
A Puma strolls along along the ridge opposite Las Torres hotel. Mark Furler

Welcome to the end of the world - frontier country where condors with three metre wing spans soar above the snow-covered Andes.

Below them, the carcasses of wild llama-like guanacos are evidence of the pumas' presence.  Its spring time and the lambs scurry across the hillside, ever aware of the danger present.

It's a place where horses still carry the daily wood supply, where power is generated by wood and gas from bottles, and where cowboys still share a morning smoko and strong tea.

Words are not enough to describe the scenery.

Towers of polished granite emerge above the whitest snow.

In the morning they are transformed to blood red as they reflect the rising sun. At night, the moonlight is enough to illuminate the white mountain tops.

The array of stars against the blackest sky is endless.

During the day, pink and white wispy clouds, blue and green glaciers, turquoise-coloured rivers, emerald green lagoons and waterfalls have you forever wowing at creation.

This is the place of endless postcards and where the most adventurous seek to conquer the coldest and wildest wind, rain and the snow to ascend the mountains.

Torres del Paine National Park is a world biosphere reserve - a place recognised by the world in 1978 - as something special, something sacred. Being there is a spiritual experience.

The South Tower (2850 metres or more than 9300 ft), the Central (2800m) and North Tower (2600m or 8528ft) are now world famous for trekkers and tourists alike.

"Stunning,'' is how Turner Wilson, of Brownfield, Maine describes the peaks.

Turner Wilson, 63 from Maine, USA Photo Mark Furler / APN
Turner Wilson, 63 from Maine, USA Photo Mark Furler / APN Mark Furler

"The geologic forces that created these particular mountains, I think, are exceptional,'' the 63-year-old American says.

Turner and his partner Cheri Perry travel the world teaching traditional kayaking skills, including how to roll them in wild waters.

They've visited Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Italy and Canada as well as extensively exploring their own wild rivers in North America.

Cheri competed in the Greenland National Kayaking Championships in 2004 and 2005, in events ranging from rolling to relays, winning a dozen gold medals.

She is regarded as one of the best Greenland-style kayak rollers in the world.

Turner has also competed at a national level, winning six gold medals.

They come to Chile to speak at a international kayaking conference and only hear about Patagonia a just before leaving their 150 year old barn frame home.

"We actually only heard about this place, from a friend who had been here 10 years ago, the day before we took off from the States,'' Turner said.

"Trekking through the mountains is something we obviously love.

"I have been skiing since I was three years old,'' Turner says.

While he is loath to rank mountain experiences, saying they all have their qualities, he says Patagonia has to be on the bucket list of any mountaineer.

"This part of the spine goes all the way up through South America, all the way up North America to Alaska... those same forces of tectonic plates operated on that entire spine.

"But it seems like these are among the newest mountains in the new world.

"They are very cool to experience.''

As he and Cheri poked their way through knee deep snow, Turner said it wasn't until the very latest stage of the eight hour journey that the towers fully emerged.

"Going up to the Torres del Paine was just stunning.

"I think they planned the route so you really couldn't see it.

Taking in the sights of the Salto Grande.
Taking in the sights of the Salto Grande. Mark Furler

"You sort of got teased by the tips and all of a sudden you drop over this ridge and it's all in front of you and there is a glacial lake at the bottom of it. It's really beautiful.''

But the journey was not without its challenges, even for these experienced trekkers.

"This time of the year is tricky. There were places where you could hear the water running underneath you.

There were plenty of times when Turner said his stick posted straight through while the trek markings were covered.

It was a matter of trying to follow where others had been but not going into deeper holes which may give way at any time.

"There was one spot where we had a traverse across the snow,'' Cheri  says.
"And that was a scary spot because the snow was pretty slushy.

"A couple of times my foot went out and I'm looking down and it's all jagged rocks down there. If you fell, you weren't going to stop yourself.''

On horseback heading to the base of the Paine towers.
On horseback heading to the base of the Paine towers. Mark Furler

Even travelling on horseback, to the start of the snow, as I did, you easily appreciate the sheer drops of hundreds of metres below you.

But most of the time, you are focused on the snow-capped mountains, the streams of clear water, and the incredible skill of these horses as they  negotiate the narrow, winding track around the mountainside.

The writer was a guest of Las Torres Hotel and Travel Projects, Central & South America Travel Specialist.

For more information on the hotel, excursions and hotel package


The sun rises on the Condors' nest at Las Torres.
The sun rises on the Condors' nest at Las Torres. Mark Furler