The 60 mph gusts sweep through Patagonia's Torres Del Paine National Park, finding me at 2000 feet. I'm only about five miles up the Mirador Las Torres trail, yet it feels like I'm approaching the base camp of a Himalayan giant.
While the majority of glaciers receded with the last ice age, the remnants are awe-inspiring; both in the ones left, and the landscape the past ones created. In keeping with my environmental homage, I not only seek to gaze and feel grateful for Patagonia, but also to minimize the footprint of my stay.
While I (purposefully) left the sleeping bag and tent behind, I still was searching for the experience of sleeping under the stars, but frankly wanted a little luxury to soothe my western-world-wounds. I went glamping.
The juxtaposition between natural living and luxury is no better found than at EcoCamp, Patagonia's premier eco hotel. Many hotels and sustainable accommodations highlight their green credentials and EcoCamp has them all. The perfect start begins with the Geodesic Domes, alternative power mix (60% micro hydro turbine and 40% solar), and renewable building materials. As you walk out of the main dining Dome, a perfected raised wooden trail leads you to the dozen or so EcoDomes, spaced nicely apart -- allowing for the local flora and fauna to become intermingled naturally between Domes (further, Patagonia boasts 118 species of bird and 26 species of mammals). As you enter the Dome, you are immediately greeted by a homey feel, about 90% of the footprint is one room with a large king bed, fitted with plush lines made from natural fibers. The remaining space contains the biodegradable toilet, shower, and wood-built sink. The room is as nice in luxury as many other 4 Star hotel rooms in the U.S. (think Le Meridien or W), but lose the phone and TV and replace them with an unbelievable view of Torres del Paine.
While the accommodations are strong in comfort, I quickly forget the warmth as we make our final turn up the narrow ravine to the base of the three spires -- known as the "Towers Viewpoint" or "Mirador Las Torres." Breathtaking. But, as quickly as they are in sight, so rapidly they vanish, as a snow shower hits the valley. Patagonia experiences all four seasons on any given day at any time of the year.
Our lead EcoCamp guide (and Photographic guru), Rafa, adorns shorts and a light-weight top, clearly accustomed to this "summer" and immune to the freezing temperature and snow whipping at his legs. Half way up the final section, Rafa stops to help me take a photo of the fresh glacial melt snaking its way over rocks and shrubs forming a natural fountain. Hundreds of extraordinary scenes paint this region and I only attempt to capture a piece of the natural wonder.
After arriving back from the 15 mile trek, I'm joined by my fellow EcoCampers in the larger Dome for Pisco Sours and local meat and cheese plates, followed by a communal dinner. After a delicious three-course meal with vino galore and interesting conversations with visitors from across the globe, we all move to the Geodesic "Pub" Dome where the same guides on our hike present a thrilling photo montage on the region, backed by a master-level narration of the fauna and foliage. After the presentation, my trekking legs need to be put up for the night. I follow the short wooden path back to my personal Dome.
While the outside Patagonia summer nights are cold, my EcoSuite has been pre-heated by the cozy, wood-powered stove. The wind became apparent as it sped across the outside of the Dome -- not in a violent way, but in a comforting and cleansing way.
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