Shedding light on unexplored land
Despite its end of the world location, many disparate and desperate characters have been trekking Patagonia through the years. In doing so their books and films shed some light on an otherwise still mostly undiscovered part of the globe.
That’s what draws us to places like Torres Del Paine, our chance to explore somewhere that only in the last decade or so have become a must see destination. Photographs of its spires may have done more than anything to trigger interest, but Yvon Chouinard and Bruce Chatwin’s books/films were also catalysts.
Lady Dixie Florence was the first to go agog when she saw Paine’s massive towers calling its three throne granite setting, “Cleopatra’s Needles.” This was written in her 1880 travelogue “Across Patagonia,” but we haven’t read her take, and will take her word for it.
Here are the ones we have embraced and have become our favorite Patagonia reads and reels.
Perhaps no one has put Patagonia on the modern map more than mountaineer Yvon Chouinard. Everyone knows his outdoor company called Patagonia, but few know the backstory and have seen his 1968 film, “Mountain of Storms” and read his “Climbing Fitz Roy 1968.”
Instead of getting stoned in Golden Gate Park during San Francisco’s summer of love, Chouinard and climbing buddy Doug Tompkins got into a VW bus and drove to Patagonia. They climbed Argentina’s Mount Fitz Roy making it seem easy and his film and book will stir you to follow their trail. It changed their lives and led to the creation of three insanely successful companies, Patagonia, The North Face and Esprit.
Chatwin’s “In Patagonia”
This 1977 piece of non-fiction is the most well reviewed Patagonia book, but is not necessarily the best read for someone just interested in trekking and wildlife. It does give a picaresque portrait of runaway Europeans who tried to survive in Patagonia while also educating us on Patagonia’s history, geology and ethnography. It’s dated and may be better reading while on the trip than before it. Sometimes you need to be there to better appreciate a book.
Susan Alcorn is both backpacker and author and her, “Patagonia Chronicle: On Foot in Torres Del Paine,” is the most apropos guidebook for anyone trekking here. In her late 60’s, Alcorn and her 70-year-old husband backpacked throughout the park on two separate trips and her book is thorough and full of great info on the park the approach cities as well as flora and fauna.
BBC’ deep dive
When BBC nature cinematographers decide to do a deep dive documentary you know the place is a must see. “Patagonia: Earth’s Secret Paradise,” a three hour series was first screened on BBC 2 in August 2017 and is authoritative. Its wildlife film of pumas and orcas are beautiful to look at, but its clips of fighting guanacos are frightening. To protect his harem of ten females a male tries turn his foe into a eunuch with his sharp teeth. The film covers a wide swath of Patagonia including its coastline so is not Torres Del Paine centric. It has not screened in the U.S. yet, but several juicy clips are available on the BBC 2 website.
Werner Herzog in denial
“Scream of Stone” (1991) is probably German auteur Herzog’s least favorite project, but is worth watching if you can find it. It’s about the first controversial climb of Cerro Torre and has spectacular mountain climbing visuals. Herzog hated the script which he didn’t write and has distanced himself from the film. Reinhold Messner planted the idea in Herzog’s head and from the looks of things he wishes he never did.
Still it provides a good glimpse into Torres Del Paine and gets you stoked about your upcoming trek.
This is why we read and watch films about foreign places. They whet our appetite and propel us to explore. They embolden us, but also give us pause. Read up then take the Patagonia plunge.