The Towers of the Blue Mountains

After a cold and windy sunrise at Torres del Paine, we went looking for pumas. Pumas were once a bit rare in this area after being hunted rather ruthlessly by ranchers. But as the park was formed and tourism dollars were discovered, people began being a lot more accommodating of the pumas. With their only predator playing nice now and a seemingly never-ending supply of guanaco, their numbers have increased quite a bit. So, there was a good chance that we would see at least one or two pumas in the park (it turns out we saw them every day).

The search started out as a slow and bumpy bus ride through the hills. The clouds were beginning to part and sunlight was reaching the landscape. There was the concern of rain the previous day, but it was turning out to be a nice morning. That may be why this guanaco was happily singing on the hill side.

Not far up the road we saw some vehicles stopped in the distance, which is the best sign that there are pumas in the area. After considerable searching, high on a hillside three pumas were spotted. They were a long way from our group and never a threat to us. I could barely see them with my unaided eyes, but they appeared to be just lazing around in the morning sun. Below is how they appeared through a 400mm lens, which is quite a zoom.

So, I ran back to the bus to grab my teleconverter. This would get me to 800mm focal-length but I knew I’d pay a light penalty. The sun was in and out of the clouds and I had to hope for some bright sunlight to get decent photos. Below is a crop of a photo taken at 800mm. The sky is so white, because I shot exposed for the darker pumas. I was told that it was likely a puma mother with a pair of nearly adult juvenile pumas. Don’t you just want to pet them?

The pumas we saw all looked quite well-fed to me so I don’t know if these guys were on the hunt. But there was an apparently clueless guanaco standing just down the hill not far away probably wondering where everyone else went. Two of the pumas were tan, but there was one that was more sleek and grayer. I enjoyed watching its fur ripple as it began walking down the hill. I don’t know if it was going to go check out the guanaco or find a good spot to nap, but it wandered to the other side of the hill and out of site. Those were my day-1 pumas. The below photo shows the sleek gray puma.

There are pumas (AKA cougars, mountain lions, panthers) in North America as well, even in Texas, but I have only seen them in Patagonia. You might be happy to know that pumas have a conservation status of “least concern” (just like humans I presume).

After looking at the pumas, we went on a nice hike of about 6km that would take us up a hill to some fantastic views of the towers. This would be my first opportunity to actually see the Torres del Paine. Torres del Paine, I am told, means something like “towers of the blue mountains” in an aboriginal American language. The main feature are the three large granite peaks (or torres del paine) high in the mountains. The area was established as a national park in 1959 and is one of the most visited parks in Chile for really good reason.

After a nice hike through the trees, cresting the hill I had my first real glimpse of the towers as the clouds began to clear. The photo below shows the view of the towers from the crest of the hiking trail. Look at the red color of the trees on the mountain slopes! This may be the point at which I remembered that I own a polarizer.

We hiked down through the remains of a fire set by a careless tourist many years ago. It can be very windy here and a fire can get out of control in a hurry. It was sad to see so many dead trees, but hopefully the forest can recover in time.

The group had become quite spread out down the hiking trail and I began to have time to myself without others in sight. When I got to be alone for a while, I had to put the camera down and just live there for a few minutes. There was nothing but the peace of the vast landscape with only the sound of the wind and I began to understand why I had come to this place. I felt far away and blissfully alone in a vast and beautiful landscape.

I don’t think “loneliness” is a bad word and at times I find the feeling quite enjoyable. And as much as I enjoyed the sensation of being alone in a beautiful landscape, I wasn’t really alone and before much longer the rest of the group caught up and I continued my walk.

A dirt road running off across the landscape with the mountains in the distance caught my eye. Seems like a road that you’d want to travel and see where it leads.

I noticed an Andean condor soaring above the towers, so I had to switch to the long lens. I would see many more of these giant birds on this trip. They are listed as vulnerable but I understand that they are making a strong recovery.

For a late lunch, we went to a camping area on Laguna Azul. I rather quickly wolfed down my sandwich and trail mix and headed down to the water’s edge to see about some photography. This picnic area is quite well situated to get the towers across the water. I eventually decided I needed to get the tripod and try some long exposures with the ND filter. Not sure if they are all that impressive, but they are in the gallery below.

This next photo I call the polarizer special. The trip guide directed me over to this tree by the water’s edge with its leave turning fall colors with the lake and mountains behind it. There was so much color, that I couldn’t resist dialing the polarizer to maximum to bring it out. I backed up the hill and had to sit in the dirt to get the tree just where I wanted it in the frame with the mountains in the distance above. The colors in this scene were amazing and I feel like I captured them well. So, this is my hero photo of this blog post; what do you think?

It was really tough winnowing down all the photos from this day’s activities, but I think that these were probably the best. It was the first of three fantastic days in Torres del Paine. The park is truly a landscape photographer’s dream. Thanks for reading.

19 thoughts on “The Towers of the Blue Mountains

  1. I think they’re all fantastic photos, so it’s hard for me to decide which I like best. But I think I prefer the dirt road leading toward the towers. Then again, the herd of guanaco against the towers is also very impressive, as is the orange-leaved tree. What a beautiful place to visit.

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  2. Wow! The mountains are breathtaking. This is one time where I really can’t pick a favorite. I want to know where the dirt road leads to, and there is something about your photo with the the condor in it that grabs me, and the colors in your hero photo are striking! Wonderful job! Oh, and I think I will pass on petting the pumas. Would be very content with just watching them from a distance.

    Plus you are right, lonliness isn’t a bad thing, so glad that you were able to soak in the moment and enjoy it. Refreshing to the soul!

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    1. Watching to condors, with their massive wingspan, almost just hover in the sky riding the wind was amazing to watch. They aren’t the prettiest birds when viewed close-up, but from a distance they are really fun to watch.

      I’ll bet the puma would purr when you pet it. Just make sure you feed it well first.

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  3. Great photos! But I think I’m drawn most to the last one. Maybe just the juxtapositions?
    I was there for a couple of days in December of ’17… part of a circuit from the Argentinian side, then up to Osorno. We hiked into the Campamento Torres for a couple of days. Good weather, but constant blasting wind at the Hosteria. Also didn’t see so much wildlife.

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  4. What amazing photos. It’s difficult to choose favorites among such a wonderful grouping, but I love your first photo of the towers with the colorful trees in the foreground. Wow, it was definitely worth the effort to go back to the van and get your stronger telephoto lens for the photo of the three pumas—their faces are so clear and beautiful. I live in Southern California in an area where there are many pumas. Currently a wildlife crossing is being built across the 8 lane freeway in my area in hopes the pumas and other wildlife will stand a better chance of survival and will no longer be imprisoned by the web of large highways boxing them in.
    Every one of your photos if the towers is spectacular. The final photo with the guanco herd in the foreground is so dramatic and beautiful.
    Thanks for sharing your travel narratives and photos with the rest of us.

    Liked by 1 person

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