Mornings in EcoCamp are almost indescribably cozy, as Cory and I wake each day to a freshly lit fire and hot water for tea (courtesy of Rafa, who sneaks in pre-dawn to prepare). This morning is especially wonderful as the skies around Torres del Paine are uncharacteristically clear and cloud free. Before going to the main building for breakfast, we spend some time on our porch taking in the scenery and snapping several unobstructed pictures of ''the Towers'' the best known summits in the park. Our guide book tells us that visitors can spend a week in the Torres del Paine and never experience a clear view of these beautiful peaks, and so - for what seems like the millionth time on this trip - we consider ourselves very lucky.
Today's activities consist of a drive and terrain walk in the morning followed by an afternoon hike for us and a navigation around Glacier Grey for Doris and Richard. These plans are just another example of EcoCamp's incredible flexibility in scheduling tours to fit the varying interests and abilities of their visitors, even those sharing the same guide. We're pleasantly surprised by the morning safari - our driver takes us by places known to be home to pumas, although we're not fortunate enough to spot one. During one floral and fauna stop I casually mention to Rafa that I would love to see bones, and he immediately leads me to a fresh skeleton, which I find fascinating. The circle of life, indeed.
Rafa described the hike to the top of Cerro Ferrier as ''shorter than yesterday, but much steeper,'' words that we don't take very seriously as we approach the base. However, once the hike begins Cory and I realize that we're walking up an incredible incline almost immediately. The laughing and levity fades quickly as we concentrate on making it to each trail marker - adorned, ironically enough, by a smiling beaver cartoon. I'm a regular runner and consider myself to be in pretty decent shape, but still my leg muscles are screaming with each step. Yet each time I think to myself that I can't go another moment without a break, the beaver appears and tells us we're that much closer to the top.
It only takes us about 45 minutes to reach the summit, but Cory and I both agree that this has been the most challenging hike of our lives. Again, we're instructed to sit down immediately upon reaching the top, and the three of us spend some time enjoying the howling winds and spectacular views. A rainbow appears as an extra bonus for our trouble, and we take turns posing in front of it. The walk back to the van takes not even half an hour, and we have plenty of time to kill waiting for Doris and Richard's boat to return to shore. We are happy for the break and are kind of shocked when Rafa tells us that we have once again set a record for fastest hike and return. Maybe all of our walking around NYC has prepared us for this trip in ways we hadn't expected.
This is Doris and Richard's last night at EcoCamp, and dinner is filled with stories about their world travels and their tips for a happy marriage. Before we turn in for the night, Cory, Rafa and I plan our strategy for tomorrow's main event: the 13 mile hike to the Tower base.