Once the haunt of a few stalwart climbers, Chile's Torres del Paine National Park now draws more than 100,000 visitors a year.

Torres del Paine National Park

Once the haunt of a few stalwart climbers, Chile's Torres del Paine National Park now draws more than 100,000 visitors a year.

The Power of Patagonia

With its glacier-carved peaks and fjords, southern Chile remains one of the wildest places on Earth. But that could soon change.

At the head of a remote fjord in southern Chile, a determined Norwegian named Samsing settled down in 1925 to a life of pasturing sheep in what was then a grass-filled valley. A year later he was literally chased out of his homestead by an advancing glacier.

Where his estancia lay there is now a glacial lake with icebergs floating in it. The glacier, today called P5o XI, relented for a time, then went on the march again. Nowadays it is lifting a forest by its roots, flinging it ever so slowly aside. Along the capsizing tree line, Guaitecas cypresses, some hundreds of years old, seem to have paused even as they were toppling. Roots have been upturned, crowns snapped off, trunks set akimbo. Elephantine boulders of ice have been driven under moss and carnivorous bog plants.

The woodland Pío XI is shoving aside is Magellan­ic rain forest—not the dark, canopy-rich rain forest of the tropics, but the kind of matted, windblown bonsai you see at tree line in the mountains. And no wonder. The fjords and islands of Chilean Patagonia take the brunt of the prevailing westerlies that wail across the southern seas. Here in the heart of the roaring forties, the wind can blow with almost constant ferocity. Rain and snow can fall all year round.

Premium Paywall - Domestic

Read This Next

Rivers and lakes are the most degraded ecosystems in the world. Can we save them?

The world’s oldest known wild bird just turned 70—why she’s so special

Buried for 4,000 years, this ancient culture could expand the 'Cradle of Civilization'

Go Further

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet