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.
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.