Directors of Toughness: Patagonia – You Never Know What You’re Gonna Get [Sponsor Content]

We sat at the lake’s edge for a couple of hours as The Three Towers came in and out of view in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia. One minute they would disappear in a snowstorm and the next minute the sun would pop and expose the incredible granite walls. Photograph by Zach Doleac
We sat at the lake’s edge for a couple of hours as The Three Towers came in and out of view in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia. One minute they would disappear in a snowstorm and the next minute the sun would pop and expose the incredible granite walls. Photograph by Zach Doleac

This is the last of three sponsor content blog posts featuring the adventures of Columbia’s Directors of Toughness, writer Lauren Steele and photographer Zach Doleac. See more photos from this story in a takeover on our @natgeoadventure Instagram feed.

Patagonia slapped me across the face. However, the aggressors in this situation were the elements. A storm during a particular trek was made with the kinds of snowflakes that don’t fall—they sail sideways like a million supervillains, fists jutting from outstretched arms, ready to drill anything in their flight paths. “BIFF!” “BANG!” “KA-POW!” I was a sitting duck and the only defense was my flushed face, hot from a 15-mile hike.

I had control over two things when we started the trek through the headlands of Cuernos del Paine. Starting from Lake Pehoé into the dusky forests, past flashing glacier fields, near snow-whipped mountaintops, and over the rock-rammed rivers of Torres del Paine, these two things were:

  1. Keeping one foot in front of the other;
  2. Keeping happy thoughts one after another.

The second wasn’t tough at all. I was steadily overjoyed at the breathtaking sights of Torres del Paine. That is, until the first gusts of 40-miles-per-hour winds hit. It felt as if these winds were aimed specifically for me, like they wanted to bowl me over. Just then the sky opened up and bombed rain for the next six miles. After that, the rain turned into projectile, face-slapping ice pellets that only stopped long enough for the summer sun to show its face and induce a sweat before retreating again behind ice flurries. Then, more snow. More rain. More wind. I think there was hail, too. But who knows? I was tucked into my jacket.

Punta Bariloche at the beginning of their trek up the Valle del Francés. This was the only glimpse of sunshine they got all day. The remainder was filled with snow, sleet, and rain mixed with 40-mile-per-hour winds. Photograph by Zach Doleac
Punta Bariloche at the beginning of their trek up the Valle del Francés. This was the only glimpse of sunshine they got all day. The remainder was filled with snow, sleet, and rain mixed with 40-mile-per-hour winds. Photograph by Zach Doleac

No weather forecast could have predicted this. No single piece of gear could protect against this 15-mile gauntlet. The weather changed as quickly as the landscape. These were uncertain, temperamental, extraordinary conditions that allowed for distinct, sudden, and astonishing landscapes. Looking back at the crystalline lake saturated in blue, the ashen woods of fire-stricken Beech trees covered in springy Lichen, the meadows of wildflowers and berries that gave way to boulder-scattered fields at the base of the horned mountain, I realized that they wouldn’t exist had these extreme elements not formed them. These, the same elements that just battered me.

Lago Pehoé. At the end of a 26-kilometer day, we were racing through sheets of rain to catch the last ferry back to Pudeto. Lauren Steele put her head down and led the charge. Photograph by Zach Doleac
Lago Pehoé. At the end of a 26-kilometer day, we were racing through sheets of rain to catch the last ferry back to Pudeto. Lauren Steele put her head down and led the charge. Photograph by Zach Doleac

There are many challenges in this life—new chapters and decisions to be made. Some moderate, many extreme. But these unforeseen conditions make for the most valuable lessons and produce the greatest rewards. Just as the harshest conditions can make for the most impressive landscapes, so too do the biggest challenges make for the most powerful growth.

What we have to remember is that if we want to see what the journey has to offer, we have to put our jackets on when it pours and our shades on when the sun shines. We may never know what’s coming next, but we’ll only find out if we keep putting one foot in front of the other. And if we keep doing that, there won’t be a supervillain around to stop us.