The tour guide promised the trail to Salto Grande Waterfall in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park was easy. “Just a 20 minute walk,” he said. As a casual aside, he advised us to take our jackets, as it “might be a little windy up there.” The first 15 minutes were a breeze. A graveled path led through a field of flower-strewn tall grass, with the famous horns of the Cordillera Paine Massif peeking over the top. A stretch of turquoise river came into view and the thunderous sound of crashing water filled the air.
Excited for my first view of the falls, I crested the final rise and was nearly bowled over by a blast of icy wind. The mountains in the area act as a natural funnel. Wind screams through the river valley, becoming increasingly fierce until it dips down the face of the falls and dissipates into Pehoe Lake. Each step was more difficult than the previous one. Soon I was leaning at a 45 degree angle, struggling to put one foot in front of the other. By the time I reached the viewing platform I was hanging onto the railing for dear life.
The roar of the falls was deafening. I could see people’s lips moving but no words reached my ears. I aimed my camera with one hand, trying to get a decent photo, but between the wind and the mist from the falls, it was impossible. Finally, I hooked one leg through the lower railing and hunkered down so I could tuck the upper railing in the crotch of my arms. With both hands free I finally snapped a few shots. Miraculously, just as I began taking photos the sun came out and a rainbow appeared in the mist.
If you enjoyed this article about Salto Grande Waterfall you may be interested in my other stories about Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonian Chile: Lago Nordenskjold Viewpoint and the protected Guanaco that are native to Chile and are found abundantly in the park.