Blown Away in Patagonia
This is the story of Bob Schuler—a hiker, who, close to finishing his trek on the O-Circuit in Patagonia, got caught up, rolled away and lifted off all in one treacherous moment.

As told to his daughter, Mattie Schuler.

The grandest piece of hiking lore surrounding the O-Circuit in Patagonia is the trek over the John Gardner Pass. The literature talks about winds strong enough to lift and move fully grown men. So when I'd made it through that pass, unscathed, I thought I was all set. Sure, the winds were powerful, but I didn't think they'd increase, especially as I started to descend back to the base at Torres del Paine.

On my eighth and final day of my hike, I arrived at the campsite at Los Cuernos. It was a beautiful night, but when I woke up in the morning, the wind had picked up significantly, reaching 60 miles an hour with gusts higher at times. During breakfast in the site's steel-roofed shelter, it felt as though the top of the building would be air-lifted at any second. Friends I'd made along the way were thinking the same thing. The main question knocking around was, "What does this mean for me?"

It was unnerving, sure, but the day was sunny with stunning blue skies. I started off the trek alone with the wind behind me and from my right. What could go wrong?

As I trekked farther into what was supposed to be a leisurely day, the winds picked up even more. Despite my 40-pound pack, despite planting my feet with each step, I was spun around and buffeted, landing on my hands and knees three times. Occasionally I'd luck into a protected spot and think, Oh, it must be letting up. But then the gusts would come from seemingly nowhere. Sometimes I could hear them approaching, and other times they'd catch me completely unaware.

Not far into my hike, I arrived at an open part of the trail, and wasn't sure if I should go left or right. Usually the trails were well marked, but this one had me confused. On instinct, I headed out to the right, into an open area near the cliff's edge. That's when a huge gust knocked me down.

I fell on my pole, bending it pretty severely, and started to roll with the wind toward the drop-off. Not nervous at first, I soon realized that if I didn't find something to hold on to, the wind would blow me over the cliff. I didn't know the height of the drop-off, but I knew if I went over I'd be badly injured. The closest hikers were 15 minutes behind or in front of me, and wouldn't be able to help.
I soon realized that if I didn't find something to hold on to, the wind would blow me over the cliff."


After what seemed like an eternity, I was rolled up to a rock, big enough to brace against and stop my momentum.

It wasn't until days later, that I found the bruises on my body from my windswept ordeal. I was lucky. I met twenty people along the trail day, and some did get hurt. Later, we met up and recounted our stories. There was a wrecked knee, a head wound, a sprained ankle. All on that one day.

Of course, there's something to be said for the scars of our journeys. After all, the tougher the day, the more interesting and rewarding the trip. While I wasn't really scared at any point of my battle with the elements, digging in and pursuing my path with some grit is something I can feel good about.

It proved that even on the windiest days, I can still move and make tracks. My tussle with the Patagonian winds will lead me to be better prepared for the next time I trek—and there will most definitely be a next time.