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As dusk fell, there on the skyline, at the top of a cliff nearly ft above us, was a female puma. Calm and elegant, she looked down on us as if she was choosing the next course of her evening meal. She was joined by her two cubs. Our Chilean guide, Alfredo, had told us on the first day of our walk that he had only seen five pumas in three years and so our chances of seeing one in a week were incredibly slim.
The attraction was simple: to tackle one of the toughest, most remote walks in one of the most beautiful places on earth; a vast wilderness of mountains, glaciers, lakes and rivers that spread across Chile and Argentina. They say Patagonia is the only place on earth where you can experience all four seasons in a single day. Heavy rain pounded our sparsely furnished dome at Eco Camp and the wind howled. But as we walked to breakfast around 8am, there was barely a cloud in the sky and the wind was no more than a gentle breeze.
By now most of us were in T-shirts and applying sun cream. Less than three hours later, the wind howled and we were clinging to trees to prevent ourselves from being blown over. Our base was Eco Camp, in the heart of the Torres del Paine national park, where the ecologically friendly domes vary from the basic to the luxurious depending on your budget.
In the communal domes, where you eat and drink, there was a real sense of camaraderie and anticipation at what lay ahead each day. In reality, day two was not for the faint-hearted.
We were out for 10 hours, covering nearly 20 miles of spectacular scenery from turquoise lakes that get their colour from minerals in the melting glaciers to snow-capped granite mountains as we climbed up the French Valley. We arrived at our second refugio , Paine Grande, exhilarated but exhausted. Nicaraguan brothers Saul and Israel, both in their late 30s, were fiercely competitive over who had the worst blisters on their feet. My advice to anyone walking in Patagonia is to visit in late November and early December, avoiding the peak holiday season of January and February.