Monday, March 11, 2013

Machine slavery - compat-drivers build box


I've written before on how the compat-drivers project got started, designed to help automatically backport the Linux kernel, and our ideas to help optimize backporting collateral evolutions, and of our move of releases onto kernel.org. I now want to thank the Linux Foundation, HP and SUSE for providing to the project with a build box to help us do our build tests prior to making releases. After a few years of making releases I determined it didn't make sense to make any releases to the community that were not at least build tested over a slew of supported kernels. As it is right now we support building compat-drivers down to the 2.6.24 kernel, Linus is now on v3.9 so that means we have 31 kernels to test against. Our builds tests used to take approximately 120 minutes, thanks to the server our builds were reduced to 23 minutes. The above picture is of htop running first on my laptop running ckmake, then on an 8-core build box I built at home to help with the project, and later the monster 32-core build box supplied by HP for the project. This thing has 32 cores and 236 GiB of RAM.

Thanks HP!

mcgrof@drvbp1 ~ $ df -h /pub/mem/*
Filesystem      Size  Used Avail Use% Mounted on
tmpfs            20G  5.4G   15G  27% /pub/mem/hauke
tmpfs            20G  6.3G   14G  32% /pub/mem/mcgrof
tmpfs            20G  5.4G   15G  27% /pub/mem/ozancag


Given that we have so much RAM the build system allows each of our developers to run their entire work space in RAM: linux-next, linux-stable, compat, compat-drivers, ccache. This means we skip all the IO on a slow disk. To take advantage of the number of cores available and use as much RAM as possible ckmake, our cross kernel compilation utility, is now multithreaded and runs a build for each kernel on its own thread. It was rewritten to Python and uses ncurses to allow us to get an update of each compile as it completes.


You may have heared kernel.org has a shiny new page now, its using Pelican for its new face lift. compat-drivers is no different, but Pelican is far too complex for what we need, so I wrote a small Python script called rel-html that parses naked project pages and generates an HTML5 release page for you based on simple configuration file. As with other new HTML5 pages the rel-html HTML5 code is based on the HTML5 initializr boilerplate project. Right now we have the release page on a temporary page but with time hope to coordinate a release page somewhere to be hosted on kernel.org that aligns itself with the current  Pelican usage. The rel-html code also currently supports others projects, including the Linux kernel releases. What this has made obvious is how many projects lack digitally signing releases in a secure manner.  Sample release pages for the different rel-html supported projects below. Whether or not each project embraces the tool, its up to them. Oh yeah, and rel-html is licensed under the AGPL, patches welcomed ;)

Monday, March 04, 2013

Killing proprietary drivers for all Operating Systems


Be sure to read my legal disclaimer. Great. Now, if you've been hacking on the Linux kernel, FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD or any other open public Operating System kernel project you may at times have reached a point where you have had to deal with code written by a random silicon company. You'd have had to either review it, rewrite it, or massage it to conform to your groups' views of good code, a non trivial daunting task. Now, good code can be subjective but I argue that's a bullshit lame claim and one can mathematically prove what shit code is. Showing what bad code is through mathematics can be used to help alleviate yourself from the politics that you likely will be pegged for calling out bullshit nasty piece of shit code. When working with a large community you get used to people lashing out on your code, you need to grow a thick skin and grow comfortable with accepting public criticism to your work. Some companies have required code review policies but I don't think that these efforts will ever compete with the level of public scrutiny a good engaged community can provide. There is simply not enough resources, passion, and drive from corporate code review to compete, not matter what any PHB may say. Getting a community engaged is difficult however and the claim that all open code is good is simply false. What helps make a community engaged is difficult to iron out but its easy to spot. This post is not about what makes these communities well engaged or measuring them but simply to make the case that when you do have a good engaged community you will not be able to compete with the level of scrutiny of that community at your company.


I've dealt with reviewing / massaging company code a lot, not only for 802.11 but for video and random hardware concoctions. Given that I am part of a public community I can also engage with developers from other subsystems and also other public Operating Systems and from what I have talked about with every single developer its all the same: they agree, most company corporate code tends to suck. Guess who has to deal with fixing all that crap? Us. Its all shit and I'm tired of it and I want to put an end to this mess. On December 9, 2011 I declared war against proprietary drivers. Such a claim is easy to make but its really hard to fix this issue. There are a slew of politics in the middle, a bunch of historical baggage, and a huge set of legal misconceptions, and lets not forget community tensions around the idea of 'free software' and stupid claims of what operating system is better. Making the assumption that you will have the solution yourself to a complex problem requires serious delusions of grandeur and politicians keep failing at this same mistake and its why so many political promises end up not being met. This problem is best illustrated by Tim Hardford on his Ted Talk 'Trial error and the God complex'. My strategy then is to accept I cannot come up with the solution to the problem myself but instead start by reviewing the issue at hand with different parties both in the community leaders and anyone at companies who would lend me an ear to discuss and try to take a very different strategy, by first reviewing carefully existing failed strategies. Getting people to accept existing strategies as failed is difficult due to a huge slew of politics and frankly a line of PHBs in the way but also a plague of archaic cultural practices instilled in the industry in ways to support hardware and tensions around public community projects and legal FUD.

吉祥物大集合

To even begin to try to address these issues would require engaging with folks that likely disagree with me philosophically and who would never be afraid to make claims that disagree with your own points of view. I joined forces with Adrian Chadd, a FreeBSD developer, and we started trying to look at this problem from all angles possible from both the Linux, FreeBSD and corporate world. We made our first public outcry of the problem at the 2012 Linux Collaboration summit and explained the general issues in the current assembly line of hardware and software production. Our hope was mostly to educate the public development community and corporations about general issues in the existing assembly line of hardware and software production and to get feedback on our initial proposed strategy. You can see the slides here, and video here.


This post is a follow up to that talk, tell you where we're at, provide references to the legal foundations of our efforts and to bring together interested parties to start participating by keeping in mind we are open to change our strategies and all this is up to public scrutiny and review. First we'll give the idea of 'driver unification' one last shot, mostly because some people keep dreaming this might be possible and we figured we'd look into this from a community perspective. Some large companies have already given up on the idea of driver unification but that also has some interesting side consequences. We figured if there can exist any such unification strategy it should be defined by the community, not corporations. The technical strategy for our work is work is to start out with something as simple as possible and to try to support just two Operating Systems: FreeBSD and Linux but to never make any compromises to our community development tenets on quality / style. If unification is not possible at least we'd end up trying to create a base repository for development that is public for community developers to pick up and integrate into their OS. That is, we'd end up killing proprietary drivers anyway and make public development the only way to do driver development. Our legal foundation was to follow the path set out by SFLC for doing collaboration between Linux and the BSD family learned through the ath5k wars: we'd use the ISC license to share between BSD and Linux and we'd stick to the strengths of the Developer Certificate of Origin to help ensure changes are intended to be kept under that license. This is implies a call to use a permissive license for Linux device drivers to help with sharing with the BSD community, I formalized this on my localizing the GPL post. I'll note that there are some interpretations on intent on the sharing code between BSD/ Linux, for example the intent behind some Linux developers is that although we allow for sharing we do not intend to enable extracting permissive licensed components from Linux, GPL larger project, and for you to go and make non-GPL compatible modifications of that extracted content to the same Linux GPL project given that the license at run time of the individual components are all GPL; in short you should not extract BSD licensed code from the Linux kernel and make proprietary Linux kernel code.To be clear I am not calling out for the end of copyleft, quite the contrary, I acknowledge the importance of the GPL, but I'm calling it useless if we are to kill the larger plague of proprietary driver development in the industry given that we have no alternative as it stands and that archaic legal strategies should be reconsidered to help us find the areas where copyleft can best be used. If we want to share code simply use a permissive license for those components. We then needed to pick a pet project, something simple, the simpler the better. With agreement to participate in this effort we joined forces with the alx Ethernet driver and we set out to address FreeBSD and Linux support.


As it stands the alx Ethernet driver is being developed in a standalone tree maintained by Adrian. We currently have addressed only Linux support. You can either clone the git tree or use compat-drivers "-u" releases to get this driver for Linux. Admittedly there is a cost here: the driver is not yet upstream. It doesn't matter, the quality of the driver is not yet ready anyway, the team tried to get it upstream about 4 times now.  We also didn't go through staging given that we wanted to have the flexibility to make huge changes without the cumbersome requirements for the Linux kernel but the same time rope in the teams to get used to the same quality / bar. The next phase of development is to address FreeBSD support without making compromises to style / quality for both OSes while the other teams keep on working on fixing bugs and addressing general style requirements on our way to get the driver ready for a new submission upstream into the Linux kernel and FreeBSD project. We have a mailing list for unified-drivers where we request all patch submitters and interested parties to subscribe to help review strategies and patches. If you're interested in helping us review these strategies please join the mailing list and effort. The more critical review we get the better, specially if you disagree with us. If you're skeptical please consider the fact that I received similar skepticism over the ability to automatically backport the Linux kernel. As it stands compat-drivers, the project to automatically backport the Linux kernel, now backports four subsystems across 26 kernel revisions. For that project we've looked at ways to even further optimize backporting collateral evolutions and tools such as Coccinelle SmPL are being seriously considered, and guess what? Its usage may likely also be easily applicable here to help with porting code from one OS to another, its no different than porting driver code from one OS to another, and we have never made a single compromise to style / quality upstream. As Adrian notes though -- please be aware that Coccinelle SmPL should not be considered the "silver bullet" here to the problem, its just one of the tools we are evaluating.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Climbing reconnaissance at Patagonia


I started learning about Patagonia when I got into rock climbing one year ago, and I started considering new climbing mecas to visit after starting to climb in Yosemite and reading about other places. I read mostly about the Fitz Roy area, and the descriptions were all similar: it is a meca, there is no other place like it and its weather was highly unpredictable and at times treacherous. With time a friend and I started toying with the idea of visiting, although I was thrilled of the idea of going I had read enough to know already that this was no place for beginner rock climbers like myself, and that weather conditions could be nefarious. My friend treks but I never had done long distance hikes, all I ever had done was a few small hikes (~8 miles) and a bit of trail running here and there, I certainly didn't have enough gear. I love trying new things though and trekking seemed like a good way to do what I like to personally call climbing reconnaissance work on an area: familiarizing yourself with the area, picking up topos (climbing guides), meeting local rock climbers, anything that can help for gaining confidence for a future trip. Its how I started rock climbing in Yosemite. Reconnaissance for me also means diving hard into the local history, getting an appreciation of effort required to really rock climb in the area. One can surely hire guides but its prohibitively expensive and where's the fun in that?


Climbing reconnaissance work may sound like a fucking joke to some but let me assure you that climbing outdoors is extremely different than indoors and that even approaches, just getting to the base of where you'll start climbing, can be a huge challenge in itself. I've lost myself before twice for over 1 hour in one approach in Yosemite that a guide books told me was just about 5-10 minutes from where you park. Its no fun if you don't have much time to climb and you spent most of your day just walking around with equipment. The Fitz Roy area I hoped would give me a broader sense of appreciation for what all those climbers wrote about, talked about and dreamed about, with a very different settings, one surrounded by Glaciers. Patagonia is also very big and just sticking to one area didn't make much sense for this trip. I wanted to appreciate every inch of Patagonia that I possibly could.


To my disbelief, with time the stars aligned with work, a bit of savings, and I finally booked my ticket. I frankly didn't plan much except buying two books both by Lonely Planet: a general Argentina guide, and Trekking in the Patagonian Andes, coordinating my flights around points of interest and ensuring I had enough gear and time from work to do this venture. I figured the rest would come along the way.
There is so much I'd like to write about Patagonia that I'll split up my Patagonia post into a few sections that should allow easier digestion. I also took a lot of pictures and got almost 6 GiB worth of video. I don't have time to edit these videos so I just threw them together into one huge mash up for each section. Choose wisely... or something.

Pictures:
I'm going to warn you -- the sections on trekking will have boat loads of information from a beginner rock climber's perspective, that's my focus after all. I will talk about the trekking but that was secondary to me ;)

City life: Santiago and Buenos Aires



I live in a San Francisco so I figured I couldn't pass up on the opportunity to visit the major cities in the two countries I was visiting during my visit to Patagonia, Chile and Argentina. My first ventures were in Santiago. I then would venture out to Palermo in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I figured this would be a good way to settle back down from the mountain life.



During my exploration around Puerto Montt I I met Kari who challenged me to try Pisco. I tried it, but we ended up closing the bar that night. I could not have met a better guide for Santiago. Santiago was huge and Kari would show end up showing me its best spots. We even got to venture out to the beach, Maitencillo, a laid back beach town that apart from a vibrant night life also offered a bit of surfing and Kayaking. Kari taught me how to Kayak and instilled into me the desire to eventually try it on a river.





Kari also showed me the best of Chilean cuisine. I had mentioned before that I had to give in to eating meat during my visit. If you get a chance be sure to try the Empanada de Macha Queso and  Tortilla Española de Camaron. I ending up showing Kari to surf a bit in Matencillo but Maitencillo has only one decent beach break and its super crowded. Folks were wearing wet suits but I was fine with just a t-shirt. The amount of people on the water make surfing in Maitencillo more of a game where you are to dodge people as you surf back in. As for the city life I recommend you visit the night life around Ñiñoa, there we met with some of Kari's friends and had a blast.


Palermo is the party center of Buenos Aires. Some clubs take advantage of their location and space that during the day they turn their club into a market bar. People party hard here and this city really made me start feeling my age. People start going out at 2am! That's when we close our bars in SF!


I explored Boca, where the Boca Jrs play, and got to see Caminito, a little artistic path full of Tango and art. Boca Jr who? I didn't know who they were but my cousins insisted this was an epic soccer place to be at.



I hung out mostly with couchsurfers and they taught me quite a bit about Argentina. One thing is clear, folks in Santiago talk shit about folks in Buenos Aires and folks in Buenos Aires talk shit about folks in Chile. I just don't get it. Both have great cities, they share of the most precious mountain ranges on the planet, and have great people.


Pisco and Patagonia Amber Lager beer. Be sure to try them both. Tap beer is called Schop, I frankly was not a fan of the local brews but I was impressed with both country's selection of "Artesanal" beers. That's the good beer, but almost twice as expensive.


In one spot I saw someone had picked out tux, the Linux Penguin, inverted him and used it for a sign for an events hall. Cute. I was pleased to see a lot of folks had heard of WikiLeaks to the extend at last in Argentina the book ArgenLeaks was sold out everywhere. I had a great time in both cities and value the new friendships I made, both randomly and through couchsurfing.

Patagonia: Quick glance at its history



This monument at the Bariloche Patagonia Civic center, completely defaced with graphite, is of Julio Argentino Roca twice president of Argentina and the leader of the Conquest of the Desert in the 1870s to expand Argentina's dominance over Patagonia. It summarizes pretty well Patagonia history. Although the conquest for the desert was pretty successful it meant what many believe should be considered the genocide of local Indigenous Americans.


As I read on the book "Identidades Enmascaradas en la Patagonia" by Patricia Halvorsen, I learned that the Conquest for the Desert left swooping ratio of male/woman ratio of up to 300 men to one female. This gave rise to many orphans, called gauchos locally. The pure Tehuelche and Mapuche are hard to find now, and I've been told pure Tehuelches simply don't exist anymore. I also read many high figure diplomats in charge with expanding Argentina out to the Patagonia either had "chinas" (what they called indigenous females) mistresses or wives, at times denying them or admitting them and being declared traitors of the state, amongst other drama. Because of this and local labor issues in Argentina there is obviously some historical discontent with how history developed around the Patagonia. In Bariloche there was an attempt to tear the monument at the top of this post down in October 2012 by Cooperative May 1. I came to Patagonia to admire the mountains but left reflective of Patagonia's history. It'd be nice to read about Tehuelche or Mapuche decedents, even if mestizos, who at the very least do get a small claim in history at rock climbing in Patagonia instead of just being remembered as historical baggage.



Climbing history is different though, the drama around the climbing history is fortunately more country agnostic but I still found plenty of drama in it. I couldn't find much information about climbing history around all of Patagonia but as I noted on my Fitz Roy post the one piece of amazing rock climbing history worth looking into is that of Cerro Torre and efforts to climb it. You can read climbing.com's article on Cerro Torre or go see the Scream Of Stone movie.


Patagonia: Trail running around Bariloche


Bariloche is part of the Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi and I read climbers go there to try easier routes than what you find around Fitz Roy. In the end it rained so climbing was not going to be possible for me, but I didn't care, I needed to go out and see things for myself. I could at the very least appreciate the type of rock that was there and get familiar with the place. It fucking poured on me, but I was determined to have fun. I had enough gear to help escape the rain. I decided I'd try to rail run as much as I could. I didn't know how far I'd get.


There was gusty winds that day so they had closed out the chair lifts that get you to the top to make the trekking easier. I had to take the long route, through via Arroyo Van Titter, 12 km each way, to Refugio Frey at 1700 meters high. I ended up trail running most of the route, but walked most of the last ascent part which is pretty steep. It was a total of 24 km and it took me about 6 hours total. The above cabin looking thing was built under a huge boulder, its a Refugio, Refugio Piedritas, owned by the local Club Andino Esloveno. It only fits about eight people, but you can camp around it in the forest.


This was the first glance of real looking rock things. It didn't look climbable but it did look amazing. At times the rain would stop and I'd take off my Gortex Shell jacket but I quickly realized that even though I had a good jacket to protect me from the water nothing was preventing all that sweat from accumulating from my running and I ended up being just as soaked as if I wouldn't have been using my shell jacket. I hoped at least it'd prevent me from getting sick somehow, I wasn't sure. If you have any recommendations for trail running in the rain please let me know. The only thing I can think of is bringing multiple shirts to keep changing. I brought two but both got seriously soaked, even with the Gortex shell on.


At the top by Refugio Frey around Laguna Toncheck I started feeling hail, and the winds were insane, it was seriously nasty conditions, I'm lucky to have been able to at least get one picture without fucking up my camera. The trail is easy to follow and even though it was raining there was still quite a bit of folks on the trails, but what surprised me was seeing a lot of folks without any serious gear on. I saw families with just t-shirts on, and at one point I saw a mother carrying her child on her shoulders. I thought I was getting a work out... This view was promising but the conditions really didn't allow me to get any further. Just by looking at this I can imagine there is great climbing nearby. The place to go seems to have been near Cerro Catedral. Back in the city in Bariloche rock climbing isn't something that you can expect anyone to care over. Contrary to Puerto Natales there are many tourist agencies there that had listed many activities and a few did mention rock climbing but when I inquired about it it seemed there were really only a few local guides and it didn't seem that people took it that seriously. I remember one lady having to take her glasses of to look to me to see if I was serious when I asked her about the rock climbing guide options there as she had them listed as options. The area near Cerro Catedral seemed promising but I couldn't find any climbing books / topos. I'll rule this area out for future trips.


Patagonia: Trekking around Fitz Roy



I read so much about this place and I was finally there. I could not fucking believe it. You get to Fitz Roy through a small town called El Chaltén. Mount Fitz Roy is located inside Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, and  El Chaltén happens to be in it as well. You can see Mount Fitz Roy from El Chaltén! There are two main trekking attractions, you either trek to the base of Laguna De Los Tres to see the Mount Fitz Roy range of mountains or you trek towards to Laguna Torre to see Cerro Torre. I had only 2 days to see around Mount Fitz Roy, so I had to jam in somehow a few days of trek into two days. I was really nervous given that this would be my first time trekking or camping alone, but yet so excited as I knew this was going to be epic.


I crashed at the Hostel Rancho Grande, where tons of other back packers typically crash. Prior to settling in I went to look for local guide books and I found what they call here the local climbing bible, a book called Patagonia Vertical. I ordered a pizza, thinking I ordered only a slice but got a medium pie... I reluctantly ate it, but its a good thing as I would need the carbohydrates the next day, although I didn't know it yet. Back at the hostel a guy crashing in my room mentioned he worked in Antarctica doing guide work for scientists. This fucker was bad ass... and was on his way back home from his season work, figured he'd come check out Fitz Roy prior to his departure. The day prior had just finished a long trek path he advised I should take given the short amount of time I'd have to see things. His recommendation was that I go to Campamento Poincenot, do Laguna De Los Tres to see Fitz Roy and then do Refugio Los Troncos and then head straight to Campamento De Agostini to see Cerro Torre. Cerro Torre was not part of my plans but he insisted it was worth it. The recommended trek seemed a bit ambitious for my experience, I had only trekked once so far and I'd be doing it alone. I wasn't sure if I'd do it yet.


Fuck it, I said. On my first day I trekked 37.72 km just 4.47 km short of trekking a marathon. I managed to record that trek with my phone's GPS, you can view that trek on Google Maps here. Due to fall I had, and being attacked by a bird it will likely be the last time I trek alone. I know what you're thinking... I had seen the movie 127 Hours (2010) a while ago and after watching that I always told myself I'd never do similar activity alone, but hey -- sometimes we learn the hard way. You might not believe me I got attacked by a bird, but I recorded two attempts of this fucker bird taking a dive at me. You can see one dive at 7:22 and another at 8:01. Not sure what type of bird this is, let me know if you can make it out. Nothing serious, all in all it was fun, and the scenery and peace I felt was just amazing.


This was my camp site and that was the view I had all to myself. By now I was comfortable with Satanic Patagonia winds, but the insane winds would not come, at least not at Campamento Poincenot. Across the river there is another camp site called Campamento Rio Blanco and the trekking book I had indicated it was used by Rock Climbers. The holy climbing bible would later reveal to me that such claims were blasphemy, these days given that El Chaltén had so many allocation options rock climbers would not use this camp site to avoid erosion on the park and instead they would go straight to the glacier base camps and camp there. A typical journey to start rock climbing then could take as little as two days. I was pleased, after trekking 37.72 km successfully I knew at the very least I could make it one day to a base camps at Fitz Roy. Now I just have to work on my rock climbing, maybe for the next 20 years, and one day hope to come back for a second type of adventure.


I didn't know much about Cerro Torre but the climbing bible would enlighten me as I camped at Campamento De Agostini the second day waiting for the insane conditions I had always read about to clear up. I woke up before sunrise and managed once again to see the sun melt over rock, this time over Cerro Torre. I looked at Cerro Torre differently this morning with an appreciation of all of the history of effort, lies, death, deceit, anger, effort, and climbing ethics. Never have I read about so much drama over a piece of rock. The closest I can find online for you about this is through climbing.com's article on Cerro Torre. Grab some popcorn and read it for your amusement, in particular the parts about the Compressor Route. If you're lazy a movie seems to cover some of the history with some modifications, Scream Of Stone, I haven't watched it yet.


I ended up climbing Cerro Dos Condores past the Mirador Torre by mistake, thinking there was a path towards El Chaltén there. This mistake set me back by an hour or two but its a good thing as I managed to see this view, probably one of the most fascinating and rewarding views I got to see in all of Patagonia.


Glacier porn. That's what I call this. Now, this is not part of the Fitz Roy area but since Fitz Roy is part of Parque Nacional Glaciares I figured I'd show in this post the southern part of that park. There lies a huge glacier called Perito Moreno. The glacier is about as tall as half the size of a football field. I learned what glacier speed is. Boring. It is still beautiful, but very boring. All these signs about not getting close. Bleh. I should have gone ice trekking with my friend.


I don't know when but I have to come back to El Chaltén and next time I'd stay in the town and take advantage of all the little random things to do there. There is good local rock climbing crags, and I have a top guide for it, you can get to most places by just walking! I dream of seeing that little small town again even in the winter. It must be amazing.

Patagonia: Trekking the W - Torres Del Paine



Torres Del Paine... I knew squat about this place. In fact I didn't even know it existed. Before I go on to describe Torres Del Paine in all its glory let me explain how to I got my ass there.
These are the key airports you should consider booking your flights around.


Punta Arenas, Chile. That's where you want to go to start your journey to Torres Del Paine. Land wise that's the last major city on the American Continent. From afar you can see a huge island: Tierra Del Fuego. There ain't squat to do there but be amazed at the coordinates you're at. Given that my flight from SFO to Punta Arenas was insanely long I ended up spending only one night at Santiago, Chile. I'd eventually come back to explore Santiago again, but I didn't know that then.



The flight from Santiago is about 4 hours, I highly recommend getting a window seat. Fortunately I had one. The very moment we started cruising over Patagonia I became dumbstruck. I'm confident I must've been one of the only passengers feeling the way I was. My heart starting beating faster at just the views we were getting by flying over huge mountains, glaciers and respective glacier rivers. I simply could not contain my excitement. The excitement came over me as in knew soon enough I'd see some of these magnificent natural marvels up close. I'd touch glaciers if I wanted... and I did. I was getting a preview of the size and magnificence of Patagonia, and despite all I read about its treacherous weather, while on the plane the skies were clear!


When we landed I was out of breath and my eyes completely wide open. I looked around to see if I saw anyone as ecstatic as I was. Fuck no. "Bunch of nature-unappreciative-fuckers" I thought. "How could they not be as excited!?" WTF!?!?! I immediately bombarded my Instagram with the best of the pictures I took to share my enthusiasm. If you look at the captions you'd see exactly how excited I was.


It felt I just had good sex. After the wild sex I took a shuttle from the airport straight to Puerto Natales, a few hours ride. I finally met my friend as planned and we crashed at the Hostel Erratic Rock at Puerto Natales one night and in the morning hit the road on a bus to begin the trekking of The W trek at Torres Del Paine. Erratic Rock Hostel is the Hostel to crash at if you're a rock climber or if you're doing any sort of crazy expedition out to Torres Del Paine. Puerto Natales is a small town, and there aren't any signs of rock climbing life except at the Erratic Rock hostel. I went on a hunt looking for topos and books on rock climbing but I hit only dead ends. Trekking info, sure! Climbing... That's a bit trickier, in fact its worse than that. Erratic Rock holds the only sort of topo guides and beta about Torres Del Paine. They are also home to a few regular professional rock climbers who have dedicated their lives on establishing the history and advancing the sport there. It's no fucking joke, but for a few reasons I'll dare explain below Torres Del Paine is not as huge a climbing meca as Fitz Roy is.


After finally giving in and asking at Erratic Rock about topos and books, they brought out the holy grail of rock climbing beta / topos / history. A pile of about 4 large collection of hand written guides, topos, and a lot of articles cut from news papers and magazines about the climbing scene at Torres Del Paine. I was allowed to take stuff and go get photocopies provided I left some collateral, and I think it helped I crashed there one night. I intended then on making photocopies... but of what!?! There was so much material I needed at least a full day to review the content. It seems that the approach most folks take, I was told, is visit the Hostel, bake out a plan, photocopy the required data and venture out. The Hostel obviously benefits from the lack of information online by leaving interested climbers to rely on the series of established local rock climbers that can guide you through that Erratic Rock has a relationship with... so yeah. That's one reason this place is not as attractive for rock climbers to begin with. Another reason is the weather. Although the weather sucks around Fitz Roy area, given that Torres Del Paine is farther south the opportunities for climbing likely are a bit more demanding there. From what I experienced, the winds at Torres Del Paine were by far the worst in all of Patagonia. Then, how do you warm up and stay in shape? Living below the Torres and through Refugio food or at the camp sites isn't exactly ideal conditions. As soon as I was about to pick up and go photocopy some random Torres Del Paine topos to share with you all Steve Schnieder stopped by, introduced himself, and I got the privilege to pick his brain about a bunch of rock local climbing inquiries. Turns out there are local crags you can go practice on but everything is on private property. Steve mentioned that back in the day he'd just ask to see if he could get keys to the gates to explore some crags and the owners would allow for it. Seems that this tradition continues and you simply gotta know someone to do local crags. That or of course through Erratic Rock guides. I was told by Mauricio, an employee at Erratic Rock, that there is an effort, which to me didn't sound very serious, to get a book out with all the material collected. I don't doubt the intent, however I wouldn't hold my breathe for it. For all these reasons rock climbing at Torres Del Paine does not seem like an ideal candidate place to rock climb unless you are extremely seasoned and know exactly what you want.


Trekking. The W Trek at Torres Del Paine is known as the W given the shape of the trek on the ground. Check out Stephanie Garlow's blog post on how to hike the W for a good set of details, the map above comes from her blog. For trekking the W you cross through three different valleys for a total of about 75 km and the amount of time it takes for you traverse will vary, 3-6 days. There is a longer trek, the circuit that apart from the W, it circles back around. All paths on the W are rated moderate. There's only one crossing on the Circuit rated difficult and its through Glacier Grey, up above. I didn't know what to expect, I didn't know what I'd see and when. The trek seems long specially considering you're carrying a big bag for quite a bit of it. You don't have to carry your bag everywhere though, you can leave it behind at campsites and then you venture out to the local valley attraction with only what you need for that small stretch. I didn't have a day back pack myself so I ended up emptying my big bag and stuffing it with my needs for each day exploration and taking that lighter load. What makes the W easy is the bundle of Refugios on it, the very well defined paths for the trek and the amount of people doing it. Its safe. Contrary to Yosemite there are also no many large animals you have to worry about, no bears at all! In fact I can count on my both hands the number of animals and even insects I saw on my entire Torres Del Paine journey. I kid you fucking not. This includes birds. Refugios consist of both campsites and cabins you can rent. The demand for both is high but cabins are in really high demand. Even if the campsites are full once you make it to a campsite they can't turn you away. You'll just need to accept that at times you'll sleep at big slants and with a rocky bottom. Book at least your first campsite online, hopefully a week or two in advance. Even if you reserved a campsite if you show up late, which can happen, you'll end up with a crappy campsite. Try to show up early to your campsites so your back won't hate you in the morning. Refugios also sell food and really bad powered coffee. The food isn't great but you'll get by. They also have booze. Beer and wine. They also sell "Boxed Lunch", these are to-go bags with a big ass sandwich, a fruit, a trail mix bar, and a bottle of water (why, not sure, and if you figure out why the water comes from outside of Chile you get brownie points). Its a lot of food and at times me and my friend shared one bag. You'll want to eat the kitchen food upon arrival at a new Refugio, the trek between one Refugio and the next seemed to me the most challenging given you have to carry all your belongings. You save yourself a lot of weight by using the Refugios to buy food upon arrival and some lunch for your day exploration. The bars you bring should help you get by the rest.



At the east of The W you end up at Torres Del Paine. At the top in front of a lake I think you end at around 2500 meters high and the recommended journey to Las Torres is before sunrise. We got our asses on the path from the campsite to the towers by 4:30am. This will be the biggest climb you'll do in the park. You'll need your lamp light, a good amount of water, and your warmest clothing. Some folks recommended to bring even your sleeping bag while you wait for the sunrise up above, but for us that day it was unnecessary. It was cold and very windy but manageable. It was the only place I found my bubble jacket useful for. They say it seems as if the towers get on fire when the sun hits them. Its a nice analogy. At the top I was a kid again, running around from one spot to another, scrambling from one rock to another, trading between getting views of the sunrise coming out through the mountains or watching the sun pour itself down the towers. I could not stop smiling for a very long time. Even as we started our eventual descent I had a grin on my face that didn't wipe off for a very long time. I was not dead, but I was in heaven...


Setting up a camping tent at Patagonia requires thinking about aerodynamics. I shit you not. The wind is so strong that even the way that the camp site is set will affect the survival of the tent on the ground. You need to ensure you put the lower part of the tent facing the wind. This typically should mean the door faces the direction out where the wind is blowing. Not doing so, not using rocks to further put weight down, or making silly mistakes while setting up the cables can mean your tent and belongings will fly away. We learned our lesson at the second Refugio, Los Cuernos. Fortunately we got the hang of it at the third and last camp site.
One Refugio was closed while we trekked, Refugio Italiano. That made trekking more difficult for the paths crossing that area for both the day exploration of the French valley and the eventual traversal to the next Refugio the next day, Refugio Paine Grande.




The last trek towards Glacier Grey takes you by surprise. This would be the first time I see large glaciers. The trek was also pretty long and only on that last stretch did I start paying very close attention to every tree in my way and the color of vegetation. I realized then how difficult it was for anything to grow here but also started appreciating when I did see any form of life taking form. As I noted before there wasn't much of animals or even insects that I saw but every now and then I did see nature having at it, at what seemed to be nature's way of having an orgy.



At the end we took a boat back and while I thought the trip was done I was surprised by more astonishing views. It seems the boat ride alone is used by folks who due to time constraints cannot do the W. One day Torres Del Paine excursions seems popular among Argentineans. What a way to end that trek. We'd rest one day and then journey out to Califate where we'd each part ways towards our own ventures.

Patagonia: Trekking gear



There's already tons of sites that describe recommended gear so I'll keep mine short by not mentioning the obvious and instead emphasizing on key important items you should be sure to bring and why. Gortex shell jacket, I've read this before but its fun to say: "Patagonia will make a Pancho its bitch", the unpredictable rain may at times be accompanied by winds that can knock your ass to the floor. If you go in the summer you might be very surprised at the hot temperatures during the day. A Gortex shell is light and even if its warm you'll be good with it in case of sporadic nefarious winds. You'd also be surprised how warm a shell can keep you even in the cold. If you're into skiing or snowboarding you could also end up using it for that.


Here was a Patagonia surprise for me: My bubble jacket turned out to be too warm for much use in the summer at Patagonia. I think its better to bring layers and a Gortex shell: Dry Fit workout shirts for the warmer temperatures and and one or two Smart Wool layers. My only brainfuck was trailrunning -- if you're going to do trail running though keep in mind that even if its raining and that even if you'll feel like an indestructible god with your Gortex Shell the sweat you generate by running will surely get you soaked all over. If it rains I'd simply avoid running to try to stay dry. I haven't figured out a decent solution, let me know if you have any advice, as trail running in the rain is ten times more fun.


Good comfortable Gortex boots, hiking socks and sock liners. At times the path itself may consist of a tiny river, other times you'll have to hop around mud. I was advised to only bother with boots if I had broken them in well. I didn't have any so I had no other option but to get new ones and a few days to break them in. I think I got very very lucky, I ended up getting a cross between trekking boots and trail running shoes as I figured I'd want to dash through the mountains every now and then. I never got a single blister and I even ran with these fuckers in the rain! Since I liked them so much I'll mention the exact brand and model, the XA 3D Ultra 2 by Salomon.


Cliff Bars. I bought a box and it lasted for my entire trip. Its the only bar I know will end up getting squished, be exposed to heat, and are still eadible without making a fucking mess. Fortunately the water around Patagonia comes from glaciers and its recommended you drink it, ugh, so good... Bring a CamelBak. I just got the bag and put it into my Osprey Porter bag, it had a slit for one. If you're getting a bag, make sure yours has something similar. Be sure to drink all the water before sleeping or pouring it out. As much as the container seems to work well, a simple tilt and squeeze to the hose may mean a good patch of water to wake you up. I ended up taking the bag off at nights and ensuring its empty.


Protein. Oi vei. I'm vegetarian and although Refugios offer veggie food, in my opinion those options suck hairy fuckballs. Although I could have brought my own food, it meant packing more and that's the last thing you want to do. I ended up succumbing to meat during this trip. I find vegetarianism is a luxury certain cities and cultures can afford and practice. I've tried hard to stick to vegetarianism when traveling and at times I've felt I almost starved, Barcelona, I'm looking at you. Given my level of activity I had to make sure to get good nutrition. I wasn't going to starve in Patagonia.

Don't worry about bringing your own tent. There are places to rent these. Do bring your own pad as the ones provided suck, I used an inflatable one. My sleeping bag was 0 degree C rated, more than enough and in some places too warm.


Trekking poles. It was my first time trekking, didn't know of these fuckers would help much but I got a really good set. I personally ended up only seeing much benefit for them while climbing steep areas or descending. Other than that they got in the way. I wish for an easy access pocket for them, to let me take them out only when needed as if they were lightsabers. That'd be fucking useful and cool. Something that lets me take them out and store them without taking my big bag off of my bag.