With aching ankles and leaden thighs, I pressed my hands on top of my knees to hoist myself up above the last slippery boulder. Finally, there it was: the pinkish, other-worldly towers of Chile's Torres del Paine National Park, perched above an aquamarine lagoon. Sounds of avalanches filled the freezing air, and snow from the previous day's blizzard reflected the pristine, azure sky. Still short of breath, I understood immediately why it had recently been named the eighth wonder of the world.
Days earlier, while waiting in line for the border agent at the Chilean crossing to stamp my passport, a newspaper printout taped to the wall caught my eye. "Torres del Paine Declared the Eighth World Wonder," its headline screamed out below a black and white photograph of the mountain range. That was my incentive, the motor that propelled my shaky legs forward through more than 37 miles of dense forests, rocky streams and melting hanging glaciers.
I got another much-needed boost when staff at the refugios, heated lodges spread out over the Torres del Paine circuit, boasted of the recent recognition, proud to be part of the eighth wonder of the world. For the duration of the hike, other travelers and I were part of the club, too. We felt pride and a little privilege. We were special.
A week later back in my hotel room, I did a little research and found that Torres del Paine is special, but maybe not as special as I'd been told. I found at least a dozen other places that have been called the world's eighth wonder.
The TripAdvisor-owned travel site VirtualTourist bestowed the honor of wonder of the world to Torres del Paine, based on a web campaign in which common folks cast their votes. Other candidates included Bora Bora, the Empire State Building and the Colombian Coffee Cultural Landscape.
Nevertheless, with pomp and ceremony, the Chilean Ministry of Economy hosted an event earlier this month inside the park, during which it announced the VirtualTourist award. Many of the country's tourism and forestry officials attended the event.
"Torres del Paine is in fact the First Wonder of the World, but was simply the eighth to be chosen," said Félix de Vicente, the Economy, Tourism and Development Minister.
While the original seven wonders - the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus and the Temple of Artemis - are not in dispute, the new seven wonders are. And online, where the discussion rages, no landmark or idea is too small to be a wonder, nor does the distinction between natural and man-made seem to matter.
According to a 2007 online contest CNN says generated "server-crushing traffic in its final hours," the new Seven Wonders of the World included the Christ the Redeemer Statue in Brazil, the Great Wall of China, the Colosseum in Italy, Petra in Jordan, Machu Picchu in Peru, Chichén Itza in Mexico and the Taj Mahal in India.
Self-proclaimed wonder authority Howard Hillman tweaked that list to include the Galapagos Islands and the Grand Canyon.
Other lists add the Great Barrier Reef, Mount Everest, Victoria Falls, Aurora Borealis, and Mexico's Paricutin volcano.
A running vote to name "an eighth wonder of the world" in The Guardian lists the Internet, Harry Potter, the Sydney Opera House, and Stonehenge as candidates. Angkor, in Cambodia, is leading with 17 percent of the votes.
Houston's Astrodome, the annual wildebeest migration from the Serengeti and the Pink and White Terraces of Lake Rotomahana in New Zealand have all been dubbed the eighth wonder of the world at one time or another.
The eighth wonder of the world has become an existential land grab, the subject of countless web contests resulting in arbitrary awards that are nonetheless bestowed with solemnity by an ever-expanding circle of interested parties.
Torres del Paine is beautiful, thrilling. It is possible, during a five-day hike there, to get caught in a blizzard, be knocked off one's feet by 70 mph Patagonian winds, see rainbows, hear avalanches, come face-to-face with a glacier rising more than 50 feet above the water, and lose count of the waterfalls along the route.
But is it the eighth wonder of the world? I can't be sure until all the voting is in.