Patagonian Parks and Peaks

Trip Start Apr 14, 2010
Trip End Apr 16, 2011

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Flag of Argentina  , Patagonia,
Monday, March 14, 2011

First stop on our long journey north was the Torres del Paine National Park in Chile. We'd been intending to do the 5 day "W" walk of the park  and decided to go along to a hiking briefing one of the hostels put on. Mixed in with some thoroughly good advice about double-wrapping your stuff to keep it dry, good food to carry, etc, was some weird stuff like only take 2 pairs of clothes: 1 for walking, 1 for camp (1 set of clothes for walking for 7 days?!?). Now we don’t pretend to be massive wilderness experts but surely, surely having at least 2 sets of clothes you can walk in (not that heavy!) increases your chances of not having to put on wet clothes in the morning. There was also other advice about not wearing your waterproofs when it is raining but to save it for back at camp and walk wet. Hmmm not sure about that one either, maybe he walks really fast. Despite our scepticism on some of the advice it was funny to see that many people swallowed this advice hook, line and sinker- and later parroted it back as their own wisdom to others on the walk.

At the briefing we got chatting to some really nice guys who were doing the longer 7 day “circuit” walk which covered the same ground plus an extra few days in some more remote terrain and, never ones to turn down a challenge, we decided to join them.  After a Supermarket Sweep style raid on the supermarket (trying to beat all the other trekkers to the porridge and avoiding fights over the last cereal bars) we spent a manic afternoon resorting our bags before meeting the others for a last-night-in-civilisation pizza dinner.  By the time we’d loaded the bags up with food for seven days, our nifty new cooker, our tent, (more than 2 sets of) clothes and the arctic sleeping bags we’d hired they felt heavier than they have done all trip. Crap, maybe there was something to what that guy at the briefing said.

Bright and early the next morning we met the others at the park, took the obligatory 'before’ photo and set off.  The scenery in the Torres del Paine is absolutely spectacular, with jagged mountain peaks (the ‘Torres’ themselves), woods, glaciers and lakes full of ice bergs.  The park is also known though as the ‘Towers of Pain’ as the walking, especially with big packs, can be quite tough: lots of up and downs, rugged trails in many places and perhaps most tellingly, a map they give you that makes everything look easy (it was only later we discovered that each of those weeny contour lines we had been ignoring were 250m inclines!).  We’ve been doing a lot of walking recently and whilst we were able to get through the days fine the ridiculously large & heavy rucksacks did make it significantly tougher than anticipated and we finished the days completely spent.

The first couple of days were spent trundling along in this fashion having a laugh in the group in gorgeous sunshine enjoying the incredible scenery.

But then the rain started.

Our little tent had already proved itself mostly waterproof in Australia so we weren’t too worried but two others in our group hadn’t been so lucky.  We’d all been marvelling at their tent which was absolutely tiny and had no fly sheet but which Adrian (whose tent it was) assured us was totally waterproof.  Or not, as it turned out, and their sleeping bags and clothes were drenched.  And it didn’t stop raining.  After a pretty miserable day spent in horizontal sheeting rain and howling wind, which was quite disconcerting with a big pack to catch the wind, and in which conditions we would challenge the guy giving the briefing to not get out his waterproofs and survive without hypothermia, we re-grouped in one of the more civilised refugios for a hot chocolate. We found a weather forecast there showing that the weather was due to deteriorate even more over the next few days, including dropping below zero with snow coming in.  That was the final straw and the others decided to cut the circuit short and just do the W which we happily agreed to.  This had the added bonus that we were able to spend our last two nights in a campsite that had a warm kitchen to cook in and even a bar.  Our huge sleeping bags may have been heavy but we didn’t begrudge them one bit as the weather got colder and colder and colder and the wind barriers we created to keep the wind out of our summer tent got bigger and bigger.   

There was also a bit of excitement on the last day (a day walk up to Glacier Grey and back) when Gordon and Colin (a Kiwi in our little walking group) got behind the main group after pausing to take one of the stunning pictures you now see on the blog only to reach a crossroads and not be sure which way the group had gone. We followed the signs to the viewpoint and were rewarded with spectacular views of the glacier with the sun on it (a rare occurrence that day) but no group. We re-traced our steps and took the other turning and found the group minus Sarah, who had got worried and gone out looking for us. After an hour of waiting for Sarah to return we got a little worried. When she eventually returned we discovered she had travelled 3km (3km!) at a semi-run back down the path checking the bottom of each cliff-face on the way. Silly girl. She had a longer day than the rest of us and covered that section of track 4 times! After all of the walking, wind, rain and cold nights, the hot shower & a steak dinner when we got back into town has never felt so good.

After Torres we bid most of the others goodbye as they were heading south and continued on into Argentina with the other girl from our group, confusingly also called Sarah.  We headed first to El Calafate for a very cold day marvelling at the 60m high Perito Moreno glacier and trying to spot chunks of ice calving off it.  From there the three of us went on to nearby El Chalten where we spent an afternoon trying to be Argentinian gauchos on horses. To Sarah’s chagrin, the other Sarah was dubbed Sarah 1 and she was dubbed Sarah 2 by the horse riding guide (grrrrr). For the first time in a while, Gordon managed an entire afternoon of riding without falling off the horse once. Easy this horse riding. The next day we had heard the weather was (finally) going to be beautiful and so we planned to make the best of it to do some more walking in the equally stunning Fitz Roy range. We weren’t disappointment as we woke up to a full blue sky and little wind. The only issue was that it was quite hard to take photos of the iconic shiny grey and white peaks of the range because they were so bright in the sunlight.  Damn sunshine.
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