Torres del Paine National Park

Trip Start Jul 31, 2005
Trip End Feb 18, 2007

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

Back to Chile

We're back over in Chile, apparently a much more expensive country than Argentina. However, down here in Patagonia, there's not that much difference, and we find ourselves paying less for accommodation in our first stop, Puerto Natales, than anywhere over the Argentinian side.

Torres del Paine

Puerto Natales is a town in the south of Chile, a short distance from the famous Torres del Paine national park. Here the town, with it's wooden houses, it's cool climate, and it's long daylight hours, reminded us of a Scandinavian town in summer time. Our stop here is just a brief one to plan our trip around the Torres del Paine national park. We plan to walk the famous W route, so called because of the route's appearance on a map. We plan that this will take us at least 4 full days, and we will have to take with us on the walk, clothes for all these days and to cover all possible weather conditions, so our packing had to be as precise as possible.

Torres del Paine Day 1

After an early morning start, we catch a bus to Refugio Torres, our base for the first night, and head straight off on our 7 hour return trek up to the Torres view point. As we head off, the sky is blue, the sun is warm, but we know only too well from the trekking in Fitz Roy that the weather in this region is bonkers, so we take clothes for both rain and cold weather. A steep initial climb of around an hour and the trek eases into a flattish walk up the valley and along the side of the river. However, the easy bit only lasted for another hour, and before we knew it, we were on the last, but hardest part of the trek, an hour's scramble up boulders to the view point. About half way up, the weather rapidly changed, and we got hit by a fierce snow blizzard. We initially took shelter under a rock, but the intensity of the storm made us decide it would be wise to head back down to lower ground.
As sods law would have it, as soon as we had climbed back down and reached the relative shelter of the forest, the storm stopped and the weather brightened up. By this time we were knacked, and the thought of climbing the last hour again from scratch did not appeal to us whatsoever. However, knowing that this is possibly the only opportunity in our life to see the Torres from their optimal view point, we gave the climb another shot. We somehow found the energy to drag ourselves up the very steep last hour of the climb, and as soon as we popped our head over the mountain ridge, and the lake and the Torres became visible, we realized that all the hard work was really worth while. The view wasn't perfectly clear, but it was clear enough for us to see and appreciate that these Torres are one amazing sight. That night, after arriving back after a good 8 hours of trekking, we certainly slept well. 

Torres del Paine Day 2 

Despite the fact that we could have probably slept until about 5pm in the afternoon, with around 6 hours trekking ahead of us today, we made sure we got up and going by 10am, just to be on the safe side. We firstly walked part of the very outer section of the circuit track, which is not part of the W trek, until we reached a point that gave us a great view over Laguna Azul, with a great mix of colours in the surrounding countryside. After doubling back to our hostel, we picked up lunch and headed off towards Refugio Los Cuernos, our stop for tonight. Unfortunately the hostel was full that night, but reception rented us the gear to pitch a tent at their campsite near the lake.
Torres del Paine Day 3

After an almost sleepless night, we both agree that camping is not for us. We just can't seem to get comfortable sleeping on a cold hard floor, in a tiny tent, with very little room to move, and in a cold damp atmosphere. We were quite happy when the sun finally came up and we decided to get up at once to get going as early as possible. Today will be the longest day of our 4 day trek, the walk which we will cover, a return journey up the Valle Frances then onward to Lodge Paine Grande, has been estimated on our map at around 12 hours. Twelve hours of walking up and down mountains and we've had hardly any sleep, we're worried if we're going to be able to make it.

The walk up the Valle Frances is said to be many trekkers favourite park of the Torres del Paine treks. We first passed the Glacier Frances, a very large and lively glacier, perched at an extremely steep angle overhanging the left hand side of the valley. We sat for ages, at a safe view point, on the right side of the valley, and watched with amazement as one mini-avalanche after another, came tumbling down over the top of the glacier. After this, it was another couple of hours trekking to reach a 360 degree view point over the entire valley, from there we had an amazing view over the mountain ranges of the Cuernos, and the Cathedral, all granite rock peaks with their own distinct shapes.
We decided to try and find that last burst of energy for a 30 minute steep climb up to a view point over both the back of the Torres and over lake Nordenskjold. The view from the top would be comparable to the view from New Zealand's Ben Lommond, as our best mountain view point yet.
As we came down from the Valley Frances, and still with some 4 hours trekking ahead of us to get to our bed for the night, we started to severally tire. We really don't know how we made the last part of the trek that day, but I supposed we realized we had no choice, it was either that, or spend an unsheltered night somewhere in the park. Walking on automatic, with our eyes half shut, some 12 hours after we set off, this large modern hostel popped out of the countryside like an oasis in a desert.

Torres del Paine Day 4

After sleeping so deeply and waking up with a Trekkers hangover, the same throbbing head as an alcohol hangover but with aching arms, legs and feet as well, we start the last part of the W circuit. Today will be an 8 hour moderate walk, with some steep sections, up to and back from the Grey Glacier view point. After the stunning scenery of the previous day's trek, today's walk wasn't quite as serene, but the enormity of the Grey Glacier, coming and going from view, kind of made up for it. The highlight for us of the Grey Glacier was the huge icebergs which had broken off the end and floated so far away that they could still be seen several kms away, down the other side of the lake.

We arrive back to the hostel in time for our ferry and bus connection back to Puerto Natales. In the last 4 days we have covered some 90 kilometres, walking up, down, and around the stunning mountain peaks and lakes of the Torres del Paine national park. It's certainly been an energetic and sometimes tough 4 days, but it's been worth very minute. The scenery around here just has to be seen to be believed, and to echo the views of many other hikers who we met along the way, "it's one of the most beautiful places on earth".

We're almost about to depart from Chile for the last time, except for a quick overnight stop in Punta Arenas, which is almost about as far south as you can travel on the South American mainland. We've decided to leave out Ushuaia this time, as with two border and two ferry crossings, it would make for a long trip, and we know we'd like to come back one day and take an Antarctic cruise.

So that's it, and in the local language we say. Que lastima pero Adios, me despido de Chile y me voy..:-)

Summing up Chile

Chile has surpassed our expectations. We knew it was nice, but didn't expect that the scenery we would see here would end up being amongst the best we've ever seen. In our opinion, culturally Chile is what you'd get if you put North Europe together with Southern Europe and add a bit of South American Indigenous spice. This would reflect it's ethnic inheritance, which in addition to Spaniards and Italians, includes lots of people with British, Irish, French and Germany ancestry.

The variety of scenery and climates must be amongst the most extensive in the world. In the north you have cloudless blue skies and the driest desert on earth. In the centre, this gives way to green pastures and some of the highest snow capped mountain peaks anywhere. Just next to this, is what must be one of South America's most sophisticated capitals, Santiago, and it's nearby trendy beach resorts of Valparaiso and Viņa del Mar. Further south, you pass through the wine growing region, which eventually gives way to the stunning scenery, rolling hills and snow capped volcanoes of the Chilean lake district. Just when you thought things couldn't get anymore varied, Chile tops, or in this case bottoms it off, with some of the world's greatest Fjord scenery, the amazing granite peaks of the Torres de Paine National Park, and to accompany this, some of the most changeable weather anywhere on this planet. What a mix, what a country!
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