Torres del Paine: The W is for Whhhoooooooaaaaaa..

Trip Start Aug 09, 2007
Trip End Jul 29, 2008

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

So while Nik and I were waiting around Puerto Natales and collecting our camping equipment for the W hike through Torres del Paine, we got word from Bret and Oksana that they were going to do the W as well!  So we waited another day to meet up with them.  In the meantime, we went to see a gigantic prehistoric cave that housed these Miladon creatures back in the day, basically a prehistoric sloth, as well as indigenous peoples.   
The next night, Oksana and Bret rolled in to town, we collected the last minute stuff we needed and took off bright and early for Torres del Paine the next morning.  The ride out was beautiful with nandoos (ostriches) and guanacos (llama/deer like animal) running all over the place and beautiful scenery with our mountains getting closer and closer every minute.  Despite the drama created by a French girl with no clue that she actually had to develop a plan to do this hike, the Israeli guys falling over themselves to get with her, and the bus driver losing his mind over these retards, we managed to get the ferry across to start near the Glacier Grey side.
The ferry ride was beautiful giving us a bit of a panoramic taste of what we were in for over the next 4 days, 3 nights and it really got us stoked.  We got off the ferry and passed a line up of weary dirty backpackers awaiting their boat out of there.  We grabbed ourselves a campsite at Pehoe and set off 11km towards the Glacier.  This hike was amazing - including some really strong winds (though mild in relation to their actual power), and we were able to see our first icebergs of fluorescent blue floating out in the water.  It was really incredible to see these pieces broken off and then walk towards the entire glacier and appreciate the size and beauty of it.   The frigid winds off the glacier cooled all of our sweat and had us shivering in awe of this glacier next to absolutely massive mountain ranges, literally towering over us.  The glacier basically looks like an inclined serrated assembly of huge ice towers getting increasingly blue and jagged towards the front, close to us.  The sound of the melted ice running through the glacier to the lake sounds like a rushing waterfall - overall this place was just amazing.  We were fortunate enough to walk back during sunset and were able to see the sun reflecting off the glacier as well.  The glacier was a really unique and rewarding way to begin our hike and was one of my favourite places.
The next morning we packed up and hiked to the free campsite at Campamento Italiano, about 2.5 hours.  We set up our tent there and set out together to enter the French Valley.  The best part of this leg of the hike is that you didn't have to go more than 20 minutes to your first major reward - an outstanding mountain formation covered in glaciers and snow that had avalanches crashing down every 15 minutes or so.  The noise and sight and power of these avalanches was incredible to watch and inspired us to see what more was ahead as well.  After a steep climb and another 3 hours or so through varying terrain along a glacier-fed river, Nik and I arrived at Campamento Britanico, just a short scramble from the final view.  As you arrive at the top, you turn around 360 degrees and see massive towering mountains in all directions, just enclosing the end of this valley in a rounded cirque of peaks.  It was really quite stunning - we were in the centre of all that we had been and would be hiking around in the next few days.  After completely soaking in the view, we turned around and headed back to camp completely exhausted and happy that we didn't have to press on any further that day.  After yet another delicious meal of schlock and pasta, we fell asleep to the sound of rushing water and the occasional avalanche. 
Next morning we were off early since we had to meet up with Bretsana at the next refugio 2.5 hours away, after which we all pressed on towards Campamento Chileno - another 6 hours.  This was supposed to be our easy day of just flat trekking, but we quickly discovered that this was not to be the case.  Oksana and I were in real pain from our untimely injuries sustained before starting the W (yes, my luck is just that good) and were only able to drag ourselves there through the help of our good friend Ibuprofen.  Fortunately, the incredible scenery also helped move us along.  This day, while hard, was also really nice as we passed nearly all the mountain ranges, including the dual-coloured Los Cuernos (The Horns) formation, had beautiful vistas of the green lakes next to us, had perfect sunshine and even a couple of challenging yet refreshing river crossings to contend with.  At the end, it was a hard steep press to get to the campsite, but well worth it as we saved ourselves a lot of time and elevation that we wouldn't have to deal with the next day.  We met a couple of friends from France there, Ludo and his dad Serg who just pounded through the full circuit (8 days) and were still in *much* better shape than all of us combined.  His dad was an absolute machine at 53 years, first time out hiking too, and despite the fact that we left hours before them the next morning, they still caught us just before the peak to the Torres...ohhhhh the shame!  Hahah
Yah, so we started out early to the Torres the next morning - the mountain formation that inspired the name of the park - and had just about the whole summit to ourselves for an hour before the later crowd started to roll in.  This was amazing timing as we were able to get all the photos we wanted, there was barely a cloud covering the Torres (Towers), and we were able to spot several condors flying near the mountain.  Overall, a very rewarding experience to finish with such perfect weather for 4 days, virtually unheard of for the W, and to finish with such a perfect view.  We took it easy on the way down, saw some gauchos bringing supplies into the camp with a train of 3 galloping sweaty horses, and just absolutely vegged out at the end of our 4 day hike, waiting for the bus.  Ironically, the same dumb French girl was on our bus and was working on delaying us getting out as well, but fortunately the bus just left her to figure out her mess on her own this time, ha!
The W was a really nice hike, we pounded back over 80km in 4 days and had an amazing time doing it.  It was really a lot nicer to share it with friends as well, I think it made it a lot more memorable.  That being said, we were happy to get the F outta there, take some showers, use a mattress, and eat *anything* that wasn't pasta.  I would also say that I was disappointed to see that the national park had sold all transport and refugios within their park to private companies.  For us, that meant that we paid our admission to the national park and then continued to pay money to other people for poorly operated services once inside the park.  For me, it took away a bit from the park experience, and was in sharp contrast to El Chalten which we visited later...

We took off together the next morning from Puerto Natales north towards El Calafate to check out the Perito Moreno Glacier. 

Lots of love, Niko y Sarita. xoxo
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