Trip Start Dec 03, 2005
38Trip End Jul 19, 2007
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Well, I almost gave up on seeing Patagonia but lucky I did go in the end as I had a great time. I spent too much time trying to get the camera fixed with no success (so excuse any out of focus photos from here on in) so flew down to Puerto Natales to save time and did the Torres del Paine full circuit of 102.5 kilometers, got treated to a spectacular view of the Torres and blown away with fierce winds over the pass.
After some tree hugging in Arrayanes National Park near Bariloche (unlike all other trees, the bark of the Arrayan tree is cold to touch, so I had to check it out for myself) I exited to Chile for Puerto Montt with the idea of hitting the Carretera Austral. This plan quickly went out the window as I had to see if I could get my camera fixed first. The nearest and only Canon authorised repair place for my camera was in Santiago so I had to head up that way first after many fruitless attempts with other places. Despite their insistence that they had indeed fixed it upon showing them an out of focus photo, they finally relented and admitted it couldn't be fixed. So two weeks and lots of coin tossing later, I had decided enough was enough and either I was heading north or south.
Lucky the coin decided south as I met up with some rather cool people and ended up doing the full Torres del Paine circuit which is what I had always wanted to do. In order to get there for Christmas I had to break one of my golden rules and fly. I didn't feel too bad though as I had already broken it getting from Bolivia to Ecuador. They say things always come in threes so expect at least one more!
From the window seat I saw the sun rays on the horizon, even at two, three and four in the morning! Yes, I was down to the land where the sun never set. Noooo, not England, Patagonia! I couldn't help but laugh as the plane landed almost right on cue to the last line of Right Said Fred's song "I'm too sexy". At least it brightened up my morning when I realised how ridiculously early it was. I decided to wait it out and get a bus to Puerto Natales, the gateway for the Torres del Paine National Park. Mike, Jun and some other fellow travellers had the same in mind so we joined up together for a strong coffee to keep us going for the next four hours until the buses started arriving.
Of some of the things I have discovered on this trip one is that it is not coincidental that chance and circumstance feature highly in how things happen while travelling. As it was, I met Kara in a shop just after I had decided to do the "W" with Jun which now threw me into turmoil as I now had to choose between the "W" and the full circuit! Madness won in the end and I did the full circuit with Kara.
Day 1 - Puerto Natales to Campamento Italiano - 21/12/06
We boarded the bus at seven in the morning for the three hour bus ride to the park. The starting point was going to be either Campamento Pehoe after crossing bluetiful Lago Pehoe on the catamaran or administration followed by a four hour hike to get to Campamento Pehoe. The trek started as it would mean to continue. After all others had left and collected their luggage we sat there debating which to do and it kept swinging from one to the other. Finally, after the driver put the bus in first gear and was about to set off we jumped up to say we were getting out to catch the catamaran.
Luckily Kara had heard of the food drop-off scheme where you can parcel some food up, hand it to one of the connecting transfers at the first stop (Laguna Amarga) along with a tip of five hundred pesos (approximately USD$1 / £0.50) and then pick it up at hostería Torres when you arrive there. Our planned date was Christmas day, so we packed in some wine and chocolate as a treat! This meant we didn't have to carry ten days worth of food right from the start.
This would now be a relatively easy day with only about three hours of trekking to Campamento Italiano. It was definitely a good idea not to overdo it on the first day, after all, I hadn't done any serious trekking since Huayna Potosí in Bolivia back in August. Trading soon started when Kara asked me to fix the ties on her backpack, naturally I had to exchange the favour for a glass of wine on Christmas day.
When we arrived at the campsite we were greeted by Francisco and Nicolas, the guardaparques, who allowed us access to the kitchen to cook our dinner. Nothing to do with us being two single chicks or anything! ;-) We were quickly cast aside though when Monica, the woman with thighs even more thunderous than mine, arrived!
Sleep factor: 3/5
Day 2 - Italiano to Los Cuernos including Valle Francés - 22/12/06
What a day! It started off bright and sunny but in true Patagonian spirit changed to wet, windy, cold and miserable. The views along the Valle Francés were not the best with only the odd glimpse every now and again when the cloud lifted.
We were not happy bunnies when we got back to Campamento Italiano. The idea of taking down the tents in the wet and cold was not in the slightest bit appealing but it would mean an extra long day next day to get to Campamento Torres. Yet again, debate raged and we finally agreed to head down to the next campsite, Cuernos.
Things had gotten so bad that I was almost ready to give up but I decided I would give the sunrise at the Torres a try and if the weather was no better then I would cut my losses and head back to Puerto Natales. After all, I had already decided that Patagonia deserved a visit of four months by itself and so had already planned to come back here anyway, armed with my own tent, thermarest and proper sleeping bag. I got the feeling the mountains wouldn't be moving anywhere too quick!
Sleep factor: 2/5
Day 3 - Los Cuernos to Torres - 23/12/06
We must have done something to please the weather God as it was a beautiful morning and the rain had cleared. Our spirits were lifted and we set off for the campsite just below one of the most famous and well known symbols of South America, the Torres del Paine towers. The day was so nice in fact that we even managed to have a short siesta during lunch! It was an easy day so we were in no rush and stopped off at Campamento Chileno for a few hours to enjoy the indoor warmth. There was no debate on this one as there was only an hour more left until we reached Torres Camp. The dreaded freezing mat and sleeping bag called early this night as seeing dawn over the Torres meant getting up at stupid o'clock - 4.10am to be exact!
Sleep factor: 3/5
Day 4 - Torres to Las Torres including dawn at the Torres - 24/12/06
Hmmm, stay in bed freezing cold or get up at 4.10am, not a difficult decision methinks! So along with Jun and Kara, I headed up to see the infamous sunrise over the Torres and boy were we treated to a top sunrise! We were there only four days after the longest day in the year so we didn't get to see them fully painted red but with a stroke of luck the paintbrush did colour a small bit of them red so I was a very happy bunny. It was definitely worth having suffered all the rain from the days before to see this!
We had to end our time up there as it was bleedin' freezin' with the wind howling all around and marched quickly back down to the camp to pack up with the idea of heading to Chileno for another indoor session, only it was going to be at least three hours this time. No excuses needed, it was Christmas eve and our next camp was a mere two or three hours away! We suddenly remembered our Christmas parcel and got hit hard by a sudden thirst. Thirst for wine that is! Ooooh, a whole two litres of it sitting waiting to be enjoyed! But no, we must restrain ourselves. This wine was for Christmas dinner.
When we arrived at Las Torres we had a little nook at the edge of the campsite to ourselves, along with Mike and his friend Omer who arrived the same day as us. When a group of three arrived later, Kara wasn't too subtle in telling them to be quiet as we had intended on getting a good sleep that night after such an early rise. Oops! After very little debate, we decided to celebrate Christmas early and the two litres, along with another two disappeared pretty quick! Although I'm sure it was Mike and Omer who drank all of the last one as I don't seem to recall even seeing it being opened! A few apologies were needed the next day to say the least!
Sleep factor: 5/5 (nothing to do with all the wine, honest!)
Day 5 - Las Torres to Serón - 25/12/06
Oh what a beautiful morning,
Oh what a beautiful day,
I've got a wonderful feeling,
Everything's going my way.
Good Morning Patagonia! I could smell a change in the air and it was a good one at that. Not a single drop of rain and only warm rays of sun to hit my tent on this fine morning!
It was Christmas day and a late rise was definitely in order. It would be a mere four hours walk to Serón so we finally left at around one in the afternoon. There wasn't really much on this section of the walk so Kara and I decided to get into the Christmas spirit (I must have still had some blood in my alcohol) and sing some Christmas tunes as we pootled along merrily. Admittedly, when we got to the tenth day of Christmas, we were finding it difficult to remember what our true loves had sent us. I kept thinking it was a big cheque to continue my travels for another year but that may have been a little too hopeful.
It was here at this campsite that we discovered that a man wasn't a man unless he was carrying over thirty kilos on his back. Doug, the Ironman man who walked on his own as noone could keep up with him, came in at thirty exactly but the winner was Chris. He had the winning rucksack weighing in at a hefty thirty-two kilos! I came in at nineteen kilos and Kara at twenty-two (well, she did have to go around with three books and a monopod that only got used once on the whole trip!). Apparently you should only carry twenty percent of your weight to be within your comfort zone. Oh dear, I seem to have lost the ability to count, nothing to do with the wine!
Sleep factor: 2/5
Day 6 - Serón to Dickson - 26/12/06
There wasn't really much happening on this day either. I was a bit bored of not being able to sleep so I decided to go fifth gear and made it to Dickson in four and half hours and have a snooze in the afternoon. This was good!
Sleep factor: 4/5
Day 7 - Dickson to Los Perros - 27/12/06
This would be another short day with only four hours to Los Perros. Since going fifth gear worked the day before I decided to try it again and made it to Los Perros in record time of three hours and fifteen minutes (I blame the fifteen minutes on two guys who held me up and just refused to let me pass, guess they couldn't deal with being slower than a girl!!!). Typically, just as I arrived to the camp, the rain started again. This did not bode well for crossing the pass next day. And so after much debate we finally decided that we would decide in the morning whether to cross or not.
Sleep factor: 2/5
Day 8 - Los Perros - 28/12/06
The rain had lasted all night and by ten in the morning the ranger told us that if we were going to cross we should have left by eight at the latest to avoid the melting snow. By twelve it was all over and we decided to hold out another day hoping against all hope that things would improve. To fill in time, I headed down to see Los Perros glacier and Kara continued to practice her charm on the Guardaparque and managed to get some cake from him!
By the end of the day, with all the rain that had fallen and the plummeting temperatures, I definitely didn't want to stay another night up here freezing to death so we decided we would go next day regardless. Even the MSG puma that visited me that night didn't keep me warm!
Sleep factor: 1/5
Day 9 - Los Perros to Paso over Paso John Garner - 29/12/06
Well fancy that, I woke up to find snow on my tent! If the snow reached the camp, I didn't want to think what the pass would be like. Kara worked her charm on more people and our group enlarged to five people including Claudia, Tatiana and Dan. Five became seven when Mike and Omer decided they missed our singing too much and joined us after an hour or so. They went up front and snow ploughed the way for the rest of us with their lovely long legs (although they did seem to forget to do shorter steps for those of us who are vertically challenged, I had to get my wings out every now and again to fly between their foot marks).
After what seemed like an eternity, we finally reached the pass although the view was somewhat obscured with all the snow gusting around. I had to smell my breath as I felt like I was walking around drunk, falling from side to side all the time and not being able to control it. After many attempts, I finally realised it was the wind that was doing this and not the wine from Christmas Eve. T'was a fierce one indeed, coming in at over one hundred kilometers per hour! Cold, wet, windy. Brrrr! My gloves had frozen solid, along with the fingers inside. One of my toes seemed to have died somewhere along the way. It didn't help that my boots were on their last legs and soaking wet with frozen ice-rinks inside them at this stage!
Sleep factor: 0/5
Day 10 - Paso to Grey - 30/12/06
Leaving Paso was a joy as it would mean going downhill to warmer places. Kara's charm still hadn't reached the tender heart of the weather God and it rained again. On the way down to Grey we passed Los Guardas and heard this most thunderous blast reverberating around us. Later I heard it was actually the sound of some ice breaking from somewhere within the glacier.
Eventually the weather did clear and we headed over to the refugio to have a sup or two on what may be our last night in the park. As it turned out, celebrating early had now become a tradition and we celebrated New Year's Eve on New Year's Eve Eve. It was the kind that all party people should be proud of - the staff kept coming up to us to tell us to be quiet (although they were rated as the grumpiest staff of all campsites by all trekkers I had met so it didn't worry me too much), we got kicked out at eleven and Kara even managed to twist her ankle whilst propped up by two people on the walk back to the tents. Oops, not good for a glacier walk the next day.
Sleep factor: 2/5
Day 11 - Grey to Pehoe - 31/12/06
Yet again, another beautiful morning. I noticed a certain pattern emerging here, weather one that is. Every time we drank lots of wine, the weather was nice the next day! Obviously our offerings did something to cheer the Weather God up. While Kara did the glacier walk I strolled down to Pehoe. I was having another one of those indecisive moments, the temptation to head back to Puerto Natales for the comfort of a real bed in a room with heating and a nice lie-in or another shivering night in the park to be greeted by the Torres on New Year's Day? I was convinced of the merits of staying in the park and it was definitely the right choice (it wasn't actually that cold that night!).
Sleep factor: 4/5
Day 12 - Pehoe to Puerto Natales - 01/01/07
Yay! Everything suddenly became easy and we only had to walk fifty metres to the catamaran pier where it would be seats all the way to Puerto Natales. The thought of a real bed and shower was just so good.
We treated ourselves to a delicious steak and got a Pisco Sour on the house. In order to make the most of the beds, we decided to hit them early. Although this didn't seem to work as we had by now become habitual insomniacs. All we could do was laugh as we seemed to wake up at regular intervals at the same time. I kept pinching myself to make sure this wasn't just another MSG induced dream and that I was, in fact, actually sleeping in a warm bed.
And I'm too sexy for this trek...