...blue skies from pain...

Trip Start Oct 06, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Chile  ,
Sunday, April 17, 2005

It's the second day of my trekking around Torres del Paine National Park. I'm doing the classic "W-hike". I'm walking up Valle del FrancÚs, my long thick hair whips me violently in the face, and reminds me that I need a haircut, again! The howling wind and icy rain hits me horizontally like an old Balboa punch. There's not a soul around, but I push on up the valley, hanging on to beech trees during the worst gales or forceful outbursts. It makes me flap and ripple like a Chilean flag on Independence Day, almost blowing the flip-flops off my feet. But I push on up the valley. I run into a puma and a rabbit on their way down, both shaking their heads as if to say "you're heading the wrong way mate". The rain turns into icicles, and they come flying down the valley like transparent bullets. I do my best to avoid being hit, and perform slow motion Matrix movements, just like Neo. But it doesn't work like in the movie, and my t-shirt is ripped to shreds within seconds. But I push on up the valley. I reach camp after what feels like days of walking, and I, as well as all my gear is soaked. When trying to drain my sleeping bag, the water level in the nearby glacier-fed river doubles, partly flooding the camp, if not the valley below. I go to sleep that night wondering if "Paine" in Torres del Paine actually means Pain.

The "W-hike" usually takes four to five days, and it's a wonderful hike in some of the most gorgeous mountain scenery you can ever imagine. It's autumn in April down here, and all the different colors just makes it even more special. On the bus to the national park I meet Celeste and Paul, a friendly couple from Sydney, Australia. They are on a three months trip around South America, focusing on the Andes chain. It's a wonderful day with a clear blue sky and brilliant sunshine. Approaching the park we can see the three famous granite towers in the distance, which soar vertically above the Patagonian steppe. The symbols of the park itself. They are beautifully mirrored in Laguna Amarga. So I got to see the towers at least, yes! Before I left Puerto Natales, a gateway town to Torres del Paine, I decided to start the "W-hike" by hiking up to the base of three towers for a closer look if the weather was nice. But for some unexplainable reason I change my mind, and instead continue on the bus in order to start the hike on the other side of the "W". On the Glacier Grey side. Celeste and Paul decide on doing the same, and we soon cross Lake Pehoe on a short catamaran ride, before starting our hike up to the camping next to Glacier Grey. It's t-shirt weather, and we get some wonderful views of the glacier as well as the surrounding mountains and lakes. The second day is cloudy and windy, and it takes us eight hours to reach Campamento Britanico, high up in Valle del FrancÚs. It's still a spectacular hike, with glaciers, jagged peaks and roaring avalanches. It's raining through the night and the camp is deserted except our two tents. I wake up the next morning, and once again find brilliant sunshine outside. I decide to leave Celeste and Paul at the mirador over Valle del FrancÚs, as I want go all the way to the Las Torres camp, a nine hours hike according to the map. It's already 10AM, and it gets dark pretty early, so I better hurry. I walk fast, the strong wind is blowing from behind, and I reach Las Torres after only six hours of walking. I feel pretty fit, although the wind helped me a bit. Except when it almost blew me off the mountain and into Lago Nordenskjold. I had to hold onto what I could find, and I am not kidding when I say it got pretty scary a couple of times. I have just finished putting up my tent and it starts to rain, and rain. It rains through the night and everything gets soaked again. The next morning is supposed to be my last. I only plan to do a six hours round trip hike up to the "Las Torres" viewpoint, look at the spectacular towers and snap a few obligatory photos, before returning to camp in time for the bus back to Puerto Natales. But there's a tiny problem, it's all fog and grey clouds that morning. So I am kicking myself because I didn't start the "W-hike" with the three towers, instead of Glacier Grey, on the first day when we had superb weather. Glacier Grey I guess you can always see, either it's rain or shine. But the three granite towers kind of loose their appeal when they are completely covered in grey clouds. Totally invisible. I actually feel quite bad about it, after all they are the symbol of the park you see in all pictures, and probably the most spectacular bit. I have seen them from Laguna Amarga, but wouldn't mind a closer view. So I decide to bring my backpack up the valley and stay another day at Campamento Torres, a 45 minutes walk from the viewpoint. On the way it starts to snow, and I meet several people heading the other way. I reach camp around 2PM, the ground is covered in snow, just brilliant! I quickly put up my wet tent, and then I wait, and wait. I go to sleep that night (afternoon), desperate to once again wake up in brilliant sunshine the next morning. Please, please, please!

"So, so you think you can tell Heaven from Hell, blue skies from pain....."

Early next morning, I wake up next to one of my best friends so far on this trip. My trusted MP3 player (thank you guys!). It's "blasting out" the wonderful sounds of "Wish You Were Here" by Pink Floyd. I slowly get out of the sleeping bag, and outside I find my tent covered in snow. It's knee deep and the sky is grayer than your worst Blue Monday back home. I guess because it's grey, and not blue. Damn! I look in the directions of the mountains, but the visibility is similar to your diving possibilities in the Dead Sea. I decide to go back down. I am a bit disappointed on the bus back to Puerto Natales, but figure I can only blame myself. However, it's been a fabulous five days hike, with some amazing scenery. Only thing I missed out on was the close up view of the three towers. The rest of the trip was "bulls eye", and I guess I can always come back one day.

Back in Puerto Natales, I meet Sandra at an Internet Cafe. A very nice and friendly girl from Switzerland, who speaks perfect Norwegian. I last met Sandra in Rio Dulce in Guatemala, about six months ago. So it's funny to meet her again, down here in Patagonia. She's been in the area since around Christmas time, working in hostels and restaurants, as well as a trekking guide. That night she updates me on her plans to start a Pizzeria in Puerto Natales. She even shows me the old, but wonderfully located house, where she hopes to serve delicious Italian Pizza in a few months time. I am sure she can do it!

For me, I am continuing my adventures. This time it's back into the Patagonian Argentina. There's more wonderful and spectacular scenery coming your way after the break, so go grab a coffee and dive right back into your favorite chair.
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