Decision made! We’re going to backpack into the Torres del Paine National Park in Chile. Guess we Better figure out how to do this and where we’re going. The staging area for preparing for this daunting feat is Puerto Natales. We hear through the grapevine that Hostel Erratic Rock gives a how to do the park seminar every afternoon. We attend and decide to do a modified ‘W’ circuit. More on the w later. The reward on the final day will be a close up view of the towers! We figure it will take 6 days to do. We rent a tent, stove, galley gear, etc…(also provided by Erratic Rock). Pat’s muscles begin to ache in anticipation, crankiness sets in. This picture shows us in our tent at the end of day 1 making sure we’re not lost.
Well, how did we get there? From El Calafate, Argentina we hopped a bus to Puerto Natales. Much of the road was dirt and the bus suspension was less than optimum. As we bounced up and down on our seats we sighted hares, guanaco (llama like critters), rheas, goats, cows, etc….This picture is of the border crossing into Chile. If it looks cold that’s because it was. Remember this was in the height of summer.
OK, now we’re in Puerto Natales, we have a plan, so it’s time to provision. Our main staple was pasta which we ate every way imaginable. A little trailmix, granola bars, canned fish and summer sausage for protein, and we’re set to go. Oh yeah, a little scotch for those cold nights in the tent. Pat shivers at the thought. Crankiness building!
Clothing and camping gear. The only thing for sure about the weather down here is that it will change. We were prepared for rain, sun, snow, and wind. We got everything in abundance, except snow. We got a dusting one night near Valle Francais. The camping gear (not pictured) included everything you might expect. Tent, stove, sleeping bags, cooking gear, sleeping pads, etc.. Man, this all looks heavy. Pat sulks in the corner almost off the crankiness scale. WATCHOUT
First, let’s discuss the planned route, followed by getting to the trailhead, then the day 1 hike. There are a variety of ways to hike the park. The most popular is called the W circuit because the route looks like a W. Go figure. In order to do it properly on day 1 you take a boat across a lake which costs $22/person. We’re cheap so we decide to bypass the boat, head to the last drop off point and walk to the beginning of the W. This means day1 consists of an 18 kilometer hike. Great plan with full packs, huh? So getting there; you hop another crappy bus for about a 2 hour ride. Then they drop you off in the middle of nowhere. See ya! Don’t die, it’s bad for the tourist trade., OK?
The above picture shows Pat about a half kilometer ahead of Carrie (which is as close as she wanted to get). You want to know why? All that building crankiness finallly blew causing earth tremors the like Patagonia has never seen. The final 2 straws; a 25knot headwind, squalls, and new hiking boots producing painful blisters. Well, the scenery was pretty cool though.
Well, we made it to the first camp in about 5 hours, all 18 kilometers! But not without some excitement right at the end! Carrie still trailing Pat by a good distance for fear that all the crankiness hasn’t dissipated. The last 300 yards of the hike has the trail along a cliff above the lake which quickly descends to the camping area. The wind, howling, is trying to blow you off the trail into the lake a few hundred feet below. Pat doesn’t care. He can see the camp. He’s on a mission. Just get me there! Please, just get me there. Feats (feets?) don’t fail me now. About half way down he decides to wait for Carrie, knowing that she has a fear of heights. After about 10 minutes, NO Carrie! Is she lost, eaten by wolves? Pat panics, throws off his pack and starts sprinting back up the trail, all the time yelling, ”Carrie! Carrie!” Nothing. He runs into a fellow hiker. Chinese! In his best Chinese he asks if he’s seen a gringo woman. “No,” he says. Pat decides to sprint towards camp to get help. Reaching his pack, he looks down at the camp and sees Carrie sprinting his way, yelling: ”Pat! Pat!”Long story short, she found an easier safer way to get to camp and by now thought I was dead and in the lake. Now we were both cranky. But, all was well. We had made it. Tent setup, a scotch in hand, staring at this view! Ahhh… who can stay cranky. Life is good!
Another view of the day one camp. Costs $7/person/night. Not cheap. But you do get hot water, showers, real bathrooms, and an enclosed cooking area. As you can see it’s a popular spot. People from all over the world.
The enclosed cooking area with some of our fellow hikers.
The beginning of day 2 and we run into this fellow. A guanaco. A bit of a local legend. Apparently, he is a solitary guy. No friends, but then again he doesn’t have to share food. The day 2 hike is only about 2.5 hours. Not so bad and no one is too cranky.
No story here. We just couldn’t resist throwing this picture in. The scenery was just incredible and the environment harsh and unforgiving.
Camp setup again and time for dinner. This photo finds Pat in the reclined position while Carrie prepares dinner. He made her setup the tent too. All this was her idea anyhow! We originally setup the tent further up the hill. A place with a view. We wondered why no one had taken this great spot. We had the tent almost up when a 50 knot gust of wind hit us from across the lake. We were at least a few hundred yards from the lake and still the air was filled with water. Wind, stronggg stuff!
Every day we passed mountain lakes like this one. Oh, we carried no water. Since all the lakes and streams come from glacier waters, you just dip your bottle in and drink away.
Pat and Carrie enjoying a pasta dish. Yum. Need those carbs. Although we’re bundled up we were pretty cozy in our little tent.
Just hiking along when we came across this little glacier.
Crossing a stream to reach our day 3 campsite looking up at the glaciers in Valle Francais.
Valle Francais with all her glaciers. We left our packs at the campsite and day hiked up into the valley. The reward was incredible views of glaciers. Large pieces of glacier ice falling into the valley sounded like thunder.
Carrie trying to catch her breath after the tough hike up.
The less cranky version of Pat crossing one of the many streams along our route.
Just another incredible glacier sighting. Check out the waterfall running down the mountain (center). The picture just doesn’t convey the size of this thing.
Gratuitous vista. We were just grabbing a little water and had to take this picture. The colors were amazing.
Most of the trail was rough. But every once in while they needed to get you over some wet areas. That pack looks heavy.
Not all the bridges were well maintained. Pat made Carrie go first. Could be dangerous!
Time to stop and grab a little lunch and get our hearts back to a reasonable rate. Why, you ask? Well just 10 minutes prior we had to forge a raging river by jumping on slippey wet rocks. We were half way across and in trouble when a kind hiker held out his walking stick and helped us across.
This is the guy that saved us from sure death in crossing that raging river. We ran into him again at the ‘Towers base camp and shared a cerveza.
How many times can you say incredible, spectacular, unbelievable.
Nearing Camp Chileno. One of the staging areas for the day hike up to the towers. If you look carefully you can see hikers on the trail below. One spot was narrow, windy, and scary.
Happily and safely tucked into our tent in Campo Chileno enjoying a glass of overpriced wine. Yes you could buy vino here, brought in by pack mule.
The next day we hiked to the Torres del Paine. The first part of the trail was relatively flat and in the the trees. Eerie looking though.
This is why you leave the heavy pack back at camp and day hike to the towers. We struggled for nearly an hour up this steep boulder field before reaching the towers. Even mountain goats shy away from this place. The red dots were placed every so often in an attempt to keep hikers from straying too far from the trailhead. It didn’t work very well.
Paydirt! WOW! You just can’t believe how big they are. The lighting would change providing a different view faster than you could press the shutter. We took a million pictures.
A closeup view of the towers.
Just another view of the towers.
Carrie bundled up in front of the towers. The wind was blowing pretty hard with intermittent rain.
Back down off the mountain, at the end of tha trail waiting for a minivan to takes us to the big buses for the trip back to Puerto Natales. Everyone was pretty quiet. Tired after the long multiple day hikes. This group included people from France, England, Germany, and Australia.
The minivan: They made us get off and walk across. Then the bus came across. They actually had to fold the mirrors in.
The price paid to see the unbelievable. Carrie’s little toe, now the size of her big toe.
Now this is disgusting! Pat’s toe after 6 days of hiking Patagonia. As of this writing the toe nail was growing back nicely, thank you. One night to recuperate in Puerto Natales and it’s time to, you guessed it, hop another crappy bus for Ushuaia, Argentina. The Fin del Mundo!