Torres del Paine - Day 1: Into the Park and Lago Grey to Refugio Paine Grande
Torres Del Paine Travel Blog› entry 7 of 20 › view all entries
In Trip Update (Added on 11/25 from El Calafate)
Four absolutely surreal days in Torres del Paine (Tue-Fri). Views were stupendous and unencumbered by clouds, rains, or winds for the most part. It was commented by many locals that the string of nice weather days was nearly unprecedented in the park. Friday night we had a wicked rain and windstorm, but by Sat morning all we had were the winds (some upwards of 60 mph) and clouds that obscured views. But that was a low key day to see some of the smaller sights in the park, so we weren't too affected by that.
Met a great group of folks that ran the gamut. More later as uploading photos was pretty time consuming here.
Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre, and Perito Moreno to come.
Post Trip Report
The alarm dragged me from sleep very early in the morning (6:00 AM) as we had an early departure time of 6:50 AM for the trip north to Torres del Paine. A nice continental breakfast in the hotel, a quick walk around outside the hotel and then we were in the van and heading out. On the outskirts of Puerto Natales we could see Dorotea where we had hiked the previous evening. Less than 30 minutes north of town the paved road came to an abrupt end and for the remainder of our journey (indeed, until I entered Argentina 5 days hence) we would be traveling on ripio (gravel) roads of various quality to and around the park.
So the pace of the journey slowed with the road conditions but that simply gave us more time to appreciate the sights and sounds around us. Our journey kept us mainly to the steppe and the low rises east of the mountains, but almost always there was a range to our north and west as we travelled northward. Finally, coming around the shadows of a small mountain and out into the steppe again I finally had my first views of the Paine Massif (the entire line of mountains that make up the main sites of Torres del Paine). Truly a site to behold as the range literally rises straight up from the flatter lands where we were driving.
Our destination for the morning was the western edge of the massif and Lago Grey.
Clouds and currents flitted around the peaks such that each view offered a strange vision and photo opportunity. I caught sight of some of the wildlife of the park. Guanacos (a relative of the llama) and rheas (an ostrich relative, also known as a nandu) are very common in the steppe and lower hills of the park.
Entering the park we had turned west and were travelling with the northern shore of Lago Sarmiento on our left. The next lake to appear was Lago Nordenskjold to our north. Looking across this lake I had some close up views of Los Cuernos (the horns) so named for the change in rock strata evidenced by the different color rock at the top of the peaks giving them their "horn" appearance. Between Los Cuernos and the lake is also where I would be walking tomorrow and Thursday.
The road turned south to get around Lago Pehoe and cross the Rio Paine. It is along this section of road that Hosteria Pehoe can be found on a small lake in Lago Pehoe and that the Explora Hotel sits where Lago Pehoe empties into the Rio Paine. After crossing the Rio Paine, the ripio road becomes extremely rough on the final approach to Lago Grey, but we eventually reached the drop off point for our boat journey to the north end of the lake and our journey to the face of Glaciar Grey.
Our early start gave us some opportunity to explore the south shore of the lake.
We were greeted by the occasional iceberg but the early oddity were the ice crystals on Paine Grande. Lost in the clouds swirling among the peak the rocks glistened in a coating of ice. The best we could come up with was that the clouds/fog were condensing and then freezing immediately on the mountain surface to cause this strange sight (see pic).
As we continued north the icebergs grew in size as they had less time to melt than their brethern further south.
Our journey ended shortly before 2:00 PM as we again climbed into the zodiac (which had met back up with us after picking up the ice trekkers) for a short ride to the northeast shore. From this point we had an 11km (about 7 mile hike) back down the west leg of the "W" to our first evenings lodgings. So we were turned around and headed south along the shore line, sometimes at the level of the lake, sometimes climbing around small headlands for views of the glacier and the ice cap beyond.
But there was so much to see that progress was really not a concern. Closer views of the waterfalls we could see from the boat now coursed off the mountain in front of us. Birds flitted through the air over cliffs high above our heads. Wildflowers growing off the sides of the trail were in full bloom in the late spring air.
Our trail curved away from Lago Grey through a cut between Paine Grande and a smaller hill so we looked back at the last views of Glaciar Grey and its immediate surroundings. It was 5:00 PM and we were on the home stretch of our first days journey. And thank goodness to, becuase the early morning start was starting to wear on everybody just a little bit. Conversation that had been freely flowing earlier in the day had silenced as the focus was on getting to our destination. Lago Pehoe finally peaked out from the hills which meant we were getting close and we descended furiously. It was still another 45 minutes or so until Paine Grande Lodge our refugio for the evening finally graced us with its presence on the shores of Lago Pehoe.
We settled in at the refugio in our six to a room lodging. Don't be shy, because the rooms are basically filled and a group gets whatever spaces are available (the staff takes the reservations and fills all the rooms in the best way possible). So we had one room of six and three others sharing a room with three strangers. But it was possible to get a shower and the refugio has a dining room (dinner part of the room rate) and a bar (drinks extra Chilean pesos). Dinner wasn't much to speak of (served cafeteria style), but it was fun interacting in the large refugio dining room with some of the other hikers in Torres del Paine.