Jonah and The X Files

Torres Del Paine Travel Blog

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Me, checking out the terrain before our little jaunt.
If I were a religious man I'd say 50 hail Marys or something similarly respectful to the big man/woman/being of non-specific gender in the sky for the four days of close to flawless walking weather we received. I'm not though so I'll just say "Ta!" to Ma Nature instead. There were two light periods of drizzle in the whole time and the views we were gifted were, at times, pretty stunning.

It's not always this way. As we arrived in Puerto Natales, the principal gateway to the park, the poor buggers who had just returned to the hostel from Torres were full of tales of snow, rain, hail and high winds. For them, it had obviously turned what can be a sublime experience into a soggy slog with conditions that made camping a miserable chore.
A strange pancake cloud formation created by the swirling winds that dominate the air systems of Torres del Paine.
Their W trek had to be shortened to a U, with the central Valle del Frances deemed too dangerous to negotiate.

I managed to complete the majority of the standard W, the route meant to take in all the principal highlights of the park. This took 3 nights and 4 days and I walked with a bloke called Max whom I met on the bus from Calafate. Max is one of the seemingly ubiquitous Dutch folk that cover the traveling routes of South America. I dunno what it is about the Dutch, but I've only ever met one I didn't like (this wasn't Max by the way). The vast majority of Dutchies I've encountered speak impeccable English and come across as level-headed and obscenely contented with their lot. This makes them good traveling companions.

The first day was, literally, an uphill struggle.
The Torres del Paine with me looking on ever so wistfully.
Max and I panted our way up the paths to the first campsite, weighed down with four days of food in our packs. Our accommodation for the walk was the tenting equivalent of the ball-squeezingly tight shorts that footballers wore back in the 70's; basically a 2 dwarf tent. We pitched this little beauty then clambered up the boulder-strewn route to the base of the Torres del Paine, the three pinnacles of rock that give their name to the park as a whole. They were totally free of cloud, and I was happy, even then, that we had got what we had come for. We admired the view, took the necessary snaps and descended gingerly back to our camp. It was then that my Jonah curse struck once more.

Due to strong advice from other campers about cheeky mice gnawing their way through tents and bags to get at any food on the ground, we stowed our food for the four days in bags.
The 2 dwarf tent with our food hanging in placcy bags in the background. About 10 seconds after taking this shot I drop and destroy my second camera of the trip.
We then hung them from the trees where they swung gently in the wind like bizarre plastic fruit. I took a snap of this spectacle and then simply dropped my camera. My new camera. The camera for which, the previous week, I had just received the credit card bill. The credit card bill that had included an extra 40 pounds added on by the cheating, scamming Paraguayans of Ciudad Del Este. The camera that had replaced the original camera that was stolen in Bolivia for which I had not yet submitted my insurance claim.

I sat for a good five minutes in a weird state of shock and self-pity. Only once before have I lost so much money in such a short space of time, that being the theft of my daypack in Ecuador. It took the rest of the evening for me to cheer up a little and consider that at least I still had all the photos on the memory card.
The view down Valley del Frances.
Max said I could use his camera from then on and he was good to his word; we got some great shots for the remainder of the trip.
The second day was bloody hard work, pure and simple. We laboured through 22 KM of paths winding up and down and up again to Camp Italiano, ensconsed in woodland at the foot of Valle del France. We pitched old Nano-Tent near the toilets, only then realising that the wind was wafting Calvin Klein's: "Eau de Stinking Bog" all around the area. After cooking with this oh-so-appetizing pong in my nostrils, I decided to escape down to the river and lay on a rock as darkness fell.

It was then that, whilst gazing up at the stars in the clear night sky, I saw what I was convinced was a UFO.  At first it seemed just a star like all the others, only a little brighter.
The view out of Valley del Frances
But then it began to move, zig-zagging slowly at first, then shifting faster and further across the night sky. I needed a second witness to prove I wasn't a nutter, and so dragged Max from the warmth of Nano-Tent to see it.  He couldn't see any movement though, and neither could I any more. Obviously bemused, Max retreated to bed and I lay back on my rock, wondering what I'd seen.

It took me another half an hour to figure it out. The sky above was not so clear after all. There was actually a very thin layer of cloud that was being blown hither and thither by the swirling, conflicting winds that dominate the air systems of the park. It was the movement of this cloud layer, not the star, that was presenting me with an optical illusion of a UFO. I went to sleep disappointed, but not surprised.
The gorgeous mountains flanking the entrance to Valley del Frances.
In matters supernatural, cynicism has always been an ally; as soon as I abandoned it, it kicked me firmly up the arse.

Days 3 and 4 saw somewhat less physical excursions up the Valley del Frances, in first drizzly then wonderfully sunny conditions and then a short trip up to a lookout to see Glacier Grey, impressive, but no match for Perito Mereno. I went solo on these trips, Max having strained something in the top of his leg that was causing him considerable pain on uphill stretches. He wasn't the only casualty we met with torn or twisted muscles. Mine were sore, but in a way which made me content that, despite the arduous work of the first two days in particular, they were happy with the exercise.

After the short but pricey catamaran journey to connect with a bus out of the park, I finally took in the full scale of the Torres del Paine massif, around the feet of which we had been tramping for the last four days.
A long shot of Glacier Grey. Big, but still no match for Perito Merino.
As I peered out of the window I began, for the first time, to fully appreciate the series of mountains as a compact, rounded whole. Together they stand like some ancient, massive citadel from The Lord of the Rings, topped with an assortment of peaks; some spiked, some rounded, one twisting skywards like a Mr Whippy icecream. There's even one that's a rough cube, almost as if a Foreign Legion fort has been carved as a whole on top of a mountain.

Walking Torres del Paine is expensive. You pay plenty for equipment hire, return buses, park entrance fee and the catamaran trip. It was all worth it though, similar to Fitzroy, the park contains quite simply some of the best walking country I've ever had the pleasure to experience. Patagonia is a big place, packed with emptiness. But once you have finally emerged from the seemingly endless flatlands, it really does harbour some truly special scenery, aliens or no aliens.
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Me, checking out the terrain befor…
Me, checking out the terrain befo…
A strange pancake cloud formation …
A strange pancake cloud formation…
The Torres del Paine with me looki…
The Torres del Paine with me look…
The 2 dwarf tent with our food han…
The 2 dwarf tent with our food ha…
The view down Valley del Frances.
The view down Valley del Frances.
The view out of Valley del Frances
The view out of Valley del Frances
The gorgeous mountains flanking th…
The gorgeous mountains flanking t…
A long shot of Glacier Grey. Big, …
A long shot of Glacier Grey. Big,…