Having decided to trek the famous W circuit from west to east (on the grounds of 1 - saving the Torres del Paine mirador until last, 2 - walking with the wind behind as opposed to against, 3 - the hardest walk is up to Torres del Paine so will have less food and therefore lighter bags, 4 - same route as Navimag girls were taking), , made life a little easier for ourselves by getting the catamaran to the west side saving ourselves a 5 hour hike before even starting the W circuit. Crossing the lake whetted the appetite for the walk towards Torres del Paine to come, with the spires of the mountains standing out above the almost fluorescent green lake. With a campsite waiting on disembarkation, decided that we could have a relaxing evening before attempting the 3-5 day walk in 4.
With a shop on campsite, unexpected treat to get a litre of wine to accompany our stove cooked tuna and rice. Campsite well set up with great vantage points of the lake and mountains. Tents a class above most found in England made of sturdy poles and insulation to stand up to the normal weather conditions of the W circuit. Just finishing meal, when Hayley, Heather and Alice (half of Navimag crowd) staggered into camp having walked for 7 hours instead of getting the catamaran - dead on their feet with backpacks almost as big as them. Ready to give up before starting the W circuit. Not a good sign for what we have in store having not started with our backpacks.
Great nights sleep and ready for some serious trekking.
I took lead on porridge and used the kitchen facilities. With tea and porridge ready, went to call Joel and Siggy to breakfast - returned to find out I'd nearly blown up campsite as on leaving the kitchen, had lowered the hob onto simmer but at the same time inadvertantly moved the hob back so that the flame was actually heating the gas supply line coming from big gas tanks outside the kitchen. The supply line had caught fire and nearly burnt through, before the flames were put out and the gas supply cut off - oops !!! The porridge was very nice though !! Route for the day was just 3 and a half hours up the west side of the W along Lago Grey to Refugio Grey for lunch and then a further 2 hours to the campsite at Glacier Grey.
Chris set off at an impressive pace through very English countryside with rolling hills and dandelions, foxglove, ferns, heathers and wild grass in abundance. Well trodden path pretty steady and would be pretty easy walking if it wasnt for the weight of the 70 litre backpacks. The lake not looking so English as soon walking past icebergs broken away from the main glacier and floating away - pretty awesome being more blue than white. Feeling ok on arrival at Refugio Grey and got there 30 minutes ahead of schedule. Found the mirador which was a bay that looked out onto the glacier but far more impressive was a giant iceberg just 20 metres away in the bay, big enough to take out a Navimag ship that clearly had nowhere else to float and stranded in the bay.
Found a secluded spot for lunch and got carried away taking in the sight. Decided to set up camp and just walk up without backpacks to Glacier Grey as had to return to head towards the middle section of the W. Without the bags we did the steep uphill 2 hour walk in 45 minutes. Climb fully justified as Glacier Grey mirador left you looking down at the glacier directly in line with the front of it, looking across it as the glacier cut down across 3 valleys and extending as far as the eye could see. From above, could see how the ice field being pushed by gravity and the weight of snow higher up the ice field, to compact the front of the glacier into shards of steep ice peaks. Sat watching the glacier for an hour with sounds of ice cracking all over the glacier but no sign of anything breaking away - very impressive.
Back at our campsite for the night, all the navimag girls turned up for a nice reunion. Saw the authentic Woody the Woodpecker on a tree in the site with bright red head and jet black body, pecking away before scampering up tree. Early to bed before 1st of 2 big walking days.
Plan for next day was to walk from Refugio Grey back to where we started and round to the middle section of the W, setting up camp at the bottom of the valley (Campamento Italiano) before walking up the middle section of the French Valley and returning to camp - a total of 10 and a half hours walking !! Peanut butter added to porridge for extra sugar and energy - not convinced. Chris still setting the pace but all of us managing pretty well.
Made it back to the original campsite by mid morning for 11s's of chicken soup before heading into unchartered territory. All paths out of camp sites are really steep climbs before levelling out into steady terrain. However with the higher altitude, provided great views down onto lovely clean, green lakes with the countryside rugged and wild in front of the towering spires of the mountains. Continued to make good progress when starting to meet fellow campers that we'd met over the past couple of days walking in the opposite direction. Bad news was that the French Valley and two rivers a little further were flooded and completely impassable preventing anyone walking the W circuit. They were turning back to catch the catamaran to the east side to still see the Torres del Paine mirador.
We decided to persevere and hope that waters had receded by tomorrow and if needed, walk the French Valley tomorrow instead of the afternoon. Pain starting to kick in with mild cramp in right shoulder and sore hips when climbing. Fortunately most of walk on flat ground with short climbs and descents and made it to Campamento Italiano without too much trouble. Campsite very wet having been flooded out the previous night but managed to find a couple of dryish pitches for our tents and weighed all corners down with rocks and built a trench to divert water in case a repeat happened tonight. Went off to see how far we could make it up the French Valley and surprised at how much waters had receded and with only a few minor streams to walk through, made it up the steep climb without too much trouble.
Didn't go all the way up the valley but hit a plateau after an hour with stunning views on 3 sides with a snow covered mountain on one side, the back of Torres del Paine on the opposite side of the valley and a great view down the valley overlooking the lake behind. Resisted some seriously impressive gusts of wind and a light shower that pounded you to appreciate the scenery. During sitting in a sheltered spot for an hour, saw 2 avalanches thunder down the mountainside crashing into waterfalls launching the snow down further. Sufficiently impressed, returned to campsite for spaghetti , tomato sauce and frankfurters with other campers looking over enviously with their cup-a-soups. Joel surprised us with a litre of wine he'd smuggled along the way as a reward for the day. Feeling exhausted but loving every minute.