Torres del Paine !! and what a Paine they were !!! Fantastic times and mosquito feasts !

Puerto Natales Travel Blog

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WOO HOO ! we are Trekking !! After all the last minute purchases of trekking essentials lke a tent, lots of biscuits and packets of three minute noodles ( a major essential) we were up and out by 7 am for the two hour drive to the park entrance to begin our 5 day trek of " the big W" - this may sound impressive, but this is the wussy trek, the "real" trek is the big loop, this takes 9 days, but we were not prepared enough for that !!We had been to the talk at the "erratic rock" and had decided to follow the itinerary given there, that is to do the W anticlockwise ( not the norm) and begin at the bottom, this meant we had to get a catamoran first to the "end" of the trek and work our way back. No problem, this also meant that we had about an hour of free time between bus and boat to check out our first amazing view, a waterfall just by the foot of the mountains. Well we got there Ok, but then "DISASTER " the winds in patagonia are not to be messed with, you can barely stand up in them and one particlularly big gust blew my and H´s sunglasses straight off our faces ! Incredible. We found H´s no worries , but mine had lost a lens (probably on its way to antarctica by now) and so I had to do the rest of the walk looking a bit like a crap Pirate with only one lens !! ah well such is life ! We got back on the boat where the story was relayed and the alaskan chap Even, shared out his string so everyone could tie their glasses to their heads. The views were already stunning, tall snowcapped mountain peaks, running glaciers and waterfalls, azure blue lakes etc etc it was almost too much to take in ! At any rate, the boat offloaded us eventually and we began the trek through the first part.. the "belly of the wind". Well I dont think i need say much more except I have never felt such strong winds in my life, you were literally leaning into the wind, pack and all, at about 60 degrees just to stay upright. But the sun was out and it did not rain so it was a good day for walking. We were lucky enough to be walking with the couple from the Navimag Boat , Chris and Natalie, who were a similar pace to us so could break up the awe inspired "ooohs and aaahs" with chats about football, southpark and shopping ( as the trek progressed all these were replaced with thoughts of food, what we would eat back in the hostel, back at home etc etc). The day progressed and we saw the most amazing sights including condors as we made our way to Glacier Grey and the patagonian ice fields, we even at one point saw up close ( touching distance) a glacier graveyard which was just incredible. Eventually after a very long walk and an even steeper climb we made it to our free campsite ( you could stay at "refugios", places with toilets and showers and all that, but we were of hardier stock !!).Some other friends had made it waaaay before us ( Philippe &Chantal and Evan) but we were still there before dark and could set up our tent, make our pasta and sit watching sunset right over ( almost on top of) the creaking and cracking glacier Grey, drinking the red wine that Harriet had carried up with here..stupendous !!
Day two saw us coming down from the glacier on the same path we had gone up !! It was intially easier coming down, but I soon learned that it was a killer on the knees ! Even though we were camping on top of an iceberg and it was very cold, this did not stop the mosquitos from biting, we had covered up and used spray and everything but to no avail. Overnight they had feasted on the only exposed part of me, my face and I had three bites on my eyelid and around, making my face swell up like quasimodo !! I could not see out of one eye when we first woke up..and did we remember to bring any antihistamine.. did we sod ! Luckily, the lens from my sunglasses that I still had was on the same side as my newfound disfigurement, so I could cover it up a bit.. but it was a bit of a sod !!
We trekked onwards for a long time today, also with the weather in our favour so not too bad, the main problem was that the campsite we had chosen to camp in was officially closed, and if we were not alowed to stay there, then we would have to trek back or forward another 2 hours after a full day !! a horrendous thought !! well we arrived at dark and yep it was closed with a camp warde telling us to move on.. but Strength in numbers , we all clubbed together and just set up our tents anyway, and once up there was not a lot he could do , so we had a place to stay for the night ( as long as we did not get flooded out !!)
Day three was an ascent up to valley Francaise, almost as amazing as glacier Grey with towering peaks and regular avalanches ! we climbed up to the first lookout and then headed back down, at which point my knee gave in and started really to hurt, luckily Chantale and Phillipe found me Mr Stick, my trustworthy companion for the rest of the trek who helped a great deal and things went ok. So we came back down, packed up the tent and headed for the next campsite, this one would be a refugio with bathrooms and showers etc. The day passed well , with again excellent weather ( except for a quick rainstorm, but we had luckily sheltered for lunch a this point so did not even get wet) and we made the refugio in good time to sunbathe and have showers. The refugios had " shops" of a sort, and we hoped to get some bandages for my knee or some Ibuprofen/antihistamine, but they had nothing so useful, mostly it was just hard liquor and beer ! just what you need after a dehydrating trek !
The next day was heading for the last campsite under the famous Torres... this was a lovely walk as this was the one set up for the wrinklies to do and the easiest ! the sun was shining and we walked most of the way alongside a beautiful lake. The paths were well marked and snaked up and down the mountain feet, often at times reminding me of the malverns. We found a "short cut" and experienced again the amazing winds at the valley mouth but made the campsite no problem at about 6pm and settled in to the discussions about when dawn would break and when we had to start trekking in the morning to see dawn over the torres. Well, by bedtime we decided to go with what the ranger told us and to set off about 5am ( rather than three thirty as the erratic rock had suggested). We awoke to thunderous rain at 4.30 and were going to have to give the final climb at dawn a miss, but it quickly passed over and at about 5.15 we set off in the dark with our pen light borrowed from Chris ( H´s headlamp has mysteriously dissappeared - robbed I recon !) up the mountain. Well after about 5 minutes the lamp gave out and we were left to do the rest of the ascent , up scree, boulder fields, vertical sand dunes etc in pitch black.. with me cursing every damn rock on the mountain side !! We lost the path many times but eventually as dawn was breaking we made it to the top ( the first ones there) and settled in to watch the sunrise over the torres. When I say settled in, I mean it, we had taken sleeping mats, sleeping bags, kettle, stove, tea, noodles and soup. So as we snugly sat up ther on the best vantage point snug as bugs watching the other climbers shivering as they dried off at the top ( you sweat a lot) we were quite Smug. Chris and Natalie shortly joined and we watched the sunrise together. This is the time the rock towers ( torres) get hit by the first rays of light and turn red.. but we were not lucky enough to see that, but were lucky in general as about 45 mins after we arrived ( when most people arrived) the cloud had rolled in and we couldnt see anything !! so was pretty good. The rest of the day was the slow trek back down to the refugio where we had a waiting bus to take all the smelly hikers back to the town ! The trek was nice and peaceful, the highlight being a condor that flw about 10m from us !! and we got the bus no problem.
Naturally after such a time, the first thing any of us wanted to do was to have a shower, get changed and eat some real food ! we had booked into the same hostel as Chris and Natalie and Evan was set to join us for a filling curry that evening ! Well, Chilian reservations ( as you may have already read) are not all they seem, and the nice lady at our hostel had lost ours !! AARRGGHHH !! Luckily, just down the road was another hostel, not as nice, a bit cold, but cheap and with Hot showers so we didnt mind ( It was really like staying at Grandmas house, the only rooms with heating were the ones she was in, the rest were cold, she hobbled about the place fussing over us and had put all the pot plants she owned in the upstairs corridor by the window in a big pile.. v sweet). So we could change, wash and went back to the original hostel where the nice lady let us use the kitchen and we cooked a massive Chicken and potato Curry to fill and warm us all up.. with PLENTY of good chilean wine !
What a nice way to end the trek !
More next time kiddywinkles !
M&H xxx


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Puerto Natales
photo by: scacos2006