The French Valley ~ an amphitheatre of granite spires

Torres Del Paine Travel Blog

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The granite walls of the Cuernos mountains glowing in the morning light

Having read that the French Valley is the most beautiful valley in the entire national park and that some travelers would have preferred to spend more time here because of its scenic beauty, we were quite excited about the trek. Up by 5.30am, we shared the breakfast that was already prepared for us the night before together with a German girl who wanted to be on the trail early too.

We left the lodge at 6.15am. Despite being sunny and bright by then, there was a still a sort of peacefulness in the surroundings in the early hours. It was a nice feeling to be the only ones on the trail and having the whole nature to ourselves.

We have scheduled about two and half hours to complete the trek from the shores of Lago Nordenskjold up the slopes and all the way to Campamento Italiano.

The still Lago Nordenskjold with the hanging glacier of Paine Grande
After ascending the trail and coming out of the forest, the view of the hanging glaciers on Cerro Paine Grande glistening in the morning sun was magnificent. The views became more magnificent as we came round the Los Cuernos mountains and walked towards Campamento Italiano with the commanding views of the huge hanging glacier of Paine Grande in front of us on the trail. The peaks of Cerro Paine Grande, which were covered in the clouds on the previous day, were dancing in and out of the clouds against a bright blue sky. The most spectacular of all was the jagged snow-covered peak of the 3,050m Cumbre Principal! We were on time and reach the campsite at about 9.30am.

After a small break, we continued the next part of the ascent to Campamento Britanico.

The French Glacier and the east face of Paine Grande, with the tip of Cumbre Principal peaking through the clouds
As we ascended the trail next to Rio Frances, it was rather strenuous with lots of ups and downs on the rocky trail with huge boulders. But the view on the left side of the hanging glacier looming just next to us was worth all the effort. Frequent rumbling sounds were often heard and mini-avalanches could be seen too. The many streams of melt water from the base of the glacier resulted in the huge volumes of fast moving water flowing towards the river.

The view down to Lago Nordenskjold with the reflection and the mountains in the distance horizon was equally beautiful. We ascended through the forest next to the river with rushing glacier water for about an hour before reaching the open moraine with the most spectacular and grand mountain formation, one of the finest in Patagonia!

The majestic Cerro Paine Grande with its hanging glaciers on one side, the Los Cuernos, Cerro Mascara (Mask – 2,300m), Cerro Hoja (Leaf – 2,200m), Cerro Espada (Sword – 2,500m), Cerro Forteleza (2,680m) and many more interesting mountains lay right before our eyes .

The magnificent peak of Cerro Paine Grande - Cumbre Principal (3050m)
.... No wonder they all say that the French Valley is so beautiful!

We met a couple coming down from the trail and asked how long it would take to reach Campamento Britanico. They said they did not go that far and were turning back due to the lack of time. Amazing how some people could have so little time to enjoy such beauty and were rushing through the park!

The trail continued for a while in the open area before entering the forest again with a lot of the usual ups and downs. We took a break next to the rushing river and refilled our bottles with the cold and refreshing glacial water. We continued and came to the next moraine where those magnificent mountains were just right before our eyes. However, it was not the end of the trail yet.

I could keep on looking at these grand views!
Like some other trekkers, we were tired but we pushed on.

Entering the forest again, we finally reached Campamento Britanico at 1pm. Hurray, at least from here, we knew that the Mirador Valle del Frances was about half an hour away. We had our lunch of the delicious chicken sandwich and took a good rest before the last assault, while watching the trekkers passing by. Two trekkers going towards the Mirador asked two Italian trekkers coming down whether it was worthwhile to go up to the Mirador. Coolly, they replied, “You are already here, go up and take a look!”

Indeed, worthwhile or not is subjective and since one had come all the way, what is the last half an hour of trek! Replenished with energy, we continued the last half an hour of ascent which was strenuous at times.

The beautiful view of Lago Nordenskjold as seen from the French Valley
The clouds had come in and the winds were also blowing rather strongly by now.

Finally, finally, we reached the Mirador Valle del Frances! It was a fantastic amphitheatre of huge granite walls and spires, mountains with curious appearances shaped by the winds and natural elements, hanging glaciers and forests. 300 degrees of surrounding mountains with the valley and Lago Nordenskjold making up the remaining 60 degrees of view, gosh, the scenery was magnificent!!!

We took time to enjoy every angle of this beautiful scenery and stayed there for about an hour. Slowly, the winds became gustier and dark clouds covered the skies. Shortly before 3pm, we decided to make our long trek back to Refugio Cuernos. The descent was harder as it was more strenuous on my knees.

From left: the jagged Cerro Espada (Sword - 2500m), Cerro Hoja (Leaf - 2200m), Cerro Mascara (Mask – 2300m) and Cuernos Norte (2400m)
It took us two hours to reach the river bed at the start of the valley.

We took a break on the rock boulders and before us across the trail was a fallen tree trunk about a metre above the ground. It was interesting to see how the other trekkers coming on the path first try to find a way around it rather than bending and crossing under the hurdle. One young guy with camping stuff making his way up the valley did the same and as he passed us by, we told him that he looked sporty and we had expected him to jump across it. With a tired small, he replied, “No, not at this hour.” Loved his humour!

By the time we reached Campamento Italiano, it had started to drizzle. Heaven was really kind to us. Firstly, the day was not as warm as the previous two days.

From left: Aleta de Tiburon, Los Gemelos, Trono Blanco and some other peaks
If that would be the case, we would have been debilitated much earlier and would have taken a much longer time to complete the entire trek. It would also not have been so rewarding to visit the French Valley in the rain and not seeing all the majestic and interesting mountains.

We were still about two and half hours away from Refugio Cuernos and we were already tired. As a consolation, we picked many Chaura (Prickly Health) berries along the way and munched on them. These red berries tasted like sour apples and the locals hardly eat them. As we turned and looked back, Cerro Paine Grande was already in the clouds and the drizzle was catching up with us.

We finally reached the lodge at 8.30pm, after being 14 hours on the trail. By then, the drizzle became heavy rain and we just barely made it back to the lodge without being soaked through.

View from the Mirador. From left, Cota 2000, Cerro Cathedral, Aleta de Tiburon
As we did not want to miss dinner, we quickly freshened up and joined the rest of the people having their late dinner.

It poured and the winds howled as we went to bed at 10.30pm. We were so glad that we were not camping!

-

skippyed says:
Fabulous.. long days hike though!
Posted on: Feb 10, 2012
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The granite walls of the Cuernos m…
The granite walls of the Cuernos …
The still Lago Nordenskjold with t…
The still Lago Nordenskjold with …
The French Glacier and the east fa…
The French Glacier and the east f…
The magnificent peak of Cerro Pain…
The magnificent peak of Cerro Pai…
I could keep on looking at these g…
I could keep on looking at these …
The beautiful view of Lago Nordens…
The beautiful view of Lago Norden…
From left: the jagged Cerro Espada…
From left: the jagged Cerro Espad…
From left: Aleta de Tiburon, Los G…
From left: Aleta de Tiburon, Los …
View from the Mirador. From left, …
View from the Mirador. From left,…
Trekking along Lago Nordenskjold i…
Trekking along Lago Nordenskjold …
Los Cuernos del Paine in the morni…
Los Cuernos del Paine in the morn…
Lago Nordenskjold with the distant…
Lago Nordenskjold with the distan…
A close-up of a chirpy bird agains…
A close-up of a chirpy bird again…
Walking towards the French Valley
Walking towards the French Valley
The French Glacier and the east fa…
The French Glacier and the east f…
The calm Lago Nordenskjold with th…
The calm Lago Nordenskjold with t…
Literally walking next to the hang…
Literally walking next to the han…
The huge volumes of fast moving wa…
The huge volumes of fast moving w…
The petite lady with the huge ruck…
The petite lady with the huge ruc…
Special effects from the clouds on…
Special effects from the clouds o…
Walking into the French Valley wit…
Walking into the French Valley wi…
The Cerro Paine Grande and the han…
The Cerro Paine Grande and the ha…
The magnificent views on one side …
The magnificent views on one side…
The beautiful triangular shaped Al…
The beautiful triangular shaped A…
Finally reaching Camp Britanico
Finally reaching Camp Britanico
Having lunch at the shelter in Cam…
Having lunch at the shelter in Ca…
The Mirador the end of the French …
The Mirador the end of the French…
At the Mirador at the end of Frenc…
At the Mirador at the end of Fren…
The two sleeping beauties in the…
The two "sleeping beauties" in th…
With Paine Grande in the backgroun…
With Paine Grande in the backgrou…
Cota 2000 (left) and the interesti…
Cota 2000 (left) and the interest…
Looking down at the French Valley …
Looking down at the French Valley…
Panorama 1 - A sweeping of the Cer…
Panorama 1 - A sweeping of the Ce…
Panorama 3 -  Cerro Espada, Cerro …
Panorama 3 - Cerro Espada, Cerro…
Panorama 2 - Lago Nordenskjold and…
Panorama 2 - Lago Nordenskjold an…
Torres Del Paine
photo by: Vlindeke