Torres del Paine and The W...Day 4-5
Mar 6, 2008
Refugio Cuernos to Refugio Chileno 18km
After a day of rest my feet were feeling a little bit better as we headed out the next morning. Again the weather was on our side, however neither of us mentioned it out of fear we might jinx it and a down pour would immediately commence. Our trip today would take us to the last refugio before Torres del Paine. The hike traversed through open valleys adjacent to more pristine lakes all of which were a beautiful muted green. All the lakes are glacial, the color is created by the silt, rock that has been pulverized by the massive glacier above, that enters the water. Each section of the park is geographically separated by the massive mountains in the center thus making each segment ecologically and geologically different. Really a geology teachers fantasyland, every exposed section looked like a picture out of our text books.
This section of the park is still privately owned. Up until the park's creation in 1959, all the land was privately owned and used as several estancias. Estancias are free range sheep farms. The park is still recovering from the grazing activities. Due to the private ownership, horses are allowed on the trails. We crossed some grazers along the way. If I were a horse this is definitely were I would want to be. There are opportunities to take rides through the park with gauchos (Argentine cowboys) as your guide and we passed several of them along the way. We couldn't help but think this was a little bit of cheating. However, as we passed all the backpackers with full packs on I guess we were cheating in our own way as well. I was absolutely OK with this type of cheating. It was challenging enough just with our day packs, trekkers we passed with full packs looked like hell.
We descended into the gorge-like valley to Chileno. We arrived in early afternoon, we made the 6 hour trek in 4.5, and crashed for a much needed nap. Our plan for the following morning was to wake before sunrise and make the rocky ascent to the Torres view point.
Day five...Shotgun sunrise
Refugio Chileno to Torres outlook and back to Puerto Natales 12km
¨Jas, wake up, its 4:30!¨ Darin's ever reliable alarm clock or rather Darin and his stellar snooze button skills, we dont know which, was faulty again. We were planning on waking up at 3:45 to leave ample time to reach the view point in time to catch the famous Torres sunrise. The sun wasn't supposed to rise 'til 7 so we still had time to make the 2 hour trek. We packed our bags and headed out in the dark in record time.
This stretch of trail is notoriously windy and we definitely were able to fully experience it. As we reached the last part of the hike, a 45 min scramble up knee popping boulders (as lonely planet described) the wind really picked up. We made it to the end of the trail just as light was flooding the valley. True to Darin's nature he found yet another hill to climb to get even closer to the towers, as I cursed him the entire way even though I would be very thankful in the end. We scrambled up, turning our backs every few minutes to make sure the sun wasn't peaking through. The wind was so bad on this stretch, about 60mph, is was practically pushing us up the hill as we continually were losing our footing due to the unstable terrain.
We made it to the top and continued on past several other photo opportunists huddled in their sleeping bags. We made it to a perfect sheltered spot just behind a huge boulder...or so we thought. We had made it just in time and got ready for those few minutes of glory when the towers would be transformed as they were splashed with fuchsia.
We too brought a sleeping bag (a travelers tip from a local in Natales) and wrestled it out of the bag. Just as we settled down...do you smell something??? After a little searching to our horror we discovered someone left us a little surprise hidden under a small rock. I tried to maneuver it but that only made it worse. After a gagging episode we realized our perfect spot had been tarnished by the call of nature. (One really disappointing part of the park was the amount of toilet paper. Everywhere on every trail bits of toilet paper could be found, pack it in, pack it out people!!!)
We moved to a less sheltered position and waited for the moment of truth. The wind was still ripping, making it difficult to hold the camera still. But true to the nature of the trip, just as the sun started to come through the valley to hit the towers the wind slowed. The sunrise was one of the most incredible moments of my life. The towers glowed in the sunlight, we couldn't take enough pictures. Get it from over there! Look at those colors! Look at it now! We screamed to each other in total awe of what we were seeing. The sunrise lasted under a minute, in which over 100 pictures were taken between the two of us.
We stayed up on the mountain until the sun was fully on the towers but it really wasn't the same. They were still of course beautiful by themselves but once you have seen them in the sunrise glow you can never look at them the same. As we passed others on the trail making the ascent in the morning light we felt sad for them (I should say I felt sad while Darin called them suckers), they had missed out on this incredible scene for a mere couple more hours of sleep.