Exhilerating Trekking in Torres Del Paine
Mar 18, 2008
|Day 1 - Thursday 13th March 2008 - From Hosteria Las Torres (drop-off point), via Campamento Chileno to Torres Del Paine Mirador(Viewpoint)
Camp 1 - Campamento Chileno
Total distance walked 17km - distance with large backpacks 5km
On the morning of our trekking adventure and in our dormitory that sleeps 8 people, there were 6 of us all getting up for the early coach to take us to drop off point in the Torres Del Paine National Park. That doesn´t include all the other dorm rooms, so there was a lot of backpacks getting the final once over, before one of Omar´s awesome breakfasts and then a fight for the bathroom!
The coach was prompt and we said our goodbyes to Omar and Rafa who have helped us enormously with our preparations. The journey took about 2 hours with various pickup stops and the closer we got to the National Park the more mountainous and picturesque the landscape became.
With the sun shining all the way and not a cloud in sight it was time for our first dilemna – do we take the W to E route as planned (with friends we had made) or switch and go E to W (as Rafa suggested we do if the weather is looking good)..... tough decision and we decided to go with the E to W route to guarantee we would see the three Towers of Torres on Day 1.
All was going great until we hit the first ascent! It was tough going with our hefty backpacks on but we (slowly) passed people and caught up with a Norwegian couple (Espen and Magna) who had also been staying at our hostel. After the first hour we finally reached the descent to our campsite for the night, which was still a further 2km away but being down hill it didn´t matter!
Arriving at ´Campamento Chileno´ we recognised the friendly faces of Robert (Dutch) and Joe (Austrian) – our 2 supermarket friends, who we had forgotten were taking the E to W route too! The campsite was so small that we were all cosy neighbours and each area to pitch the tents were all equally uncomfortable with hard ground and tree roots everywhere! The faciliities were basic to say the least with 2 toilets and a slow running cold water tap.......and that was it!!.......at which point it was time to admire the view and remember what the trek was all about!!
After lunch together and being joined by a young Geordie lad called Chris, there was soon a nice group forming to take the big hike up to Torres – minus the heavy backpacks which stayed in our tents. It took about 2 hours from camp to reach the top of Torres which was a nice valley walk by Rio Ascencio with snow capped mountains on one side and charcoal coloured mountains on the other. Following a nice forested area, the last 45 mins became a steep scramble over big boulders (and after many stops) we made it to the top. With the mid afternoon sun slowly disappearing behind the towers we were still able to see the emerald green lake in all its splendour and as you can imagine a photo frenzy (and not just by the Gallery´s) soon followed.
We took in the views of Torres for well over an hour before heading back to camp feeling like we had achieved so much on our first day of trekking! Everyone was so hungry for dinner that the variations of pasta, super noodles and soup soon began and we all sat round a bench sharing dinner, wine (not sure how that got in our backpacks!!), dutch card games aided by head lights, then time for an early bed - for a big big day of trekking tomorrow.
Day 2 - Friday 14th March 2008 - From Campamento Chileno to Campamento Italiano
Camp 2 - Campamento Italiano
Total distance walked 22km - distance with large backpacks 22km...CRIPES!!!
Everyone was up at 8.00am even though the peaceful sleep we had all wanted was spoiled by some noisy Chileans holding loud conversations next to our tents in the early hours of the morning. Joe (Austrian guy) had asked them to be quiet and got the response of ¨Ask us in Spanish and we will¨ and Joe being mulitilingual asked them ¨to shut the fu*k up¨ in spanish and that seemed to do the trick!!
What was also amusing that morning (but not at the time) was the realisation that mice had found our dry food supplies in Jo´s backpack. To annoy us even more, the little blighters had helped themselves to the most expensive chocolate bar we had bought for the trip too - which they had accessed via a zipped compartment (still trying to figure that one out)! It seemed the mice filled up on our supplies as no-one else in our group was affected. So lesson learnt - keep food inside tent with us and hang it from anywhere possible!
The Norwegian couple were doing the full circuit over 8 days and were heading in a different direction to ourselves, so after breakfast we said our goodbyes and packed up our tent ready for the long trek ahead to the next camp (and not forgetting with our full backpacks!!!)
We left camp at 9.30am (as the mice-scapade set us back a while!) and headed back in the direction near to where we started the initial trail yesterday, but all the while looking out for the shortcut to take us past Lago Nordenskjold. The trek was up and down and very scenic with the Lake on left and glacial mountain ahead and the reverse side of Torres on our right.
It was a good 3 hours before we stopped for lunch on a rock plateau looking out over Lago Nordenskjold. With camp stoves at the ready it was cup a soup and croutons for lunch and whatever dried food we had left that the mice hadn´t found, whilst Joe and Robert prepared their usual culinary feast – not that we were jealous or anything!
The remainder of the walk took us past Camp Los Cuernos, where we could all have pitched up and stayed for the evening, but the plan was to walk a further 2 hours and reach Camp Italiano, so that we would have less time walking with our backpacks tomorrow. On a brief stop at Camp Los Cuernos to top on water refreshments, we met a nice American couple from Seattle, (Eric and Kristin) who Joe and Robert had befriended a couple of days earlier. Eric and Kristin will be joining us the following day at Camp Italiano.
The last 2 hours were long as there were a lot more ´ups´ than ´downs´ and a stop at the beach for a breather and a competition in international stone skimming (as you do) – won by Ian (yay!) before we trekked on and crossed paths with a Aussie girl ´Ali´ we had met in Bariloche and whose luggage hadn´t made the flight! Luckily all was well so it was good to see her and she was 2 days into ´The Circuit¨. We finally saw the last sign for Camp Italiano which said 50 mins, but our relief after an entire day carrying our backpacks was short lived, with the last 30 mins being up another, very steep hill.
We arrived at Camp Italiano around 6pm and it was much the same as the previous site but a lot bigger. No soft grassy fields and no hot showers, or anything that even resembled a shower, but rough ground, tree roots, 2 (not so clean) toilets and hey... we had an even slower running tap – we felt spoilt!!!! Pasta, sauce and salami thrown in was our culinary feast that night which we were both salivating over and ready to share with the remainder of wine. Its safe to say we enjoyed every mouthful (which would have been more aside from a typically clumsy cooking spillage from Ian!!)
It didn´t matter though, because even though it had been a long, long day everybody was on top form with the usual wise-cracks and laughter before we briefly attempted to re-create our previous nights card school on makeshift wooden & stone seats before another early night at 9pm, turning our tired limbs and sore bottoms into our concrete like, cold, luxurious beds.
Day 3 - Saturday 15th March 2008 - Return walk to Los Cuernos Mirador then from Campamento Italiano to Refugio & Campamento Paine Grande
Camp 3 - Campamento Paine Grande
Total distance walked 21.6km - distance with large backpacks 7.6km
The bonus of having trekked so far the previous day meant we could leave our backpacks at Camp Italiano in the morning and we didn´t need to pack up the tents first thing, before we took ourselves up the Valle Frances to a lookout point which provided a stunning panoramic view at the top which looked over both Los Cuernos and Cerro Castillo. Eric and Kristin joined us in the morning, having set out earlier from Camp Los Cuernos and to make things easier they left their backpacks with ours at base camp...or basic camp!!!
What we all thought was going to be a nice stroll through a forested valley soon turned into a uphill climb after about 1000m. It was soon apparent (which wasn´t from any of our maps) that to reach the Mirador (lookout point) was going to be another scramble over rocks and boulders preceeded by many ups and downs and meandering footpaths, following the path of the river.
The walk was stunning and the Mirador was a popular spot, and thankfully our group was able to find a place to camp and have some lunch (and of course take the obligatory group photos) before making the trip back to camp.
It was on the return journey that the skies had really cleared and the views over valley and glacial mountains including the small Glacier Frances, were in full glistening splendour. With our knees feeling a little worse for wear it was not a fast descent as you follow the route of the safest boulders whilst keeping another look out for the red signposts/paint splodges.
We were back at camp for a little after 3pm and aimed to be packed up by 3.45pm and on the path of our next 2 hour trek to camp site numero three. After crossing the wobbly bridge which only allows 2 persons at a time, we made our way to Camp Paine Grande. The group all stayed together at a nice steady pace and thankfully the 2 hour trek was not up a mountain!!
On our way to the camp we all had visions of a nice big site (hence the grande) with hot showers, grassy fields and a shop that sells a nice selection of food and beer or wine! On seeing the end in site, Camp Paine Grande looked like a smart Butlins camp with pristine white chalets and the main complex for guests staying in the accommodation (refugios). As we got closer we saw the grassed camping area for tents and were absolutely delighted, but it got better!! As we put up our tent a French dude passed by telling us that the showers are hot!!!!!! Hallelujah!!!! – we didn´t care about beer or wine at this point as a hot shower and the possibility of a comfy nights sleep sounded heavenly!
Whilst everyone made a bee line for the showers, Joseph had investigated that there was a kitchen to take our camp stoves, so we could eat in the warm shelter with no mozzies and plenty of light to play cards past 9pm - whey hey it was time to break open the whisky we had been carrrying for 3 days!!!
Day 4 - Sunday 16th March 2008 - Return walk to Refugio Grey
Camp 4 - Campamento Paine Grande
Total distance walked 22km - distance with large backpacks 0km - HURRAY!!!
There were 2 options for today;
Take our large back packs along with Robert & Joe and trek 11km (approx 3.5hrs) to camp ´Refugio Grey¨ OR leave our backpacks and walk with Rob & Joe to Refugio Grey and then walk back......hmmm it didn´t take long to decide that the 2nd option without backpacks was the way to go! It may have been double the long walk but without our large backpacks it would feel like we skip all the way there and back!
The morning started overcast but as we had decided on option 2, we could leave our tent pitched and have a leisurely breakfast with the guys. We said goodbye to Geordie Chris in the morning who was heading back to Puerto Natales and then onto Buenos Aires and then the four of us headed out to Grey Glacier.
The first 1.5hr of the trek was all uphill to the lookout point from where we glimpsed Grey Glacier in the distance and the blue of the ice was so vivid. The next 1.5hr was all downhill and knowing that we had to climb it on our return journey was making us question our Option 2 decision.
On arriving at Refugio Grey it lived up to its name as it was a very grey and sheltered beach. The temperature drop was ever noticeable too as there was a very cool breeze off the glacier and Lago Grey. We stayed for lunch with the guys and were joined by Eric and Kristin who were boarding for the night in the warmth of the nearby refugio.
When leaving Rob and Joe we decided to take a peek at the lookout point over Grey Glacier with Eric and Kristin as it was only 10mins away. It was worth the walk as the view was the best we had seen of the glacier and it would have crazy to do a 22km round walking trip and not having seen it properly!
Not looking forward to the upward climb back, we had set ourselves a target of back to camp for 6.15pm for some well deserved soup and noodles! Now we guess its because the lack of backpacks still had us in dizzy elation but the climb back was not so bad and we power walked back with the wind behind us and aside from a few photo stops, we were back for 6.30pm.
That night we had the best soup and super noodle dinner, followed card school, with some cheeky left over whisky and cokes! It was a great way to round off an amazing 4 days. The weather had also changed for the worst as people arrived at Camp Paine Grande in the dark and were struggling to put up tents in the wind and rain!
Day 5 - Monday 17th March 2008 - From Refugio Grey back to Puerto Natales
Total distance walked 500m to boat, then bus, then hostel - distance with large backpacks 500m - THANK GOD!!!
The wind and rain lashed it down all night and therefore very little sleep was had on our last night and our little tent got battered by the elements. We rose at 10am when there was a glimpse of sunshine before the next grey cloud descended which gave us a window of about 10mins before the next down pour. Shower time went by the by as we packed liked maniacs and headed for the shelter of the kitchen for a nice breakfast cuppa. Lots of people had the same idea who were waiting for the 12.30pm ferry like ourselves, to make the journey back to the shuttle bus pick up point and then back to the hostel for unpacking and finding a laundrette.
Eric and Kristin were also joining us on the same ferry trip, where we exchanged contact details as we hope to catch up with them in El Chalten – our next stop (hopefully!)
It´s an amazing thing the human body, you really don´t appreciate just how much it can do until you really put it to the test. Both of us have done lengthy walks back home, but not over 20km in one day, let alone, for 4 consecutive days, carrying heavy backpacks up steep hills for upto 30 mins to an hour at a time, on very little food and with very little sleep!!! If you´d have asked us that we were to undertake such a task, 2 days after the Christmas just gone, we would have probably laughed all over our impressive collection of Christmas food & beverages... But the fact of the matter is that, yes it was hard work, but we enjoyed every second of it because of the people we shared it with, the stunning scenery we were awarded with after every steep climb and at every turn, after a long, hard walk. The Inca Trail is going to be a stroll in the park...but a very large, mountainous park...
FINAL TORRES DEL PAINE TREK STATISTICS
TOTAL TREK DISTANCE 83.1km,
WITH LARGE BACKPACKS - 35.1 km
TOTAL STEPS WALKED - seventeen billion and twenty nine
FULL TIME WALKING COMPANIONS - Seven from 5 different countries
TOTAL BLISTERS - 3 and a half each
SLEEPLESS NIGHTS - 4 each
FOOD CONSUMED - Not Enough
PHOTOS TAKEN - Enough for Martin to view in one full day´s sitting
...and finally some extra baggage under our eyes and some beardy stubble for Ian to carry back with us to our friendly little hostel in Puerto Natales!!!