Turquoise Lakes & Views to the Horizon
A staple diet of views on the 'W' trail
4 days, 3 nights, 1 tent, 50km, 2 vultures, 1 Southern American grey fox, 5 condors, 1 mouse, 1 (minor) lip wobble....this was the "W"! The route named for the shape of the walk over the mountains of the Torres del Paine national park in Patagonia.
Having arrived the day before from Punta Arenas on a bus that could have qualified for the Monaco grand prix (made worse given one had flipped leaving 18 people in hospital the day before), we set off from Puerto Natales 2 1/2 hrs to the national park where we were met by guanacos a distant wild relative of llamas. Unfortunately we were never to see the Nandu (this inspired the roadrunner character from Looney Tunes as it avoids the futile attempts from the Coyote as it drops an anvil from the edge of a cliff in hope of killing the roadrunner)...nor did I see any anvils lying around.
We had made the decision to camp our way around the trek, carry and make our own breakfasts and lunches and then eat the dinner supplied by the campsites in the evenings. At the first refugio, a short catamaran ride from where the bus dropped
us off, we set up camp. Once I had banged the last 3 sticks into the ground (North Face decided to sell us a tent 3 pegs short) we donned our boots and began the W (West to East), hiking the first leg through the forest to Glacier Grey and then back to camp for about 8pm. Nothing too strenous and good to get the legs loosened up for the miles ahead of us. Just as we arrived back at camp two vultures flew down from the cliff top above the campsite to within about 50 yards of the tents. Ugly looking creatures with tons of feathers.
The next morning was the start of a big day - up and down the middle of the 'W' and on to the next camp. About 11 hours of walking with full kit...tent, sleeping bags, Teddy Bears, all the essentials. Today I decided was a shorts day. 20mins into the walk, horizontal hail, 70km winds. The gusts appear to come from nowhere and literally knock you off your feet if you're not balanced. 1 hour later I was wearing a t-shirt and sunglasses - this apparently was Patagonia.
Turquoise lakes, snow
capped mountains, views to the horizon of wide U shaped valleys shaped by glaciers were our staple diet for the 4 days. That and the ham and cheese sandwiches, cup a soups and cereal bars which we had the pleasure of dining on for breakfast and lunch each day. We finally arrived in Refugio Cuernos around 5:30 after a gruelling day carrying heavy packs up and down hills but having seen postcard scenery all day. Once again we timed our arrival to perfection grabbing the last spot where we could pitch the tent without the prospect of lying on rocks and tree roots for the night. I had barely banged in the last stick before the heavens opened. We spent the next hour drinking beer watching as others arrived pitching their tents in strong winds and horizontal rain on rocks and tree roots.
Day 3 was the tough one. It had arrived. 15km hike straight up hill to Refugio Chilenos. This would be the base to then walk up to the Torres the following day. We started well...on schedule, enjoying the views as we walked past massive lakes, saw condors flying above our heads. At about 4:30 we could
Una botella de agua...sin gas
Our source of drinking water in the Torres del Paine
see what we thought was the peak of the hill and our highest point for the day. It was a peak and we could see the refugio in the distance...unfortunately two more hills were in the way. Half an hour later we arrived in camp. A hot shower and a hot dinner later the world was once again a good place and that night we dined with some Polish guys who were on their 7th day hiking the entire circuit.
Refugio Chilenos is situated deep in the valley just at the base of the Torres (the 3 towers of rock from which the park derives its name). There is nothing around apart from waterfalls, a river, pack horses used to provide all supplies to the refugio and mountains. It's escapism at its best. We set off on Day 4 for what should have been a 2 hour trek up and 90min trek down (without kit) to see the Torres. The last part of the walk involved scambling up a boulder field on all fours. We had walked for 3 days for this moment at the top....cloud. The towers were covered in a blanket of grey. It did clear a
little but not enough to give us a great view of what we had seen in dozens of postcards and posters back in Puerto Natales. We started our walk down through the boulder field.
"Consider putting your feet sideways Sheena...it will help stop you slipping"....
"Arrgh, eeeh, ouch" were the next words from Sheena. Fortunately the brain engaged faster enough to avoid the fatal error (and believe me it would have been fatal) of mentioning "I told you so!" to words of sympathy as Sheena grabbed her right knee in agony. What should have been a 90min descent turned into 3hr crawl. We finally arrived back in Chilenos camp with a quite sore and not so happy Sheena. After a short rest we decided it would be best to get down from the mountain that evening in case the knee started to seize up.
Sheena finally turned me into the pack horse she had threatened. With me carrying both our kits, we headed up the mountain and down the valley. With 2 1/2 hours to spare for what would normally be a 90min walk and we could make the bus out of the mountains that night and
back to town to the comfort of a hostel bed. We made it with a little time to spare. Time enough to grab a quick beer before the bus arrived and take us back to civilisation.
The W is a fantastic trek in some of the most incredible scenery we have seen. It is easy to see how the likes of Bruce Chatwin were so inspired to write about what they were seeing. With some sleep, Sheena's leg is much better than it was and we are now holed up in Puenta Arenas airport before we catch 2 flights to get us to Antofagasta in Northern Chile by tonight. It's now time for some sun and we're banking on getting it at our next stop....the Atacama desert.
Tot: 0.223s; Tpl: 0.012s; cc: 16; qc: 83; dbt: 0.053s; 83; m:apollo w:www (126.96.36.199); sld: 2;
; mem: 6.6mb