Published: December 23rd 2011December 3rd 2011
The W trek in Torres del Paine National park was phenomenal.
We had 'exceptional' weather the whole way, which was warmer than usual & at times hot& sunny. It meant that we could see the summits of all of the huge mountains. It also meant I carried too much stuff ie wet weather trousers- but these are a necessary precaution in Patagonia where the weather changes rapidly & the mountains create their own weather systems too!
The longest hike I had done until this date was a day hike, so I had some trepidation about what to expect and whether I would be fit enough. I shouldn't have worried- our group of 7 were lovely- a Canadaian couple, British couple, and a Swiss guy & Dutch lady were lovely, and all very well travelled and with varied interests and with the all important sense of humour. Our fabulous tour guide (the Argentine- Patagonian born Julieta) was very well educated about the history, geology and flora and fauna of the region and was very passionate about sharing this with us. and the company we did it with Chile Nativo Were well organised and I would recommend them again.
Now for the actual hike!!!
We jumped in a mini bus from Puerto Natales and entered the park via a different entrance than I had with Jess the day before. Day 1 started around lunchtime and we began with a short 'warm up' hike before the actual W began. I told the group I had done a 'warm up' hike the day before but it was about twice as long as this one!
On our way to the national park we were able to stop and take photos of the gorgeous scenery and again spotted many sheep, cows and guanacos. At one point we stopped and watched Andean condors - and lots of them. They are such graceful creatures and quite easy to distinguish once you know their unique wing and feather pattern. We also stopped to take photos of the plentiful guanacos - very cute!
When we stopped at the park entrance again we had friendly guanacos and also a very tame fox that just sat and watched what we did.
We set out for a relatively easy walk across undulating hills and looking on to the Paine Massif. Julieta began to point out
different mountains (which all looked the same at that point!) and to tell us more about the surrounding area. We were smack bang in the middle of puma territory which was quite exciting, although we didn´t expect to see any as they are nocturnal hunters. Apparently this area has the highest concentration of pumas in the world at around 50. Their presence was evident however when we saw carcases of guanacos near the fences - their trick is to pin them against the fence when it is more difficult to run away. So no sightings of pumas, but we definitely saw evidence of their hunting tactics!
We went to an area that had very old paintings from the old indigenous people which was really interesting. This included paintings of animals and also handprints. I was amazed that their hands were bigger than mine - I would have thought people hundreds of years ago were much smaller!
We also started to learn more about the geological make up of the area. One of the men in our group is a geologist and Julieta is quite passionate about it, so we learnt lots about the history of the area through
rocks! We also started to spot gorgeous tiny wildflowers - it is spring time so they are all out.
We finished up at our refugio for the night, which was also for the next night also. I was quite impressed with these lodges. They all have shared accommodation so we were in dorms of 6, however the beds and bedding were very comfortable, the bathrooms really nice, and the bar and restaurant area great! I didn´t think I´d be drinking anything the whole time, but of course the red wine here is really good - so there were inevitably a couple of glasses drunk in the bar before dinner and a bit of a chat with the group which was nice!
Dinner was impressive - each night we had soup, protein & carbs (and sometimes veg - it´s quite remote so pasta and rice are more prevalent than veg!) and a dessert. Dinner on the first night was probably the best - gorgeous slow cooked beef with a mushroom sauce and mash - yummy!
Brekky was equally good, with cornflakes or porridge, and toast with jam and a serving of scrambled eggs. Great to get the protein
up before a long day of hiking!
We also had a packed lunch each day - typically fruit, nuts & dried fruit, a cereal bar, sometimes a brownie and also a big sandwich. Again, great for big days of hiking!
On our second day we started the actual W route. This was the hike that Jess and I had attempted on our own a couple of days previously so I was a little apprehensive. Things turned out differently this time. I´m not sure whether it was having a big brekky just before (ie good fuel), or knowing what I was in for and not so shocked, but it probably was a combination of these, and also the fact I had walking poles. I had never tried these before but they made such a big difference to how my body felt after a day of hiking. My knees are usually sore when going downhill and my back generally feels out of whack after a day of hiking. Using the poles distributed the weight more evenly, made my legs feel a whole lot better, and just made te whole thing a lot easier!
It was also really nice the
entire time getting to know 7 new people. Everyone was really friendly and there was always something to talk about, travel notes to compare, questions about home and work etc. It certainly made the time pass a lot quicker and the hiking feel a lot easier!
It was also quite funny- Jess and I had met some other people on our first day of hiking and I saw them on this day- a couple of English girls doing the full W in the opposite direction and a South African guy who was planning on spending a full week in the park. As Jess said - my group must have thought I was ´hard core´! It was nice to see some familiar faces and to compare notes along the way.
When I pointed out to the group the spot Jess and I had previously reached they were amazed. It wa only about 40 minutes to the Torres lookout, but it was really steep from that point onwards! I was glad we hadn´t made it on the first attempt - glad as I wouldn´t have had a surprise when I reached the top!
Julieta suggested that we take a
different route from the main path. There had been a previous route she explained, and it would be less packed with people and more ´fun´. Instead of taking a pretty steep path through the trees and winding up in a zigzag fashion, we took the direct route, and clambered directly up, over massive boulders. It did turn out to be fun, as it was quite a challenge and made us forget the energy we were exerting. It was a bit scary, as we could easily see down, and she had to test out the rocks to make sure they were stable before we trod on them. This meant we had to walk very close together.
When we reached the top the view was spectacular. You get so close to the Towers, and we were incredibly lucky that the weather was spectacular and they weren´t covered in cloud or mist, as they often are. We sat down to have lunch, and Julieta pulled out a lovely surprise - a flask of hot water, and some Baileys! So we could have coffee or hot chocolate with Baileys (yummo). We also had some surprise chocolate to go with it! This was a
tradition that continued for the rest of the trip although we had to earn our surprise each day - sometimes it was with lunch, sometimes afternoon tea. It was lovely - it was quite cold up on the lookout and so lovely to have something to warm oursevles up with!
The trek down was fairly uneventful - same way up as down! We were rewarded with another chance to have a glass of wine before dinner and then a yummy chicken and pasta meal for dinner. Needless to say I slept like a baby after a good 10 hours of hiking!
The next day we had a shorter day which was good for the aching limbs and muscles. The route was from Torres Central Refugio to Los Cuernos and about 6 hours of hiking. It meant we got to have a sleep in which was fab, and a late start of about 9.30am. This felt totally luxurious, but when it doesn´t get dark until around 10.30pm you have the luxury of time!
The walk was much easier in terms of terrain - undulating hills, lots to look at in terms of flowers, and we got great views
of Los Curenos (The Horns). We also got our first view of Paine Grande mountain, although the top was covered in mist. We passed beautiful glacial lakes - easy to spot as they are a gorgeous grey- green colour, due to their path from the glacier to lake, and all of the sediment they collect on the way down. We mainly walked past Lake Nordenskuld and onto Lake Pehoe.
We finally arrived at Los Cuernos refugio in the afternoon - around 4pm, which meant we had some time to spare before dinner - another luxury! Los Cuernos refugio was a little more basic than our first and last ones, but still in a gorgeous setting and the food was pretty good too. When the alternative was caomping - it looked excellent in comparison!
We went down and checked out the lake before dinner. At temps of around 5 degrees it was freezing and I put my feet in for about 2 minutes before they felt numbe from the cold! The crazy Canadian in our group Steve actually went in for a swim and lasted about 10 minutes swimming up and down. It prompted cheers and clapping from the
big group of weary hikers onshore and I am sure encouraged a couple of other people to take the plunge!
Again, we met for pre dinner red wine and chatting, and had another hearty meal.
Day 4 saw us undertake another long day of hiking - this time around 10 hours and 20kim in length. We headed into the French Valley and up to the French Glacier and the weather was hot and sunny. The scenery was again spectacular,and we stopped at a lookout for a long and sunny lunch with views up to the glacier and back down the valley to the lakes. We were able to see the glacier calve multiple times, with avalanches causing huge chunks of ice to fall in what looked like waterfalls down the mountain. Spectacular!
We finished the day with a long hike to the Paine Grande Refugio and got to see Paine Grande from all angles. We were really lucky with the weather in that there was no cloud or mist at all, which is really rare! Julieta kept pointing out summits of other close by moutains which are usually not visible and kept saying that the weather was
éxceptional´so we felt very lucky.
We arrived at Paine Grande and were all very weary and sore. Stretching was a must before dinner however they also had 'Happy Sour' at this refugio - 2 pisco sours for the price of one before 7pm! We had quick showers and hightailed it down to the bar.
Dinner was a buffet affair this night and included soup, ceviche, mains, salad, and dessert - massive! We were kept entertained by another group that we kept running into along the way. These were dubbed 'The Italians' - as of course, they were italian. Some of them had been swimming in the lake, and came and draped some washing over a bush outside the restaurant. Little did they realise that the huge windows of the restaurant looked into the bush, and unfortunately one of the guys had draped his big, white undies in full view of everyone. We had the closest table to the window and thought it was hilarious. We thought it looked like a Xmas tree of clothing!
After dinner and a couple of pisco sours and wine we went outside to take photos nexty to the Xmas tree. Me and
a couple of the other ladies played 'angels' next to the clothes and laughed a lot. The Italian whose undies they were came out of the restaurant to retrieve them (we must have had quite an audience by that time) and good naturedly posed for photos with us! He (and I!) were quite embarrassed and we kept running into them for the next day or so. Funny!
Day 5 of the hike was a shorter one - the hike was approximately 5 hours and our finish point was Lake and Glacier Grey, with a boat trip along the glacier. We had to hightail it to make it on time, and it ended up being quite stressful! We had been used to being able to stop and ask questons, take photos and chat along the way, but Julieta meant business on our last day!
We made it to Refugio Grey in time for the boat and had a last lunch and surprise (coffee and Baileys) before bidding farewell to some of our group and jumping onto the boat. Glacier Grey was different in formation to Perito Moreno. They are both part of the same ice field, but Grey had
a lot more jagged edges and some big caves we could see from the water. It only calves about once a week and didn´t while we were there, so I was very lucky to have seen such action at Perito Moreno!
Once the boat dropped us back on dry land we were driven back to Puerto Natales via a different route, dropping off more of our group at a camp so they could commence a kayaking trip. I was quite glad to be heading back to a shower and proper bed as I was exhausted!
It was still a great drive home as we could look back onto the Paine Massif and now identify all of the mountains that looked so foreign on the first day we identified the park. The vista was totally clear of clouds and mist again so we could see for miles.
I finished off my evening in Puerto Natales with a much anticipated king crab risotto - a repeat of my first night there with Jess! It was delicious and I fell into a much needed slumber.
I headed back to Calafate to head to El Chalten the next day -
more in my next installment!
There are more photos below