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Published: February 16th 2018
Booking accommodation in the Torres del Paine National Park has been an ordeal. There are three providers, all of which operate in complete isolation of the others. All have websites and all of these are unrelated to reality. The threat is that if you arrive at a site without a booking then you will be fined and thrown out of the park. The reality is that if you get to a refuge in an evening there is nowhere else to go.... so they book you into one of the many “fully booked” vacant rooms and campsites. All this for £160 a night for a fully kitted out tent and food. Staff generally behave as if they are doing you a big favour to acknowledge your existence and service requires perseverance. One of our nights we were forced to have the fully kitted out tent (even though we were carrying all our own kit) - only it had only one sleeping bag and mat! The other one arrived a couple of hours and several reminders later. A note from Mrs Lowe
.....The tale of wonder of the W trek told below is Pete's and Pete's alone. My version of events may
appear in future blogs once I can revisit the last 6 days of my life without weeping. It may never happen and we may always have to speak of it in hushed tones.....
We pared down our kit to the minimum and caught an early bus to our first campsite across Pehoe Lake from our start point. Views from here to the Torres peaks were brilliant. The site had shelters which we could pitch the tent under. As we worked out where to site the tent we were investigated by an armadillo who wasted little time sniffing out the chocolate in the rucksack. He then went on to excavate a burrow conveniently close to this potential food supply. A fox lurked about 25 metres away with a similar intent. We were super smug to have brought string to sling up the food in the rafters although there was still some concern about the birds of prey perching on the hanging bag. We got away with it.
Next morning we had to get 8km down the road to the catamaran dock for the early crossing. Pete trawled the campsite the previous evening for anyone with a car who might
be going our way... a successful mission and further evidence for his Institute of Advanced Hitchhiking logbook.
We walked the western leg of the W, 8 hours there and back. Weather was great; dry, cool breeze, not too much sun. The path was quite up and down. First view of Glacier Gray was very impressive and motivating. Icebergs that had broken off the glacier drifted across the lake, some a beautiful deep blue. The refuge we were aiming for was an uninspiring grey box, but the viewpoint beyond was awesome. I couldn't get my head round the glacier which towered above the lake, much higher than I’d expected.
We got back in comfortable time for the last catamaran but still had to get back to the campsite, a daunting prospect. We placed our hopes in hitching but hopes rapidly faded as we huddled by the dusty unmetalled road in an increasingly cold evening wind with little passing traffic. We resolved to get walking and were picked up about 20minutes later on the basis that we were older than the other hitchers on the road, phew!
Next morning we splashed out on a transit ride after a failure
to hitch. Fully laden this time for a 5 hour walk to the first campsite. Great views, lots of gradients.. The campsite provided platforms for the tents to make sure you dont blow away in the night, but attaching the guys to this was pretty time consuming, although there was more smugness for Pete who had brought the required string to tie it down. Of course Tiny Tim gets his stability from being pegged to the ground and it us not possible to get a tent peg into a wooden platform......brilliant! Jan’s feet were complaining a little that evening so Pete started early the next morning to get up and down the French Valley; a wonderful view from the bowl at the top, surrounded by mountains. I saw glaciers across the bowl send occasional ice avalanches down the cliffs, sounding like thunder. We then had a 4 hour walk to the next refuge, it was supposed to take 3 hours and so the last hour wasn't fun.
The refuge was posh though. We had a little hut of our own perched on the hill. Meals were tasty and sociable around the refectory style dining tables. Sunrise cast a beautiful colour on the cliff viewed through our Velux rooflight.
Next day we were off, fully laden again to the next to last stay in the park before a final climb to the Torres peaks on the last day. This was a gruelling time. It was really hot. Jan’s feet slowed the pace and the journey which we expected to take 5 hours took 7. Many times as we came to the end of the (properly named) trek we expected the path to be levelling off and to see the refuge, but the path continued like a bucking broncho all the way to the bitter end. Rarely have I seen Jan looking so dejected (once actually, on a similar trekking ordeal 33 years previously).
Jan was happy to pass on the final ascent so I set off in the dark at 0500 the next morning to catch the sunrise at the top, following a train of torches. I was pleased to arrive just in time and awaited the spectacle of colour which never came... but still a wonderful place. Cold though, but I took a sleeping bag to wrap around me for the hour I was up there which did a great job.
We set off back to civilisation at about 10, Jan much revitalised and chirpier. We got down to the bus station after lunch with much relief.
The views and walking were great for Pete, but he won't be planning any more marital backpacking “ holidays” ever again!
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