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Published: February 2nd 2009
Day 656 (14.01.09)
Today was our opportunity to prepare for our 5 day trek in the Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine, but before we got to work we filled up on the amazing brekkie the guys at the hostel put on. If breakfast is free in South American hostels it's usually bread and jam. In Erratic Rock you get made-to-order omelettes, homemade bread (in sweet or savoury varieties), yoghurt, cereal, juice and real coffee - superb!
Every day at 3pm the guys at our hostel, Erratic Rock, hold a free briefing about trekking in the park and we planned to attend later in the day. Before then we had a walk around town to knock off some of the many jobs we had to do from gluing Marks shoes (again! - the cobbler we took them to determined that they were beyond rescue and wouldn't fix them "finito"!) to pricing up the rental of camping equipment, getting a little held up by the 3 hour siesta the town takes in the early afternoon.
The briefing, open to anyone and not just the hostel's residents, was superb and gave us all the logistical info we needed and planned out
a 5 day 4 night trek around the famous 'W' route in the park. By the time it had finished we still had a long list of food buying, equipment hiring and packing still to do so got to work.
Day 657 (15.01.09) - Day 1 of the trek
With everything rammed into or strapped onto our packs we jumped aboard the 7.30am bus which took us on the 2 and a half hour journey to the park entrance. Paying our park entrance fee and picking up our map for the walk we jumped right back on the bus again which took us the additional 15 mins down the road to the ferry across Lago Pehoe and our start point for the trek. As we disembarked the weather was a little miserable, with a light breeze, overcast sky and some light rain, however nothing could have prepared us for how this was going to change and affect our day!
We had been told at the briefing that 'the only thing that is extreme about trekking in Torres Del Paine is the weather' and about 1 hour into our walk we felt the full force of that statement.
Torres Del Paine Trek
The Towers! Can you see them?!
With a mist settling in and covering all views, the heavens opening and the wind whipping each of the drops into horizontal projectiles that felt like needles on our skin we put our heads down and pushed on. The wind did once get the better of Mark knocking him onto his butt during a photo stop which made us laugh a lot - ooops!
We battled through a little over 3 hours of simply miserable and at some points worrying weather until we reached Refugio Grey. We had planned to go the extra 1.5 hours on to a free camp but decided that we had struggled through enough for one day. The wind and rain subsided as we set up camp and after warming up in the Refugio's common area we cooked something to eat. As the evening progressed we planned to spend a little more time indoors warming up before bed, but for some reason the grumpy Refugio owner kicked all the campers out so we opted for an early night in bed instead tucked up in our sleeping bags to escape the cold.
Day 658 (16.01.09) - Day 2 of the trek
A little shaken
from our first day's weather barrage, and not having slept very well in the cold, we crossed our fingers hoping for better luck today and packed up camp ready to start day 2. The camp at Greys is lovely, nestled right by the lake with huge chunks of ice that have calved off from the glacier floating past like ice sculptures and this morning an iceberg shaped like a whale tail was sat in the small bay opposite our tent. The skies still looking a little unsettled we walked up to the view point for Glacier Grey where we were treated to some spectacular (if not moody with the menacing weather) views of the gigantic glacier as well as being lucky enough to see a massive chunk of ice breaking off and plunging into the lake at its terminal face.
Donning our packs again we teamed up with a fellow walker from the camp called Noel who we'd walk with for the rest of the trek, and started back down the path where you got more superb views of the glacier filling the valley. Still battling a brisk, chilly wind and patchy rain we found our way back to
the ferry dock for a spot of lunch to celebrate completing the first 'leg' of the W before continuing on another couple of hours to a free camp ground, Campamento Italiano.
The weather brightened a bit for this last section of the walk and we got some great views of the lakes and the park's peaks brushing off the passing clouds. The last section of the path was very wet as we hopped around some pretty muddy puddles and streams but we arrived at camp feeling in much higher spirits than on the previous day. We'd had some better weather and had actually seen some of the park so it all seemed far more worth it!!!!
Successfully setting up camp we created another satisfying pasta dinner and chatted over a cup of tea the size of a bucket before packing ourselves into the tent for bed where during another chilly and largely sleepless night we could hear avalanches booming further up the valley.
Day 659 (17.01.09) - Day 3 of the trek
The morning plan meant that we could leave all our stuff still set up in camp as we had a 4 hour out and
back up Valle Del Francés, the central 'leg' of the W - this would be lovely without our heavy packs. The weather was grey and a bit cloudy but not yet raining so we made the most of it and set off on the climb.
Climbing into the valley we had some superb (if a little shrouded in cloud) views of the contrasting valley sides. On our left was the steep glacial, snow covered rock face. Stark and unforgiving we found the source of the avalanches we'd heard the night before and were still hearing the thunderlike rumbles as we climbed. On the right were the spiky mountain peaks that separated us from the final leg of the W that we'd soon be tackling. As we turned to look back the way we'd come we had great views of the small islands and peninsulas that dot the spectacularly turquoise Lago Nordenskjol. With the weather closing in again and the views starting to disappear we reached a point where we opted to turn around and descended back to our camp, packed the tent and had a hot cuppa with a spot of lunch.
The afternoon gave us another 2
and a half hours walk along the edge of Lago Nordenskjol, the glacial lake we'd seen from up in the valley. We now had nice sunny weather (it changes pretty quick here!) and got some lovely views of the surrounding mountains, a stretch along a bizarre but beautiful black and white pebble beach and yet more stunning wilderness scenery before arriving at our night's camp spot at Refugio Y Campamento Los Cuernos, named for the peaks towering above the camp that are unusually coloured with one thick layer of almost black rock and another of almost white. We got set up, and then moved to another spot as, although it wasn't yet raining, we were accustomed to a lot of it here by now and we'd rather daftly picked a water gathering bowl to camp in!
We treated ourselves to a shower and a bottle (well carton) of wine from the Refugio. As we sat enjoying our tipple we bumped into Lisa and Michael and their kids Kai, Häven and Ahmae, a lovely family we had met at the briefing. They'd not been lucky with their walk and were now carrying a broken stove and tent. Joining them at
Torres Del Paine trek
The flapping trousers help to indicate the wind!
their site for dinner we all cooked on our stove. It was a much warmer night so we were able to sit out all evening on our makeshift benches to chat and tell some jokes, finishing the evening's frivolities with some toasted marshmallows which went down really well with both us and the kids.
Day 660 (18.01.09) - Day 4 of the trek
The night had been warm enough to give us a really good night's sleep and with a long day ahead of us we set off a little earlier than our usually fairly leisurely starts. Walking along the shores at the western end of the same lake as the day before we had a warm day and, despite some moody looking skies in the distance, some superb views of the surrounding lake and mountain scenery.
Unfortunately missing a turn off we added another hour onto our walk - ooops - before stopping about 4 hours later at the start of the final leg of the W for some lunch. Starting a monster climb up the final out and back to complete our 'W' the uphill path seemed to go on and on. Reaching the top
feeling absolutely beaten, we were pleased to have a respite of a down hill section to Campamento Chileno. As we arrived the drizzle that had just set in turned to heavy rain and our last hour up to our camp at Torres for the night meant that we arrived like drowned rats and had our first evening where we had to set up camp in the pouring rain.
A little chilly and tired we cooked some dinner before having an early night. Optimistically, we set our alarm for 4am to make the 45min climb to the Towers that the Park has been named after. As the sun rises it turns the faces of the steep peaks red like they're being illuminated by a spotlight and it was a sight that we'd love to see.
Day 661 (19.01.09) - Day 5 of the trek
With the wind whipping through the valley and the persistant and worsening rain which continued all night, we didn't sleep much. Assessing the weather we opted to reset the alarm for 6am, it was still raining heavily and we felt there would be cloud cover obscuring the towers. 6am came and went as the
wind and rain were not letting up and the alarm was once again reset.
Eventually getting up and packing the tent by 9am, the wind had died down but the rain was still falling. As we cooked brekkie, we decided that whatever the weather we would like to go to the Torres and left our stuff in camp just taking all our waterproofs and a camera. It was a hard 45 min climb up paths that were now like rivers (especially as we lost the path and ended up picking our way up a rockfall) before we reached the top. As we climbed the sun was trying so hard to break through but never really made it being beaten off by more rain clouds.
It wasn't the view we'd hoped for but we did get to see the famous towers poking out through the cloud and rain and it was still a fantastic sight. We were really glad to have made it to the top of the path.
Coming down the marked route was much quicker and picking up our water logged packs back at camp we started the final leg of the trek back down the
valley. As we walked the torrential overnight rain had swelled all of the streams and rivers. With many rising over stepping stones and one bridge completely washed away we were forced to wade through a number of obstacles en-route. It was actually quite fun by this point! The rain was still pouring so we were wet anyway and our shoes had never really recovered from the rain on the first day so we splashed through knee high swirling rivers without a care for dryness! We also knew that tonight we'd have hot showers, dry clothes and a warm bed!
Arriving at Hosteria Las Torres the final point of our trek with a big sense of achievement and having had a ball despite what the elements threw at us, we changed into our dry stuff before getting a minibus and then a big bus back to Puerto Natales.
Dropping off our rental kit and grabbing a meat and veggie feast for an evening meal (anything other than pasta and rice) we showered, changed and feasted in front of a film.
Day 662 (20.01.09)
After the exertions of the walk we opted for a lazy day in front
of films and catching up on some internet action before a planned evening of entertainment.
We would be on the bus all day for Mark's actual birthday tomorrow so we had a birthday party with the folk in the hostel and Lisa and Michael and the kids enjoying some great grub, a huuuuuuuge amount of birthday cake and plenty of drinks!
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