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Published: February 17th 2010
Beautiful morning on the lake
So after much anticipation, renting gear, attending talks at the Erratic Rock hostel as all trekkers do in Puerto Natales, we took off at 7 am in the morning on the famous bus to Torres del Paine. Rita spent many an hour figuring out how to make sure that we were able to book all of the refugios, bunk beds in a lodge or cabin, and not get stuck with a tent.
The bus ride took a couple of hours to get up to the park and it was very rainy and cold outside so we were a little anxious that the weather would stay so gloomy. Everyone had told us though, you can experience 4 different seasons in one day in the park, so they said "dont even put your rain gear on, it will clear up by the time you get it on..."...
We bought our passes into the park at the gate and then hopped back on the bus to take us over to Lago Pehoe where we could catch the catamaran to the other side of the lake for 11,000 pesos ($22). The walk from the bus to the catamaran was very discouraging since we
were battling ferocious winds and cold, sharp rain. The ride on the boat was pretty uneventful, didn't see much with the rain. We did notice the strange color of the water, it was a beautiful turquoise blue that I really can't even describe.
We got off the boat and headed over to Lodge Paine Grande, which looked very nice, and had hope that we were returning to this lodge the following day for a nights stay. We ate a snack and then decided we better get on the trail so we could reach Refugio Grey by the evening to secure our bunk bed reservations. We were quickly cold and wet as the rain continued to fly into our faces in 90km/hour winds (so the official report said). I would say that some of the gusts must have reached about 80 mph, they just about knocked us over as we were trying to hike along the trail. Overall the hike was pretty miserable, we couldn't see much with our faces faced to the ground to avoid the small frozen rain pelting us. We saw the start of some mountains on the sides that looked interesting and some chunks of ice
that had from large Glacier Grey at the end of the lake. Needless to say after about 4.5 hours of hiking, we were VERY happy to arrive at the Refugio.
Refugio Grey was a little less desirable than the Lodge Paine Grande, but with the hope of a warm shower and a hot dinner, we tried not to let appearances dampen our hopes. That was before we got to the shower and realized that only one of us could shower at a time in order to have any water pressure. We finally were all showered, and headed downstairs to the packed room that housed the one stove of the house, which was surrounded by wet hikers who had wandered in from the camping area outside. They cleared out the tables area so that those of us that had paid for a hot dinner could sit down to enjoy. The dinner was probably the best part of that night, we were beat down and very hungry so the hot soup, bread and then the gigantic piece of turkey with veggies and mashed potatoes were welcomed. I couldn't finish half of my dinner since the portions were so large. The rest
of the evening was spent in our sleeping bags staying warm since the stove was overcrowded with campers.
The next morning we woke up and wandered down to enjoy breakfast and a hot cup of tea. We slowly got dressed and were slightly hopeful because we had no sight of rain the whole morning we had been downstairs. After packing up, we took our day backs and hiked the short trail up to the viewpoint (mirrador) for Glacier Grey. These glaciers really are incredible, I had no idea how large they really were. Incredible. We grabbed our stuff back at the Refugio and hopped back on the same trail heading the opposite direction as the day before. We found that the wind had died down a lot, maybe only 50km/hr and that it was nice having it at your back instead of in your face. The hike was mostly dry minus the last hour or so, so that made it a little more enjoyable. We ran into some friends from our ferry ride on the trail, which was quite funny, they were headed the opposite direction, on the same trek but a day later.
We arrived at Paine
Grande pretty defeated, cold, wet and tired. Megan had begun to develop a sinus infection, so we were a pretty sad bunch. We took our hot showers and then played some cards and enjoyed a drink with a couple we met from San Francisco who we ran into in the lodge. We begun to contemplate aborting the last two days of our trek since the rains were supposed to become even worse after one day of nice weather. Luckily the lodge had internet, for $4 for 30 min, so we were able to figure out some details and discover that NO ONE gives refunds on reservations in the park, so that was good to know. We were a bit warmer and happier in the Lodge, the accommodations were much nicer than the other Refugio, so that helped things a bit. We decided though due to illness and such that we should probably head back early to Puerto Natales and forget the last two days of the trek.
Our last day was really incredible. I am glad that I had one day of fabulous weather to remember the park fondly. We woke up in the morning to the amazement that
we were actually surrounded by incredible mountains, who knew!? In light of leaving early, we checked our packs at the Lodge and took our day packs to hike up the middle of the "W" trek, up to Campo Italiano (all tent camping) and then hike a bit up the Valley Frances. It was really an incredible hike with a gorgeous view of mountains and even the backside of the famous Towers that we were supposed to climb to our last day. We took hundreds of photos and really took in the absolute beauty of the park. If we had weather like that the entire trek, I can only imagine how wonderful it would have been. Nature really is an amazing thing. We hiked up a little bit into Valley Frances and sat up on some rocks to enjoy a fantastic view of a glacier, watch a couple of small avalanches that echoed through the valley, and then head our way back to Lodge Paine Grande to catch our catamaran back to dry, warm, Puerto Natales.
Everything else went pretty smoothly, except that the catamaran decided that it would only take half the people lined up to board, and told
the rest of us it would be back in an hour to pick the rest of us up...awesome. So we sat out, freezing in the wind on the dock waiting for the boat to come back and pick us up. Once back and on the bus though, we enjoyed the beautiful view of the park as we left at sunset. There were lots of animals to observe on the way out including flamingos and guanacos (like alpacas or llamas). We even saw the guanacos running in a herd with the bus, really incredible.
So overall, minus the awful weather the first two days, Torres del Paine really is worth the visit. I think now that I know that you can do one or two overnight trips into the park or even day trips to some of the areas, I would have thought twice about doing the 5 day W Trek. I guess I just don't have the hiking ability in me that I did many years ago, though I still really enjoy the success of climbing mountains and seeing nature at its real beauty. We are now happily warm and dry, and have been enjoying some days in Puerto
Natales and Punta Arenas. Punta Arenas is a fairly industrial town, but you can go to see hundreds of thousands of penguins on an island (Isla Magdelena) for about 25,000 pesos ($45). We did this yesterday and it was really incredible to be able to walk around with the penguins and get really close to those that feel brave enough. I will attach some penguin photos too to this blog.
I can't believe we are down to the last two weeks of the trip. We are headed tomorrow to El Calafete in Argentina and then we will fly up to Buenos Aires back to warmer weather, so you may actually see me in a color other than blue or pink (my fleece and rain jacket)! get excited! Cheers!
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