Trekking the awesome 'W' in Torres Del Paine - Part 1

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South America » Chile » Magallanes » Torres del Paine
March 27th 2012
Published: June 24th 2012
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After the 2 hour or so drive from the hostel, we arrived at Torres del Paine national park, where we would be spending the next 5 days and 4 nights. We collected our basic map of the park at the entrance informing us of the different routes, Refugio’s, and altitudes of the mountains, and headed for the ferry. We had been told that once the ferry was in motion, we should head straight up to the top deck in order to take some pictures, as the view was supposed to be fantastic. We took this advice despite the bitter cold wind blowing against our faces and were immediately glad that we did. The view was indeed out of this world.

On the other side of the lake, we were dropped off at Refugio Pehoe which would be our starting point for the ‘W’ route that we had decided to try and trek despite our lack of fitness and experience. This would be one of our most challenging encounters on the trip so far, and although nervous, we were both excited and confident that we could not only complete this trek, but have a great time doing it too. The weather today was fairly cold and there were some dark looking clouds overhead, however so far, we had escaped the rain, something we hoped we would do over the coming days.

So, we were ready. We each had our large backpacks secured containing around 13kg of camping gear and food on our backs, a dubious map and our camera ready to capture the wonders of Torres del Paine national park. The only thing now to do was walk. And so, our adventure began…..

Day 1 – Trek from Lake Pehoe to Glacier Grey. Overall trek 15km’s.

As we drifted out of sight from the Refugio and towards the forest, many things were going through my mind. I was elated to finally be trekking here after hearing so much about it and although we had only been going a little while, my rucksack felt comfortable and I was really looking forward to this. Donna later told me that at this same point, she was a lot more anxious and was worried that the walking may be too tough with this huge pack weighing her down. The first thing you notice on the walk towards glacier Grey is the forest. Unfortunately, this is not because of its abundance and beauty, but actually due to the lack of it. We had been told by many people as well as during the talk at ‘Base Camp’ that a large section of the forest had been burnt down, accidentally, by previous trekkers. The stories regarding this, of which there were many, varied anywhere from people using a camp stove in a restricted area and it blowing away into the forest, to some guy that managed to burn the forest down simply because he thought it would be a good idea to burn his toilet paper rather than keep it with him, (in the park, there are no bins and everything you bring in, you must take out…that includes dirty toilet paper!), and so this is how the fire was started. Which of the many stories are true we don’t know, however either way, the forest had really suffered due to someone’s moment of stupidity.

After about 2 hours of walking, the forest had started to show less signs of the burning, however it was still very much a part of the scenery. It was about then that my shoulders had started to really hurt with the weight of the rucksack, and was my turn to feel a little anxious about what we had set out to do here. Fortunately, around this time, we came across a sign for a view point that almost coincided with the halfway point, and so we decided to take a break, have a quick snack, and take some pictures. After coming over the hill and seeing what this view point looked out to, Donna and I seemed to forget about the worries of the bags, and simply stared in amazement. It was our first glimpse of Glacier Grey. The whole way so far, I had been willing the weather to get better and for the sun to come out, however staring at the Glacier in the moody clouds and wind seemed strangely more fitting. Back into the trek, we noticed a lady walking towards us. This was a rare occurrence as so far, since the beginning on the trek, we had seen virtually no one. As the lady reached us and our paths were about to cross, the lady generously let us through. After Thanking her, she replied ‘You’re Welcome’ and then proceeded to let out what we can only assume was an accidental rip-roaring fart! It was difficult but we managed to hold in the laughter until she was out of earshot…

After around 3 and half hours we had finally made the Refugio and it was bliss to put the heavy packs down and eat some food. From here, we had a decision to make. Do we stay here and pay to camp, or bat on and stay in the free camp that was 1-2 hours away? Since we were enjoying our first day and because the free camping had the promise of views of the Glacier which the Refugio did not, we decided to keep moving. And so, after a mainly uphill struggle all the way to the free campsite, we finally arrived, before dark in order to set up camp.

There were only around 7 other people here at the free camp, and after a brief chat with some of the guys, we set up our tent (which was actually surprisingly easy), and set about getting dinner ready. In a rather ambitious first meal of the trek, we had decided to make Banger and Mash with peas. This sounds like a very lavish dinner considering we only had one gas canister and stand, however when I tell you the meal actually consisted of frankfurter sausages, smash and tinned peas, it will give you a better perspective of what we really had!

Come 9.00pm, the sun had set and it was dark, so all Donna and I wanted to do was get our heads down to sleep. Just before I drifted off, I had a sudden irrational thought of breaking an ankle or twisting a knee and thought just how far away the nearest hospital was….. I made a mental note to remind Donna to be careful in the morning…..

Day 2 – Glacier Grey to Camp Italiano Overall trek 22.6km

We rose quite early on Day 2 as we knew we had a fair distance to travel. Today’s trek consisted of coming back the way we came, past the Refugio and back to where the ferry had dropped us off. Once there, we had another 7.6km to go, in order to reach camp Italiano which would be where we set up camp and spend the evening. We started the day with breakfast consisting of dried fruit and cereal bars and then refilled our water bottles from the stream. This was something we were amazed at when we were told that you could do this, but although sceptical at first, we were sold with our first taste…it was clear, crisp and as good as any mineral water we had tasted.

Although much of today’s walk would be the same as yesterdays, be it in reverse, we looked at all the positives that came with it. We knew the terrain, knew where the hills where and had an idea as to where we needed to be and at what time. It turned out that it would actually be a very different day to the previous one anyway, as the moody weather from yesterday had taken a turn for the worse, and instead of cloud and wind, we were met with rain and intense, heavy winds. To be honest, although I started off feeling quite perky and up for the days task, the weather eventually started to wear me down, and my mood throughout the first few hours undulated where I went from feeling up for it one minute, to just wanting to get to the next break point the next.

Luckily, the next break wasn’t far away, and we sat at the same view point as yesterday, looking towards Glacier Grey. The weather was so bad in comparison to yesterday that we were fully appreciative that we got to see the Glacier in the conditions that we did the previous day, as today most of the view was spoilt with low rain clouds and a light haze. Despite the conditions, we stopped for lunch here, and tucked into our crackers and cheese whilst the wind and rain pounded us from all angles. Although this could have crushed our spirits, both of us had a bit of a laugh when we looked at each other with our hoods pulled in tight and our teeth chattering and Donna said to me ‘this is where people will ask ‘why did you decided to do this again?’’

After this, I think we both forgot about the lousy weather and remembered that this was all part of it and that we should embrace it rather than get down about it. Plus, there was a tiny break in the clouds with beautiful blue sky poking out…I was optimistic, and knew for sure that the clouds would break any moment and the sun would sun brightly for the rest of the day.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case, however both of us rejuvenated, we walked on in a great mood, and in no time, were close to where the ferry had dropped us off yesterday afternoon. The closer we got to the Refugio, the more people we saw walking in the opposite direction to us, making their way towards Glacier Grey. Everyone we passed had their heads down and were battling the elements, however this never stopped anybody from still being incredibly polite saying ‘Hola’ or ‘Buenos Dias’ as they passed you. All of a sudden, I heard an Hola from someone I was passing in a very Australian accent, and it prompted me to look up. To our surprise, there stood Belle and Dan, a couple we had met in Uruguay a month earlier….crazy coincidence! So after swapping tales of what lies ahead for each other, we said our goodbyes and good lucks and parted in the opposite direction.

After a brief stop at the Refugio, we carried on towards our campsite and from here this was all new territory. The walk was 7.6km and would take us round a couple of lakes and towards the large mountain Cerro Paine Grande. Unfortunately, as the weather was still pretty bad, we couldn’t see much of the mountain ahead of us as it was surrounded by fog and cloud, however we knew that if the weather was better tomorrow, we would get a great view of this during our trek up the French pass. When passing the first lake Lago Skottsberg, the wind was insane. There were times that both of us thought that we were going to take off, and on more than one occasion, it knocked us off balance. This was a little scary, however nothing compared to the noise of the wind sweeping across the lake…. it was thunderous, and really quite eeiry. Donna describes it as like ‘a monster howling in the distance’, and to be honest, I can’t find a better way of putting it. Up until that moment, I had never heard a noise like that in my life….

Finally, we arrived at Italiano, and still with a fair amount of light in order to make dinner and put up the tent. There were plenty of trees here in order to shelter us from the wind, however the way the wind was that evening, we wasn’t so sure how much this would protect us!

Additional photos below
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24th June 2012

If you knew you were retracting your steps...
why didn't you leave everything that you wouldn't need at the start and pick up it up on your return and onward trek to Camp Italiano?
26th June 2012

Hey Bob. Not sure that was an option as the camp at the start wasnt totally functional due to the fire, but there may have been a possibility? If so, we missed the boat on that one!!

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