Trekking the awesome 'W' in Torres Del Paine - Part 2

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South America » Chile » Magallanes » Torres del Paine
March 30th 2012
Published: June 24th 2012
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Day 3 – Italiano – Los Cuernos 16.5km

Our third day started out badly. This was purely due to lack of sleep, and the reason for this lack of sleep? The Wind. It started to get really strong around the midnight mark, and although the trees did provide us with a lot of shelter, the noise was simply horrendous. We actually felt quite safe in our little tent and therefore had no worries there, it was just the constant roar of the wind that kept us from falling asleep that bothered us. I think we got around 2-3 hours sleep at best that night, however we wasn’t about to let that spoil our day.

It was around 7.30am when we got out of the tent in order to have breakfast, and both of us were more than surprised to see that the cloud had cleared and the sun was actually out. The inside of the tent does a great job of blocking out the morning light and because all we could hear was wind, we assumed that little had changed in the weather overnight. This immediately gave us a great boost and we were both eager to get going.

Today’s plan was to walk up the French Valley, taking around two and a half hours to reach the view point, chill there with some refreshments before turning back to Italiano and packing up our gear from the night before. From here we would then trek 5.5km to the Refugio Los Cuernos where we would be spending the night. Many people that we had spoken to about the trek had said that the French Valley was their favourite part of the trek, so having a nice day, no backpack (you could leave your tent and belongings at Italiano while you trekked the pass and pick it up afterwards) and a hearty breakfast, Donna and I hit the trail with a spring in our step.

Since the weather from yesterday was so bad, we felt so relieved when we left the canopy of the forest and into the open. The weather was perfect. The sun was shining, there was a cool breeze in the air stopping us from getting too hot and the walk itself was breath-taking. We could see straight away why this could be someone’s favourite part of the trek….probably because it was quickly turning into ours. The added bonus of having no pack also felt fantastic, and we therefore managed to rest our aching bodies for a few hours while we took in the views. On the way to the viewpoint, we saw hardly anyone else either coming or going, and that really added to the sense of freedom on the hike too. Within what seemed to be no time at all (probably around 2 hours) we were at the view point. Really, it was no more than a few boulders that had no doubt fallen from a great height of the mountains many years ago, however there didn’t need to be any gimmicks or fancy balconys… the view said it all. Looking one way there were huge snow-capped mountains and hanging glaciers, turn around and there was the beautiful canopy of the forest. In another direction there were the green lakes that we passed yesterday. Although due to the weather, we had no clue to their splendid vibrant colour….it was just incredible.

We stayed there for some time soaking up the view, and being the only ones there meant that it was all ours! The wind was again blowing strongly, however it barely registered here in this awesome spot. At one point, whilst passing one of the glaciers, a large lump fell off making a hell of a racket, which just added to the perfect day we seemed to be having. Once we could tear ourselves away from the French pass, we headed back to the campsite packed up our gear and set about our next goal, reaching Los Cuernos.

It was a bummer to put the rucksacks back on again, however since we hadn’t had them all morning, neither of us were too fussed in putting them back on again really. During the trek, the wind was still pretty ferocious, however ahead of us was all sun and bright lights. Behind us was a rather ugly looking cloud that seemed to be heading straight for us. I asked Donna ‘Do you reckon we can outrun a raincloud?’ Donna was confident we could and so we marched on. Again, the scenery changed and although not as spectacular as the French pass, the green of both the forest and the lakes around us were amazing walking scenery. At one point, we had to walk along a pebble beach on the shore of one of the lakes which was cool, and not long after this, we could see on top of a hill, the main building of our goal…Los Cuernos. After a great days walking, we were both pretty tired due to lack of sleep, however as we had such a great day, we didn’t really care and were ready to just set up the tent and get dinner on the go.

As you had to pay to camp here, Donna and I walked into the Refugio and what we saw was almost torture! Laid out on all the tables were fancy cutlery, plates and wine glasses awaiting tonights guests for dinner. Unfortunately, as we didn’t intend to pay the hiked up prices of this dinner, look was all we could do, and so we turned and headed to our camp spot where we would be serving up Tuna from a can and a large pot of questionable rice. Although we didn’t have the warmth and the culinary delights of the Refugio, we did have each other along with the beautiful sunset that was in perfect view from our tent as we shovelled in our Tuna….

We had planned an early night that night to try and catch up on some sleep, and also as tomorrow would be a killer day of walking, so after dinner we settled in the tent for the night to get some shut eye. Just as we were about to turn out the torch, Donna realized that there was a gas canister still inside the tent, and so opened the zip in order to keep it in the ‘porch’ area. Donna unzipped the tent and back up again so quick that the zip came off the end of the runner and so now we no longer had a working zip. The reason for this hastiness, was due to Donna’s irrational fear of mice getting into the tent whilst it was open. So, there we were, in the middle of the dark woods, no zip on our tent, howling winds all around us, and the potential for mice to get in and eat our chocolate rations…. Neither of us were too happy. We then spent the next hour or so trying desperately to fix this zip, as otherwise we didn’t know what to do. The hostel beds would have no doubt been full, we didn’t have a spare tent, and there was no way we could sleep in there with no protection from the wind….we started to slowly panic.

Fortunately, somehow, Donna managed to fix the zip ( I can never fix anything that needs fixing) and we were happy again…. We could get some sleep, finally.

This was almost true except the wind that night seemed twice as bad as the previous one, plus this time, we had no protection from the wind due to the lack of trees in our camp spot. At some points, we really thought our tent would fly away with us it in….it was that bad!.

Day 4 Los Cuernos – Campimento Del Torres (19km overall)

Once more, sleep had all but eluded us, however we both did managed to grab a few hours at least, despite the wind. On route to the toilet in the morning, we run into a couple who were camping close to us, and who had lent us their Swiss Army knife the previous night in order to help us fix our zip, they told us of strange goings on during the night. It seems that Donna’s ‘paranoia’ about mice getting in our tent was actually more valid than I gave her credit for. The couple proceeded to tell us of their nightmare where mice had ransacked their food bag, and nibbled through half of their food….. Being so close to them, we were lucky to have escaped the same fate!

Today’s hike was billed as the toughest of the walks so far and so we hoped for good conditions, and to again avoid any injuries as best we could. The weather started off very kind to us, and now carrying slightly less weight due to all the food we were getting through, we were walking at a great pace and enjoying the views as we went crossing streams and small rivers along the way. Unfortunately for me, around 3 hours in, I really started to feel it. My shoulders were killing me from the backpack and now, my knee that I’d had surgery on a few years back was starting to play up. Donna on the other hand felt in great shape with no problems at all, and was really starting to tackle this trail with real enthusiasm. With the encouragement of Donna and after having stopped to rest for a little while, I was back up and on the trail again feeling better for having put the weight of my pack down for a moment. From here although there was a slight drizzle in the air, the sun shone in front of us with blue sky as far as the eye could see and we quickly reached the ‘shortcut’ turnoff that we were told about back at Base Camp. This route would save us an hour and we were told it would be wise not to miss it.

A while after having taking the shortcut, we found ourselves at a high elevation with amazing views all around us and with a rainbow staring at us when looking back at the road we had just travelled. We decided here would be a nice spot to stop for some food. It was so peaceful here and sitting looking at this amazing view, prompted us to both talk about how glad we was to be doing this and how amazed we were at how far we had come so far.

The last few hours of the hike were very much up and down in terms of terrain, and although this played havoc with my knee, it was all worth it. We finally reached Torres campsite which looked nice and cosy under the canopy of a forest and after setting up camp, having dinner and catching up with a few fellow trekkers, we hit the hay as tomorrow we needed to scale the steep rocky trail towards Los Torres (The Towers) in the pitch black with nothing but torch light and rocky trails showing the way. It would be dark as we needed to arrive at the viewpoint before the sun rose, in order to hopefully see the Towers light up an awesome shade of Red from the suns reflection on them. The word hopefully is used, as if there are any clouds in the wrong place, we would sadly miss out on this spectacular sight as had happened the last two days in a row according to trekkers we met going in the opposite direction.

Once again, we were in the hands of the weather…..

Day 5 – Torres Campsite – Torres Mirador (Approx. 1Km uphill)

After hearing several different versions of what time the sun rose, we decided to take the middle estimate and set out walking at 6am. We had finally got a decent sleep as the wind had died down, and were raring to get to the top in hope of seeing something spectacular. As we started walking in the pitch black, it was clear that my torch had limited battery power in comparison to Donna’s however I was sure it would last, and so, to make sure we didn’t fall off a cliff or walk the wrong way, Donna led us up the trail. It was a strange feeling heading up this rocky steep climb in the pitch black with nothing but the odd arrow directing you, and was made to be especially weird as there were no other trekkers out either in front or behind us. We were sure that we hadn’t left it too late as it was still so dark out here and we only had a 45min or so climb ahead of us, so we just carried on and hoped we were going to the correct place. As the climb was all uphill, it didn’t take long for both of us to start feeling really hot, however we knew that waiting round at the top would be freezing, so at the time, I think we were both happy for the heat.

All of a sudden, over a large rock, a sign announced that we were here. It was still pitch black and we were the only ones here. It was kind of eerie actually looking at the Towers in the dark and being on our own, however in no time there was the faint sound of footsteps and flashlights were bobbing all around the dark mountainside…the audience was starting to arrive.

Keeping warm huddled between huge boulders, Donna and I sipped coffee that we had made the previous night from our flask and were glad for the warming sips as we sat frozen waiting for the sun to rise. There were only a few clouds around so far as we could see, and so we were hopeful of seeing what we had come for. Finally, at around 7.30am, the sun started to cast its rays on the Towers and to our amazement they seemed to come to life with the colours reflecting on them…it was simply stunning to watch and along with the awesome location of this viewpoint, you couldn’t help feel so lucky to be witnessing what would probably be a once in a life time thing for us both.

We hung around for ages just staring at the place in awe, and eventually managed to pull ourselves away once the sun was fully up. It was a great way to end our amazing trek together over the past 5 days. After having seen this spectacular sight, all that was left to do was to get back to camp, pack up all our stuff and make the journey back down to the Torres Hotel where we would be able to finally enjoy a well deserved beer and catch a bus back to Puerto Natales.

The trek back was still a good 2 hours or so before we reached the hotel, however both of us took it on our stride making amazing time purely due to being in a great mood from what we had seen and also to what we had achieved. When we finally reached the hotel, we saw Marcus, a Swedish guy that we had seen the whole way round and all decided to get a beer in straight away. So, the three of us walked into this swish and swanky 5 star hotel looking like we had been castaways for the past week and no doubt smelling less than fresh and promptly ordered a beer each, where we toasted each other on a job well done. Together Donna and I were really quite proud of what we had achieved over the last 5 days and actually really enjoyed it even more than I think we both thought we would. It really brought out the ‘adventurers’ in us which I’m not sure we totally knew was there, and it has certainly inspired us to seek out more of the same in the future.

Torres Del Pane….it’s been emotional.

Thanks for the memories.

Additional photos below
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24th June 2012

Magic Moment of the Three Towers...loved your trek...what we dream of if we get back to Torres del Paine...fantastic your climb in the dark was so worthwhile. What an amazing place.
26th June 2012

Thanks Dave, it truly was an amazing experience and we were so lucky with the weather! It was such an amazing trek all round that we said it wouldn't matter if we got the 'Red glow' or not, but since we did, it was the icing on the cake!

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