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Published: March 31st 2013
We awake on day 7 to a day that looks like it might be ok as the wind has died down, and the rain has stopped. However, the mountains towering over the camp site are shrouded in misty low cloud. I was tasked the night before to wake everyone's sorry arse up at 7am, as we have a long days walking ahead. It is still relatively dark, but the sun is trying its best to break through.
After rousing all the sleepy heads it is time to pack up our gear and have breakfast, masticating our last bit of oats like one of the local horses. By the time we finish swallowing our last bit of goop, the tent is dry and ready to pack up. We are off by 9am, to attempt to get to the Valle de Frances by 12 when they close the path, it should take us 2.5 hours to do the 9km.
The walk starts off nicely, with the sun streaking through clouds, and blue sky trying to penetrate the grey dullness that is surrounding the peaks. But soon, the clouds start offloading moisture, firstly as drizzle, then it starts hammering down. It is
strange though, as all around us is blue sky, yet around the mountains, which we are circumnavigating is dark, low lying cloud that is quite happy to dump on us. Soon the wind picks up, and the walk becomes more of a task then something enjoyable. The air is fresh, as it is still relatively early, and the track is a mud bath from the two previous days of heavy rain with some parts 10cm deep with water over a 10m stretch. However, a good pace is maintained and we get to Campamento Italiano by 11.15, which is the beginning of the Valle De Frances. But the cloud is even thicker through the valley, as it is surrounded by massive peaks that we cannot see the top off and it is creating its own weather system. There are glimpses of the impressive mountains and glaciers that are supposedly in the valley, but they do not do the justice that we know it should. It is also icey cold, as the wind rushes through the valley over the glaciers. Mike asks the local ranger about whether it is worth going up the valley for the 5 hour return trip, and the
response is that as the weather is crap, we are not going to see a helluva lot apart from the glacier at the beginning. The camp site, and lookout at Britanica at the top of the valley is closed. The ranger also informs us that the weather forecast for the next few days is worse still...
So, we have three options;
1) go up the valley and see what we can and then stay at the next campsite approx 7 hours in total
2) Push on to the torres del paine camp site to hopefully see the following morning sunrise
3) Really push on, and go to Hotel de la torres where we can get a bus at 7.30pm to get back to Puerto Natales by 10pm and go have pizza at our favourite joint.
As the weather is crap, turning crapier we unanimously vote to get the *^%& out of here and push on to the bus. It will make the day a gruelling 24km in total, and a quick pace required to get there in time; but we are tired, sore, and not willing to put up with more bad weather. Plus the
sound of a nice bed, hot shower and good food is hard to overturn.
It is a shame that we get to miss the two highlights of the W, but the weather is against us, and the view over glacier grey from the top of the paso is the main highlight of the circuit. Mojo and i vow that when we return to patagonia in the future to go to Antartica that we will finish off these 2 bits from the trek.
As we leave Italiano, the path takes us along the ridge that surrounds the lake and the wind is ferocious. My knees and legs are fading and i have to bring out the walking poles to help me. Mike and mojo push on ahead as i struggle to maintain pace. We get to Refugio Cuernos 45 minutes ahead of time, meaning that we have some time up our sleeves to do the final 12km to get the bus. Lunch is had at the refugio, polishing off nuts and dried fruit, and shortly after we are walking again.
The path takes us up and down some steep ridges alongside the lake and the wind batters us
from various angles. At one stage we are walking on the lakes edge and the wind is strong enough to pick up a load of water from the lake and hose us down, in the process almost knocking us off our feet. Where we are the sun is shining, but behind us to the Valle de Frances it is ominously dark and soon the rain catches up with us again. Torres del Paine creates its own weather system, with wind coming from all angles at any given time, the surrounding mountains and plains are bathed in sunlight, whilst the peaks in the middle of the national park looks like some evil lair for one of the villains from a James Bond movie.
The next 4 hours is up and down, windswept, wet then mild, when at last we summit a peak and see the Hotel Las Torres in the distance; a 5 star retreat from where we can get the bus. It takes 45 minutes to cover off the last 3km, but it helps with the knowledge that the end is nigh. We rock up to the hotel dirty and no doubt pongy, but without a care. There is
2 hours to the bus, so we order some beers and get a cheese plate and a cured meat plate made up of boar and lamb salami. It is expensive and decadent, but very satisfying...
We all pass out on the bus for the 2.5 hour ride back into Puerto Natales, drop our bags off at the hostel and venture straight out for pizza. Not showering first in case the joint closes on us. Then comes the welcome shower and a nice cosy, warm bed...
The last 7 days have been probably the hardest trekking i have done, especially since i hurt my back many years ago. It is somewhat of a young man's game, as out of the 20 odd trekkers that we did the circuit with at the same time, only two were older then me and experienced trekkers, and i am not that old. The scenery and multitude of landscapes that we went through were spectacular to say the least. The weather was out of this world, and what i hoped to experience in Patagonia. Although we indulged in a few places by going to a refugio shop, we were totally self sufficient and this
was immensely satisfying.
To anyone thinking of visiting Torres del Paine, i would recommend doing the circuit, as it is something that will not be forgotten.
Last note, to those non believers that know me, i stopped smoking for the duration
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