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Published: March 27th 2013
A while ago I saw some pictures of a place in Patagonia called Torres del Paine. They completely captivated me and I thought that it looked like one of the most spectacular places that you could go and trek around, and finally, probably three or more years after first seeing them, I arrived in Puerto Natales, the gateway to the park.
There are basically two hikes that you can do; these are the ‘W’, which takes around four or five days, or the circuit or ‘O’ that takes around eight days. I had met Ilia on the boat in Antarctica and Erik on a bus up to Puerto Natales and we decided to do the circuit together. Not being an experienced hiker, I was quite glad to have the guys along with me, and after some food shopping, mapping a basic route and going to a talk on the area, we set off on Sunday, February 3rd, early in the morning.
The circuit, in total, is around 130km, or 80 miles, which we aimed to do in eight days and seven nights. While this doesn’t sound a great deal each day, the circuit, especially the first few days, is
up and down with the pass being particularly steep, with the weight of eight days of food and camping gear on our backs nearly the whole time. And Ilia eats a lot…
We got the early bus to Laguna Armaga and set off to hike to Campamento Seron. Our departure meal the evening before had been Patagonian barbequed lamb – utter bliss, and I was all too aware of the kilo’s of pasta, tuna and sauce we had on our backs. The day started with rain, but this didn’t dampen our spirits too much as we were all buzzed to actually be here, starting our hike. Shortly after we started, we saw the llama-like guanaco and later in the day Erik spotted a couple of condors circling some distance away. I failed miserably to get more than a couple of wildlife shots throughout the trek, something I put down to concentrating too hard on making my legs move and also the lack of my decent zoom lens – not cool! The rain cleared later in the day and we had sunshine as we reached the campsite and setup, Erik in his one-man tent and Ilia and
I in our decidedly small two-man tent. We were certainly going to get to know each other a lot better than either of us had ever hoped for… The scenery, while pretty good, was not as impressive as I had hoped to be perfectly honest. However, now that I’ve looked back over the pictures and taken some time to appreciate what we had begun and what we achieved, I think some of that feeling simply stemmed from my tiredness and the oppressive weight on my back….
Today was going to be one of our long days, hiking 19km from Campamento Seron to Refugio Dickson. The going, for me, was tough, but the area we hiked through was starting to get pretty grand. We hiked a very steep hill near the start of the day and walked for a long while next to a lake called Lago Paine, along the side of a valley. We had been told one of the most noticeable things about the park was the colours that you see, and it was beginning to ring true. A lot of the lakes are formed of glacier water and hence their colour is a strange
bluey-grey in appearance, which really sets off the green and blue of the ground and sky. When we (finally) reached Refugio Dickson we had a view from a hill down onto the campsite, a river stretching round it and a glacier in the distance, between the mountains. It was pretty spectacular, and with a smile on our face we headed down to the campsite. This was where the problems began…
Patagonia is renowned for its varying and extreme weather. It is possible to experience four seasons in a day, but it is the wind that it is most famous for, with speeds of up to 160kmph, or 100mph. On this particular day, we experienced next to no wind at all, and beautiful sunshine. While this may seem a good thing, no wind means mosquitoes, and we had had no prior warning of this before entering the park. You have all heard stories of piranhas being able to strip flesh from a piece of meat at incredible rates, and it seemed that to the mosquitoes at Dickson, I was that piece of meat, and they were the piranhas. I got eaten alive, quite literally. Within seconds of getting to the
campsite, there were clouds of around fifty around each of our heads. At one stage I had about twenty on each shoulder, on my arms, my hands… everywhere! I am writing this on the 20th of February, ten days after we finished, and over two weeks since we were at that campsite, and I still have marks on my shoulders. When I arrived back at the hostel and shaved my hair and beard, I resembled the surface of the moon, in reverse. I have included a picture for reference – easily offended viewers may wish to look away…
Today we took things relatively easy, only hiking 9km. We were preparing for the pass, which would be a long and most likely hard day of hiking up the pass, then down the other side. Once more we ate tuna with sauce, though I believe it was today that we mixed things up and went a bit crazy. That’s right, folks, we had rice instead of spaghetti! A culinary treat if ever there was one… My feet had developed two blisters but thankfully slapping a plaster on each the day before seemed to have done the trick and
they felt sore but not painful. Hopefully this was as bad as it would get. My legs, on the other hand, were still aching from the long hike the day before. I was dreaming already of the day that I would be back on a sofa, eating normal food, thinking how I got myself into this mess in the first place…
The pass… The challenge we had been preparing for. Traversing the pass involves hiking up, and up, and up, and up some more… I forget the actual distance but it was rocky all the way and we separated as we went at different paces, until Ilia and I reconvened at the top for a spot of lunch. My legs were tired, my brain a mush of indifference to the landscape around me at times, as I concentrated on not tripping on rocks, not being blown over by the wind, and not shouting out that I needed to be carried. Though I do exaggerate a little bit; the summit was more than worth it, and as soon as I reached it I was so pleased we had done the longer hike. In front of us, as
the ground fell away on the downside of the pass, was the largest ice field in the southern hemisphere, and it was huge, stretching away as far as the eye could see. We had made it up, and sheltered from the wind by a rock, we ate our lunch and sat in awe of our surroundings.
And only then came the hard part… walking down, for a solid hour and a half, over steep steps cut into the slope and through forest, is way harder than climbing up. We said little as we carried on our journey, but were again rewarded with a view of the front of the ice field, where it forms Glaciar Gray. Upon reaching the campsite we ate like kings. If kings have ever eaten rice, tuna and sauce. Mmm, tasty…
Tot: 0.918s; Tpl: 0.077s; cc: 11; qc: 79; dbt: 0.0426s; 1; m:saturn w:www (18.104.22.168); sld: 3;
; mem: 1.5mb