12.1.1 Torres del Paine
A lot of people on the Park were native Chileans taking a week’s break from the city. There were also a lot of French, German, and English people, some of whom were on tours. I felt a bit a bewildered in the early parts because I was seeing Happy Snappers, but out in the relative wilderness wearing all kinds of professional looking hiking gear. Was this some sort of cross-breed of the people on the plane?! All a bit confusing, but in the serenity of the scenery I soon re-found myself and could carry on walking.
The accommodation on the Park was very impressive I found. In addition to typical campsites for those lugging a tent around, there were also Refugios. These were pretty much hotels were weary travellers could have a bed for the night. In addition though, they have log fires, sofas, and serve hot food that can be enjoyed over a glass of Chilean red. For those less at ease with the at times harsh Great Outdoors, they offer a pretty luxury way of seeing the amazing location.
My time in the Park was spent completing the ‘W’ circuit, and camping 4 nights in between. This took me along a central-ish route, making three trips up to the peaks. More or less, each of these trips took a day to get there and back. After an afternoon bus from Puerto Natales, I decided to make inroads and head up to a campsite near one of the peaks. I arrived at the same time as a couple of guys who were travelling together, and the three of us received the low-down on the rules etc of the site. The Ranger asked if we had any preference where to stay, to which the lads quickly responded “where the chicks are at”, clearly keen to dispel insinuation that this was a Brokeback getaway. Food was brought in from PN, and water was never an issue as it could be drunk directly from the stream, and was always cool, clear, and refreshing. That first evening there were unpredictable gusts of wind, as evidenced by someone trying to put up their tent.
Day 2 was a big one. In total it was around 32 kilometres with tent etc and was due in part to a mix up of one of the campsites being closed. It began with a 5am start to reach ‘the Towers’ for sunrise. There was a clan of others making the early morning ascent, and I looked a bit out of place not having a headtorch, such was the Seriousness of the other people there. It was then a case of choosing a spot, and watching the sky turn all sorts of different colours. By 7am, the light was shining on the towers, and everyone began assembling for their Decent Profile Pics (DPPs). See photos. Then it was back down, pack up, and on with the hike. The weather was glorious, and with navigation not an issue (all paths are very clearly made out) it was a case of absorbing the surroundings. Looking at the map, there was an ideally located campsite I was set to arrive to at 5pm. Once there though, I was told it was closed, so needed to walk another 2 and a half hours to one that was open. I had to suck it up therefore, and keep on trekking. Once arrived, I negotiated a good price for staying 3 nights, ate some food, and duly retired. After a relative lie in, it was up the left-hand side of the W; to Glacier Grey. I’m pretty sure this is the first glacier I’ve seen, and
the sights really were incredible. As mentioned before, it was the array of blues which were really interesting. Fifty Shades of Glacier Grey, if you will….
As a memento, picked up a bit of the glacier floating near the shore and put it in my pocket. On the hike back though I must’ve dropped it, as when I got back to camp I searched everywhere and couldn’t find it. After paying for the campsite, dumping my bag, getting a shower and drying out my trousers which had somehow got wet during the afternoon, I tucked into dinner. It was another day with a lot of ground covered, so after chatting to some other diners, the evening was spent attempting to put my feet up. Although in a cramped tent it is easier said than done.
On the final full day I did the middle part of the W. This was up through the ‘French Valley’. It began walking for a bit with a tour group also completing this section today. All were English speakers and it was good to generally chat to a few different people. One was a lady who played the piano for a living. The minute she sais she was from Wales it started raining which was quite amusing On the way up, the many mountain streams flowed into the dense river gushing through the valley. At the top of the trail, there was an impressive “Mirador” (lookout) to take in a view of the surroundings. On the way down it sounded like a thunderstorm was happening, but in fact it was a series of avalanches up on the other side. Back at camp it was the end of my walking experience, save going to and from the kitchen. The night was unbelievably windy, and I am surprised the tatty tent made it until morning. However save a few loosened pegs, come sunrise, packing up the next day was unproblematic. After eating up the last of supplies, it was on the catamaran across one of the Lakes, hopping on a bus and then onto Puerto Natales to return to normality. Seeing the dreary roads was a bit of a come-down, but the knowledge of a warm and peaceful night’s sleep made this perfectly acceptable comprise as I thought about another night amongst the gales of TdP.