After the exersions of the Navimag a few quiet days in Purto Natales were required prior to trekking the Torres del Paine national park. PN is a small bustling town in the southern most part of Chile. We found ourselves a cracking hostel and settled in quickly. The town seems to buzz on the day the ship arrives with most bars and restaurants bussier than normal.
I took the opportunity to visit the local hospital and have my stitches checked out by a professional. Fifteen minutes later I was out the front door with the green light. Seemingly I should wait another 4 days or so then have them taken out. Oscar had done me proud. We celebrated with a fine meal of lamb (local speciality) and steak. Really it was just a chance to overly feed ourselves prior to the trekking which was now fairly well planned.
As mentioned above the main reason for sailing 4 days south was to trek in the Torres del Paine National Park. It is widely regarded as the most beautiful of all national parks in South America. It was created in 1959 , and in 1978 UNESCO recognised it as part of the International Biosphere Reserve Network. The Paine Massif is a small mountain system which is completely independent of the Patagonian Andes range. To put the above dates in context the rock formations there came about 12 million years ago when granite pluton penetrated a crack in the Mallegan Basin. Over the years the ice age and various other weather conditions eroded the rock to leave the formations we saw and loved.
Apologies if you are now asleep!!
Within the Torres del Paine Park itself there are numerous trekking opportunities, the main two being the W Trek and the Circuit. What we chose to do was a modified version of the W. I think we actually made our trek harder than necessary but the information we had to hand when booking didn't exactly make it easy for us. Either way, we got to see everything we wanted over the 5 days.
On the morning of the 19th we pulled ourselves out of bed to catch the early bus to the park. As usual the bus was running a little later than planned but after the driver had picked everyone up we were soon on our way and not long passed before we could see the Paine Massif from afar. It's approx 150 km's to the park so it's a fair distance. Fifteen pounds to get in seemed a decent price given the price we pay at home to see very little. We were getting as many days in the park as we needed!!
After the bus ride we hopped on the catamaran which took us on a 30 minute cruise over Lago (lake) Pehoe to our accommodation. Pehoe has to be one of the bluest lakes I have ever set eyes on. All those postcards I had seen I suspected had been hit by photoshop. Well, it turns out they probably weren't. The colours were almost unreal, although I hasten to add that not all the lakes were this colour.
Our accommodation was set at the lower base of the Paine Massif. It was basically a hostal with a campsite attached to the side. We opted to stay indoors, partly because we didn't know what to expect weather wise and partly because we never took any camping equipement with us. It's hard enough to pack for the 4 season's in one day they tell you to expect.
By the time we got over to the starting point it was too late in the day to start any of the W Trek itself so we decided to take a shorter, easier, 20km trek south over some fairly rugged land to get us warmed up for the days ahead. It went pretty well and the maps we had suggested times we should manage the various routes in and we actually managed to pull in an hour under so I felt that put us in a good position for the rest of the trip. Perhaps we were fitter than we had thought!
Since our trip on the Navimag I had become increasingly obsessed with glaciers so day 1 of the trek would take us to the Grey Glacier and back to base. The previous day had given us hope that the 30km would be do able despite the path ways being very up and down and rocky. We set off around 8am and the first 2 hours or so were entirely up hill. Not exactly what you need but the day was beautiful, around early 20's with a nice breeze. Of course, as per usual, we had to carry packs with lunch and full waterproofs for the expectant change in weather. That change fortunately never came and before we knew it we caught our first glimpse of the glacier. Everyone seemed to be in awe. It was an amazing sight. Unfortunately it is shrinking by almost half a meter with each passing day. Most people would finish their trek here but I wanted to go further, to get to the glacier itself. This meant a harder trail to follow but it was definately worth it when we finally got there. From the viewpoint we could also see Pingo Glacier. In fact, as far as the eye could see their were glaciers. An amazing sight and certainly a picnic spot to cherish for some time.
Day 2 started out in a similar fashion to the first with a seemingly never ending trek up the hill for hours on end. This time we were on our way to the French Valley which forms the central part of the W. At the midway point we reached a fairly rapid river with quite a rickety bridge to say the least. After a little while Ali felt comfortable enough to tackle her fear of the bridge and we crossed with relative ease. Ali is now saying over my shoulder that the bridge was actually "wonky and swinging and not safe at all" and the water wasn't rapid but "torrential and gushing". Anyway, we had reached the Italian camp and now everything would become twice as difficult towards the summit. A few more hours later and we reached the Britanico camp. Just like us to try and get the highest camp site in the French territory!! The views were stunning.
On the way up we built a small cairn to commemorate our trip and to think about all the people who aren't/couldn't be with us at that time.
Much like day 1 I wanted to go a little further so off we set from the camp Britanico. Not long after we came to the most breathtaking place I think I have ever been. Again the weather had done us proud and we basked in the sun on top of some rocks in the valley. It felt more like the top of the world and the views of the Horns, the Paine Massif and the 3 Towers were simply awesome. An hour or so later we started to make the descent to our base. The wind had picked up dramatically and was probably around 80 kmph. The wind can pick up to 125 kmph so it definately gets a little gusty up there. As we descended we met loads of crazy people who were still making the climb up. Evidence of the power of the wind was all around us with felled tree's everywhere and several large area's of petrified tree's. Nonetheless the day was magnificent and one of our main goals now had a tick in the box which was a great feeling.
We were also managing to do all the treks in good time, albeit at the expense of some tired legs and a few blisters. Evenings were usually pretty short for us here and it wasn't unusual to have dinner then just fall asleep till the next morning.
Fortunately for us we had some extra time built into our trip to account for conditions beyond our control. Little did I know that day 3 would be too bloody hot. Most unusual but the sun was exceptionally strong that day leaving our trip to the base of the towers on the east side of the park unmanagable. The hole in the ozone above southern Chile is massive so it's not always the temperature but the rays strength that gets you. Factor 60 was call of the day.
On the morning of our last day we had to be up and out of the hostel not long after 5am if we were to make it up to the base and back in time for our bus connection. It was fairly odd walking in the dark but an hour or so we witnessed a magical sun rise. All the better as we were the only people about. Unfortunately the weather was not so kind to us on this day with a thick fog covering a lot of the mountains. Mind you, we could hardly complain given the glorious conditions we had the fortune of getting in the previous four. Despite not seeing the top of the towers themselves the day was great and we bumped into some friends whom we met in various other places around South America. We arranged to meet in town that night for a farewell meal which went down a treat.
Within the park itself we were lucky enough to encounter most of the wildlife that was listed in the guides; Guanaco (like a llama), wild fox's, rhea's (like an ostrich), pink flamingo's. What we didn't see was the black widow which can surely only be a good thing. There had been lots of recent sightings. The condor eluded us too but we are sure to see many in the future and have seen some in the past already.
On returning to the local town we treated ourselves to an afternoon at the hot tub with a massage afterwards. It was simply brilliant and eased a lot of the aches and pains built up over the past few days. A meal at Afrigonia (an African/Patagonian) restaurant did the trick too. At last a curry that had some kick!!!