Monday, February 6, 2012

Torres del Paine (part 1)

Well, that was a bit more of a delay in posts than anticipated. In between the last post and this one, there were some major file movements, operating system upgrades, photo management changes, etc. So in the interest of moving forward, I'll proceed directly to the part where we backpacked in Torres del Paine.

So we backpacked in Torres del Paine.

Getting there is easy. Get to the airport in Santiago. Fly to Puerto Montt. Stop. Then fly to the end of the world, Punta Arenas. Get off the plane. Get back on the same plane, then fly back to Puerto Natales. Land on a runway that surely can't be long enough, but magically is. De-plane, and fight for one of the 2 or 3 cars waiting to pick up any passengers. Note that this place seems sort of windy.

Puerto Natales
We spent a day and a half in Natales, home to nearly 20,000 people, getting some last minute supplies and making arrangements to get to Torres del Paine. The weather had been very wet for weeks prior to our visit, and forecasts showed more of the same. In addition, the night before we left for the park, the wind was howling. While poor weather wasn't necessarily a deal-breaker, we really hoped to be able to see something while there. Twelve hours later under blue skies, we were on foot, climbing up Valle Ascencio, loaded for seven days of fun.

Torres del Paine park
The route we took is known as the 'W', due to the shape of the journey when looking at it on a map. Most guidebooks and websites I saw said that the traditional way to do it is east to west, so they all advised going west to east instead, finishing with the viewpoint of the Torres themselves. Funny thing is, nearly everyone we talked to was going west to east, so if the primary argument for doing this was to avoid crowds, well, scratch that. Still, we too planned to do this until the last minute. At one point, you have to board the bus which will take you one way or the other, and with a unpredicted break in the weather, we decided to go to the Torres first, then go east to west, in case the weather prevented us from seeing the peaks the rest of the week.

Valle Ascencio
The clear weather continued and we had great views as we hiked up the valley. This valley sees a lot of dayhiker activity, so we saw a lot 'people variety'. Apparently, 80% of park visitors are international, so we enjoyed seeing all the different fashions and packing methods. More on that later. The first night would be spent at Campamento Torres, about an hour below the viewpoint of the famous Torres themselves. We set up camp away from other tents (note- you MUST camp in the designated campgrounds, period, at Torres del Paine), then climbed up to see the Torres that evening, reaching the viewpoint around 6pm. Most come up in the morning, so we were shocked to have it to ourselves, under cloudy but accommodating skies. A truly stunning, and humbling place.

Torre Sur, Central and Norte
We came back to camp to find three tents set up next to ours. As in a less than two meters away. Lots of other empty campsites where they could have been by themselves were available, and they were noisy. What is wrong with some people? Mosquitos were heavier over breakfast. Breakfast burritos. We broke camp and returned down the valley, with Refugio Cuernos as the next destination.

This was a long day, about 6-7 hours not counting any breaks, but thanks to continued surprising good weather, the views made it easier. After descending out of Valle Ascencio, the trail is pretty flat until about an hour away from Cuernos. Upon cresting one of these ascents, Lake Nordenskjold and entrance of Valle Frances become visible, and its hard to believe what you are seeing is real. From here, its a long descent down to Refugio Cuernos.

Punta Bariloche, Cuerno Principal, and Lago Nordenskjold
What is a refugio? Think of it as a hut system that offers room and board. They all serve meals, some even have stores where you can buy supplies. They accommodate tent camping as well, which is what we did. In the case of Cuernos, there is little alternative; the next campsite was another three hours away, it was getting late, and we were getting hungry. So hungry, in fact, that we decided to get dinner here, just to say we tried it once.

Anticipating dinner under Cuerno Principal
It was here we finally discovered the great Chilean invention, the Pisco Sour apertif. They are fabulous, and is plenty. Dinner was delicious, with perfectly cooked chicken, red wine, and two American couples next to us who were heatedly trying compare with each other who had travelled more. Yawn, we stayed out of it.

More to come.


mariascorfield said...

It seems this is a very beautiful place...thanks for posting these beautiful

greg herlean said...

You have a wonderful experience, not all can get there.

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