After an overnight stop in Puerto Natales, in order to re-stock (very expensive), we continued South into the National Park of Torres del Paine. About 15 years ago Steve read about this place in a travel magazine and immediately added it to his bucket list. It’s not the easiest place in the world to get to and so we have waited until now so we have plenty of time to enjoy it. The weather forecast was not great (with rain and sub-zero nightime temperatures predicted) but around here the forecast is about as reliable as a 1970’s Austin Maxi (Steve knows this from personal childhood experiences).
As we got close to the park the scenery started to change as the granite, snow-capped peaks came into view. There were clouds and blue skies framing the peaks as we stopped several times for photo opportunities and eventually arrived at the campsite. In the past we have been fortunate enough to stay at some fabulous campsites around the world but this one has most definately gone to the top of the pile.
The following morning we woke to blue skies with very little cloud. It had also been quite warm overnight, probably the warmest night so far (Austin Maxi reliability!!). Today the plan was to do the trek to Mirador del Torres, which is probably the most photographed of the walks in the area and forms part of the famous “W” Trek …. a 4 day trek around the park. The day turned out to be everything we had wanted it to be and more. It was 11 km up to the top, initially through open grass land, then into areas of forest and small streams and finally we climbed above the tree line to scramble over loose rocks up to the end of the trek. We looked down on glacial rivers, crossed small rickety bridges and all the time the famous three granite towers dominated the skyline, giving us different perspectives as we twisted our way up and up. The last kilometre is very steep and is over large boulders which really make you concentrate on your feet and it is not until you make the final few steps, and walk into what is almost a granite amphitheatre, that you see the full spectacle. It was like walking into the magazine that Steve had seen 15 years before.
We spent an hour having lunch and taking photographs as more of the group made their way to the top. Then it was time to make the return journey, 11 km downhill. Once we had scrambled and fallen (Steve) over the boulders, we had a nice steady walk to the bottom. The trip down was just as scenic as the way up, but we were able to relax a little and enjoy the views of the valley below. On several occasions we looked over the edge of the path and saw how steep the drop actually was. We had not realised how hard we had worked on the way up!
Once at the bottom we sat in the cafe and had a fantastic, well earned coffee and muffin before heading back to the spectacular campsite and Jing’s unbelievably good stir fry and sticky rice. Jing is originally from China but has lived in the USA for the last couple of years. In our opinion she is the best cook on the trip and is also pretty good at Tai Chi.
Definitely a bucket list day!
The plan for the following day was to explore the walks from the campsite. Steve had planned ahead by putting his socks, boxer shorts and t-shirt in his sleeping bag to ensure they were warm for the morning. After another not too cold night and bit of a lay in, we woke to mainly blue skies and a brisk Patagonian wind but no rain:-). Steve fished his warm clothes out of his sleeping bag, opened the tent door and started to get dressed. “What are you doing?” asked Sarah as Steve rummaged in the tent. “I’ve lost a sock” came the frustrated reply. The sock was nowhere to be found, everything was turned out of the tent while Sarah looked on in disbelief. “How can he lose a sock, in 10 seconds while sat in the tent”. In the end Steve gave in, doubting the sock was ever there in the first place and we went off to get some breakfast.
A group of us decided to walk up to a hill called Condor Lookout which was about a 90 minute round trip from the campsite and apparently had great views. Steve made a final trip to the toilet before we left the campsite, which turned into a sit down affair. In the gloom of the toilets down came the trousers and boxers, “What the hell is that!” was the shout heard outside. “There is some strange South American rodent in my boxers” ….“ No. It’s OK. I’ve found my sock”……..Idiot!
We made the trek to the lookout to once again unbelievable views and winds, we even saw a Condor sail by. The rain stayed away and the sun came out. The afternoon was spent sat in the sun, dozing, reading and chatting. Nikki spent the morning cooking her amazing pumpkin soup. She has done it before and it is seriously good. She then spent the afternoon cooking lasagne on an open fire. Now we both like lasagne, a lot, and this was one of the best. Not only did it taste brilliant it looked amazing, a proper solid juicy lasagne. Watch out Jing, you have competition! Everyone had seconds and even the crispy bits on the side were scrapped off. Then it was more chat and off early to bed ready for another big walk tomorrow. Another leg of the “W” Trek awaits.
The plan for our third and day in Torres del Paine was to hike to Grey’s Glacier following the route of the final leg of the “W” Trek. In order to do this you have to catch a ferry to the start. The company that run this operation have obviously realised that they have a captive audience and charge £35 return for the 30 minute crossing. We arrived in plenty of time, (or so we thought) 50 minutes before the first ferry, the queue was already significant and even after they crammed people onboard we were still out of luck and had to wait for the single ferry to make the round trip and return for us.
Eventually, 3 hours after we had joined the queue we started the trek. We were now very limited on time to make the hike and be back with enough time to comfortably make the return ferry. 23 km, up and down over varrying terrain in windy conditions in 5 hours. “No probem” said Steve. Sarah looked at him with a sense of dread, thinking “Here we go again, a nice leisurely walk turned into a route march!!”. As we hiked up and up we did discuss a few times as to turning back, but Sarah has become fitter and more determined over the last couple of years and pressed on. Steve knew she was serious as the conversation was minimal and few more words worthy of the scrabble board were being muttered. We had snacks and drinks as we walked and took off and replaced layers of clothing on the go as the temperature and wind increased and decreased.
We made it to the refugio at the end of the trek and Steve calculated that if we maintained the same pace on the return leg then we had just over 90 seconds to stop for lunch. Sarah decided to eat lunch on the way back and use the 90 seconds for a pee stop! She set a great pace and never slowed the whole way back even breaking into a jog at some points. We arrived back after 4 hours 55 minutes (on what was marked on the map as a 7 hour route) and boarded the ferry back to the truck.
Sarah did tell everyone that Steve had dragged her across the trek but secretly she has a sense of satisfaction of completing two legs of the “W” Trek and we got some great pictures along the way.
We got back on the truck and made the 2 hour journey back to Puerto Natales for an overnight stay in a warm bed (bunks of course) before starting the final leg of our journey South to Ushuaia, the world’s most southerly city……….Yes Sarah, I’m sure they do mega waffles there as well.
After Ushuaia we have a long long drive of almost 2000 km through isolated parts of Patagonia before our next stop, so it maybe a week or so before we post again. Thanks to everyone for all the comments so far !