TDP D3 & 4February 3, 2017 in Chile
D3: Paine Grande to Los Cuernos
WHAT A DAY
So today was an epic trek meant to include the much talked about Valle de Frances, where you hike up a valley to a viewpoint which makes the middle part of the W shape. Lots of people I've spoken to have talked about how beautiful it is without cloud, but when I woke up at 6am it was absolutely pissing it down. Oh well, that's the danger of the outdoors, maybe it'll clear up. Also one of my trekking poles spontaneously broke in the night, good.
I had an enormous breakfast with nice coffee and nicer oatmeal, yum, and snaffled some for my lunch in napkins while some Americans watched me judgementally.
So in total today I walked for 10 hours? Maybe 11. I left the refugio at 8am, marched enthusiastically in completely the wrong direction for 15 minutes, corrected myself and arrived at the next refugio at 7:30pm. And this was no stroll. I think I may have truly fucked my knee, and also my ankle, but boy was it worth it.
After my accidental detour (where to be fair I got quite a good view of the lake and funny clicking moorhen type birds), me and the monster bag set off in the right direction, broken trekking pole sticking out dangerously to jab strangers.
The first two hours was along a squelchy path alongside the mountains and a waterfall coming down off a glacier, through burnt trees standing silver and black, sometimes with pine-coloured life glimpsed in the trunk. It was no longer raining thank god but remained very cloudy, giving the impression of views concealed.
I arrived at Italiano campsite and dumped my monster bag there (inside a bin bag as a stylish raincover) after some excellent effort Spanish communication with the park ranger. From here I would do the middle line of the W shape up to a mirador (viewpoint) looking back down Valle de Frances. It was a bit cloudy but hopefully I would still see something.
I took about 2h to get up to the mirador, bumping into Lyn on the way but walking separately as I wanted to hike alone. The walk was mainly uphill through forest, alongside a glacial river scattered with various interesting holes, boulders and drops. The first part of the path was literally up a stream, with no way to get out of the stream onto the bank so I was actually walking in it. Thank god for waterproof boots!
When I got to the mirador I found Lyn sitting on a boulder eating her sandwich and joined her. I couldn't see much as it was pretty cloudy. We discussed how the map indicated there might be a bit further to go but there was a big sign telling us that this was the end of the path. Someone had nailed a new description sign over the old one at the mirador and someone else had tried to prise it up. Three guys on the boulder opposite us ducked under the 'do not pass' tape crossing the path, and deciding that we weren't just going to sit there while the men had all the fun, Lyn and I waited a bit and then followed.
The fading path crossed through some trees where I became Ray Mears and marked a cross with sticks to show us where to go on the way back. The way became steep and slippery with small rocks and sand like terrain, I guess they must have had some rockslides or something.
It became harder and harder to climb as we headed up and up, but there did still seem to be remnants of a path as we hauled ourselves over boulders and pushed through spikey shrubbery. The landscape became moon-like and our end goal was the summit of this moon. It was pretty cool because I really felt we were up in the mountains rather than looking up at them from below. The clouds were clearing and it felt the 5 of us were on top of the park, with all the amazing scenery around us becoming clear; down the valley on one side, and on the other three were mountains. Two were funky shapes, almost rectangles!
Scenery was great but I was slightly dying as it was so steep. We kept getting to false summits so Lyn and I decided to turn round as the ground was getting even more slidey with rocks and it was becoming a bit sketchy.
This two hour detour meant we had to absolutely leg it down back to camp Italiano before the next trail closed. Basically ran down the valley, skipping over the rocks and occasionally peering at the view which now revealed blue lakes, islands and the mountains behind. It was sunny now and we were passing lots of people on their way up to the mirador. The glacier on the mountain next to us would occasionally thunder as a chunk fell off in the warmth.
I hoped my bag-in-a-binbag hadn't been mistaken for actual rubbish and thrown away. Pleased to find it still there, I hauled it on, said goodbye to Lyn and off I plodded into the sunshine.
I had to stop about 5m in to remove all my layers and met a middle aged couple who were also having a loooong day. I paused at a mirador to stare at the lagoons. I ate 10 biscuits. To my left is Los Cuernos, two huge cylindrical peaks. Behind me is a huge mountainside glacier, black and white. And to the right are the lagoons and their islands.
This was a slow and calm walk. I was really enjoying it as the views were constantly unbelievable and the weather was so good. Then my biscuits absorbed and the sugar fired me into an excellent pace. The middle aged couple later remarked how quicky I whizzed off. Yay sugar.
Birds swooped like darts in front of me, peeping, and I thought lots of weird I am alone thoughts like what I would do if my thumb suddenly amputated and what to wear to my cousin's wedding in 3 months' time.
I reached a tropical beach scene. Whaaat?! It was on the side of the blue clear lake, a pebble beach with trees up to it, the water was oddly warm and the sun really hot. I literally felt like I was on a tropical island with a glacier behind me, and in my hiking boots. Ridiculous. I lay on the beach.
When I finally arrived at my hostel I made my exciting pasta dinner with my dorm buddy, a French person who then gave me chocolate. The bunk beds were 3 bunks high which was exciting and made me feel I had the luxury of a much coveted lower bunk whilst actually in the middle of a bunkbed sandwich.
I decided this is the most beautiful place I have been in my life. Today has had it all! I felt soppy as I fell asleep.
Day 4: Los Cuernos to Torre Norte
Today was notable for me being very tired and walking the 4.5 hours very slowly with hundreds of breaks and making it more like 5.5. It did start off more enthusiastically though with my now standard awe at the Xtreme beauty of the lake I would spend basically all day walking beside. I had a sit down and contemplate moment by some trees where I listed everything I could hear:
I am also now officially over my heavy bag. I've gone from feeling cool and independent to whiney and injured, heaving it along with me and feeling like a cow or some kind of other cumbersome unglamorous animal. I have very small grazes on my collarbones where the straps go and I wear these like a badge proving my hardship.
Today was soooo sunny all day long with no clouds at all. This made me hyper aware of dehydration so I kept filling and refilling my water bottle in the streams, then trying to pee in various spikey bushes without being seen. One of these loo stops had me squatting next to a bee hive which I only noticed mid-wee. Lots of stress ensued but I escaped unharmed apart from a bit of spikey leaf in my pants.
Now I am in my final refugio, Torres Norte, and after escaping from my dorm mate (in his mid 30s and mentioned various stories about being drunk 5 times in our 10 minute conversation) I caved and bought a monster chocolate tart and diet coke for £10. No regrets and I will be wrapping some of the tart up for tomorrow's final day, which will be a long and early one. The forecast is cloud but we will see. Today has been a true summer's day.
I'm now so full from the chocolate tart that I may have my delicious powdered mash and pasta sauce combination another day. Shame.
(I didn't have it another day. I had it that evening and the mashed potato brought back memories of the dreaded coffee mistake).Read more