Catamarans, Glaciers and Cervezas!April 17, 2017 in Chile
Torres Del Paine National Park (Patagonia): Part 1
Torres Del Paine, a part of this journey, was really what sealed the deal for coming to South America. Set in Patagonia, Chile, this place has some of the most beautiful scenery and landscapes you will find anywhere in the world. It is also known for some of the most temperamental weather, with winds up to 120km an hour, rain, snow and a harsh sun.
For our trek, I will detail in two parts, as each day brought differing beauty, challenges and memories that I would like to try and enraptured as best as I can.
Day 1- 16th April
Our journey to the park began with another bus ride that was early enough for it to still be dark outside and cold enough to want to be snuggled up in the warmth of your bed. Thankfully this was only a small ride around 1.5hrs and the closer we got and the more light was available, the more spectacular the scenery became. Before the real trekking began, we were required to pay the park fee and watch one of those videos that teaches you not to light fires or play with the Puma's if you see one. All seemed pretty sensible.
Now I'll have to give Jamo and I credit for booking the camp grounds the night before we left, as although there were concerns we may not be organised enough, we found we were much more organised than many of the people at the station. Some acted shocked and very surprised when they were told they needed to have booked in advance. I overheard one group even discuss in annoyance when they found their was not an ATM in the national Park.
Leaving the warmth of the ranger station, the fog cover made visibility difficult early on in the morning. One thing we didn't need to see but we sure did feel, was the stinging cold as we took the half hour catamaran to our first destination across a mammoth lake (Image 1). The boat was chocka block full which meant many (us included) spent the time up on deck and the wind chill factor off the water was something to be reckoned with for the unprepared.
Ryan's Hot Travel Tip El Numero 2 👍
Before your pack ends up buried under everyone else's, be sure to remove your beanie, gloves and any other warming attire that may be useful when exposed to the elements on a freezing cold boat ride.
Disembarking at the dock, the fog still enveloped much of the landscape (Image 2) but it was possible to see the beautiful snow capped mountains in the distance and what would be our second camp stop (Paine Grande camping ground), which was set at the base of these mountains.
Our first leg of the trek would see us walk approximately 12km to Refugio Grey Camping ground, which is set several km's away from Glacier Grey. The first few km's were along fairly flat ground in a valley with fog covering the path. As the gradient became steeper, the fog began to clear and the view behind us overlooked the valley we had just walked through. Although we hit our first lookout early on and though the view was pretty decent, it was nothing compared to what we were about to experience a few km's along.
First, Jamo and I needed to de-layer, as carrying a couple of packs with 15-16kg of weight proved to be enough to get the core temperature rising and the sweat pouring. Unfortunately, for Jamo, he decided not to give an American group that rocked up a peep show by stripping off the thermal bottoms. This then required some improvisation and an interesting look of rolled up thermals and pant legs....probably had to be there, as it is much funnier in my own mind.
Some further trekking uphill and a couple of litres of sweat later (namely Jamo's **Side-note**) and we had arrived at another lookout.
**Sidenote** Part of Jamo's claim to fame is his ability to sweat more than half a dozen average men put together. This has lead me to include a couple of examples for the piece called "Cold things that Jamo can sweat next to."
If we considered the previous lookout to be decent, the one we just arrived to (Image 3) was nothing short of bloody spectacular. I could give a poor description of a blue lake, with a mirror like surface, reflecting images of the snow capped mountains in the back ground and beautiful deciduous trees with leaves of gold, oranges and reds but it really is just better to look at the picture (Image 4). It was one of those back drops that made it look as if you were photoshopped into it, something I have only experienced in New Zealand and Switzerland beforehand.
At this point of our trek, it felt as if we had made it at least half way to our final destination and by now, the packs were starting to feel a bit heavier than they did at the start. Much to our disappointment, one of the signposts suggested we still had only trekked around 1/3 or our total distance that day.
Trudging at this point, there were some slight rises and fall to the trail, with hills to our right and an incredible lake, with remnants of glacier that had broken away floating on past (some might call them icebergs). Several waterfalls also flowed down towards the lake and this is where we decided to do our first Bear Grylls thing and fill up our now empty water bottles from the crystal clear water. One of Jamo's purchases before leaving was a Steri-Pen which is essentially a teat shaped light bulb which sterilises the water utilising the power of UV light. A hot tip I can give you first hand, is that if your water bottle is made of red plastic, the UV light looks red and the Steri-Pen isn't actually broken like I may have thought....Anyways, I have digressed.....
Our final lookout of the afternoon was pretty hard to miss and was known as Mirador "Lago Grey (Image 5)." Once again, postcard perfect views were what greeted us. I feel like you really just need to look at the picture because as the saying goes, 'a picture tells a thousand words.
Refuelling with a quick snack and still being in awe of what we had already seen in what was only the first few hours, we made the final pass to our camping ground for the night. This last few kilometres, although not super steep, was rather taxing and we were both spent and wondering how we would last another 4 days given this was one of our shortest days.
Luckily, the Refugio's where the camping grounds are located also offer those less keen on camping, hostel style accommodation indoors. The importance of this, was they also offered the kind of nourishment we needed after our dehydrated meals (which actually aren't too bad)...... beer!! (or cervezas as they have come to be known). A couple down and we had just the right sort of tonic to get a decent nights sleep.
Day 2- 17th April
"To the Suspension Bridge and Back Again"
Well, you know it has been cold overnight when you wake up and your tent is frozen!! That was what greeted us from out slumber. Many people had hung towels and clothing over trees and tent guidelines to dry and would have been interested to find their clothing stiff enough to snap into pieces like chocolate when waking. As we packed up the gear, it was hard not to feel the stinging cold run through your fingers, kind of like the feeling you get when you are in the cold too long and then put your hands under warm/hot water.
Before heading back towards our next camping spot (Paine Grande), we had decided to head closer towards Glacier Grey to one of the first suspension bridges, which interested my civil engineering mate Jamo.
Although not a difficult walk, we stupidly took our complete packs with us, instead of leaving them at the campsite, essentially increasing the difficulty of the walk by adding more weight than necessary for the round trip.
Given how exhausted we were the previous day, we felt surprisingly fresh and made good ground. Glacier Grey increasingly grew in size as we drew closer to the suspension bridge and the view was no less impressive the further along we progressed. Soon enough, we had made it to the suspension bridge, an impressive man made structure in its own right. The walk across was somewhat hair-raising but even with the significant drop below us, it was hard not to be impressed by the stunning view that graced us and forget about the sign that made you question the engineering (ONLY 2 PEOPLE ON BRIDGE AT A TIME!).
After the token photos were taken, including one of our first snaps of "Cold things Jamo can sweat next to: Glacier Edition," we made our way back, which was somewhat easier given it was mostly downhill. A quick stop at the previous nights campsite for a bit of chow and we were on our way again.
Although taking the exact same path as we had the previous day, it was amazing how the differing light on the now overcast day, changed the perspective of the landscape and lookouts we had passed the day before.
Ryan's Hot Travel Tip El Número 3 👍
Don't trust the signage indicating distance travelled and distance to go, it's totally incorrect!! I swear we passed a sign that indicated we had 8km to go, only to have the next sign say we had only travelled a couple of km when I swear black and blue we'd walked at least 3-4km!
Stopping only at the previous lookouts for more photos and to refuel, we had soon made the 19km journey to Paine Grande, a much more open campground with snow capped mountains gracing us in the background (Image 6). There's not too much more to report on for day two, other than we probably had one or two too many beers, wine and spirits. Not really the best preparation given we were in for out longest trekking day but hey......"Uno Mas!"Read more