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Stauchy Blog » Blog Archive » Torres del Paine, Feb 29-Mar 4, 2008 (JRS)

Torres del Paine, Feb 29-Mar 4, 2008 (JRS)


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We arrived in Puerto Natales after our cruise with Navimag, ready to put together a trip through Torres del Paine, one of our expected highlights of our trip.  We had settled on the 5-day W-Circuit, as opposed to the 10-day full circuit, since we really didn’t have the extra time to spare.  So, once again we downsized our packs a bit and took to the trail.  It certainly didn’t disappoint.  I’m not sure that I would put it up against the Milford Track in New Zealand, but it certainly wasn’t just your average walk in the park.

We hit the ground running in Puerto Natales because we knew that there was a literal boat-load of people who would be crowding the town looking for trips to TdP.  We had already corresponded with Path@Gone, so we headed for their office immediately.  The guy there wasn’t particularily friendly, but we did manage to get our transport to and from TdP and our ferry across Lago Pehoe to the start of our hike.  We then checked in to Hospidaje Dumastre (the Hospidajes in Chile are definiately the way to go, basically just people’s homes that they have opened up to travelers, sometimes expanding their home for extra rooms).  We booked our bus tickets for the following week to El Calefate before heading back to re-pack our packs for the trek.

We caught the early bus to the park and got some great views going in.  After arriving and paying our admission, we took the ferry across the Lago Pehoe to the Paine Grande lodge (the views from the boat were some of the best views of the day’s hike).  We then had a very windy and miserable hike over a slight pass to Lago Grey.  We hiked beyond Refugio Grey for about an hour to a free campsite up above the glacier there (about a 5-hour hike overall).  It had a nice overlook of the glacier not far from the camp.  All in all, the first day was a bit of a disappointment, and of all our days there would certainly be the one that we would have omitted if we had it to do over again (especially after seeing the glacier at El Calefate which dwarfs the glacier at TdP, which is the primary highlight of the first day’s hike).

080229d_tdp-9.jpg views from the boat

080229d_tdp-23.jpg Lago Grey (with bits of glacier floating)

080229d_tdp-38.jpg Overlook of the glacier

The next morning we backtracked to Paine Grande, then headed east towards the free Italiano campsite at the head of the Francis Valley.  Again, a fairly uneventful day, although as we approached the valley, the views got better and better.  The day’s trek took us about 5 hours at a moderate pace.

080301d_tdp-19.jpg the view between Paine Grande Lodge and Italiano Camp.

Near the camp, there were great views of a hanging glacier which we heard calving all through the night with thunderous crashes.  We didn’t realize what it was until the next morning.

I got up early the next day to see the colors of sunrise on the hanging glacier, which was a worthwhile endevor.  To puncuate the experience, I witnessed a massive calving of the glacer down over the cliffs below, crashing into more snow fields and falling further down the cliff.  It was quite spectacular and it was the first time I realized what the thunderous noises we had been hearing were.

080302d_tdp-1.jpg    080302d_tdp-12.jpg

I went back to the camp and we left as soon as possible so as to miss the crowds (leaving our camp set up since we would be coming back out of the valley that afternoon).  With only day packs, we were able to make great time (it felt great to not have the big packs on).  The trip up the valley was great and the views from the top of the trail were of peaks that nearly surround us.  When we were close to the top we heard a huge crashing noise and looked up to see the aftermath of what appeared to be a huge part of the cliff face across from us break off and crash onto the rocks below.  We went up as high as we could go before losing the trail where we stopped for lunch and to enjoy the view.

080302d_tdp-46.jpg

080302d_tdp-47-53.jpg  the panorama from the top

We made great time getting out of the valley, packed up camp and made our way to Refugio Los Cuernos where we spend the night.  It was the only pay camping that we did and it cost $8/person which was pretty steep by Chilean standards (more expensive than our room with a bed back in Puerto Natales).  It was about 2 hours into the valley, 1 hour out and 2.5 hours to Los Cuernos.  On the way to the campsite we ran into an Australian couple that we had met on the Navimag cruise.  They were doing the same circuit as us with a 9-month-old baby.  Incredible!

The next morning, I got up early again to admire the sunrise colors on the rock above our camp.

080303d_tdp-2.jpg

We then broke camp and proceded to our most brutal day of hiking.  It was nothing compared to our day-two experience on our backpacking trip near Bariloche, but it was long enough, and mostly uphill (except for the times when we inexplicably went downhill just to go back uphill again).  On the way we ran into another couple from the Navimag ferry, a 60+ year-old New Zealand couple who were doing the same route as us.  Between them and the Australian couple, it really pushed the limits of our thinking (i.e. you have to do this kind of thing when you’re young and don’t have kids).  After about 6.5 hours of grueling hike, we arrived at Campamento Torries.

080303s_tdp-1.jpg the view from the trail 

We decided not to make the hour-long scramble to the overlook of the Torres del Paine, opting to do it in the morning instead (everyone recommended the morning because of the sunrise colors).  We were up early the next morning so that we could scramble up the rocky trail to the TdP overlook.  We ended up getting off the trail and went up the wrong boulder field.  Luckily we were able to make our way across and actually ended up above the main viewpoint, which turned out to be a much better, less crowded view of the Torres.  As the namesake of the park, it is of course a highlight of the trip.  Unfortunately, there were low clouds that masked the view and sunrise colors.  But, when it cleared enough to see them, they looked very cool shrowded in mist.

080304d_tdp-11.jpg    080304d_tdp-19.jpg

We made our way back down the camp, broke camp and hurried down the trail to make sure we caught the bus back out of the park.  We made it down in great time and ended up sitting at the bottom for a couple hours.  The view on the way out of the park was really nice and you could see that the Torres were still a bit shrowded (far right in the picture below).

080304d_tdp-38.jpg

Overall, we were very happy with our experience.  The days were not overly long and we were able to take our time.  If we had less time, we would have cut out the first and even second day.  We could have done it in three days (day one to the Camp Italiano and up the valley, day two to Camp Torres, day three up to the Torres and out), but I’m still glad that we had the extra time to spend there.

-JRS

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