Monday, October 19, 2009

towers of pain

My five day hike to Torres del Paine has finished and I am sitting comfortably in the warm surrounds of an El Calafate (Argentina) hostel having arrived last night from the Chilean National Park.

My bad cold refused to go away so the entire hike was uncomfortably difficult as I was continually coughing and blowing my nose!

The day I arrived by bus in the morning from Puerto Natales was bleak, coldy, windy with sleety snow falling. The sky was gray and cloudy as about 50 intrepid hikers boarded the catamaran that was to take us to the western side of the National Park.

I was about to do what is referred to as the ¨W¨ Hike - a trip that follows three incline valleys that wind there way up the sides of two mountain formations - Los Cuernos (The Horns) and the Torres del Paine (The Towers of Paine).

The first days hike was only 3.5 hours and 11kms. My pack, with tent, cooking gear and 5 days food weighs around 20 - 22 kgs. This was a fairly comfortable walk with a few steep climbs. The weather began to behave itself, it didnt rain or snow and the wind died away. But the clouds remained.

On the catamaran I met a French woman, a German guy and a fellow from Quebec and we all teamed up to walk together.

gray first day

more gray/grey

The campsite sits close to Glacier Grey.

glacier grey

The following morning I woke to brilliantly clear blue skies. I broke camp and then walked back down the valley to the starting point for lunch. From there it was another 19 kms to the next stop Campiemento Italiano which sits toward the middle of the ¨W¨.

lunchspot day 2

This was a long and tiring days walk. But at least it was sunny.

This also gave us the best views of Los Cuernos, a magnificent and massive mountain with a distinctive 2 colour geological formation.

los cuernos

terry and los cuernos

more los cuernos


terry and los cuernos

After setting up camp I walked for about an hour up the central line of the ¨W¨for some different views of Los Cuernos. In this valley I could hear the loud rumbling of avalanches that were happening with regular frequency on the mountain. At one point I was lucky enough to see one.

That night in my tent i lay awake for a while listening to the the deep rumbles of avalanches - it was strangely comforting, like rain on a tin roof.

The following morning, another clear, still sunny day, entailed another long days hiking.

This took us along the bottom edge of the right side of the ¨W¨and up the right hand valley. This was about 22 kms on undulating paths with a steep climb toward the end.

This left me completely buggered!!

valley torres

the road goes ever on

view of lago grey

The fourth day was the hike up to the Towers.

I set off early after breakfast around half 7. I was at least able to leave my pack at camp as I was making a return trip to the towers.

The hike began with a 5km gradual climb to another campsite and once again I was blessed with perfect weather. From here it was another hour on a very steep path up to the towers which several people had said was very tough.

Fearing the worst I gritted my teeth and girded whatever needed girding, and set off. The path indeed was steep, wet in parts, and gravelly in others. One part had ropes slung between trees to assist in climbing.

Strangely. perhaps because of all the pessimistic warnings, or perhaps because I wasn´t carrying my pack (or a bit of both) I really enjoyed this part and didn´t find it a struggle at all.

Reaching the top, a sharp ridge where you are given tantalising glimpses of the towers, you suddenly emerge onto the most magnificent scene of the three towers set behind a half frozen lake. Breathtaking.

I spent at least half an hour here in the sun soaking up the scene and having a bite to eat before reluctantly heading back down to the campsite.

It was a deeply satisfying experience to finally get to see the Torres del Paine which a had already seen in many other peoples photos.

Once I picked up my pack I headed down to the final campsite, about 12 kms down the valley - thus completing the ¨W¨.

climbing to the towers

the splendid torres del paine

happy chappy

I treated myself to a bed in the refugio at the end and a hot shower. My bedroom had amazing views.

view from bedroom window

punta arenas cemetary

punta arenas cemetary 2

tierra del fuego

finding shoes to fit must have been hard

en route to puerto natales we came across a bus crash that had just happened. people were still climbing out of the front window. (No fatalities)

Tonight I catch a bus to El Chalten for some more hiking in Los Glaciaros National Park, and will hopefully get to see FitzRoy Mountain. Back to El Calafate in 3 or 4 days.

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