it is quite pretty though...
28.10.2009 - 03.11.2009
The bus back to Chile and the town of Puerto Natales didn't take too long, and soon enough we had found our way to Hospedaje Maria (Hostel Maria) which was a lovely find. It was a tiny bungalow and had only four rooms. Maria and her daughter run the place and made us feel very welcome. We were shown to our spacious, bright room where we whacked the heater on and relaxed for a little while.
Our purpose for being in this little town in Southern Chile was to go to Torres Del Paine, a national park and apparently a must visit. We had planned to go for the day, do a hike and then come back. Unfortunately once we began to do a bit of research on the internet we realised our plan was perhaps not going to work. For one thing the park is about two and a half hours away from the town, much further than we thought, and secondly we could find almost no information about one day hikes. Everyone who had written about the park described how they had done either the W or Circuit trek, the former taking between 3 and 5 days and the later 5+.
Over the next day and a half we um-ed and ah-ed over what to do. We thought perhaps we would stay in one of the refugios (basic accommodation) that they have at certain points through out the park. Then we could make full use of a day and see a little more. However it was going to cost about £20 per person per night and that didn't include food or bedding, which seemed silly to us. We already had to pay £33 to get to and from the park and a further £33 for the entrance fee. By this point we were getting exasperated, it was so expensive and we just weren't sure what to do. If it hadn't been for people blogging that their days spent in Torres Del Paine were some of their best and that it was life changing (yep they did), then we may not have gone at all.
We decided to take a break from researching and went to get some food. While out and about, still with the trip in mind we both purchased woolie hats. It was on the way back, with his newly purchased hat on that Adam suggested we just bite the bullet, do a full trek and camp. At first, well actually right up until the end of our time at Torres Del Paine I wasn't convinced. Mainly due to the physical fitness required and also whether my knees could hack it. At the same time though it was kind of a relief because once I'd nodded my silent, fearful, agreement, we had made a decision and could start to get things done. We decided we were going to do the W trek, and were hoping to do it in 4 days. For the rest of the day we went in to organisational mode. We bought gloves, scarves, thermals, hired all the camping equipment and stocked up on food. That night while we packed up and checked the tent I was pretty nervous, I could tell Adam was excited though, especially that we would be camping and it rubbed off on me a little bit. Just a bit though.
The following morning the bus came to get us at 7:30am and went round the town picking up fellow trekkers. There was excited chatter on the bus, and I did wonder what there was to be excited about, it all seemed very daunting to me. The weather was not very good as we made our way to the park, and we just hoped it would improve. Which thankfully it did as the sun broke through just as we entered the park. There were gently rolling hills, like the pampa had been jolted into life, even the hardy shrubs had brightened with patches of scarlet and yellow. As we wound our way through these hills we saw unbelievable, viridescent, mirror lakes and lots of Llamas. Finally the bus came to a stop by a small dock. We were catching a catamaran across to were our W trek would begin. We had about an hour to wait though so we did a small walk up a hill to look at a waterfall.
There was quite a group gathered, some of whom seemed very prepared and others not so much. We were probably somewhere in the middle.
We were a bit mismatched in our outfits, unlike those who clearly had spent some serious money to be colour co-ordinated in a fully waterproof ensemble complete with walking sticks. Still we felt better equipped than an Australian boy who was shivering in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt.
It was a lovely, sunny journey on the catamaran and the clouds parted to give some spectacular views of the mountains.
Once we disembarked, the group broke apart, some people trekked on with their backpacks to a camp at the end of one leg of the W. The trek is called the W because the route is shaped like the letter. You therefore have to retrace your stepS at the beginning, the middle and the end. We couldn't see the point in walking with our packs and quickly went about setting up camp where the boat let us off. We then planned to do the first there and back trek that afternoon which would total 22km. Everything we had read about the park had mentioned the weather and how it can quickly change and this really is true. One minute it was sunny and the next it was snowing. Not believing that it could really last we began to do the walk, but as we entered the valley it became a blizzard.
Everything turned white, the mountains disappeared and although we continued on for a little bit it soon became clear it was a silly idea. On the one hand it could become dangerous and secondly we could not see and therefore appreciate any of the spectacular scenery.
We decided to turn back.
After a hot drink, and a little while in the tent the weather changed yet again and the sun returned. It was a bit late to begin the trek again though so we resolved to start early in the morning, and walked up one of the hills which surrounded the camp instead.
It gave a beautiful view of the lake and with the sunlight streaming down it was the most vivid turquoise I have ever seen. Looking back at photos it is still hard to believe that the colour is real and not in some way enhanced.
After admiring the view for a little while we headed back down to our little orange tent. We then had a bite to eat and got a very early night, there wasn't much else to do and anyway it had begun to snow again.
It was a bitterly cold night, despite both of us being completely cocooned in our sleeping bags with only a small hole so we could breath. The wind was ferocious and it howled as it whipped around the tent. Safe to say neither of us got the best nights sleep and we were awake bright and early to begin our first trek.
Having shared a bowl of tasteless porridge, the consistency of wallpaper paste we set off into the valley. The terrain was quite flat to begin with, the path having been worn down over the years but it was still quite uneven under foot and this would begin to take it's toll on my knees over the coming days.
It didn't stay flat for too long though and soon enough we were heaving ourselves over the rocks as we clambered out of the valley. However there was a beautiful view back towards camp and the lake which offered a moments distraction from my bursting lungs. Next we came to an open area of smooth rock with a grey river flowing below.
The wind was so strong that we could barely stand up and we had to fight against it to find a place to perch where we inhaled some crackers and water before setting off again. We then entered some woodland which provided shelter from the wind which was appreciated and by now we were both beginning to get into the walk a little more. Our muscles were warmed up and underestimating how far we had to go we were in good spirits.
We were aiming to reach Refugio Grey which sits about an hours walk from Grey Glacier and there is a good place to view the Glacier near the camp. We continued on and on and on. I began to think every time we picked our way down a rocky descent that I would have to ascend it on the way back. The retracing of our steps was the one thing that we found disheartening about the W trek. Although you're seeing things from a different perspective I think it's preferable to simply go from A to B rather than A to B and then back to A again.
When we saw the Grey Glacier we thought we had almost made it to the refugio but we were really wrong. It was a further hour and a half of hard trekking to get there and by now the weather was beginning to turn. The sunshine of the early morning had been engulfed by a gloomy, overcast sky and the clouds hung heavy around the mountains above us. When we finally made it to the look out I quickly slumped down on to the rock and the thought “11km down, 11km to go” was a difficult to ignore, we had to do it all over again and I was pooped.
It was really a question of mind over matter on the way back. I had a few moments of thinking I couldn't do it, when faced with what seemed like a vertical wall of rock but thankfully Adam was there to coax me along. The weather got worse and unlike in the morning we joined other trekkers, which made things more complicated as people were going at different speeds. There was now a bit more of an added pressure. Towards the end both Adam and I began to get bad back pain which coincided with the weather getting worse. This thankfully is when adrenaline or something kicked in because it didn't hurt when I had to scale some boulders anymore, infact I found I could almost run up them. Adam experienced the same thing, we both knew we wanted to get back as soon as possible and somehow our bodies responded.
It was a glorious feeling getting back to the tent. We peeled off the wet clothes and quickly set about making a hot cup of tea before falling fast asleep. Later we awoke to better weather and were surprisingly not aching from head to toe. Our minds now turned to the next walk and I began to wonder how it would be when I had to carry my pack too.
Another early start; we ate, packed up the tent, sorted out our backpacks and headed towards the middle camp. It was a fairly even walk, a little bit of ascent to begin with which was made harder by the pack but ok. Adam enjoyed having his on as he felt more like he was doing it properly and getting a complete work out. He certainly hadn't found the previous day as tough as me and I think he was beginning to consider trekking a new found hobby.
The scenery was lovely, the weather was perfect, just the right temperature and at times it reminded me of an English summer as we weaved our way through light woodland with the birds twittering.
That said by the time we crossed a wooden bridge and reached the second camp I was ready to take my backpack off.
We were both starving and we devoured a bowl of pasta in seconds.
However our trekking for the day was not over, we still had to explore the Valle Frances, so after a bit of a rest we set off once more. Very quickly this trek became challenging as we were faced with a sea of large, grey boulders that we had to clamber over. I found it really tough and it never seemed to end, we were continually heading up.
What made it worse for me was seeing all these fresh faced people coming down with their big smiles and walking sticks. Adam told me again and again that these people would have done similar treks dozens of times unlike him or I but still I felt annoyed about how unfit I was. I did console myself, however wrongly, that if only I had some poles it would all be a lot easier.
Again though as I had read, the park did reward our efforts with its abundance of untouched natural beauty. There was the fast flowing river that Adam filled our water bottle from, the snowy mountain which seemed almost close enough to touch complete with one or two avalanches and the strong, jagged peaks of the Torres Del Paine from behind.
If you have to be torturing yourself, there are certainly worse places to be doing it!
A little further into the trek we came to realise that we had set off a bit late to make it all the way to the intended turn around point which was a shame because we had both morphed into super human mode and I was finally enjoying the challenge of walk. Not wanting to have to find our way back in the dark though we decided to turn around. The way back was not so pleasant and the precarious footing really began to make my knees angry. They were seriously protesting by the time we made it back to our tent.
With this in mind we decided that we would miss out the final up and down trek and attempt to get the bus the following afternoon. We knew there was a bus back to Puerto Natales from the park entrance at 2:30pm but we would have to catch a mini bus to take us to the entrance from Hosteria Las Torres which marks the official beginning/end of the treks (depending which way round you do it) and we had no idea when this departed. There was just 20km with our packs standing between us and that mini bus and to make matters more complicated my watch had decided to stop working the day before.
Knowing what we had to do, the wind, and the cold all meant that I got almost zero sleep that night. I could not settle at all, I was so conscious that if we did not set off early then chances were we would miss the bus. Adam didn't sleep well either so soon after first light we got up, packed up our camp and began what seemed like a very daunting task.
It was really quite tough going from the out set, there was a nice moment with some horses grazing in a field but we were so conscious of time we didn't linger too long.
What made it worse was we really had no idea what time it was.
Focussing my mind on what we had to do made a big difference on the first part of the trek. I was quite surprised at how I quickly found a rhythm and we made really good progress. For once I didn't seem to be holding Adam up, it was a good feeling! Again there was beautiful scenery and part of the walk led us along the shores of the turquoise lake and the hills surrounding it, all of which was bathed in early morning light.
We had covered about 7km when we reached Refugio Los Cuernos where we stopped for a drink and managed to see what time it was. Going by Adam's camera which was still on Australian time we managed to figure out we'd been going for roughly an hour and a half. It was now 8:30am, so we guessed we had at least 4 hours to complete the last 13km. Unfortunately Adam was not feeling too well but he really wanted to make it to the bus too, so he just pushed the feelings to one side and we began once more.
This last section was the hardest of all. The ascents were unbelievably steep and rocky under foot. There were a number of times when Adam would be ahead of me and I really thought I couldn't do it. Each time though he would tell me I could and somehow I would. In the end he took more weight out of my pack, which definitely made things harder for him. Although I think he enjoyed the full on work out.
We bumped in to an American couple who told us things would get a bit easier for us, it took time but in the end things did begin to flatten out and then head downhill which was pleasant.
By now though I was starting to lose my marbles a little bit and my knees were killing me. In a strange attempt to keep my spirits up I began to sing Disney theme tunes and when we correctly established where we were on the map and realised we were closer than we thought I just repeated “mini bus, mini bus” over and over as I trudged along. I'm sure a few people I passed who had ventured out for a stroll from the beautifully appointed Hosteria Las Torres thought I was a little odd but I was definitely beyond caring.
Finally we made it, we went into a little shop to ask when the minibus arrived and we were told 2pm, it was now midday. We had completed the 20km in about 5 hours and we had no energy left. A few other trekkers we recognised from the boat turned up, I think that most people had missed out parts. It would be tough to do the full trek in 3 days with the weather we had experienced. Adam and I bedded down on a grassy bank, elated from having achieved what we had but very ready to return to a town with a supermarket and a proper bed!
Laura & Adam