Well the long awaited visit to Torres del Paine National Park had arrived and let me tell you it didn’t disappoint. What a wonderful park to visit for mainly scenery but also for wildlife such as guanacos, huemules, foxes, condors, flamingoes, swans, wood-peckers, and of course the puma , all of which we saw EXCEPT the puma, which eluded us this time.
background on Torres del Paine
The Park has different micro-climates that create an interesting biodivesity with pre-Andean shrubs, deciduous forest and Andean desert. The Paine Massif is quite simply the main attraction and really is an unmissable part of any trip to Chile , and these mountains appear suddenly on the horizon across miles of flat, dry, windswept plains, a really astonishing sight. Speaking of wind-swept we really experienced the Patagonian winds at there best here. The highest part is made up of sedimentary rock, and granite at the base. For millions of years it has been molded by glaciers. The towers took their present shape due to a freeze-thaw cycle which operates 365 days a year up there enlarging cracks and chipping away at the rock.
There are 250kms of walking trails in this park with fantastic views no matter which path you take as you meander through pampas areas, Magellan forests, lakes and lagoons with ice floes and glaciers, all encircled by huge rocks which make this place quite magical. There are two main treks that most people do, one being The Long Circuit which can take up to 8 days depending on one’s physcial condition and also on the weather which can change every five minutes or so here, we say in Ireland we have 4 seasons in one day, here in Patagonia we have 4 seasons in one hour. Then there is the W circuit , the one which we did over 5 days, obviously shorter. The three important factors we had to consider before doing this hike was weight to be carried, physical condition and of course weather condition (which did effect us on one of the days).
Our visit to Torres del Paine
However we bought a tent (light-weight Marmont 2.3 kilos, for those of you who are into hiking) and a 70 – 80 litre back pack (for Merv) and I borrowed one from our friends Jurgon and Ruth (much smaller of course) , we had sleeping bags with us, sorted our food for the days which was lightweight stuff like Noodles, Pasta, Potato Puree (can’t believe I had Puree Potatoes, but they were not bad, hunger is a good sauce), dried nuts, fruit and raisins, bread, cheese, salami and energy bars.We filled our water bottles from the mountain streams as we went along.
So off we went to reach the top of The Torres, which we did over 2 days, round trip being 18 kms, extremely steep in some places, camping out overnight, so as the next morning we would be at the top before sunrise, which meant leaving the camp by torch light at 4 am.
It was roughly one hour walking to the top from the camp as the previous evening we also climbed up for the view, gluttons for punishment or what. The morning sunrise was stunning, not only did the top of The Torres turn the fabulous red colour we had read about and seen pictures of , but also the clouds on either side were red, and to complete it we also had the moon . Oh what a sight for all of about 2 minutes, but hey I guess that’s sunrise for you.
We decided to take the 40 minute boat trip on Lago Grey to glacier Grey which dropped us off at the start of our next part of the hike (day 3).
We had 12 kms to do , and as our legs were a little stiff from the last 2 days, we did debate whether we would just do a short part or the whole lot of it, I reckoned it would be best to do it in full, don’t give our legs and body time to seize up completely as they would be worse then the next day, so all in agreement we continued on our merry way, up rocks, down rocks, over streams and valleys,doggy bridges, IPAD photographers, through forest with the most stunning scenery each way you looked.
One minute it was warm, next minute it was cold, maybe then a little rain, then sunshine so hence you had to have gear to suit all weather types, but mostly we were warm. We always made sure our lunch stops were in pretty places, but to be honest it was difficult to chose a bad spot. After a good few hours we arrived in our campsite, a campsite with no shade, we didn’t need shade from the sun this time, but from the wind. Oh what a gale was blowing, it took all four of us to erect a tent at a time, over 100kms per hour which continued all through the night, none of us were sure that we would still have a tent in the morning, but we did, happy days.
This campsite also had a Refugio where you could rent a bed for the night, usually with 6, or 8 other people, and also for us camping people they had a room where we could cook and eat, this was lovely and warm, but was really busy with everybody trying to cook at the same time. Pasta, Pasta, and more pasta was the menu of the day for most people, but we were really posh as on that evening we had Potato Puree with Salami. There was a great buzz with everybody chatting about the day, which direction they had come from and where they were going tomorrow and how long more till they finish. All different nationalities sharing stories and sore feet, wonderful ! A fantastic view of the mountains from this room as we ate, what more could you ask for.
The next day (day 4 , 12km) the weather as we left our campsite didn’t look too promising but being an optimistic person I hoped it would improve, but no it just got worse and worse. The wind was still strong as we made our way through more stunning scenery and paths we reached a closed camp where we cooked our lunch. From this campsite we could only make a small bit of the Valle del Frances as the weather took a major turn for the worst and the valley was completely covered in cloud, hence there would be no view when we reached the top, it was now raining, so on with the rain gear, and also it was quite cold. We had to make a rapid decision whether to ‘chance’ staying in this closed campsite overnight, but when we checked the weather situation with the ranger he said tomorrow’s weather would be similar, if not worse. Decision made we continued on to the next campsite , and boy it was raining very heavy now , all walking a little faster so as to not get too wet. We arrived pretty much like ‘drowned rats’ so it took us a little while before we dried out, but when we did , off we went to cook dinner. We treated ourselves to some wine from the MiniMart, but we reckoned we deserved it even at a cost!!! The cooking shelter was like a lean too of a hay-shed, so we had to use the empty wine cartons to catch the water as it dripped off the roof , lol. Never mind we hit the bed, slept like logs, and the next morning it was still raining , but as the day (day 5 , 11kms)) progressed it improved no end , and by the early afternoon it was bright sunshine again , spectacular scenery and smiles all round. As we made our final descent , we saw the ‘Mog’ in the distance, suddenly now we were walking even faster knowing that ‘cold’ beer awaited us in the fridge , the hot and well needed shower would have to take second place for a little. What a great adventure, never did we think we would carry back-packs for 5 days, and Merv was still able to hobble, so looking forward to his next hike, El Chaten/Mount Fitzroy awaits him. Joking aside parts of it were quite tough, but the way to do it is slowly, slowly, we all got there in the end.
Still not content with not seeing the Puma, we headed to Laguna Azul for a couple of nights to a wonderful spot where we parked our trucks.
Another great spot to view The Torres from, and didn’t even have to walk, what were we thinking of hiking to see them, lol. Puma are seen here, and also seen along the road but still they eluded us , so we had to settle for the foxes instead , but hey just as cute. This pretty much wrapped up our stay in Torres del Paine National Park , but having spent 11 nights here we didn’t leave a view-point unseen, and as our larder was fairly empty it was time to leave. What a wonderful park , it was sad to leave but more amazing places to see.