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Chile, Patagonia, South America, The W Trek, Torres del Paine, Uncategorized

Torres Del Paine, Day 5: Torres

 

The winds are vicious throughout the night Listen Here, but the rain let up at some point. It was FREEZING though, hovering somewhere around 25 degrees when we woke up. Even cocooning myself in my tent and sleeping bag, I could feel the cold seeping in through the face opening. When I did finally turn on my headlamp and look out of my sleeping bag, I saw a layer of condensation on the interior of my tent.

It’s odd because during the first couple of days, despite the beautiful views, I would look forward to resting at night, but a couple days later and I was dreading finishing for the day because I knew sleep would be fitful and I knew it would be cold. So, when 4am rolled around this morning, I was wishing for 6am to come quickly, because I knew once I got up and moving, I would get warm.

sunriseI’m awake before my alarm and check in with Simon at 6. He updates me on the weather saying there are a few clouds, but lots of stars too, and he’s sure we will have a clear day. I put my clothes in my sleeping bag for 5 minutes in an attempt to warm them up and get dressed. We make time for a quick coffee – sipping down half a sachet of café con leche each, and we set out at 7am.

The sun is just starting to creep up in the distance, and I try to shake off sleep as we begin the steady ascent from Torres campsite. I am not a strong early morning hiker, but Simon is patient and walks at my pace. But, I’m feeling frustrated at my pace and lack of energy… and soon his sunny disposition is frustrating me too – when really I am just peeved at myself.

In my mind, I feel like I am holding him up and interfering with his plans of finishing in time. I’m also still trying to figure out if I will continue to the backside of the circuit or finish today with Torres and call it a ‘W’. And I think I have come to the conclusion that it’s not that I can’t continue and complete the circuit, but I’m not sure I want to.

FullSizeRender_1The trekking is incredible – yes, it’s physically challenging, but nothing you can’t accomplish if you put your mind to it. What I am struggling with are the nighttime temperatures and discomfort. I feel like if I continue, I’m not going to enjoy it.

Simon is finding ways to encourage me to continue and then says “Maybe you’ve come here to find your spirit again.” At that point, a little piece inside of me wants to kick him down the hill.FullSizeRender_2

When I really think about the reason and the lesson for all of this, I realize that maybe this is my opportunity to learn that sometimes it’s ok to give up and not finish – something I’m not so good at. I stick things out to the bitter end, sometimes to my own detriment. Even when I called home yesterday to check in on my grandmother, when I told my mother my possible change in plans, she said, “Don’t quit. We’re not quitters.” But today, I am going to let myself quit and it is going to feel good.

After crossing a small suspension bridge, we arrived at Chileno campsite and sit down at a picnic table for a water break and a small snack. Simon asks me if I want to continue to Torres. “Por Supuesto,” I respond.

We both notice a drop in temperature and as we’re leaving the campsite, I ask a couple who are packing up how their night was. “Fine,” they respond. “We have a really good tent.” I look at Simon and say, “I must have a really shitty tent and a really shitty sleeping bag!” and I leave it at that and walk on.

look_upclimbFrom Chileno, we pick up the pace and cover the 3km up to Torres Camp pretty easily. I have shaken my sleepiness off. Now, we have just 1km left, a 250-meter climb to cover, which will take between 45 minutes to 1-hour. I put my head down and go. Often times, Simon looks so far ahead and higher than me, but moments later I am where he just was. The time passes quickly and the three iconic towers become more and more visible. Then, as we make a left turn and ascend just a little more, Torres Del Paine sits majestically in front of us, the three granite rocks towering over an aquamarine glacial lake.

towersClouds cover the top of the towers, but while Simon and I devour our sandwiches, the clouds lift and bright blue skies appear. Since we got an early start, we share this view with about ten other hikers.

I move down to the lake to take some pictures, and I realize this is what I came here to see. This is my finale. I will miss Gray Glacier, but I still have Perito Moreno and Fitzroy to look forward to. I will end my Torres hike today with this spectacular view.

Check out the video here

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Simon is determined to push on to Seron this afternoon, so we say goodbye and he begins the hike back to camp to pack up. I sit for another 30 minutes just soaking in the scenery, and as I walk away, I keep having to turn around for just one more look and one more photograph – this is just so surreal.

tower_upAt 12:30, I pull myself away and begin the descent, passing huge numbers of people who are making their way up. When I get to the campsite between Chileno and the Towers, I look up and see what look like ants marching above.

The descent seems never-ending, and I realize just how much climbing we covered this morning. At Chileno, I stop again to watch gauchos lead a group of horses across the river before continuing on.caballos

It’s 3:30 by the time I arrive at the little market outside of Torres. I treat myself to a packed of Kryzpoo (the equivalent of Pringles) and wander over to peek inside the hotel. I decide to treat myself to lunch once I get my tent and gear packed up.

When I get back to the campsite, it’s almost 4pm, and I’m surprised to see Simon’s tent still up. I wave my trekking poles in the air and he waves back. As I get closer, I ask why he’s still here. He tells me how he’s only just arrived himself because of bad knee pain. I find him some paracetamol and gift him my remaining oatmeal and chocolate supply, and he decides to head to Seron and if he’s still in pain tomorrow, he will return to Torres.

We pack up our things and say another goodbye… this time he hugs me twice and says, “one for you and one your grumpy side.” We laugh and he says, “I’m glad I got to know both.”

Anthony and Celine, a couple that I met at the hostel in Puerto Natales are next to us at the campsite. They have been on a different schedule than us, but they have also just returned from Torres so we make plans to meet at the restaurant after packing up.

IMG_4862IMG_4863A few minutes later, I’m ordering a hamburger and a glass of red wine and just moments after that, the British girls, Simran and Feben, arrive and we all share the highs and lows of the trek. During this conversation, I realize just how grueling everyone thought the trek was. I realize again that I have done enough and seen what I came here to see. I couldn’t have asked for better days to see Frances Valley and Torres.

We head outside to board the bus, and I snap one more photo of Torres, still shrouded in clouds, but now pink as the sun begins to set. At Park Administration, we transfer to the main bus back to Puerto Natales, and I watch as we drive away and leave the mountains in the distance.  I wonder if I will sleep and the next thing I know, we’re pulling into the bus station in Puerto Natales.

It’s a cool and windy walk back to the hostel, and when I arrive groups of people are enjoying a carb-loaded meal before setting off the following morning to begin their own treks. The three sisters who run this hostel welcome me back and help me get my bags out of storage and up to a room, and within 30 minutes of checking in, I am in bed… a warm, dry, comfortable bed.

Chile, Patagonia, South America, The W Trek, Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine, Day 3: Frances – Las Torres 15 km

I manage to sleep until 8, despite dreams of my propane tank exploding and our whole camp being kidnapped ?? It’s chilly and we’re camping on wooden pallets in a dense forest, but I’ve learned that there’s a pull cord on my sleeping bag and I can actually cocoon myself in there. I wrap the top of the sleeping bag around my head and pull the cord as tight as I can, so that only my nose pokes through. This way, I can still breathe!

I’ve also learned that trash bags are a great conductor of heat, as long as I don’t get too warm and start sweating, so last night I climbed into a big black trash bag, and then into my sleeping bag.

It was close to 9 this morning when I finally gathered the courage to brave the cold and change from my camp clothes to my hiking gear. And then came the cruel downward climb to the bathrooms (but they did have hot running water).

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The morning scenic walk from Frances to Cuernos

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Super Simon – On Top of the World

We had a nice leisurely breakfast – oatmeal and two coffees this morning and I felt rested and energized and took some confidence in knowing that today would be a somewhat easier day – only about 15km, so about 6 1/2 hours.

By the time everything was broken down, Simon and I set off just after 10:30. Once out of the dense forest, I could feel the sun’s warmth and shed my jacket and lathered on sunscreen.

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Taking a little time to reflect on the trekking path

For the most part of the morning, we trekked next to a large lake on our right with a pebble beach. To the left were sheer granite rock faces, the backside of Cuernos. We left the snow and glacier capped Paine Grande behind us.

I felt strong and the so-say 2-hour hike from Frances to Cuernos took only 1 1/2 – which was encouraging. We continued on ascending 280 meters where a large rock protruded out over the lake, making it a perfect viewpoint and place for a photo opp.mariposa

We felt strong enough to keep ascending before stopping for a snack. This came about 30 minutes later after passing butterflies and small streams – flowing just enough to refill our water bottles. We stopped for a quick snack, but decided to try to get past the day’s half way marker before stopping for lunch. I wanted less than 3 hours to go after lunch, and I didn’t want to rely too heavily on the 30 minutes we may have gained on the first part of the morning’s trek between Frances and Cuernos.

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The back side of Los Cuernos

Between a snack and lunch, most of our hike felt like a descent. Although it was a lot of ups and downs, I felt like our ascents were easier than those ascents people were tackling from the other direction, so we spent the afternoon encouraging others coming from the other way – telling them the fantastic views in Valle des Frances were waiting for them.

We stopped for lunch after a long climb, and two sandwiches later, we calculated we had just over two hours to go. I felt strong throughout the afternoon, and spent more time being present on the hike than being concerned over the time. I think this peace of mind came from knowing that we would arrive at Las Torres with plenty of time to set up camp and relax in daylight.

I practiced my Spanish with Simon – colors, days, months and later conjugating verbs – it took my mind off the hills. At the 5-hr mark, the trail led us away from the large lake and into rolling green hills that reminded me more of parts of Northern Scotland than Patagonia.

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Afternoon clouds roll in

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The view nearing Torres campsite

Clouds were gathering and I remembered that the forecast for Thursday (when I had checked in Puerto Natales) had called for rain. It didn’t look like the rain would wait til Thursday though.

Now, on our left was a smaller lake and as we climbed one last small hill, we could see Torres Hotel in the distance. Relief set in, seeing where we would stop for the night and this must have triggered something in my stomach. Maybe it was the idea of a clean toilet ahead, but I wouldn’t make it to Torres. Instead, I would quickly hand Simon the camera from around my neck and run down the side of a hill to seek the shelter of trees. As I undid my pants, Simon quickly fished out a roll of toilet paper from the top of his pack. And in what looked to be some football maneuver, he would toss the the roll to me and I would (thankfully) catch it while still running half way down the hill. (You’ve hiked, you know what it’s like!)

Relief overshadowed any embarrassment I may have had… but the embarrassment would come next, as I climbed back up the hill, swung my pack back on and began the downhill climb on a relatively steep gravel path to where Simon was waiting for me. As I took a step, my foot slipped out from under me, and I fell backwards on my ass. Luckily, the pack was there to break my fall, but unluckily, I couldn’t stand up again. The weight of my pack paired with being on a gravel incline… well, gravity was against me. And Simon sat at the bottom of the hill, with my camera in his hands, laughing and capturing it all. It took me four or five attempts to stand back up, but it provided us with a couple of good laughs!

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Down for the count

 

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Attempting to get up

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Almost there!!

 

 

 

 

 

When I finally got on my feet again, we crossed a suspension bridge and arrived at Las Torres hotel, which looked as expensive as I heard it is. We continued on another 10 minutes to the campsite and finally arrived around 6pm.

torres_stream2

Crossing the suspension bridge to Torres

I was impressed with how quickly Simon and I set up our tents, and we both positioned the zipper openings towards Torres, which sat looming over the campground. Then I proceeded to face plant on to my sleeping pad and lay there for a few minutes, feeling every bone and muscle relax. I could’ve stayed like this for a lot longer, but we managed to get changed and got water to prepare dinner. We also checked the weather and the following day called for p.m. rain. I still wasn’t convinced it would wait til the p.m.

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Which way to Torres?

Simon found a free picnic table and we cooked up the remaining pasta. Despite not feeling hungry, I devoured every bite. It was cooling off by the time we finished dinner, and by the time I walked back from the bathroom to get into my tent, it was dark. Simon and I discussed our plans for the morning – to wake early and climb to Torres, weather permitting – and I crawled into my tent to cocoon myself for another night’s sleep. I hoped a grassy campsite and a windless night would be conducive to sleep, and it was for a few hours, but in the wee morning hours I was unfortunately awoken by the sound of rain on my tent… And this is the one day we needed good weather…It was our day to hike to the towers.

Chile, glaciers, Patagonia, South America, The W Trek, Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine, Day 2: Paine Grande-Italiano-Britanico-Italiano-Frances 19.5km

camping

Paine Grande campsite at dawn

We wake to clear skies and vicious winds in Paine Grande. There’s no need for an alarm, as it would be quite difficult to sleep late. I stuff my clothes into my sleeping bag and do a little journaling while I let them warm up. I then give myself a little pep talk before getting dressed. My Paine Grande Morning Chat

painegrande

Paine Grande bathed in early morning light

I call out to Simon in the tent next to me, and we head over to the kitchen to make breakfast. It’s 7am and a worker is just unlocking the door. As there’s nobody about yet, the large common area is cold. We find a picnic table and boil some water for oatmeal. I throw in some trail mix to spice it up a little and use the leftover water for coffee.

camping_grande

Paine Grande

After breakfast, we head back to breakdown our tents, but the morning’s sunrise insists I stop to go and take pictures. The sun is casting hues of orange, pink and purple over Paine Grande and Torres behind.

The wind is whipping, which makes it difficult to break down my tent, and even more difficult to convince myself to shed all layers down to just trekking pants and a long sleeve, but I know we will warm up once we get moving.

We leave the campsite at 8am, and the sun is strong and promises us a clear day. As we leave Paine Grance campsite, a park ranger sitting in an administration hut calls out to us, “Buenos dias.”

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Lago Pehoe, as seen leaving Paine Grande campsite

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The views leaving Paine Grande

We begin a climb and Lake Pehoe is literally glowing in the morning light. As we turn away from the lake, Paine Grande is now sitting majestically in front of us. To our left is a waterfall feeding a small stream, where a couple of hikers have stopped to fill their water bottles. To the right of the path, large hares scatter at the sound of our footsteps. It’s one of those ‘pinch me’ moments, where the beauty is slightly overwhelming and I have to remind myself that I am actually here.

The wind is kicking up a force now, as we climb slightly higher and leave Lake Pehoe behind us. We are now walking parallel to a dark blue lake on our right, and the wind is so fierce, it’s actually creating whitecaps on the lake’s surface.

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Whitecaps on the lake, due to such strong winds

As we enter another fire devastated area, the bare trees creak above us as they sway in the wind. It’s nearly impossible to set up my tripod and take pictures, and when I attempt a video, I have to hold the tripod to stop it from blowing over.

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Frances Glacier

Soon, we enter a forested area and have a bit of shelter from the wind. We are walking next to a wide river when up on our right, we come to a suspension bridge. As we cross, we are afforded the most spectacular views so far today. A massive mountain covered in ice, snow and glaciers is feeding the river we just crossed. From the bridge, the rapids rush by just a few feet below.

We have reached Italiano campsite and happily shed our packs. We are now at the base of Frances Valley, which is a separate day hike that will take about 5 hours roundtrip (including time at the top for pictures and a rest). We pack a little day bag with some snacks, refill our water bottles in the stream, and set out for the hike.

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Compacted snow and ice breaking away from Frances glacier

After about 5 minutes hiking under tree cover, we are now in the open air walking parallel to the riverbed. Every ten minutes or so, we hear claps of thunder as pieces of compacted ice break away from the glaciers and fall away from the mountain, creating a cloud of white dust behind them.

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Lago Pehoe from Mirador Frances

1 ½ hours up a rugged trail, we reach the Mirador Frances. The panoramic views include the Frances glacier to our left, Los Cuernos to our right and Lago Pehoe behind us. Ahead of us is another 1 ½ hour hike to Britanico lookout, and Simon and I hike on, enjoying spectacular views the entire way.

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Frances Valley

Most of the next hour is spent in forest, but suddenly, we enter an area of open, rocky trail, and we’re facing Los Cuernos head on. After another 20 minutes of trekking and a 200-meter climb up, we perch ourselves on a huge boulder and look down into the valley, taking in the views.

britanico

Frances Valley as seen from Britanico

It would be easy to sit here for hours, but we’re conscious of the sun slowly getting closer to the mountain peaks, so we have a snack and begin the return journey back to Italiano.

Firing up the stove for dinner.

Our packs are waiting for us, and we sling them back on for another 2 kilometers – the final, relatively flat 30 minute walk to Frances Campsite. It’s after 7pm when we arrive, and we pay for our camping and seek out two free pallet platforms for the night.

I’m exhausted, it’s quickly cooling off and hunger is setting in. After a quick lesson in setting up a tent on a wooden platform (rocks in each corner of the tent), Simon and I head down to the bathrooms, which is a cruel 300 meter hike downhill. We top up our wine supply at a little shop and head back to camp to prepare pasta with a sachet of crema de pollo. Simon digs into his pack and pulls out what were frozen mushrooms and we enjoy a feast. Despite being such a basic meal, in our eyes and after all our exertion, it tastes like restaurant quality. We scrape the pan clean, share some dark chocolate for dessert and retire to our tents for a dry and windless night of sleep. My End of Day Recap

 

Chile, Patagonia, Puerto Natales, South America, The W Trek, Torres del Paine

Prepping in Puerto Natales

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Backpacking, Bucket List, Chile, Patagonia, South America, The W Trek, Torres del Paine, Travel

Patagonia – How This Journey Came To Be

The desire to see this part of the world started long ago, just before my nomadic life began in 2009, but I guess you could say that despite it taking me eight years to finally make it here, Patagonia was the impetus for me setting off on my travels.

Back in my Sunnyside, Queens apartment in December of 2008, I was celebrating finishing my master’s degree and looking to plan a little get away between Christmas and New Year. Patagonia was where I wanted to go. Something about the raw beauty at the opposite end of the world intrigued me. Just the pictures alone made me want to jump on a plane.

After checking with my other broke friends in NYC and looking at the points in my Delta frequent flyer account, we quickly decided Rio was more feasible and affordable, so Patagonia took a back seat and there it sat for the next eight years.

Over these years, my travels would take me to Southeast Asia, Australia, India, Eastern Europe, Central America, Canada and even North Africa. The large continent of South America was somewhere I knew I wanted to go, but somewhere I wanted to go with the right amount of time and the right budget.

Over the years, the intrigue and desire to see Patagonia would grow… almost to the point where the thought of this trip took on a larger than life persona. I treasured the place before I visited and it became a dream trip… one I became hesitant to take, simply for the fact that I wouldn’t have it to look forward to anymore. I told everyone for years that Patagonia was the number one place on my bucket list, yet I was in no hurry to get here.

However, in January, I found myself with 4 ½ months before I had to return to work, some extra cash stashed away from my seasonal work, and the desire for a longer adventure… the time was right for South America, and the main reason for the trip was to finally visit Patagonia.