There is so much to see in Torres del Paine. Most serious travelers coming to this magic place straddling the Chilean/Argenintean border in the Andes will trek the “Circuit”. This involves either a 3 or 7 day hike through the valleys, mountains and lakes that make up the more than 180,000 hectare park. The refugios and campgrounds are strategically located within a day’s hike of each. While I would like to do either of the hikes, I am not geared for backpacking and decide that I will focus on a couple day hikes.
I try for an early start the next morning for Mirador Las Torres, an 8 or 9 hour round trip hike along a river through a valley. It’s a day hike so I prepare with a few snack items, my CamelBack with water and a couple layers with my raincoat. Word around here is that you can experience four seasons in a single day, so I do my best to be prepared for the worse. The Torres del Paine are not unlike FitzRoy, the ominous towers could be shrouded in clouds or you might get lucky and get blue skies.
I’m feeling good about my leg. Happy that I’d hiked for more than 8 hours in El Chalten, I was ready to tackle the “towers” so I eagerly made the exit from the refugio. I’d packed everything and put in a storage room at the refugio. I figured I’d just set up camp when I got back from the hike rather than snooze in a bunk with a bunch of travelers.
Traipsing through the grass across the pampa and pass the expensive but luxurious Hosteria del Torres, I joined a Canadian couple. The girl, in her late twenties lacked the tenacity of her boyfriend and seemed to enjoy stopping for a photo and talking. The first couple hours were spent climbing a mild, but consistent ascent. Soon we were several hundred feet above the river and making our way north. Along the way we encounter men on horse back towing pack mules. They’re shuttling supplies to a small refugio sitting on a small gorge along the river. About half way through the hike, I cross the river over a walking bridge that’s supported by a massive rock in the river to this refugio. Inside a warm cup of soup, bread and fresh water await me as does an interesting display of photos depicting hte construction of this refugio. All supplies, including lumber and other building materials were carried in on horse and mule. It’s very rustic and had I more time, I can imagine hiking a day and staying in these cozy little cabins. There’s a camping area and bunks in this log structure.
The foot bridge and its massive supporting rock one must cross to go the refugio.
The Canadian couple run into another couple whom they met on another tour elsewhere, so I calmly go on my way. That’s when I ran into the Frenchman who know is living in Brazil. We’re odd climbing/hiking companions. He speaks about 7 languages and it was about 20 minutes of speaking in Spanish did I learn he was French and he that I was an American. We both shared passions about photography and traveling, and as such he often found it necessary to contradict me or question my response when I’d answered his numerous questions. Slightly chunky and carrying a load about double mine, he was on the day hike too. Like many of the other hikers on the trail, he sported two ski-style poles to aid the balance when climbing over rugged terrain and to provide a bit of resistance when cruising the steeper downhill slopes.
The trail had a tad of hiker traffic as we are still in high season and today’s weather was looking better by the step. I was amazed how many elderly people I saw on this hike. While not an especially challenging trail, the steep portions guaranteed to put knee joints to the test. And the last 1 1/2 hours was practically straight up through big boulders requiring some technical skills. In polling other hikers who’d hiked the last hour on Lago de las Tres in El Chalten (the hike I chose not to finish) on which was hardest, unanimously they said this was harder. Even my French companion agreed. I guess I coulda finished that hike. Ahhh. Next time!
So we scrambled the last hour and a half up the massive rocks until the final rock when emerging a top I was stunned. The cerulean water of the glacial lake below and the giant walls of granite emerging from the water shot straight up breaking into three massive pinnacles, one with a cloud forming as quickly as the wind blew them away so that it appeared as if a cloud just hung motionless up its peak. Instinctively, I pulled my camera out of my backpack and started shooting photos. Then I slapped myself and pulled away from the eye piece, sat down and just stared, taking in the view so precious. Emerging on the peak of any mountain or realizing any goal sends a chill though my body, having accomplished something, achieved a goal or solved a problem. Here I was looking at a scene I only imagined and experienced in coffee table photo books before. And I rode here. I looked around and spotted another familiar face. Hey. It was a girl I’d met somewhere before. But I recognized her face. She was riding a bicycle, braving the winds and whipping chill that I had — only her power was self-generated. Wow. The others who scrambled on the rocks, shooting photos and lovers kissing, I’m sure came in plane, bus, car or maybe …. horseback. But in our individual minds we’d all accomplished something and this was for us to share.
Soon the wind kicked in and those around me began to pull hats, gloves and layers from their respective backpacks. A few drops of water dotted my camera. I feared the worse: it’d start pouring rain and I’d have to trek 4 hours back through mud while freezing. But alas, I was spared. On the way back, I ran into hikers just starting out. It was getting late, and the weather turned to the worse. These new hikers would stay at the Refugio along the river and climb to the marvelous towers in the morning.
My French companion tried to convince me to set up camp near his tent, but the prospect of hopping on my bike, and negotiating through a mini-city of tents to find his and then set up a tent, cook dinner and get up early to make the catamaran tour in the morning on nearby Lago Pehoe, I backpedaled. The bunk room and a prepared dinner sounded much better to me. But I quickly discovered back at the Refugio there were no beds available. But there was an annex that was actually closer to the dining hall that had a couple beds. I grabbed one, a dinner, glass of wine and snoozed like a baby.