Sunday, January 20, 2013

Torres del Paine... In my feet

What a hike! It was absolutely spectacular trekking through Torres del Paine National Park. We had planned for anything from 7-10 days, and finished in 7. Unfortunately one of the campsites we had in mind was closed due to maintenance, but we still enjoys every step of the way.

Since it is a National Park, there were a few fees we planned for, and some not so planned for... We arrived mid afternoon, and luckily the bus we took picked us right up from our hostel. We were hiking by about 10:30, and the first day was nothing to demanding. Making our way through large meadows with a rushing and roaring river next to us. Getting to our campsite that night, it was more crowded than we expected. We were doing the Torres del Paine Circuit (which is almost double of the popular "W" hike a lot of people do instead), and on the back side we found ourselves in more company than we ever imagined. We are talking like 30 -40 tents at this campsite! The very windy evening made it for some very interesting cooking conditions. The one one shelter that was there, we couldn't cook in, so everyone was trying to find the best wind blocker they could to get their stoves going. Fortunately, Nate's stove comes with a wind blocker, so we were fine.

The next morning, we trekked our way towards Dickson Lake. This was going to be about 19 km day (or about 12 miles, but again not too demanding. We made it to Dickson earlier than we thought, and wanted to push on to the next campsite. Something I haven't mentioned, hikers are required to camp ONLY in designated campsites. You are not supposed to just set up camp anywhere. Once past Dickson, the evening fatigue was setting in. Feet were blistery, and it was just about dinner time. Realizing how exhausted we were, we decided to look around for a possible spot to bivy. Not out smartest move, and something I don't recommend, but we found a spot pretty far off trail, so that even if you were standing on horseback you wouldn't see us. Keep in mind, had we been caught, not only would we be kicked out of the park, but fined an insane amount - I don't even want to know the number. However, the campsites were not cheap, and realistically, we needed to save our money for sites down the trail.

Hardly sleeping that night, due to the fear of being caught, the thought of unzipping our tent and having rangers on horse back right there, AND the fact that the sun doesn't set until about 11 pm, we were excited to hit the trail the next morning. After the tent was down, we decided to have breakfast and brush our teeth on trail that morning... Still beyond thankful no one saw us.

The 3rd day was a push. We peaked a pass that involved climbing through snow, but really was fun the whole way up. The views got better the higher we went, and took our breath away when we peaked over the top to see Glacier Grey. It was massive and a sight we will never forget. It seemed a couple miles long, and just went on forever. With gorgeous snow capped mountains behind it, we dropped our packs and enjoyed the view. Hands down favorite part of the trek. 

What goes up, must come down. We hiked down 800m (2400ft) - straight. This was worse than going up! We arrived to our free campsite that night barely able to walk, and looking around, all the hikers either were barefoot or wearing sandals, so everyone was feeling it. After a tasty dinner, we passed out anxious to see how our feet were going to feel the next morning.

A nights rest did the trick. We were off to Paine Grande the next morning, and at this point were starting on the W part. Although our feet were feeling better, we were moving a bit slowly that day, which was fine - we just needed to make it to Grande. After a view more amazing views, Grande was in sight and we were shocked to see what this site actually was. Basically the nicest hotel/resort in the middle of the mountains! Hotel rooms were $100+ a night, meals were $40 a plate, and $6 for a snickers bar. Needless to say, we enjoyed another meal of soup and rice that night. The camping was out back, and it really was a cool community. Tents everywhere (at this point there were about 100 tents...), it kind of looked like the ground had goosebumps. A wonderful cooking shelter, packed elbow to elbow with hikers cooking one their stoves, sharing stories and what food they had. Way better than some overpriced resort dining room! Sleeping at the base of a mountain, it was a stunning view to look out your tent and see the looming mountain encompassing the entire sky behind you. Not bad.

Day 5 consisted of minor route tweaks. Thinking we would be sleeping at Camp Britanico that night, we soon found out it was also closed due to maintenance. This camp site is the middle part of the W, so we just dropped our packs and hiked up the trail just to get a view of the hanging glaciers, frequently crashing to the ground. Multiple people were doing this, and our packs were safely watched by a ranger. Making our way to Los Cuernos that night (which was the most expensive one - $16 per camper!), we arrived to yet another resort in the middle of the mountains. It reminded us more of a ski lodge. This was also where the contrast between poor hikers, and rich old retired couples were set apart. As we sat outside bundled up in our jackets, listing all the foods we missed from home, we over hear a girl say how she can't wear the same shirt twice. And that she won't hike anywhere unless there are showers every night. Really. As we turn away from this conversation, we pear into the window to see more rich people eating their steak dinners, and if things couldn't get any more of a contrast, they bring out a birthday cake inside. I had to hold Nate back from running in, which is ironic because at the same time, he was holding me back. 

From our camp spot, there was a little pebble beach where we escaped. Looking at on of the best sunsets we have ever seen. It looked like a postcard. Waves crashing on the lake, sun peaking through the clouds, hiding behind the mountains, it was magnificent. 

Hiking the next morning, our goal for that day was Camp Torres, which was free! And located at the base of the main attraction of this hike - Torres del Paine. That day, we found a shortcut which actually worked out. Granted it was straight up hill, but we are glad we did it. We arrived to camp with enough time in the day to drop our packs at our site, and hike the hour of steep slopes to see the Torres. It was gorgeous. These 3 granite towers at the top of a mountain, with a beautiful turquoise lake resting below. 

The next day we hiked out and passed enough people to make Disney World jealous of their attendance records. Never thought we would see as many people as we did on this hike. Constantly passing people, being past by people, and exchanging looks of "oh we saw you about 20 minutes back". 

Made it out and now we are in El Calafate, enjoying Glacier National Park. We just saw a glacier Perito Moreno which the face of it is 5 km long (3 miles) and 60m high (180 feet)! Another never ending and stunning glacier we were fortunate enough to see. We were able to see huge chunks of it crash and fall into the water throughout the day, with resounding roars - incredible.

With the few days left until we volunteer again, our next stop is to hike around Mount Fitz Roy. It is only about 5 days, but looks like fun!

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