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Blown away by Torres del Paine

Puerto Natales, Chile


It was an early start to the day to catch our 7am bus to the park. We were greeted with absolutely amazing weather again and we thought 'have we really arrived in Patagonia?' Our bus trip was great as before we even started hiking we got clear views of the Paine Massif and saw an ostrich with a few chicks, guanacos and condors.

Parque Nacional Torres del Paine lies roughly at 52 degrees south and encompasses part of the Southern Ice Field. The park is made of granite peaks and towers that soar from sea level to upward of 2,800m. Although the park sits next to the Andes, is is actually a seperate geologic formation created roughly 3 million years ago when magma psuhed its way up, taking a thick sedimentary layer with it. Glaciation and severe climate weathered away the softer rock, leaving the spectacular Paine Massif and also the salmon-coloured, spherical granite towers.

We decided to hike West to East along the trails which are collectively named the ´W´. We caught the catamaran across Lago Pehoe to Grande Paine Lodge, a refugio where we stayed for our first 2 nights. On the afternoon of day one we went for a short hike to a mirador on Lago Pehoe as we didn´t have enough time to do anything longer. It turned out to be a really lovely hike of about 4 hours and which gave great views of the park.

On day two we hiked along Lago Grey to the Grey Glacier. We were treated again with clear skies and hardly any wind. Most of the hike was through forests of Lenga and Beech trees and Los Notros bushes which have vibrant red flowers. In some sections the trees had a constant wind swept appearance. The foliage was only growing on one side of the trees in the direction of the prevailing winds.

We had a great view of the glacier from a mirador after about an hour and a half and then continued on to the face of the glacier. This was impressive as were the electric-blue icebergs which were floating at its base. We found a great little spot to sit and have our lunch, sheltered from the winds, which were pretty strong by this point.

All in all it was great hike of a total of about 23kms and 6 hours of walking. We spent the evening up in the little bar, sipping hot chocolate, overlooking the trail heads watching people coming back from their hikes. Looking rather tired.

Day three we hiked along the shores of Lago Nordenskjold, up into the French Valley and then onto Los Cuernos Refugio. For both of us this day was the highlight of our trek, even though it was the longest. The French Valley was simply stunning. On one side sits the French Glacier, continually moving and breaking, the valley itself is highly vegetated with trees and flowers with a river running directly through it and to the opposite side is a very barren landscape consisting of granite and the Paine Massifs. Further afield you can see the numerous turqouise coloured lakes and snow capped mountains. It was incredible and made even better as yes, the lucky passengers had beautiful weather again.

After 26kms and 10 hours of hiking we arrived into our refugio at about 7pm absolutely exhausted and starving. That night we felt sort of comforted by the fact that we were inside and not in a tent for the winds were absolutely blowing. They were so strong it sounded like the roof was going to come off. The winds here can reach speeds of up to 120km an hour - those poor screaming campers!!

Day four and the lucky passengers got a real taste of the Patagonian weather! We started with drizzly rain interspersed with sunny periods but was pretty nice hiking weather. The morning started out fairly easy with few ascents and descents of not much more than 100m at a time. Within 2 hours the weather had closed in and we were now walking uphill head on into the wind, rain and HAIL!! Chris and I really enjoyed it as we thought you can´t come to Patagonia and not get knocked to the ground by the wind and be soaked from the rain. We arrived into our campsite just after lunch with the clouds settled in and not affording any views of the surrounding mountains. We decided not to press on and spent the afternoon with other hikers drying off in the refugio in front of the fire and chatting. Afterall, it had been another fairly hard day of hiking - 16km. We had a really great nights sleep in our tent and awoke to sunny weather. What are the chances?

Our last day in the park and we headed up to see the Paine Towers hoping they were going to be clear of clouds. Lucky us they were. Most of the hike was uphill and the last part was climbing over large boulders. This did get a little scary at times as the winds were so strong. We had to stop, hold onto the rocks and wait till it eased off. The hike down was easy and in parts it was far kinder on the knees to run. We made it down in time for our 2:30pm bus back to Puerto Natales.

Even though it was a tough 5 days it was certainly worth it and is definately one of the highlights of our trip.

permalink written by  chrishoorweg on November 27, 2007 from Puerto Natales, Chile
from the travel blog: and one last trip before we come home.........?
tagged Torres

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