December 10 to December 19
I packed up Sunday morning, readying myself for a long trip to Torres Del Paine. It seems I have a tough time getting going early, when I start again after a stop for a few days, but when I was finally ready to go at about 10 o’clock, I had a bike that was way too heavy. All my bags weighed about 50 kg plus a bike of 25+ kg, so it was going to be a tough ride.
It was a great day for cycling with little wind and the sun high in the sky. For the first hour I was lucky enough to have company. A german shepard followed me, keeping up even when I was doing upwards of 20km/h.
When I had been cycling for a while I got a bad surprise. I came to where I had planned to turn off the main road and take a smaller road to the national park, but the road was closed. What a dilemma. I had 3 options. Keep going on the main road, not a much longer way, but supposedly not very interesting neither, and I would come back the same way. Go back and take a longer way around, adding maybe another 40 km, a lot of that on gravel roads, or just ignore the roadblocks and signs and hope for the best. As it was a Sunday, and no one was working on the road, I decided on taking my chances. Luckily it was no problem and despite construction, the road was ok for cycling.
It was the longest day of cycling so far with the most climbs and the worst road conditions I had seen. I managed to make to the campsites I was aiming for in about 11 hours. I was absolutely dead that evening, falling over as soon as I had eaten.
Next morning I went om my first short hike in the morning, just a climb to a 360° viewpoint with an amazing view of the park. I really got excited about all the hiking I was about to be doing.
I then set off for the campsites, where I was to meet with Roger.
It was just a 40 km ride, but it was absolutely brutal. The road was a really bad gravel road with constant slope up and down. I often would have to take breaks halfway going up, as my legs burned out. Fortunately it also had some amazing views of the mountains I would be hiking, which kept my spirits up. I finally made it to the campsites just in time before it started to rain.
It turned out we had no problem showing up at, Torres del Pine Central Camping, without reservations. They were very chill about it, just taking our money and telling us to just show up again in the end, no problem.
So we were feeling good about showing up at the next camp the next day without reservations too. I repackaged my things for hiking and was able to have my panniers (the bags for my bike) stored at the Refugio, and my bike locked outside the employee’s house, so they were both waiting for my return.
We got off the next morning with heavy backpacks and a smile. It started out great with sunshine, and we were hiking in shorts and t-shirts, enjoying the nice, easy start to the hike. It was not the most interesting hike, and we spent the first couple of hours in a forest. There were a few other people on the track. After 2 hours we came up on one couple, and as a joke Roger asked, if they were going the right way. Turns out they were not, they wanted to hike to the base of the torres and was just now realizing they had gone the wrong way, for two hours. They were not to happy.
We arrived at camp Perron without a reservation. I had one for the next day, and Roger had not been able to get any. But again it was no problem. We enjoyed the sun, had dinner and got a hot shower before bed. My tent is a lot less spacious, when you add another guy in, but we managed.
We spent the whole of Thursday hiking in the sun along lakes on the backside of the Torres. All day we just had amazing views. And we got to see to the rain coming in over the mountains, as we got closer to camp Dickson. We had rain all that evening. The only shelter to cook was a half-built building with a roof and a grid of iron at about 1 meter wide, where everyone gathered to cook dinner before heading to bed.
We woke up next morning to the rain still falling, and lay around for a couple of hours more, hoping it would stop, before getting up to make breakfast. When we were done, the rain had stopped, and we started on the shortest trek of the circuit. Climbing up to los Perros was just a 4-5 hour trek. It kept dry for the first couple of hours including when we got to the first view point of the day. But soon after it started pouring down. We met an American guy, who was wearing a garbage bag, and we each got one from him to wear over our bodies and bags to keep everything dry. It got colder and colder as we kept climbing, until we reached the first Glacier we would see up close shortly before the camp site for the night.
As we arrived at the campsites, the rain was slowing down for a bit, so we hurried to put up our tent before heading to the only dry spot in a hut, where everyone were gathering, as they arrived.
It was a fun night. Everyone gathered in this small hut, everyone hanging their wet clothes hoping it would dry a bit before the next day. Not much luck there, as it was just as cold inside the hut as outside, but everyone being cramped together, cooking together there was a community feeling developing.
We had been told by the rangers that they could not say for sure, if we could cross the John Garner pass, the next day or if the weather was to bad. So everyone was to meet at 7 am to follow a ranger leading us over and assessing, if it was possible.
We set off 7:30 next morning in a long line, walking through a wet and muddy forest in a light rain, and as we kept climbing, the rain slowly turned to snow.
This was also, where my good luck ran out, crossing a small stream I stepped on a log that was not steady and took a fall, resulting in a few bruises and a very wet shoe. Not to long after I took a bad step and twisted my ankle. The pain was not too bad, so I shook it off and keept going. As we passed out of the forest, there was already a small white cover over everything. It kept getting deeper the higher we walked. It’s an amazing experience walking through a landscape with all the nuances of white and gray.
The ranger leading the way did a great job, making a path through the snow and small bridges across the streams we had to cross. The second one that we crossed was completely covered in snow, as the snow was now about 30cm deep, and he walked through the stream, lying big rocks for the rest of us to cross dryfooted.
When we reached the top unfortunately we did not have a view of Glacier gray but just the white snow disappering into the gray clouds all around us.
Going down was steep and scary in the snow. I was scared all the time of slipping and sliding down
When we reached the forest on the other side, the ranger turned back to go back over, and we were left to go down at our own pace.
It was a step, mudy and slippery descend, and I ended up slipping several times getting a lot of mud everywhere, and more annoyingly, ripping off half a fingernail. Luckily there were several doctors in the group going with us and all of them eager to help out.
As we got down below the clouds we finally got a view of Glacier gray, and it is an impressive Glacier. We also got to cross 3 hanging bridges across deep cleft, they were just little bit scary too.
The reward at the end of a long day and the halfway point was a real bed for the night at the Refugio, as we had been forced to pay a lot of money for, as there was no camping left, and it’s one of the places you need a resevation for to pass the rangers. Hopefully it will be the most expensive hostel bed I will have on my trip, but it was nice to be in a bed for the first time in a month and I slept a good 12 hours, got a hot shower, dried all my clothes (except my shoes) and charged my electronics, so not all bad but still not worth the 80$ US.
Hiking the next day was another short day going from Gray to Paine grande, which was a good thing too, as I was really not enjoying it. The rain kept going but the weather turned more “Patagonian”, because during the 4 hour hike we had sun warm enough to wear a t-shirt, strong winds, rain and snow. Everything was changing every 20 minutes or so.
Paine Grande was also the last place we had reserved camping for, as we had not been able to get anything else on the W treck. The plan had been to walk to the view points in the French valley, take the boat out, and I would find my way back to the central of the torres by bus. But we had decided that it would be a shame to not finish the O, so we should just do the trek from in Paine grande to base in one day as that should be doable.
When we arrived at Paine grande we heard the the británico viewpoint in the French valley had been closed for two days due to strong winds, and the forecast was not looking good for the next day. I was also told that my MSR Whisperlight gasoline stove was not allowed anywhere in the park. I had a dilemma every time we cooked, as it is not supposed to be used inside, but you are not allowed to cook outside anywhere in the park. We borrowed the gas stove of some of the other campers that night, but still other people was using gasoline stoves, so it was not strictly enforced.
Me and Roger’s plan for the next day was to pack up everything, go to the French valley and if it was open, go up, but if it was closed, just keep going until we got back to central. But we were in luck, and it was open, and I’m very glad it was, because I think it was the best view of the entire trek. Going back down I had more bad luck and in a moment of not paying enough attention to the road I twisted the same angel again, just worse this time. Still I was able to walk on it and made it down. At camp italiano where we had left our backs, Roger worked his magic, and they allow us to camp there for the night, which was quite lucky, as they later said no to two Americans we had been hiking the O with.
This day we also picked up another hiker turning us to a trio. Roger met a friend from his hometown, who hiking the W, and she joined us for the trek to the French valley and back to Central.
Hiking back to Central was an uneventful day. There were some good views, but really I was just looking forward to getting my backpack off. It was still heavy, as I had brought way to much food. I probably had food for another 4 or 5 days left.
We did get to enjoy the Patagonian wind, as it almost blew us over several times and really gave us a taste of the power it can have.
Back at central we had wonderful weather and after setting up the tent and a well-deserved shower, we went to the Refugio restaurant to have coffee and the most amazing piece of chocolate pie in the sun.
When you look at pictures of Torres del Paine towers, they always have the pictures of the sunrise hitting the towers, as the most impressive. If the sky is clear, the sun hits the towers, so that there is a red line that slowly eluminates them, and makes them appear orange.
With a good weather forecast we were a group meeting up at 1 am to climb up in time for the sunrise. It was fun way to finish, hiking up the mountain in total darkness only seeing what our headlights showed. After 3 hours we were ready to finish off 8 days of trekking with the most beautiful sight in the park. But we were way early and waited around for an hour and 45 min for the sunrise in the freezing cold. It was way too cold to sit still, and it was a constant battle to keep warm. In the end we did have a pretty nice sunrise, and there was almost no clouds, so we got what we came for but the freezing cold took the enjoyment out of it for me, and I was not impressed at the time. It does make for great pictures, as it looks a lot better in them than in real life, I think. If you ever get at chance to go, don’t be there to early and bring your sleepingback and a thermos of hot tea to keep warm.
When we got back down we thought we deserved another piece of the amazing pie for breakfast, and it was still amazing.
I spent the rest of the the day, repacking so that I would be ready to cycle into Argentina the next day and hopefully make it to Él Calafate before Christmas.
All in all it had been a great experience that I really enjoyed, most of the time, and I had decided to give myself a set of hiking sticks as a Christmas present, so that I could do more hiking, as I go futher north.