At the southern tip of the Chilean Andes lies the “Torres del Paine” National Park, known as one of the most impressive sights in the southern hemisphere and home to some of the world’s most classic trekking routes. The park is located in Chile’s southernmost and largest region, Magellanes and Chilean Antarctica.
Torres del Paine translates from Spanish to “Towers of Paine”, with “Paine” being the old indigenous name for the color blue. These three immense granite rock towers gave the park its name. Established in 1959 as “Parque Nacional de Turismo Lago Grey” the park was given its present name in 1970.
In its center the granite Paine massif rises up almost 3,000 m from the near sea-level. Besides the famous granite towers the area boasts two breathtaking valleys (“Vale del Frances” and “Vale de las Torres”), rivers, lakes and glaciers. In 1976, British mountaineer John Garner and two Torres del Paine rangers pioneered the “Circuit” trail which circles the entire Paine massif.
We decided to follow the footsteps of John Garner and his rangers and circle the Paine massif, following the Circuit trail in 9 days. This was to be our longest trek so far. On top of that we would carry all our gear and food necessary for the trek with us. With the hope of good weather and almost bursting with curiosity we set off to suck up as much as possible of this amazing place.
Carrying a small GPS tracker we tracked the entire hike throughout the park. Here you can see an interactive Google map of our Torres del Paine trek (positioning the mouse on the legend will highlight the single tracks, clicking on the single track will make the selected invisible; be careful when using the mouse wheel while the mouse cursor is located on the map!):
The elevation profile of the trek (the red vertical lines mark the overnight camp sites):
DAY 1: Laguna Amarga to Campamento Seron
After the bus dropped us off at the ranger station we bought the entrance tickets and started our journey from Laguna Amarga:
As a popular tourist destination for day-outings most of the visitors stop here and enjoy the view of the three famous Torres. Two of these granite pillars you can see hiding their peaks in the clouds:
Following an old street we crossed our first river over a big bridge:
The first of the many flowers we photographed along the way:
One thing we learned quickly. The weather is unpredictable! One moment it is sunny and almost hot, the next moment you can get dark clouds and rain. And it is always windy. Sometimes we had enjoyable and cooling winds, sometimes we fought strong opposing winds. But we would soon find out that these winds were still very weak…
Despite our heavy packs we were both happy and excited and looking forward to the trek:
A “red-line-head beetle” or “Darth Vader Bug” crossing our way:
The picnic spot were we had our first “Brotzeit”:
This first day often lead us along the course of the Rio Paine:
And despite the sun shining we kept our hats on because of the cold and strong winds:
After several rain-jacket-on, rain-jacket-off procedures the sun finally won the struggle and we had another break in the sun:
We also had river-crossing without any bridges. To keep our shoes dry we crossed the rivers barefoot which helped to refresh our feet as well 🙂
Andy carried both backpacks over the river because the water was very cold and the ground of the river very rocky and Tini’s feet are much softer 🙂
Here one of the usual wooden bridges sparing us the barefoot crossings:
And the very simple “bridge” version (not less effective though):
After several more kilometers of walking through grasslands,
we finally arrived at “Campamento Seron”, where we spent the first night.
Already when we went shopping for supplies we had considered all lessons learned from previous treks and shopped only for the lightest foods. Funny enough “light” means maximum calories and minimum weight in this case. Our supplies consisted mainly of pasta and dehydrated foods and soups. For the first few days we also brought some bread, sausages and cheese and 2 apples each… For when we needed the little bit of extra energy we also brought some chocolate and other sweets.
While we planned carefully and paid attention to not bring too much food (a common mistake too), our packs felt very heavy on this last bit of track.
Fortunately when we arrived at “Campamento Seron” we had the chance to measure the real weight of our packs, as by then we were almost sure they weighed a ton!
After the first day and without any water left in our backpacks, Andy’s pack weighed 21 kg and Tini’s 19 kg. With 3 liter water supply each we had set off with, almost 24 and 22 kg!
The distribution of the gear was pretty simple. While Andy carried the tent and the cooking equipment Tini carried most of the food. Lucky for Tini this meant that her pack was getting lighter every day 🙂
After a delicious soup and a pasta dinner we rested our legs and enjoyed the sunset, the nice view and the silence:
DAY 2: Campamento Seron to Refugio Dickson
Going to bed early sure has its benefits: it was easy for us to get up early as well. After a warm breakfast (coffee/tee and oatmeal soaked in milk, from milk powder) and packing up the equipment we started the planned 19 km route to Refugio Dickson at 7 am to get an early start on the day.
Not far from the camp site we spotted an eagle sitting in a tree:
The walk began through grassy fields along the river bathed in wonderfully warm sunshine and despite the cold temperature we were soon starting to feel nice and warm. Several times we saw jack rabbits bolt away just in front of us. As fast as they were, there was no chance to get a picture of them.
More beautiful scenery and flowers from along the way:
Passing by small Lago Paine:
Andy taking pictures along the way:
Before long we were back into the hills and followed steep winding slopes up over a ridge. Arriving breathless and with burning thighs at the top, we were rewarded with stunning views out across small Lago Paine surrounded by hills and mountains … and by the infamous Patagonian wind blasting right into our faces. At first the wind felt almost pleasant. We still knew better and quickly put on our wind/rain jackets to keep warm. Just few minutes later our fingers were already freezing cold and we took our last pictures before continuing on. The view back over small Lago Paine:
And a close-up of the red Guanaco Bush, also known as Neneo Macho:
Here one of those breathtaking views with Rio Paine in the background:
Along the way we also spotted bushes of Calafate berries. The berry is native to the south of Argentina and Chile and is a symbol of Patagonia. A legend tells that anyone who eats a Calafate berry will be certain to return to Patagonia:
We are wondering if that legend is also true for drinking the Calafate liquor 😉
After that strenuous climb and enduring those cold gusts of wind we felt it was the right time to reward ourselves with a sip of tasty Calafate liquor. Bottoms up!
Walking along Lago Paine:
And more flora and fauna from along the way:
Time for “Brotzeit”! We enjoyed some ever so tasty sausage and cheese on bread and caught some sun:
Suddenly we heard a very loud buzzing very close to us and saw a giant fluffy bumblebee sitting on a dandelion. The bumblebees here don’t only seem a lot larger, they also seem to wear a fur coat and they sure need it too with this crazy kind of weather:
Every once in a while we had some river crossings with some old and unsteady logs serving as a bridge. It always is somewhat of a dilemma as you don’t want to take of your shoes and cross the safe way, but you don’t want to risk falling and getting your shoes wet either 🙂
The heavy pack and the wind didn’t help Tini’s balancing either… Although it looks like she’s about to fall, everything went fine 🙂 Andy just took the picture in an unflattering moment…
As we kept striving on towards Refugio Dickson we eventually saw the impressive Dickson glacier rising up at the horizon and partially covered in low hanging clouds:
That day the sun just burnt down on us and after having walked most of the way we decided to give our feet a rest and some fresh air. We found a nice shady spot under a tree and stuck our feet in the sun:
From here we also had a great view of the Dickson glacier:
As we continued on we also saw many burnt tree stumps with interesting shapes. Andy thought this one almost looks like the profile of a head and its torso:
After a little break we crossed an area with some swamps. In the beginning there were broad and comfortable planked pathways,
which still allowed us to enjoy the beautiful view surrounding us:
But after some time there were only single planks laid out in the mud which required quite some balancing:
And eventually the planks were either covered with water or had disappeared and made crossing the muddy puddles a lot of fun 🙂
After we crossed the swamps we were rewarded with a grandiose view of the cloud covered Dickson glacier creeping into the Lago Dickson and our Refugio situated on the little peninsula in the front:
And after a little while more we reached our campsite the Refugio Dickson:
We set up our tent in the center of this panoramic peninsula with the Dickson glacier and lake at the one side and back of the Torres mountains (Cordillera Paine) to the other:
This second day had been quite a walk and we were still adapting to carrying our heavy packs. All the more we enjoyed just lying in the sun with a cool breeze whispering to us while we dozed away:
Here Tini is presenting the luxurious camp site shower featuring even warm water! We found out that the shower cabin lock did not work, when Andy was in the middle of showering and the door was ripped open by another comrade hiker. You couldn’t tell who was more startled, Andy in the middle of showering or the poor hiker who kept apologizing 😉
Luckily the women were allowed to use the shower inside the Refugio after this incident. After showering off the sweat and dust and wearing clean smallclothes we both felt almost newly born. Sometimes it does not take much to be happy…
After showering we each had a soup to rehydrate our bodies water and salt supplies.
And just sat and enjoyed the beautiful views over the lake and glacier:
and the Cordillera Paine on the other side:
Talking to our refugio hosts we found out that the Italian cook Sebastian had tried himself with baking bread for the first time. He wasn’t very confident if it had worked out, but the fresh baked loafs smelled great and we could convince him to sell us one of them.
Since we still had some of the bread we brought with us, it was hard to resist eating the fresh smelling bread and saving it for later.
For dinner we had a noodles dish and as you can see it had already become a lot colder after the sun disappeared behind the mountains:
DAY 3: Refugio Dickson to Campamento Los Perros
As we woke up in the morning we heard a light drizzle trickling onto our tent. A look outside confirmed that it was raining lightly at the camp site and it must have been around 0 degrees Celsius as it had even snowed only few meters higher during the night:
In the past two days we had experienced many different weather conditions. The jump in temperature from sunny 30 degrees to snowy and cold 0 degrees did come as a surprise. However if you want to hike the Torres circuit you can’t let a little snow stop you and thus we followed our motto that there is no bad weather, only insufficient preparation or gear. We whipped out our rain trousers we had bought in Ushuaia and our rain jackets and prepared a warm oatmeal breakfast and hot-chocolate under the roof of the refugio.
The worrisome news from the rangers was that the Gardener pass might be blocked due to heavy snow falls and if we continue we might be stuck at Campamento Los Perros. Since there was no reliable news and no prediction of what to expect for the next few days we decided to continue as planned and assess the situation ourselves. With astonishing good mood we set off as one of the first:
We passed bushes with berries looking almost like miniature apples:
And young forests protecting us from the winds:
We kept following and crossing Rio Los Perros:
The higher we climbed the more snow:
Nearby the waterfall of Rio Los Perros we had a break and ate some of our old bread with salami and cheese. We couldn’t stop for long as it was too cold. As long as we kept walking the temperature was comfortable, but as soon as we stopped the cold would quickly draw our warmth from us.
Continuing on we enjoyed the landscape which seemed so peaceful. Covered in white without any footprints we passed the Rio Los Perros (river of the dogs) a couple more times and forests of old trees creaking and squeaking as the vicious wind blew over them. Many of these sounds we had never heard before and we enjoyed them a lot.
Of course our Calafate also helped to keep us warm…
As we kept climbing higher towards our camp we passed the forests treeline:
At first this only meant a little sun and a view of the snowy valley covered in a touch of mist, but the higher we climbed the fiercer the winds became. With our big packs we provided a large target for the gusty winds which kept tagging and ripping at us. At times there were series of gusts so powerful we had to crouch down to the rocky surface to not get knocked over. The way up was a constant fight to not be thrown over and keep on track:
After slowly ascending the large terminal moraine of the retreating Glacier Los Perros we arrived at the Laguna de Los Perros. Here we had a first glimpse of the John Garner pass which would be tomorrows route. The pass certainly had a fair covering of snow and we were hoping for it to be feasible.
We could only imagine how beautiful this outlook must be on a sunny day:
The wind made it impossible to stay at this scenic spot for long, so we soon made our way down and along the moraine to Campamento Los Perros:
Finally we arrived at the Los Perros campsite covered under a layer of snow. It appeared to be quite busy, but most of the pitched tents were borrowed from the campsite from the hikers not wanting to carry a tent on the circuit.
Soon after we found out that the campsite was so stuffed because people had not been able to cross the Gardener pass due to heavy snowfalls. Everybody was waiting for the weather to improve and finally allow to cross to the other side. Several groups had tried to cross in the morning but had to return because of waist-deep snow and even worse, absolutely no visibility of the path.
After listening to some of the horror stories how impassable Gardener was today, we pitched our tent and added a few more layers to our outfit to stay nice and warm. It was a first for us to pitch our tent in the snow! Hooray!
The Los Perros cooking shelter as well as the campsite have definitely seen better days. We managed to find a small spot and cook our soups and dinner.
Around us people kept discussing if, how and when they would be trying to climb Gardener pass on the following day and that they would have to return the way they had come to Laguna Amarga (our starting point) if they wouldn’t manage tomorrow, due to time constraints. At that point we were not really sure what to do ourselves. We heard all kinds of opinions and strategies of other experienced seeming people and even a professional guide.
The following night was definitely one of our toughest so far. It kept raining heavily and strong winds kept tugging at the tent all night. Not a big surprise we kept waking up throughout the night, wondering if our tent would remain pitched or if the trees around us were about to collapse down on us.
DAY 4: Campamento Los Perros to Campamento Paso
Initially we had planned to leave very early in the morning, because the crossing of the John Gardner Pass was supposed to be the toughest part of the entire trek. But when our alarm rang at 4 am, it was still raining heavily and winding like hell.
The night before we had come to the conclusion that we would be willing to spend 1 or 2 days at this campsite to wait for better weather if need be. After all, our provisions were sufficient and we were not under any time constraints. We didn’t want to risk injuries or worse by taking off into a snowstorm. After all being several days away from civilization we were on our own in case anything would happen to us.
So we kept increasing the alarm time by one hour increments, hoping for the weather to improve each time it tore us from an uneasy slumber.
Around 8 o’clock at least the rain had stopped and after a look outside we decided to give it try. Also we had heard that the group with the guide had already left to try passing Gardener. We told ourselves we could turn around anytime if the route turned out to be impassable after all and also decided to give it a shot. We packed up our tent and had a strengthening oatmeal with raisins breakfast. We saw Dave and Marcel, two Swiss guys we had met the evening before, having breakfast as well and as they to were determined tackle Gardener as well, we decided to start out together:
Lucky for us the heavy rainfalls during the night had melted away a lot of the snow and the first section through the woods was no different from the previous routes. Then we left the wind-sheltered forest and got a first impression of the gusty winds which would only keep increasing as we approached the pass… Still full of optimism here:
As we ascended the snow level increased, but at this point we were still entirely confident that Gardener was passable, or at least that we would manage:
A look back down into the valley we had climbed so far:
First doubts if we would manage arose when more and more returning people kept passing us on their way down. Many of them we had spoken with the evening before.
Their reasons for turning around were the snow and most of all extremely strong winds. When we finally even saw the group with the guide return we also considered returning. But since the guided group had returned somewhat further up from a plateau we decided to keep on going until we reached this plateau and then re-assess if we continue on or return. Our thinking was that we will return when we believe the route to be impassable ourselves.
With somewhat shaken confidence we reached the plateau and thought the winds still manageable. Then we continued into the really snowy part…
Heading on towards the summit of the John Gardner Pass the snow got deeper and deeper and worse, the winds kept getting stronger and stronger. We took turns leading the way and having teamed up proved the right decision for all four of us. Andy and Tini both shared one of their gloves with Marcel and Dave (the other hand we simply protected from the wind in a Zip-lock bag) and Marcel and Dave each shared their hiking poles with us.
While the snow only made the climb more cumbersome the gusting winds were the biggest threat. We had never before experienced such vicious and violent winds! If they had at least blown continuously we could have adapted to them, but the sudden guests of wind setting in, almost swept us off our feet every time!
By now we could already see the highest point of the pass and were determined to pass it. We had found a well-functioning strategy which wasn’t the fastest, but let us slowly approach the summit. Every time a series of gusts set in, we crouched down to the ground and waited for the series of guests to come to an end. Then we would jump up and try to head on towards the summit until the next guests set in. The trick was to know when these winds started.
Twice a sudden gust of winds swept Tini right of her feet! The first time in the deep-snow part, Andy jumped right after Tini to grab her and prevent her from further sliding down. The second time when we were crossing some of the icy and rocky parts which were anyway quite slippery. Here the abrupt guests sent Tini flying again and she ended up with several bruises along one of her thighs. Though the bruises were painful Tini didn’t feel them in that moment. Perhaps the cold or the adrenaline… In any case we were very lucky that nothing more serious happened!
Few hundred meters below the summit the winds almost got intolerable. They had gotten so strong that we felt like getting sandblasted with little icy particles. It felt like a thousand needles pricking into our face! At this point we again seriously considered to turn back. This time only few hundred meters from the summit…
All four of us were crouching behind a rock to find some shelter from the wind and still felt like in a wind channel. This was probably the most dramatic moment on that entire trek, huddling behind a stone, snow storming around us. Yelling at each other in order to be heard we “discussed” how to continue. Dave was determined to turn around and Tini and Marcel were undecided. We knew we could not wait here much longer without freezing our butts off but turning around returning down into the valley felt horrible too…
Andy had come up with the idea that this was the worst part of the passage since in this most narrow part of the passage the winds would reach their highest speeds. He continued on further alone to explore how much further until it would get better and already after few meters he came back and convinced us that we had almost managed the worst part. Indeed the winds quick enough got at least tolerable again as soon as we left the narrow part of the crossing and after passing one more snowfield we finally made it!
No, Marcel is not drunk or falling. This was the way we would walk against the strong headwinds shortly before reaching the summit:
At the summit after we fought our way over the pass we all felt extremely happy and almost no exhaustion. Amazing how adrenaline can stimulate the body:
Marcel and Dave at the summit, in front of glacier Grey:
From up here we had a first view of the majestic Glacier Grey which was covered in fog:
From the summit we quickly descended along a slippery and mud covered trail until we made it to Campamento Paso. It wasn’t too late to still continue on to Campamento Grey, but we decided to stop here and enjoy the path along Glacier Grey with hopefully some sunshine the next day.
We prepared some soups and pasta and washed off the sweat and mud in the river flowing by, as there were no hygienic amenities in this very basic campsite. Then we pitched our tent and just relaxed from this entirely crazy crossing over the Gardener pass. This was also the point when all those bruises started to hurt and we felt the exhaustion of the days efforts. Despite all we still felt grateful we had been among the few hikers that had managed the crossing that day.
DAY 5: Campamento Paso to Refugio Grey
After a very deep and relaxing nights sleep we dragged our sore bones from the tent the next morning to prepare one of our most luxurious breakfasts on the trek, scrambled eggs and mashed potatoes. Surprisingly the taste and look of this dehydrated meal was very close to “real” scrambled eggs but the texture was somewhat different. In any case a welcome change to the oatmeal we had been having the past few days:
This was the cooking shelter at Campamento Paso, were we prepared our meals:
After packing up our tent and some morning hygiene we started our hike towards Refugio Grey, which led us along the beautiful Glacier Grey:
This glacier is part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, that takes up the entire western side of the park. The Ice Field feeds four big glaciers. From north to south the glaciers are: Dickson, Grey, Zapata and Tyndall. This last glacier, Tyndall, is rapidly receding. The largest and most famous one is Grey Glacier and the one we would keep walking along for some time. It divides into two main glacier arms spreading around the rocky Nunatak peninsula which gets uncovered a little more with each year.
View down Grey Glacier towards Lago Grey with the Nunatak peninsula on the right:
And some flora and fauna from along the way:
View up the mountains on the backside of the French valley with the frost-bitten peaks disappearing in the clouds:
This walk was one of the nicest parts of the trek. Since we had started walking early in the morning we were still walking in the shadow of the mountain range of the French valley while the sun started shining over the glacier. With hardly any people around we enjoyed the stunning landscapes and the silence which was only interrupted by the winds blowing above our heads.
On the way we had to pass three large ravines. Two of them had steep metal ladders to descend and ascend on the sides and a stream to cross in the center:
At the mirador nearby the closed Campamento Los Guardas we stopped for a break with Jakobiger and Matheias, a friendly couple from the Netherlands we kept meeting from time to time along our trek. They had a similar pace as us and more or less the same route planning:
From the mirador we had a great view over Grey Glacier and the Nunatak peninsula:
Continuing on we quickly approached Refugio Grey and in the afternoon it even started to get nice and warm as the sun kept burning away the clouds:
In the early afternoon we reached Refugio Grey and chose one of the nicest spots to pitch our tent at the base of the towering granite wall.
Arriving early we had enough time to explore the glacier from a little peninsula that offered a different perspective of the glacier and a close look of the icebergs floating by in the lake:
Impressive how the ice shaped the rock during thousands of years:
And the colors of some of the rocks:
Andy fished out one of the ice pieces floating by:
And despite all adverseness there are still flowers that manage to find enough soil to plant their roots:
Andy taking pictures of the snow capped mountains when they peaked out from behind the clouds:
Back at the refugio that evening we enjoyed warm showers and had some soups and pasta with pesto for dinner. After 5 days of cooking we had almost run out of white gasoline for our stove. Luckily our cooker will burn almost any flammable fluid and we managed to get a cup of kerosene from the person in charge of the electricity generators. This was enough for ensuring warm meals during the rest of our trip.
DAY 6: Refugio Grey to Campamento Italiano
Our route continued along Lago Grey and since this part of the track is also part of the famous “W” route we decided to get up early and get a head start on this track:
Back below the tree line we kept passing by burnt trees from fires several years back. Interestingly many of them were not burnt down to tree stumps, but the fire had only burnt the tree bark leaving a sometimes black but sometimes white bark-less dead tree behind:
A small forest which also burned several years back. The remaining trees almost look like “ghost-trees”:
In this passage we experienced one of the rare moments with strong tailwinds pushing us forwards. All we had to do was keep moving our feet up and down… 🙂
Around mid day we arrived at the turquoise Lago Pehoe at which the Refugio Paine Grande lies:
Refugio Paine Grande is one of the destinations along the trek which can easily be reached by boat and is a common destination many people choose for starting day hikes or the W-trek. As to be expected there were a lot more people around than on the backside of the Paine massif.
Since we had eaten our last bread at this point and most of our cheese and salami was gone as well we had a look at the shop inside the refugio. We ended up buying a bag of fresh buns and a can of tuna fish which would be enough for the remaining “Brotzeiten” ahead of us.
We continued on towards Campamento Italiano which lies at the entrance of the French valley:
After several more hours we crossed the Rio del Frances and reached the Campamento Italiano, where we spent our sixth night. Italiano is a fairly crowded campsite in a sloping and forested area at the foot of the French Valley. For all the visitors it has only a tiny cooking shelter, but the park rangers do a good job of keeping everything in order.
Lucky as we were we soon even had the sun peaking through the clouds:
After pitching our tent we walked down to the river and refilled our water supplies with filtered ice-cold water. It’s amazing how delicious the water tastes!
Of course we also gave our tired feet a refreshing boost in the glacier river:
DAY 7: Campamento Italiano to Refugio Los Cuernos
Early next morning we left our packs in the tent and started out climbing up into the French Valley heading for the Mirador Briticano. We really enjoyed the unfamiliar lightness of walking without our packs and almost flew up the valley 😉
The clouds and the views were just amazing:
We passed gushing waterfalls:
and kept heading towards the plateau at the top of the valley surrounded by a mountain range from all sides but the entrance.
It is here that you feel tiny as an ant surrounded by the colossal walls. Looking upwards from left to right you can find the Cerro Cota (named for its elevation of ~ 2’000 m), Cerro Catedral (resembles a cathedral’s facade), Aleta de Tiburón (Shark’s Fin), Fortaleza (Fortress), Espada (Sword), Hoja (Blade), Máscara (Mummer), Cuerno Norte (North Horn) and Cuerno Principal (Main Horn). Even with a panoramic image we could not capture all of them at once:
One can easily recognize is the Shark’s Fin:
For some of the others you will need more imagination:
From this first view point we continued on to the second mirador which is located slightly higher and further into the basin.
A view back down the French valley:
And eventually we reached the second mirador.
As you can see from the camera strap the wind was blowing fairly strong up here and one had to have a good foothold to not be blown away:
Still stunned by the amazing views and always watching out for those winds in front of the
Cerro Catedral and the Shark’s Fin:
Passing one of the burnt ghost-tree forests on the way back down:
Back at Campamento Italiano we packed up our tent and packs and headed off towards Refugio Los Cuernos. Soon we left the forest and got a glimpse of Lago Nordernskjoeld:
Yes, we were back to carrying our packs which gave us good excuses to have a short break every now and then:
With no more salami and cheese left and saving the tuna fish for later, Andy invented a new type of sandwich: The Noodlewich. 🙂
Ingredients: 1 bun and left-over pasta (preferably with pesto sauce). While Andy characterizes the Noodlewich as tasting interesting it’s probably an improvement over just a dry bun and definitely high in carbohydrates 🙂
The shore of Lago Nordernskjoeld looked pretty interesting made up of white and black stones. Walking along it almost felt like walking along the beach. With the sun out, the water looked quite inviting, but being a glacier fed lake the water was just too cold.
And some more river crossings which were almost routine by now:
At Campamento Los Cuernos we set up our tent and enjoyed a hot shower and the nice view over the lake:
And it was here on day seven that we rewarded ourselves with a cold beer (5 $!) from the Refugio shop. There are simply no words how delicious that beer was! 🙂
The rest of the afternoon we just sat on our platform reading and enjoying the view over the campsite and the lake:
DAY 8: Refugio Los Cuernos to Campamento Torres
Was it the beer from the previous day, maybe the Noodelwich, or were we getting used to the morning routines, or were we excited of finally getting to see the Torres del Paine, or perhaps a little bit of all? Whatever the reason, today we woke without any alarm at the crack of dawn and packed up all equipment in records time. Just as we were about to leave we saw the sun rising and plunge the tip of the Cuernos Del Paine towers into a bright orange:
And off we were towards the towers while the rest of the campsite kept indulging in sweet dreams and missing the best part of the day.
The clouds were moving fast as we walked along the side of the lake enjoying the beautiful views:
We were making pretty good progress and did not meet a single hiker along the way. But we will not deny that the packs did feel heavy from time to time on this eight day:
I’m almost sure Andy was thinking of yesterdays beer or his Noodlewich right here:
But as always we took our time and enjoyed the flowers along the way:
and again had several jack rabbits bolting away in front of us. Luckily the birds weren’t that fearsome:
Tini’s indicating it’s about time for a break:
And here we are eating the last buns and the tuna fish in a dried up river:
Eventually we reached the entry point of the Valle Ascencio which leads to our campsite Campamento Torres at the very end of it. From there it would be about another hour to the Torres:
On our way we passed the Campamento Chileno were we finished the last of our oatmeal:
And had another break outside the cooking shelter before starting the steep climb to Campamento Torres:
Being one of the first has the advantage that you get to choose the nicest camp spot. Being quite experienced by now we always looked for the quiet sites off from the main camp, not located in ditches that fill with water when it rains and if possible protected by trees against heave rains and wind.
We found the perfect spot in Campamento Torres and pitched our tent:
And quickly we noticed that we had a little spectator watching us all the time, even if he pretends not to be looking here:
The initial plan was to visit the Torres for sunrise the next morning and watch the sun plunge the towers into bright orange light. However as the weather seemed to be getting worse during the day we kept discussing if we should already visit the Torres today. It would be a steep 1 hour climb up to them and another 30 minutes down on top of all the walking we already did today.
Eventually Andy convinced Tini that the effort would surely be worth it and we started the steep hike towards the Torres after already more than seven hours of walking that day…
Finally getting close to the Torres we could see the excitement in the eyes of each other as we kept climbing higher and higher and kept peering around to be the first to glimpse the towers. Then they suddenly appeared as we passed behind a huge rock:
As expected some clouds had moved in and added a certain moodiness to the towers. Of course we had wished for blue skies and a perfect view, but just sitting there and watching the towers in the clouds we weren’t too disappointed. Besides we had another chance next morning!
The Torres del Paine lookout is located at the bank of a milky green lake which is blocked by the moraine we had climbed on our way up. Straight ahead in the background you can see the three famous Torres (f.l.t.r.: Torre Sur, Torre Central and Torre Norte).
As we lingered at the lookout and ate some of our reserve chocolate bars we watched the clouds move in and cover the towers. From time to time the Torres would almost completely fade away:
Quite tired, but very happy we had finally reached the famous Torres:
When we started to feel the cold and saw that the view would not improve anymore we started the walk back down. Back in the camp we saw that only a small fraction of the people had already arrived at the camp site and fewer still continued up to the Torres just now.
In the evening we ate soups and our last pack of pasta we had brought. It was interesting to listen to people discussing the plans for seeing the Torres and discussing the different weather forecasts. It seemed everybody had heard a different forecast covering almost every possible weather scenario. We just hoped for a sunrise as we had experienced in the morning and went to bed early. We both felt anxious about how the Torres would look like the next day, on the last day of our trip, but sleep came quickly after todays exertions.
DAY 9: Campamento Torres to Laguna Amarga
The next morning we got up at 3.30 am in order to be at the Torres lookout before 5 am and not miss sunrise at around 5.15 am. It was still pitch-dark and we could hear the rain drizzling on our tent. Should we still go and climb to the lookout?
If we don’t we might regret it later and we might be lucky after all… After all that’s what we came here for!
Still feeling a little weary and tired we packed some warm layers and our last cookies and put on our rain gear before we set out into the dark. It was dark, foggy and drizzling when we started our climb with the only light coming from our headlights, but we were hopeful that the sun might still break out of the clouds…
This time it took us longer to reach the lookout than the day before. With the darkness surrounding us we instinctively walked slower and more careful. Towards the top, dawn slowly started to set in and when we arrived at the lookout we saw, that we did not see anything at all! Even worse than the day before the towers were completely hidden away in the clouds, we could hardly see the other side of the lake:
We found a place offering some shelter against the rain, slipped into the extra warm layers we had brought and snuggled up to each other while having our early cookie breakfast:
As we waited and waited we knew by checking the time that the sun had risen and in the mean while also fellow hikers from our camp joined us at the lookout. We waited some more, but nothing changed: It was still raining, the Torres were still invisible and we started getting cold despite all the layers.
What a disappointment after all the efforts!
Before turning into ice blocks we headed back to the camp, packed up our equipment and headed back down the Ascencio valley. As we kept descending down the valley we often looked back, but despite our view improving the further down we climbed, the clouds around the Torres remained. For the first day during the entire hike there was not a single breeze to be felt anywhere and the clouds kept hanging between the mountain peaks.
Somewhere on our way down we realized that after all we had no reason to be disappointed. Of course seeing the golden Torres in front of a blue sky would have been the climax of the trek but after all we had been so lucky to make the decision to go see the Torres the day before and had experienced so many other marvelous views and landscapes during the past 8 days!
It took us some time to realize all the things we ought to be thankful for and forget the disappointment. And with every step we continued down the valley we started feeling better and better again.
We even started enjoying the beautiful views all around us again despite the clouded peaks and sky!
At the bottom of the valley we passed by the Hotel Las Torres:
A view back up the valley reassured us of not missing anything. The clouds were still stuck in the mountains clogging all views of the Torres and as we would find out later this wind and view-less condition would remain for at least two more days…
After 7 more kilometers on a dusty gravel road we finally made it back to our starting point, the Laguna Amarga, where we spotted a Lama and waited for the bus to bring us back to Puerto Natales.
Being the longest route both in distance and time we have ever trekked we felt proud and grateful that we had managed. The weather had been more than decent most of the time and during these 136 km we passed some of the most jaw-dropping landscapes we have ever seen. 99 % of the time we were cheerful and looking forward to the upcoming challenges or simply our next dinner. For sure we wouldn’t be having pasta anytime soon again, but that Noodlewich might deserve a second chance and further refinement 😉
At this point we felt an almost pleasant exhaustion and longed for hot showers, a real bed and the mouthwatering food we had been fancying about during our “hungry times”. We surely appreciated the wilderness, especially the remote parts on the back side of the Torres, but now we were again ready for some civilization.
The trek in two words: “Unforgettable Experience”This entry was posted in South-America, WorldMap