Torres del Paine is famed principally for three things; the Torres, three granite monoliths for which the national park derives it’s name, the “W Trek” that takes in the three main valleys and seriously high winds…. We experienced pretty much all of them – poor weather meant we missed out on one valley.
After Refugio Grey, we headed to Mountain Lodge Paine Grande. An e-nor-mous refugio, complete with cafeteria, bar and minimart. And a hotel. With full reception. For some, this was the start of the “W”, for us, the end of the circuit and farewell to a few friends we had met on the way. Over Pisco Sours (2 for 1 happy hour stylie – woop-woop!!!) we said our sad goodbyes to our new buddy Paul, plotted the best way to tackle the “W” and set the world to rights.
There were now only a handful of trekkers that were heading the same route us; completing the circuit before the W- Paul, Elisabeth and Stefani, “the Aussies”, plus “the Russians”, (as the two out of three groups were known), were all finishing in these parts and heading back to, and beyond, Puerto Natales or Puerto Arenas. We missed them already as they had been a constant over the past five short, yet seemingly long, days.
With weather closing in, our penultimate day trekking, happened to the hardest by far.
You heard it before you felt it; racing down the valley, gusting at a rate of knots you didn’t want to think about. And then to hit you. Full force. Knocking you sideways, slamming into you. Dust and dirt from the paths filled your eyes and mouth, as you squinted behind your ‘buffy’ hoping it was but a small gust of wind.
Across the Lago Nordernskjold, the wind whipped the surface water into a series of long spouts, tossing more than a fine mist ashore to cover the unsuspecting trekker and animal. We slogged across the headland, trying to time the more exposed sections as we were buffeted by the weather.
As we headed round the headland, the force of two weather systems across both valleys collided and mini water spouts, that looked like whirlpools, appeared on the lake and the oncoming winds were much worse. Glad we weren’t kayaking as it would have been hard work, and then some, for sure. As hard as it was, we were still ever grateful we weren’t tackling the pass, as it would have been infinitely worse and far more treacherous.
Onwards we toiled across open grassland and scrub; head down into the driving wind, thankful for the well-trodden path, which meant all we had to focus on was putting one foot in front of the other! Without any obvious shelter to be seen, we ducked down at the base of a small hillock, ready for more than a handful of trailmix to see us through the rest of the day. We gave up on the idea of a warming cup of soup and settled for crackers with the last of the lomo vetado and queso de oveja, conscious of the fact Campamento Torres was a good few hours away.
Wet and cold we crossed and recrossed the swollen river, Rio Ascendcio, a raging torrent matching the sound of the wind that howled down the valley. The undulating trail through the dripping lenga forest, was a welcome refuge… we were temporarily out of the wind, and rain. We passed boughs that looked like twisted rope, some weathered by age, some by the fierce winds. Coffee coloured rivulets of rain coursed down the paths, picking up loose soil on their way to the river below. Exposed shiny tree roots and slick rocks providing perfect foot holds as we carried on up the valley.
Traversing terminal moraine plus a suspension bridge led us to our quickie pit stop, or potential home for the night….refugio El Chileno. Bedraggled day walkers and campers alike sat huddled in a riot of multicoloured Gortex and woolly hats in the camps “cooking hut”. With thoughts of comfy beds farther down the valley and/or the next camp spot north, one thing was a certain…it was futile hiding from the weather- there really was nowhere to hide on the open scrub, woodland or scree that stood between man and mountain.
After a quick Scooby snack we headed along the path that would take us to both the Mirador Las Torres and the campsite Campamento Torres and it’s well laid out and numbered pitches, at the foot of the scramble up mountainside. As quickly as we could, we put up the tent – after nearly two weeks, we had it got it off pat and were tucked inside the tent in no time at all, with a warming cup of soup on the go, in the ‘fly’.
The rain eventually stopped and slowly the winds subsided, no longer roaring and ripping it’s way through the treetops. Dawn broke, with a clear, cloudless almost full moon….hope for us yet!!!!
Well before sunrise the ‘camp’ began to stir, early morning brews made (bed tea had been booked for 5.30am) and tents secured before the procession of head torch wearing trekkers began – all eager to see the torres in all their glory in the early morning glow, scrambling up a well marked trail, across the glacial rubble, with luminous markers to guide us…. We weren’t disappointed! As the sun came up the mighty granite columns changed colour, gradually turning a fabulous shade of orange for a fleeting few minutes; mirrored in the rippled glacier lake below.
Even though we were finishing the trek ahead of schedule and hadn’t managed to take in Valle Frsnce we were leaving on a high, walking out with the sun on our backs. As we headed back down the valley, passing groups of trekkers and day walkers, slogging their way up to see the magnificent views of Torre Central, Norte and Cerro Nido de Condor.
We stood watching horsemen leading small parties on the paths up to the refugio … We finally understood the “give way” signs we had seen on day one!