Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Slash and a Half Trek: Torres del Paine National Park

Post by Marisa from an internet cafe in Ushuaia, while Gilbert watched Cal basketball clips. ("Honey, they led for fifty seconds in their triple overtime win!")

Torres del Paine National Park, the crown jewel of Patagonia (yeah, I quoted liberally from the guidebook, but it’s an apt description), sits six hours north of Punta Arenas. It’s absolutely stunning: jagged snow-capped mountains, aquamarine lakes, rivers you can drink from, glaciers, and green valleys filled with wild guanacos.

I planned our trip through Torres del Paine National Park with the theme “maximum results, minimal effort” – which isn’t to say that we didn’t put in a good bit of effort. However, since everyone comes to the park to see the mountains, even the most intrepid hiker can be stymied by the weather. Before we arrived, we’d heard that views of the famed Torres (Towers) had been blocked by twelve straight days of clouds. We, however, got off the bus and saw this:

Gil’s reaction was something along the lines of – oh, that was easy! But really, we were blessed to have clear, dry weather up until our last morning in the park. I couldn’t have asked for better weather on our trip, and nearly as our return bus pulled in to pick us up, the clouds were descending on the mountains again.

Due to time constraints (and the need for a little bit of comfort), we decided not to hike the entirety of the popular “W” route and we didn’t camp. Instead, we backpacked with our gear and stayed at two of the in-park refugios: Refugio Grey, at the base of a glacier on the west leg of the “W”, and Refugio Chileno, en route to the Torres viewing area.

We arrived in the park from Puerto Natales on Wednesday morning, caught a catamaran across Lake Pehoe, and had lunch at the Mountain Lodge Paine Grande. After stuffing ourselves with mashed potatoes and meat, we set out on our 11 km hike to Glacier Grey, on the far west end of the “W”. The views were spectacular en route to the glacier, as the trail sidled up against Lake Grey, finally arriving at the refugio near the glacier lookout. This hike – and the the following morning’s return – was our “slash” of the “W” hike.

We spent the night at the Refugio in sleeping bags on bunk beds, and set out early the next morning to catch the catamaran back across the lake. Again, gorgeous weather (see the first photo on this blog post, which I took that afternoon) means happy travelers. The weather got a little too hot on the hike up to the next refugio – which had a 500 M change in elevation over an hour - but we took our time getting there and enjoyed the views of the valley below.

Unfortunately, our luck gave out the next morning when the clouds didn’t clear in time for the sunrise hike up to the Torres. Gil was likely secretly happy for this turn in luck, since it meant skipping the nearly vertical hike up to the Torres viewpoint. It also reduced our second “slash” to a “half slash”... so while others may brag about having hiked the entire “W”, we are content with achieving our “slash and a half.” TdP is a park that merits visiting again and again, so hopefully we will be able to come back and complete the “W” someday.

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