Friday, March 14, 2014

One look at the Paine Massif

     In the first days of January 2014 I went to visit the city of Ushuaia, and before arriving I stayed one night in Río Grande to meet Nati who had contacted me through CouchSurfing a few months before. She was about to start a great trip in her life, and thought about the option of us sharing part of the road together. So, when a month after that I hit the road again we talked about doing something together, and we agreed on going on a trek in the Torres del Paine National Park.

     And so it was. On Tuesday March 25th we started our excursion in the Big Circuit (casually known as "O Circuit"). Thanks to Nati`s magica finger we were picked up by a french couple as soon as we steped on the road, and thy took us directly and non-stop to the entrnace of Laguna Amarga. There we registered our entrance and payed the $18,000 CLP (U$D30 approximately) and we started the walk prepared for 10 days but without knowing how much time it would actually take us.

Day 1, from Laguna Amarga to Camping Seron (10km - 4,5hrs):

     The map says that it is done in a little bit less than 5 hours, but we did it calmly in 7, because between the lack of practice and habit we couldn't do more. The walk is almost flat, besides the river, through the valley behind the main massif. The usual Patagonian plains, with the advantage of being able to enjoy as much calafate as one wishes.

     And by the end its 12 kilometers that have to be walked, so we were tired more psychologically than in the physical sense. A good meal of chorizos and mashed potatoes, and we surrendered to our sleeping bags. And on the next morning we woke up with the running about of the Caranchos and Hares around the camping.

Day 2, from Serón to Dickson (19km - 6hrs):

     The walk that awaited us for our second day is the longest of the whole circuit, so we got the recommendation of leaving early in the morning. And it would be clear from that first morning that our excursion was going to be a clam on, since between waking up and breakfast it took us almost two hours!

     Half way on the trail we met Alex, a Chilean from Santiago that would come to be a new member of the group for the next days. And apparently he gave us quite the motivation with his talking, since we ended up almost making the time wrote down in the map for this trail.

     When we arrived to the camping it was awesome to meet the porters and the local gauchos drinking mate, and even more was getting invited to share them. There are few things as good as a mate after a long day of walking!

Day 3, from Dickson to Camping Perros (9km - 4,5hrs):

     This time we started the day on a better schedule, with the message that it would rain at around 4 in the afternoon. And when we left, at 11 in the morning, there were a few drops falling. And around 3 in the afternoon the rain stopped to give as a break and we could get out of our wet clothes... I am never believing a porter about the weather again!

     The walk in the forest was fantastic, it is obvious that it is an old forest and filled with energy. And when the rain stopped we walked a little over an hour to get into a clearing, and after climbing the moraine we found the beautiful glacier of Los Perros with its lake.

     And as a finishing touch, after a wet day and cold at night, nothing better that a healthy and delicious meal of flavored rice!

(here I made my first sale, because I had brought with me cigarettes that are best sold away from the entrances, and I assured myself by not selling so expensive but to whom getting packs is hardest: camping administrators and rangers from the CONAF)

Day 4, from Perros through the John Gardner Pass to the Camping Paso (12km - 6hrs):

      Coming out of the Camping Perros there is a very nice trail through the mountain forest, and since we started the day with sun we had a smile drawn in our faces. Even with the half swamp at the beginning of the trail, which I am not sure if it was there because of the rain of the previous day or if it is always there, the walk through the forest was quite easy.

     And after the vegetation limit there is a hard climb on top of the stones and rocks. Steep, climbing with no rest. And by the end of it, when we could see the pass aheadof us, we had a moment of rest in a snow patch we found in the mountain.

     And Nati and I didn't hold ourselves back, and went on the snow to play like kids!!!

     And so we made it to the John Hardner Pass, the highest point in the Big Circuit of the Paine Towers. And just after that the spectacular vision of the Grey Glacier, that from that height it can be seen in its full extension, from its beginning in the mountains in the horizon to its end by the Grey Lake.

     Even comparing it with the big ice fields that are on the Argentinean side, like the Glacier Perito Moreno, I think that the view from this height, being able to see the Grey Glacier in all its immensity, is really one of the most spectacular and amazing things I have seen in my life.

Day 5, from the camping Paso to the Grey Refuge (10km - 5hrs):

     The walk we had for our fifth day is not a hard one. It has its climbs and descents, but they are not very steep and the whole trails is done in less that 5 hours.

     The hard part on this stretch is that to cross a few deep canyons there are some mettalic ladders installed, which are almost vertical. And climbing done with backpacks reaching nearly 20 kilograms is not easy! And even less for so many people who suffers fear of heights!

     The third canyon has a hangin bridge installed. This is easier than the other one, but people suffering from vertigo (like Nati) may suffer as much as with the ladders... I enjoyed it. =)

     And at the end of the day, after setting up the tents and having some rest, I recommend having a mate in the Glacier`s lookout point. Because even if the wind blows and its cold, it is good to rewards oneself at the end of a day of good results!!!

     And that night, with new friends and a few wines, our family would grow a little bit bigger.

Day 6, from Grey the camping Italiano (18km - 6hrs):

     For economical reasons, we had decided with Nati to skip the next camping in the trail (Paine Grande) and to go straight to the camping Italiano, free and situated at the entrance of the French Valley, and if we could stay two nights there we would be saving efforts and cash. Win-win.

     With another spectacular day, sunny and warm, we had a very easy and relaxed walk. We were able to say goodbye several time from Mister Grey, eating by a small lagoon half hidden from the track.

     At the edge of the Pehoe Lake we took a nice break to enjoy a mate and our first vision of the Horns of el Paine. What we didn't know was that our new brothers were eating just a few meters away from us, inside the refuge, while we sat by the Guard House of the CONAF before the detour.

     We finished the day  with an easy walk, with just a few ups and downs, but which wasn't so simple for us since those were the last 2 hours of a 6 hours day. And when we reached the camping we discovered astonished that we had been the first to arrive, despite knowing that we had been the last to leave and the slowest walkers.
It was there we found out about our missed encounter by the edge of the lake.

     We installed ourselves all together, one big family united in 4 different tents: Alez, Sebas and Mauro, Yaiza, and Nati and me. All brothers, trans andeans o trans atlantic.

Day 7, French Valley:

      Easily the nicest day of all. Not because of the weather itself, that although it didn`t raind it was a little bit cloudly and windy. No, what did this the nicest day was the combination of things: sleeping till late, walking light, having good and new friends as company, and enjoying what in my opinion is the best in the Park.

     We climbed to the French lookout, and quickly left becasue it was filled with people. And we reached the Britanico lookout in less that 2 hours, and there we did sit down for a while. Some sang, some meditated, some played, and we all enjoyed it.

     And we decided to walk half an hour more, in order to reach a lookout that is actually closed nowadays, that we believe is called the lookout of the Amphitheatre. And there we ate, all together, some soups and some pieces of bread with cheese and cold cuts. And again we played, sang and meditated.

     The sad note is that on this day we said goodbye to Alex, who couldn't even join us in the walk, since he was in a hurry because of his plane ticket he had to leave to sleep at the base of the Towers in order to leave the following day from the Park.

Day 8, from Italiano to Camping Chileno:

     This was another long day of walking. We had calculated up to 9 hours of walking, so we had talked about leaving at 10am the latest. We left at noon. We each started walking when ready, and Nati and I were the last ones. About and hour and a half of walking we reached the edge of the lake, and I thought about getting in! A little bit because the day was amazing, it was quite warm, and because it was already 4 days since I had taken a shower. And clearly synchronized, in a turn of the trail we found Sebas and Yaiza already getting undressed to go for a bath! Mauro had walked ahead, and we reached him in the Cuernos Refuge.

     Starting there we walked all closed to each other. We had a light lunch in a hill with a beautiful view, we met some friends of the road, and we walked under the sun until we reached the camp. And we settled ourselves quite far from all the people, because we had already decided it was going to be a night of wine and good food, because for the next day we had a short 1 hours walk planned to the Camping Torres.

Day 9, from Chileno the Camping Torres (5km - 1,5hrs):

     We started late this day. Between sleepiness, tiredness and hangover, we didn't got up until noon (also considering we went to bed almost at dawn). We had a nice brunch by the edge of the trail, and we calmly packed our things.

     The walk from Chileno to the Camping Torres is short and easy, so we took it very easy. And when we got there, we quickly set up our tents and left to enjoy the Towers. Because that day we had high clouds, but in the conversation with the Park Ranger about the weather, he said: the good weather front just ended, now the bad weather front is starting.

And it was worth it!

Day 10, Camping Japones and Ascencion valley:

     After a rainy dawn , that disuaded all of us from going to see the sun rise by the Towers, we left for a walk in the Ascension valley all the way to the Camping Japones. This camping is exclusive for climbers, and the access to the valley is restricted to persons with special permits or with a guide. And since we weren-t one or the other, we were lucky enough of having befriended a porter (some more intimate than others) that he had joined our family. And since he had done the trail several times, the park-ranger accepted him as a guide for us and we got the permission.

     The difference in the walk is evident, since having so little transit of people the trail is less marked and you can feel that the forest has more life in it.

     We had a lunch of several soups inside the refuge, which really lives up to its name unlike the cabins which we usually found in campings, and after a few nice talks around the table we went back to rest before being caught by the cold of the night.

Day 11, back to Natales:

     In our last morning we got up early (almost all of us) and we went to see the red sunrise on the Towers. But the day didn't came through with us, and the red was very swift and it was all quickly clouded.

WE DID NOT CARE! We sat anyways, all tucked together, and prepared ourselves to enjoy a few mates between the snow and the morning cold.

     Coming down we had a better breakfast, picked up our camp, and walked the last kilometers left to walk to the Las Torres Hotel, where Sebas went to look for his car, and in which we all compressed ourselves so as to travel together to Puerto Natales.


     The 11 days and 10 nights walk in the Torres del Paine National Park fue a spectacular experience for me. I learned a lot of new things about me, and met a lot of excellent people  hope to walk into again in the winding paths of life.

     From there I would go on the road again, in the motorbike, to a new way of travelling that will bring me many more teachings and a lot more people onto my life.

     Thanks for sharing this trip with me! I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.

See you around the World!

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