Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Torres Del Paine

I just returned from Torres del Paine and wow, what an incredible journey. I don't really know how to describe it all, but I have never seen a place like Torres ever before in my life.

September 15
I flew to Punta Arenas at the end of the world and saw the Magellan Strait. Strange to think that this was the passage explorers were looking for for so long hundreds of years ago. Then I hopped on a 3 hour bus ride to Puerto Natalis, the gateway to the park. I stayed at a hostel some friends had recommended called Erratic Rock and it was fantastic. My original plan was to have a home base in the park and set off on day hikes from there because I was hiking solo, but a guide, Nacho, suggested I hike the "W" trail to get a true understanding of the wonders of the park. The trail is called the "W" because you hike around the main part of the massif and hike up valleys along the way, making a "W" shape. The Paine Massif that makes up the park is a separate mountain formation from the Andes mountain chain. It was formed 12 million years ago by magma and later by glacial erosion, giving it its unique look and formation. And I have to say, nothing else is comparable to its formation.

Torres del Paine National Park Map

Now, I'm not gonna lie, I was nervous. I would be carrying all the weight of food, a tent and everything else alone, and would be hiking alone, and camping alone. And it's the off season, so there wasn't a lot of hope for meeting people along the way. But then I got pumped up for this once in a lifetime opportunity and said, LETS DO IT! I bought all my supplies and rented the rest and was off for a 4 day journey early the next day after the hostel loaded me up with a hefty breakfast.


Sleeping Bag
Sleeping Pad
One Change of Clothes
First Aid Kit
Toilet Paper

September 16: Day 1
I met a couple from France (Carolin) and Belgium (Samuel) and hiked the first day with them, which was lucky. Here is a journal entry from that day:

THANK GOD I had these 2 for starting out. I probably would have never found the trail head on my own. We walked through an open field in a valley with a big old rainbow stretched out on our left side and the Paine Massif on the right, although the clouds covered much of it. But HOLY CRAP the wind is incredibly strong-the strongest I've ever been in. It literally pushed me sideways as I wondered if it was possible for my contacts to blow out of my eyeballs. My mouth was open and my spit was blowing out of my mouth-seriously. I would have been frustrated and disheartened if I didn't have the company. I was actually drafting behind Carolin. But the views of the Paine Massif are just spectacular and there is no one in the park really, except a decaying horse carcass that was killed by a puma (yes, we really saw that) and when we came upon the bright blue lake with the mountains in the background, I thought I was in a place that wasn't real.
After 5 hours of hiking we set up camp outside of a Refugio, or hostel inside the park. Bunk beds run for $30 and dinner for $20, so it was much cheaper to camp and cook your own food. We got to sleep outside near the giant mountains and the skies were clear. It's incredible to look up at a whole new sky here in the Southern Hemisphere.

September 17: Day 2
I woke up to the Paine Massif and plenty of sunshine. While everyone was cooking breakfast inside the Refugio, I was boiling water for oatmeal and tea outside in the temperate weather. I had to say goodbye to my European friends as they were on a different schedule. I started on the first stretch of the "W" and so could leave my heavy pack at the Refugio, as I would be passing by it again on my way back from Gray's Glacier...that was a nice feeling.

There was nobody on the trail to Gray's Glacier and when I came upon it I said aloud, "Oh my God. Whoa. Oh my God." Gray's Glacier is absolutely humongous and the massive mountains behind it make it surreal.

I can actually hear the ice cracking even though I'm pretty far away. I am so intrigued by glaciers, maybe because we don't really have any in the States. I don't get to see them often, most are receding, and they're just so monstrous, powerful and alive. I could just sit here forever and watch it recede, carving out the land like an erratic artist.

I grabbed my pack at the Refugio and headed another 2 hours to Campamento Italiano. It was a quiet cloudy day and it was just me on the trail. The lakes were calm and I could see the reflection of the Paine Massif mirrored in the lake. Another awesome thing about this area is that you can drink straight from the lakes and streams, as they are all glacial fed and contain no bacteria or microorganisms, which helps with the weight in the pack!

As I've been hiking John Denver's Rocky Mountain High has been stuck in my head. I've also been thinking of The Lord of the Rings. Can you imagine journeying this much and then having to battle orks?

I reached the campsite and set up my tent in 6 minutes flat! Then I continued up into the French Valley, the middle part of the "W". I didn't make it up too far as my legs were tired, but suddenly I heard a sound like thunder and looked up at the massive mountain (Cerro Paine Grande) to my left only to see snow falling from its cliffs. The sound of thunder was an avalanche, and there were many. I sat on a rock and watched about 5 of them go, amazed at the fact that I was really there watching such a spectacular event. Later I enjoyed some tea and lemon cookies by the river. I am quite comfortable and quite happy here in the wilderness.

There were a group of Germans at the campsite who I chatted with a bit; it was nice to have the company at night. As I slept I heard a bit of rain outside. I dreamed of the weather holding out for a few more days.

September 18: Day 3
I woke up to a windy day, but no rain. I got my day started before the Germans as I had about a 10 hour hike ahead of me. I was pumped and happy to be able to go at my own pace.

As I hiked I left Cerro Paine Grande behind me, but could still hear the avalanches falling. An impossibly blue lake opened up to my right and the Andes were behind it. I walked passed the Paine Massif on my left and then through an open valley, where the wind pounded my face. I found the shortcut to my campsite and made the turn into the last canyon, the last section of the "W" shape.

I'm not going to lie, it was a long hike to Campamento Torres. It was a lot of ups and downs, but luckily I have consumed a lot of the food weight from my pack. The Germans passed me with about 2 hours left to hike. We stopped at a "closed" Refugio but there was a Chilean there selling coffee. The Germans and I took a much deserved rest. Then we carried on to the campsite. It was getting colder and there were signs of snow. I pitched my tent beside a creek and fell asleep to its lulling sounds. My legs were very happy for the rest.

September 19: Day 4
I unzipped my tent and snow fell into it. Yes, it had snowed about 6 inches that night...WHOA! I didn't sleep great, but luckily today was the day for the sunrise hike to the famous Torres- the Towers of the park that gives it its name.

The Germans started out early, but I have my priorities: I made breakfast. I started up the snowy trail around 6:30am and it was steep and slippery, but pristine and beautiful. I'm really glad the Germans blazed the trail, as I probably would have lost it.

(And at this point I have to say I finally have all the perfect gear for trekking: a good rain jacket, water proof boots, a micro fleece and hard shell fleece and snow pants with thermals and wool socks. It takes a while to accumulate these clothes, as they are expensive! But thanks to working at Squaw Valley where I get 30% off everything, I was prepared.)

Anyway, I got to the top and the Germans were waiting for the snow clouds to clear. We all waited about an hour and nothing changed. We couldn't see the Torres =( The Germans headed back down, but I waited a bit longer as another group had arrived to the top. One was an Asian hiking in CONVERSE SNEAKERS and JEANS! What a crazy person! We waited and waited and waited and then it started to snow again.

I decided to hike back down. I got 1/3 of the way down and the sun started to rise. I turned around for a few minutes to hike back up, but the clouds were still there, so I started to hike back down again. Then the sun rose more and I couldn't tell if there was a view above or not. I thought, why the heck am I even compromising the wisp of a hope that with the sun maybe there will be a view? I will be here only once in my life: get your butt back up there Kim!! So up again I went and NO REGRETS because the clouds cleared just enough to see the Torres...

...and they were incredible! I mean, in the clouds I thought, 'no big deal, I don't know what I'm missing,' but once I saw them it was majestic. It was like the Towers were 3 old friends and that's where they liked to stand and give advice with their ancient wisdom and knowledge on life. They really were a sight to see and you can bet I was glad I went for one last look.

I hiked back down, packed up camp, and then headed out of the park happy as a clam, save for the pain in my right knee from hiking. Am I getting old?

Another guy and I hitched a ride on a truck to our meeting point...that was lucky and FREE! The van picked us up and I was back at the hostel welcomed by open arms and a hot shower. Good thing because I was stinky. They made me a big breakfast the next morning, I caught the bus to Punta Arenas and flew back to Puerto Montt and now I'm back into the school routine.

On the trail I felt like a badass. I flew to the bottom of the world, hiked the "W" solo, saw some life changing sights and now I can wear my Patagonia gear with pride because, yep, I WAS THERE.

For a Photo Album of the trip, click below:

1 comment:

Katie said...

Kim! What a great adventure. I am so happy for you and all of the experiences that you are getting on your adventures in Chile...