Two views mountains apart
12.01.2008 - 12.07.2008 48 °F
Ever since seeing a Patagonia poster nine years ago featuring the granite and magma towers of Los Cuernos in Torres del Paine (I was on a ski trip with Raj in Portillo, Chile) I've wanted to visit the region. Los Cuernos are beautiful formations of nature and definitely lived up to my expectations. This area of the Torres del Paine park was the highlight for me even though the park had a lot to offer including great hut-to-hut backpacking with relatively few people on the trails, clean drinkable glacier water throughout the hike, and very few cars that come into the park. We were hiking just on the edge of the high season, so it may get busier as the season progresses. One of the things I appreciated most about this area was the little infrastructure for tourism. This is likely to change soon as we observed them paving new roads leading up to the park and throughout Patagonia. Right now the trip to the park is primarily on curvy mountain dirt roads.
This was Elizabeth's first backcountry backpacking experience. I tried to ease her into it by planning a refugio-to-refugio (aka hut-to-hut) trek so we could carry less weight (no tents, stoves, or pots and pans needed) and plan shorter hikes. At the refugios we rented tents rather than sleep in their bunks and used their cooking facilities.
Admittedly, I've become more of a hut-to-hut person anyway. It was confirmed when I saw the grimmaces on people carrying 40 to 50 pound packs with the extra equipment. I carried a 25-30 pound pack and E carried a day pack with sleeping bag tied on the top. Even without carrying all of that stuff, it was apparent that Elizabeth's backpacking career would be short lived!
She totally checked out when we ran into a guy we met in Bariloche who had leaped from one slippery rock to another, fell and broke his nose. I think we were both thankful we took the safe route and didn't attempt any dangerous pirouettes across the river. Elizabeth made it to our final camp safe and sound, so I'm very proud of her. From here on out we'll likely stick to day hikes, which is perfectly fine for me! Although... the "Great Walks" of New Zealand are calling my name... we'll see :-)
Safe and sound after the trek.
Yes, I have perspective. I have my health (not even a blister), the weather was pretty good, I haven´t overcome any major trauma, nor am I living through something life-altering like war, but after six days in the middle of a national park I need a little room to complain and not feel guilty about it. I quickly realized the sport of backpacking is not for me!
My top ten thoughts....
1. Torres del Paine really means Towers of Pain. Ok, not the literal translation, but the flat first day of the W Circuit (as I was sold before the trip) was really a two hour incline. The hike on day two to the park´s famous towers was literal rock climbing, and it continued from there with hikes ranging from four to six hours. At this point, all mountains and rivers blended (the towers look just like Mt. Fitz Roy in El Chalten), so turning a corner for a new view didn´t get the reaction a real mountaineer appreciates, nor did I have any interest in comparing stories of the marvelous magma mountain tops with fellow enthusiastic hikers at the end of each day.
We had to climb this maze of rocks for the last hour of the hike to see Los Torres.
This is the view of Los Torres from over the rocks. Yes, amazing, but doesn´t it look like Mt. Fitz Roy?
2. By day three I declared war on the flies that were so big they wore aviator glasses. My 100% deet from REI didn´t even attempt to scare these buggers.
3. I don´t understand the joy in hoisting roughly 40 pounds on your back to walk miles up and down hills, over trees and through rivers. In all fairness, Dave was pretty much ´Sherpa Dave´ as he lugged all of our food and carried most of the weight. Still, my ´biker back´, as I like to call it, could not withstand the weight of my ´small´ pack. And to this point, most backpackers give the polite ´hola´greeting as they walk by, but they all seem to be in pain. What fun is that?
Here we are at the beginning of the hike. It is one of my few smiles with the pack on my back.
4. How can you appreciate the beauty of the park when you are walking with your head down to make sure you don´t trip on anything? Clearly my form, even with the trendy ski (walking) poles, wasn´t working. I was only able to really see the beauty of the park´s mountains and lakes on the fifth day of our trek when I sent Dave off into the wild and I didn´t move from our campground. I was at that point finally able to breath and look up at what I had been missing.
View of the famous horns, Los Cuernos.
5. On days three and four there were several river crossings, rather areas with massive amounts of snow and glacier runoff. As my stride to play leap frog from rock to rock didn´t always reach, I opted to take my shoes off (usually after about five minutes of tears)! The water was in many cases extremely forcefall and it was as cold as sticking your feet in a bath of ice cubes. Who calls this fun?
6. Dave and I set out to do the W Circuit. I did accomplish getting from one end of the park to the next, but I skipped out on some legs in between, so my W looked more like a seven. I felt defeated! A 72-year-old man jumped over the rivers like he was Superman, a father-daughter team did the entire trek, plus ice hiking on a glacier and kayaking on a river in the same amount of time, and groups of middle-aged Europeans and American college students wizzed by us. My competative nature got the best of me. It was hard for me to realize where my two feet took me, rather my focus was on what I failed to reach.
72-year-old leaps with ease across the glacier runoff.
7. This leads me to the mental game of hiking. If the physical part isn´t draining enough, you are left with nothing but deep thoughts while you are walking for hours on end. My day dreams got the best of me.
8. Tents, with the added bonus of rocky terraine, are not romantic, especially when you have been wearing the same clothes for multiple days with few showers in between. Must I say more....
9. A few park comments:
- Every sign with estimated hours to the next major sight or lookout was wrong. Two hours on the sign shouldn´t take four to six hours in reality, just like six hours shouldn´t take two hours. This creates mind games for the struggling hiker - me!
- Personnel at the campgrounds (refugios) should try to smile at guests. After all, we just walked up a mountain to see them and we are paying astronomical fees to stay and eat with them.
- Weather - they don´t seem to believe in weather reports in southern Argentina and Chile, so don´t ask anyone. They´ll just shrug. In other words, bring enough clothes to layer for every climate.
Extreme wind is normal, which you can see as I try NOT to get blown over the waterfall at Salto Grande.
10. My recommendation:
If you are an experienced hiker, love the challenges of the sport and don´t mind fighting the elements, then go for it! If you enjoy day hiking, like myself, don´t set out to do the W. Instead, go to one or two campgrounds (refugios), leave your bags and do day hikes from there and plan for a rest day in between. Most importantly, hike with someone who is either your same ability or someone who has massive amounts of patience. Dave is my personal rock for dealing with my often sour attitude and attempts to jump off the mountain!