Wednesday, 12 February 2014
Torres del Paine - 7 day hike
Beautiful 7 day hike around and above the glaciers in the Torres del Paine National Park of Chile. Every day had a different environment, and it stayed exciting for the whole 100+kms. From riverside savannah, to meadows, to rugged hills covered with berries, to dense forests, to muddy bogland, to impossibly windy and stormy boulder and stone strewn glacial passes. We chose to hike the infamous and rugged "O" circuit that leads around the whole park as opposed to the oft-promoted and overcrowded "W" path that takes in some of the highlights along tidy trails. It was a good choice - the build up of hiking for 4 days to get to a high mountain pass - then looking out over the top of a huge glacier 1000m below is just awesome. Great times!
There were excellent little flowers and insects on the way to keep the hike interesting (and to justify little rest breaks!) Even spotted a four-leafed clover!
Camping and hiking have never really been my cup of tea in the past. I love beautiful scenery but trying to sleep on a tiny sliver of a roll mat on hard ground has not worked for me. Ty decided to dub me the Princess and the Pea. Having met two awesome aussies on the Tierra Del Fuego boat we travelled together to Puerto Natales and they were the impetus for doing the hike. Both were experienced campers/hikers and I felt sure I would be in safe hands doing the trail with them. In order to prep we went shopping to stock up on the provisions that we would need for a week- think sausage, sausage and more sausage. I also got a large roll mat that was super comfy to ensure I would get the best sleep possible, good job Ty volunteered to carry it, whilst I carried his mini mat!
The first day was an easy walk for around 5 hours, but my bag felt impossibly heavy and uncomfortable and I wasn't sure quite how I was going to manage the more extreme days. That night we had a great meal, I slept very well and the next morning woke early to see the sun rise followed by a hot shower. I felt refreshed and assured that this hiking malarkey wouldn't be as difficult as I had thought.
Each day grew successively more challenging and it seemed that the trail would always throw in a little treat for us at the end of a hard day! This culminated in day four- described in the guides as 'hard'- I think that was an understatement. Unfortunately for us, this day was not a calm day. After hiking 400 metres straight up the mountain we had to brace winds that blew 100kph. The wind was so strong that I had to keep throwing myself on the ground to cling to a rock so as not to be blown away! Once we had reached the summit of the pass people were huddling by rocks to try and get some relief from the wind before making their way down the other side. You can see the look on my face in the photo at the top of the pass! It was a little galling to later hear accounts of people who had made this journey the next day say that they had calm weather and there was even a ranger there to make sure that they crossed safely! However, once over the top we were rewarded with the most spectacular views of Glacier Grey and the huge ice sheet. I had never seen anything like it. The journey down was steep- 600m- through super slippery mud 'trails', over trees and at one point we were below the level of the glacier so it looked like it may engulf us. After over 8 hours of hiking through incredibly difficult conditions we made it to the camp site in the forest, to be welcomed by a sign that said it should take 4.5 hours! The name Towers of Pain felt pretty apt. I was relieved and proud to have made it through the most difficult part of the hike.
The following day I had a lot of fun climbing ladders in and out of ravines, and over waterfalls. My bag felt lighter and I felt stronger. Throughout the whole trip we had spectacular views of blue lakes, glaciers, forests, fields and saw beautiful flora. It was an experience I will never forget and we really couldn't have done it without the help of our new buddies. What an adventure!