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Saturday, 12 April 2014

Torres del Paine, Chile: The Highlight of My First Year

I was now in the real south, less than 1,000km from Antarctica, in the town of Punta Arenas. About 20 of us (mainly Americans and Canadians) caught a bus from the Airport to Punta Arenas before catching a larger bus 3 hours to Puerto Natales (this bus stopped at the airport on the way making all of us feel like idiots).

I arrived at my hostel in Puerto Natales that was run by a friendly couple. I told them I want to do Torres del Paine tomorrow. I knew very little about Torres del Paine. They told me my bus leaves at 7am, gave me a tent, roll up mattress, utensils, let me store my gear at the hostel and told me which campsites to sleep at. So now I had everything to take on this 3-4 day 70km hike by myself... It was that easy!

I left the hostel bright and early with two other people in my dorm and managed to forget my passport just sitting on the desk in the room (I just hoped we would be reunited upon my return). About 100 or more people arrived at the park on 4 buses where there are 4 main hiking options; The east to west W Circuit (the most popular), the west to east W (my choice), E-W or W-E 150 km O Circuit (this includes the W) and lastly the walk to The Torres and back (around 15km and the final section of my chosen W Circuit).

The Park Entrance
After our introductions to the park everyone starting from the west (the minority) hopped back on the bus en route to our catamaran. While waiting for the catamaran I met 6 Spanish people (Iñaki, Fran, Claudia, Esther, Irati and Alex) doing the same route as me. I became their adopted Australian. Spanish travellers are relatively rare so I was happy to meet 6 awesome people from a country that I had an unbelievable time in last year... I think I have seen more of their country than the 6 of them combined!

Which way is up?


On a Boat!



After getting off the boat we set up camp and left our heavy bags behind before tackling the first side of the W. We started at the point of the first V in the W so it was a 22km return walk to Glacier Grey with 6 hours of sun remaining to get things started. I got to practise my Spanglish while being blown away by the nature.




Bagless





We returned back to camp in darkness. Lucky for me my new Spanish friends had head lamps. It was dinner then bed with a 6am start but not before putting our food out of reach from the mice... There were some screams during the night with 3 mice getting inside a tent of girls.

I froze during the night waking up to an ice covered tent.


We started day 2 with a 7.6km full pack hike to the next camp site.

Rocking the Bridge!


Showing the mountain and my age!


We set up camp at the infamous Campamento Italiano, a free campsite with no amenities notorious for mice. The trees were full of hanging backs, including mine.

We then commenced our 11km packless return hike through Valle del Francés (French Valley) to Británico (Britain). This part of the trek was amazing with changing landscapes (walking up waterfalls, crossing streams, in and out of forests, rocks with plants growing on top, leafless trees and incredible rock formations)... Only 4 of us made to the end and back.

Irati, Iñaki, Alex and I






Avalanche





After returning to camp it was time for another well earned dinner combined with conversation.

The next day was going to be the toughest so we decided to get up at 5am and commence our journey in the dark. We had a 20km full pack hike to the next campsite. Claudia and Esther were still struggling from the day before and decided to go back to the Catamaran and meet us at the camp from the east starting point.







We beat the girls to the camp and decided to do another 8km return trek to Los Torres. The Torres are the main feature the park and we were afraid fog would prevent us from seeing them if we waited until the morning. I still felt almost dead after setting up camp, having already walked about 20km up and down mountains carrying 15-20kg, but we all pushed through it to view The Torres in perfect conditions.

Los Torres!

It was worth it!
After almost 30km of hiking in one day we made it back to camp where Claudia and Esther were waiting. I ate two dinners that night.

The next morning the girls and Iñaki made the trek back to The Torres to see them at sunrise (this is what most people do). It turned out to be the first clear morning and I slept in until 10am. A decision I now regret. Here is a photo I stole from Claudia´s facebook. The sunrise completely changes the colour.


We made the 2 hour trek back to wait for the bus, joined by a Chilean couple, Libertad and Alvaro, that we met many times during the 3 days.

6 Españoles, 2 Chilenos y 1 Australiano están celebrando la terminación!

I stayed a few more days in Puerto Natales to rest after this amazing journey. I ate at restaurants every night and slept in every morning. While also spending a couple of last days with the Spaniards minus Alex... and I was reunited with my passport.

My first meal after camping! 3 fillets of fish, 2 eggs, onion and chips.

Misjudging the weather in Puerto Natales

The last meal with the gang minus Alex
The end of an amazing adventure. If you are in South America outside of winter then Torres Del Paine is a must. Pictures cannot show everything.

Next Stop El Calafate, Argentina!

Lessons Learnt:
Too many

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