Buenos Aires, by Noelia Diaco. Photo is not visible, used only for sharing on social networks.

Hiking in Torres del Paine: part 2

April 7, 2012
Start from the beginning of our Patagonian adventure.

Continuing the story... we're now up to Day 13. We left off with a good dinner at Refugio Los Cuernos, the end of our third day in Torres del Paine.

Day 4: Refugio Los Cuernos to Campamento Italiano via the Valle Frances (20km)

The wind that night was fierce, but our ropes held down. Some goofy guy in a big group was yelling at one point that his tent had blown away. (It seems he simply got lost finding it.) We paid for a refugio breakfast in the morning - oatmeal (I liked it but Steph is oatmeal-phobic), Tang as orange juice, eggs (from a mix/powder/goo of some kind that didn't taste like real eggs), instant coffee, and bread with jam and butter. Overall it wasn't any better than the breakfasts we were making ourselves (if we had had a working stove).

Wind on the water, morning at Los Cuernos
As we left the campsite, we ran into the Israeli guys again — the two we met on the first night who seemed to have been rained out of their desert tent. Their tent had in fact been flooded, but they had still managed to complete the "8-day" Circuit in 4 days and were just about done (planning, for their last 1/2 day, what everyone else did in 2). These guys were in the Shayetet, the Israeli equivalent of the Navy SEALs, so I guess a little cold water didn't faze them.

Map: How to hike the "W' in Torres del Paine

We made good time to Italiano, the next campsite. The hike was similar to the day before, along a lake. We set up camp there and continued with small packs to the Valle Frances (supposed to be the highlight of hiking the "W"). It was very steep going up to the first mirador (lookout) in the Valle, then it got flatter.  The trail ran alongside a fast-flowing river. Across the river were snow-covered mountains, and at one point we saw an avalanche. At the end there was an enormous vista of the valley we had just hiked. The winds at the lookout peak were howling.

Valle Frances

We went back down the same route to camp, now very tired. We played "20 Questions" to pass the time and stay awake.

The campsite had a communal cooking hut, which made it easy to borrow a stove again. This was our last trail dinner, and we made pasta with a delicious tomato-garlic sauce. Bundled up in our tent, I discovered that my Kindle was broken (the screen got permanently stuck, an all-too-common problem with them), so we were down to the new one Steph had just gotten for this trip. Our feet were aching and we were sad to be ending our vacation soon.

Day 5: Campamento Italiano to Mountain Lodge Paine Grande (7.6km)

We woke at 7, mooched a stove one last time for a final cup of much-needed trail coffee, and hit the trail by 9:15. Our destination was Paine Grande, a big refugio 7.6 km away in the recently-burnt part of the park, where we would catch a catamaran across the lake back to the entrance. It was cold and rained the whole way. We made excellent time through the mud, arriving at 11 a.m. and changing into warm, dry clothes.

At Paine Grande

We missed the last part of the "W", an 11-kilometer hike up to Refugio Grey because of the time we lost trying to fix our stove. We weren't too upset about this, however, because the main attraction in that part of the part is a glacier, and we had already hiked on the Perito Moreno glacier in El Calafate. Plus, this part of the park is all burned out from a fire started by an Israeli tourist at the end of December, so there's not much to see along the way (it was raining, so we didn't take any photos of the burnt parts, but you can get a sense of it in the photo above).

After the catamaran (another absurdly over-priced amenity of the park), we took a long bus ride back to Puerto Natales. We stayed in the "cave" at Erratic Rock, a cheap hole of a room with a bunk bed. We correctly expected it to be small and noisy. The showers couldn't maintain their temperature, and we didn't sleep very well.

Before we went to sleep, however, we bought a blender, the smuggling of which is the subject of another post.

Also that evening, we had dinner at a nearby restaurant: I ordered fish and Steph had an enormous and delicious hamburger (a surprise given the poor burgers in Argentina, and Steph's memory of generally bad food in Santiago). Before the food arrived, we were served a little bowl of gazpacho-like sauce and butter. It seemed to be meant for bread, but we waited and none arrived, and we were very hungry. So we started eating the gazpacho, and it was good! We finished it, and still no bread. We waited a little longer for our food, and then the waitress shows up with bread. She probably went back to the kitchen and laughed with her coworkers about the stupid gringos who ate all the sauce. It's like we went into a diner and ate all the ketchup.

Day 16: We took another long bus ride back across the border to Calafate. We had a good quiet laugh about the blender when they didn't even check the bags. In Calafate we checked in again at Lautaro, had nice warm showers, ice cream down the block, and another delicious dinner by Dario. (The steak wasn't as good this time, but the dessert — an apple pancake with rum and berry jam — more than made up for it.)

Final Day, #17: At the airport in Calafate we had to pay a "departure tax," which Orbitz had conveniently left off the advertised cost. We hopped to Ushuaia, where the plane was delayed for an hour, then we flew back to BA. We had almost forgotten, from the cool southern temperatures, that it was still summertime up north!

- Ben

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