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Posts from the ‘Chile’ Category

Torres del Paine W-Walk – Long Walk in the Rain – Day 4

Today’s plan was to walk from the “Italiano” campsite to the “Chileno” or “Torres” one. Looking at the map this appeared a huge hike especially because I have heard the way to “Torres” is going up only. So I thought I better get up early and start walking as soon as there is daylight.

When I got up at 6:30am it was still dark. I put down my tent and packed my stuff away. Then I sat down on a fallen tree having breakfast and waiting for the sun to rise. The first ray of light appeared at 7:15am and so I started walking. During the first meters I still had my head torch on since it was kind of dark underneath the trees. As soon as I came out of the forest it started to rain. Since it was more spray than proper rain I thought it may stop after a while. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case and the rain became heavier.

Since I was sure to be the first one on the trail I didn’t make an effort to find a bush to hide behind when changing to my raingear. I stripped in the middle of the trail and put on my rain trousers. My North Face jacket is waterproof anyhow and so I only needed a protection for my big backpack otherwise my sleeping bag and food will get wet. Unfortunately I didn’t have a cover since it’s the dry season and I didn’t expect to walk the whole day in rain. But I still had a rain poncho which I wrapped around my shoulders and the backpack to protect it.

Walking in the rain was pretty lonely since everybody seemed to hide in their refuge or tent. After walking for nearly two hours I was running into the first people. I actually knew one of them. It was Marco a guy from Switzerland who travelled with me from Salvador to Rio. I was surprised to see him here but we could only exchange a few words until the both of us needed to continue.

The rain didn’t want to stop and my rain trousers fulfilled their purpose. Most people don’t own them because in a city an umbrella or a rain jacket is fully sufficient. But when being in the outdoors rain trousers are really essential. When you hike through wet bushes normal trekking trousers would become completely wet after a while which isn’t the case with rain trousers.

Right next to the trail were many funny signs. One of them said you shouldn’t burn your toilet paper which I found really weird. I would never even think about to burn my toilet paper, especially not in the middle of a national park. First I thought it might be a spelling error and they don’t want you to bury your toilet paper. But then I thought they really mean it like this because in the past there were several fires in the park caused by careless hikers. Maybe one of the fires was caused by burning toilet paper.

At some point before the “Hosteria Las Torres” a shortcut to the “Chileno” campsite appeared. While on this trail I ran into Ross and Stuart coming from the opposite direction. I was happy to see them alive and hear they have covered the most challenging part of the circuit. What they are doing is really incredible walking the full circuit in the Torres del Paine National Park in only 5 day instead of the recommended 8-9 days – tough boys. They told me a few of their adventures such as they missed the right trail to the “Refugio Dickson” and ended up in swampland. Luckily they were able to find the right trail and walked until 10 or 11pm with their head torches until they reached the refuge. They also told me the “Chileno” campsite is closed since it’s the end of the season and so I will need to walk up further to the ”Torres” campsite. I didn’t worry too much since I was running very good in time and would have walked to “Torres” anyhow.

I arrived at the “Torres” campsite at 5pm. By then it had stopped raining and I pitched up my tent between the trees. Tomorrow will be an easy day for me since it’s only one more hour up to the “Torres del Paine” viewpoint. I hope the weather will be better tomorrow since Ross and Stuart told me because of the rain they couldn’t see much.


Torres del Paine W-Walk – French Valley – Day 3

Day 3 of the W-Walk led me to the French Valley. As I learned my lesson yesterday by running late and didn’t make it to the “Italiano” campsite, I had more discipline today and got up at 7am. It was still dark and so I had breakfast waiting for the sunrise. I started walking shortly after 8am towards the “Italiano” campsite. It was a gentle walk in pretty flat terrain and so it didn’t take me more than 2.5 hours to reach the campsite. The walk itself wasn’t too scenic, just a few bushes and little streams.

A rope bridge led me to the campsite crossing a clear stream of glacier water. The streams in the Torres del Paine National Park are actually used to supply drinking water to hikers. Whenever I’m thirty I just fill up my water bottle in one of the streams in the park. Therefore, it isn’t allowed to wash in them. Instead you fill up your water bottle and from there splash the water over your body. The other option is just to stay dirty for a couple of days.

At the other side of the bridge my fellow traveler Ian was welcoming me. This will be his first night at a campsite in the park. However, he has already used his camping stove to cook while staying at the refuge during the last two nights. After I have put up my tent I met Sarah and Liz on their way to the French Valley and invited them to leave some of their stuff in my tent so they don’t need to carry it up to the viewpoint and back again which is a return trip of six hour. I also left my big backpack in my tent trusting nobody will steal it and just went up with a bottle of water and my camera.

Describing the French Valley is nearly impossible same as capturing it on a picture. It’s a large valley filled with colorful trees surrounded by stunning mountains and glaciers. In the middle of the valley flows a river and the trail is more or less following it. While walking you can hear the sounds of cracking ice or even see it moving down the mountains. This is really picture book Patagonia. Unfortunately it was cloudy all day and I can only guess the colors of the valley would look even more stunning in sunlight.

It was a 2.5 hour walk up to the “Británico” campsite and from there another 30min to the viewpoint where you have a fascinating panorama view of the valley. I sat down on one of the big rocks up there and enjoyed the view before walking back to the “Italiano” campsite. Luckily my tent and all my belongings were still there and I was happy I didn’t need to carry them during the last six hours.

Torres del Paine W-Walk – Glacier Grey – Day 2

My alarm went off at 7am since I wanted to get up early to walk as much as possible along the ice field of Glacier Grey towards the “Paso John Gardner”. As it was still dark and everybody else seemed to be asleep I turned around and continued to sleep until 8:30am. After I got up I noticed I had actually put up my tent on the middle of the trail. It didn’t matter too much since there is nearly no traffic towards the pass since most people only walk to the “Refugio Grey” marking one of the end points of the W-Walk. Probably only Ross and Stuart have passed my tent early this morning on their long way to the “Refugio Dickson”.

It took me about an hour to wash with the cold water from my water bottle, have breakfast and put down my tent. Having breakfast in my small tent is kind of funny since there is really not much space, no table or any other comfort item. My breakfast consisted of cereals with milk and apples. I have figured out all non-dried food I’m carrying weights most and so I started to eat all the apples I’m carrying to make my backpack lighter.

After I have packed all my stuff I walked to the viewpoint of the “Los Guardas” campsite. The campsite is situated right at the rim of the Glacier Grey where the ice is calving into the lake. This viewpoint offered a much closer view at the glacier than the viewpoint at the “Refugio Grey”. On my way back from the viewpoint I met a German guy and it turned out I have already met him yesterday on the trail when he was offering me some of his carrots. He’s a math student and after he finished his study he was unsure which type of job he wants to take. The only thing he was sure is he doesn’t want to spend his life to calculate risks for large multinational companies but do something more meaningful. He decided to travel for nine months through the Spanish speaking countries of South America which are actually all except of Brazil to improve his Spanish. He’s doing the W-Walk with his Chilean friend he has met a couple of week ago.

I continued to walk towards the pass and made it about half way until I started to return. First I had to cross some rocky terrain where I needed to climb up a ladder which was a bit scary with the big backpack on my shoulders. A few minutes later I arrived at another viewpoint which offered a fascinating view over the ice field of the glacier. It’s really beautiful and peaceful up there in this stunning landscape and I had the feeling these are moments I’m living for.

On the way back I stopped again at the “Los Guardas” viewpoint since this morning the rim of the glacier was in the shadow and I wanted to see it in sunlight. I arrived at the “Refugio Paine Grande” at 6:30pm. Actually I didn’t want to spend the night here but at the “Italiano” campsite. Getting up late and chatting to people on the way made me running late. From the refuge it was another 2.5 hours to the campsite but it will get dark in 1.5 hours. Therefore, I decided to spend the night at the refuge and luckily they had a bed for me for which I paid 15,000 Pesos (33 USD).

The room was a mixed gender dorm with three bunk beds. There was a couple from Chicago, three boys from North Carolina and me sharing the dorm. In a few days it will be the 30th birthday of one of the boys and his dream was to come here to the Torres del Paine National Park and do the W-Walk. He read about this hiking experience in a men’s health magazine 1.5 years ago and since then wanted to come here. As you might know people from the US often don’t have more than two weeks of vacation so coming here was his annual leave from work.

At the refuge I also met my fellow traveler Liz from the UK. She was worried because her niece Jo, she is travelling with, wasn’t back from the mountain and it was already dark. She had asked the guards of the park to search for her but they were very much relaxed and wanted to wait a few more hours until they go out and search for her. Luckily, Jo turned up around 10pm. She was running very late on her hike to the “French Valley” but finally made it back to the refuge.

My back hurts a bit from carrying the heavy backpack all day same as the blisters on my heels. However, I was surprise how well I recovered last night and hope it will be the same this one. In the refuge there was also the opportunity to have a hot shower but it was only working during the shower time from 8pm to 9pm. It turned out only the women’s shower had hot water and so some of the guys came to shower with us.

Torres del Paine W-Walk – Glacier Grey – Day 1

The Torres del Paine National Park is one of the spots you shouldn’t miss when travelling to Patagonia. It offers a stunning landscape and the opportunity to hike for multiple days with a change of scenery on every day. The most popular hike you can do is the so called W-Walk because on a map the trail looks like a W. It takes about 5 days to walk along the W. Other opportunities include day trips or the full circuit which according to guide books takes 8-9 days. Accommodation is offered in refuges with a dorm type of accommodation, paid campsites with facilities and free campsites with a bush camp character and no facilities.

What I personally found interesting is the opportunity to walk for multiple days in a safe environment and being completely self-contained thus carrying your camping equipment and food on your back. While on other multiple day hikes such as a special version of the Inca Trail or the Kilimanjaro hike I had porters to carry my stuff this time I wanted to experience how it actually is to carry all your stuff with you at all times. I also decided to do it the rough way and only stay at the bush camp type of campsites. Although this option is the cheapest one I didn’t do it to save money but for the outdoor experience.

Breakfast was at the base camp where my cooking group consisting of Mollie, Diann and myself served three different types of cornflakes (normal, whole-grain and chocolate) as well as fruit. Afterwards we arranged bread, meat, cheese, tomatoes and cucumbers so people could make their packed lunch. Finally, I sorted out my luggage to prepare the backpack I will be carrying for the next five days. After I have packed it I was wondering how much stuff it was and thought I might have packed too much. I don’t know how heavy my backpack was but would guess 15kg or so. Actually it turned out this is really the amount of stuff I need to carry since 90% of it was camping equipment such as my tent, sleeping bag and mattress as well as food I will need to survive five days in the wilderness. Have you ever put everything what you plan to eat in five days on one pile? If not you should do so and lift it to see how heavy it actually is.

Before heading off for the hike the first issue appeared. The crew of the Dragoman truck we ran into yesterday told us due to strong wind the campsite at the “Refugio Paine Grande” is closed. This means instead of camping I will need to stay in the refuge for the first two nights. Since the refuges are booked out pretty quickly and we weren’t sure if there is any availability the rangers radioed them to find out if there is a spot for Ian and me. Luckily there was since it’s the end of the season. Everybody else in the group had booked and paid their accommodation well in advance which is the normal way of doing it.

At lunch time Anki drove us from our campsite “Lago Perhoé” to the ferry. Usually there are three ferry boats crossing the Perhoé Lake, one in the morning, one at midday and one in the evening. Since it’s the end of the season, there was only the midday and the evening one. Most of us took the one at midday, others came in the evening and a few people stayed at the base camp since they didn’t fancy to go hiking. The ferry brought us from the “Guardaria Pudeto” to the “Refugio Paine Grande” which was a 30 to 45min ride costing 12,000 Pesos (27 USD).

On the boat I met Tony who was travelling with us from Manaus to Rio and is now continuing his journey with Tucan. He and his friends were also challenged by the closure of the campsite at the “Refugio Paine Grande” and instead of staying at the refuge they were planning to camp at the paid campsite of “Refugio Grey” meaning a 3.5 hour hike up there. I spontaneously decided to do the same and told Ian I will have a no-show in the refuge and he should pay for me in case they insist on the reservation.

I also met two Israeli guys planning to walk up to the campsite and joined them walking. After 30-60min they stopped to cook lunch and so I said good-bye to them. I made up my mind and wanted to walk even further than to the campsite at “Refugio Grey” spending the night at the free bush camp type of campsite “Los Guardas” which was an additional two hours walk and I wanted to arrive before sunset. I also suffered a bit from the heavy load in my backpack. Usually you only carry your large backpack for a few minutes and not for hours, uphill and through strong wind as I experience it on my way at “Laguna Los Patos”. I was really questioning if I will survive five days like this or after a while suffer from back pain? I had also heard from the people of the other Dragoman truck that when they were hiking here in Torres del Paine some people got blown over so strong was the wind.

While walking up to the campsite I ran into some of my fellow travelers. The first ones were Ian and Jeremy who went for a seven hour return trip to “Refugio Grey” and the second ones were Ross and Stuart planning to do the full circuit in just five days. When resting at the “Refugio Grey” for a few minutes I met a German guy and his friends just finishing the full circuit. They told me the circuit part outside the W is actually less scenic and the main experience you have is walking for hours without meeting other people. They also said the trail will become very muddy, there is very strong wind when crossing the “John Gardner Paso” and they have met a guy who experienced a snow storm up on this pass just a couple of days ago. As much as I was tempted to join Ross and Stuart on their circuit experience the less I was prepared for it. While Ross and Stuart were not planning to camp they didn’t carry a heavy backpack which enables them to walk much faster. Their plan to do the full circuit in just five days involves a couple of very long hiking days including walking at nighttime which I don’t fancy too much. This night they will stay at the “Refugio Grey” and tomorrow walk for 15 hours to the “Refugio Dickson” including the crossing of the pass. I also didn’t wanted to be in a rush and take time to enjoy the landscape and talk to people I meet along the way. Lastly, I wasn’t prepared for a potential snow storm. I had no gloves with me and was walking in hiking sandals since during the last hike at Mount Fitz Roy my proper hiking boots caused blisters on my heels.

So I only joined Ross and Stuart to see the viewpoint at “Refugio Grey” where we had a nice view at Glacier Grey and the icebergs calving from it. Then I said good-bye to continue to the campsite “Los Guardas” where I arrived at 7pm. After pitching up my tent and having dinner I went straight away to bed so exhausted was I from carrying this heavy backpack all day.

Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine Base Camp

Adios Argentina y Hola Chile! Time to head west and enter Chile. Crossing the border was a two-step process. First we had to see immigrations and then customs. It’s actually not allowed to bring any fresh food or wood products into Chile and the customs officers are very serious about it. We needed to unload our entire luggage and get it x-rayed. Before doing so our leader Anki collected all items we were not sure about if they need to be declared and showed them separately to the customs officer. It turned out they accepted most items. Only nuts got confiscated such as pistachios and walnuts but for some strange reason they didn’t take our peanuts. We speculated the immigration officers at this border like the more expensive nuts and will eat them once we have left. In addition our whole truck got inspected by customs including our camping equipment, food boxes and the fridge. In total the border crossing procedure took a bit more than an hour.

Our leader Anki also told us not to mention we will be driving to the Torres del Paine National Park but to Ushuaia. The reason behind is they make groups of people hiring a local guide for the national park which we don’t want but hike around on our own. You really don’t need a guide in Torres del Paine since the trails are pretty good marked.

Driving here in Patagonia is very much different from home. The distances are so huge that some days we cover a distance which is comparable with crossing Germany. But there is no autobahn without a speed limit, our truck cannot drive too fast and sometimes there is not even tarmac on the road slowing down our driving. Therefore, you have the amazing landscape of the Patagonian steppe and snow covered mountains. Also the service stations are kind of cute. They are very tiny, don’t belong to a big chain and have an individual touch the owner gave to them. On our way to Puerto Natales we also ran into another Dragoman truck driving up north. We stopped for a few minutes and had a chat with the crew and passengers.

We arrived in Puerto Natales around 4pm. Here we had two hours time to get everything we need to survive five days in the national park such as food, snacks or camping equipment. My fellow traveler Ian from the UK, who is except for me the only one planning to camp during the five day hike, hired a camping stove. I didn’t really want to carry a stove and cook in the evening. So I went for the cold food strategy and purchased food which you don’t need to cook and which doesn’t need refrigeration such as cornflakes, apples, muesli bars, crackers and tuna paste.

Since my cook group needs to prepare dinner tonight as well as breakfast and lunch tomorrow we also needed to shop for food. While Mollie and I had about the same idea about food shopping, our fellow traveler Diann had different ideas. While I wanted to buy fresh stuff only, Diann wanted to mix it with tined vegetables and fruit. The issue I had with this was that on one side fresh vegetables and fruit taste better and on the other side they are also cheaper. I would have compromised with Diann if there was a way to fit the tins into the budget we received for food shopping but there wasn’t. This resulted in Diann signing-off from shopping and walked away. I felt somewhat sorry and saw her afterwards to explain the situation and say I’m sorry about it.

We left Puerto Natales at 6pm for the Torres del Paine base camp which is a campsite within the national park. When we arrived it was dark, cold, windy and rainy. Not really perfect conditions for cooking outside. After we started cooking we even needed to move the whole kitchen into a more protected area which slowed down the whole cooking process. However, in the end Mollie, Diann and I managed to cook what was supposed to be fried noodles with chicken and vegetables. The main issue was the noodles. Although we added lots of oil they were sticky like glue resulting in the dish not looking very tasty. This is the first meal I consider a fuck-up for my cooking group but although it didn’t look inviting it tasted quite good and all 21 people ate it.