Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Chile 2; Torres del Paine; Easter Present

I don't know to even begin to do this trek justice. Every day was drastically different as we crossed forests, mountains, glaciers, lakes and creeks. The circuit was 100 km (62 mi.) in total which is a lot less than it sounds. We drank water from the creeks and the only mirrors we looked at were lakes. We had uncharacteristically sunny weather everyday and caught the 2 week period where the trees are changing color. Don't worry, it wasn't all cupcakes and puppies, I did get the wind knocked out of me....or the wind knocked the standing out of me, rather, on a couple of occasions.

Day 1: We took the bus and mini van from Puerto Natales to the beginning of the trek at Hotel Las Torres. We were enchanted with rainbows, waterfalls, lakes (rainbows in lakes), fierce winds, snow and rain up the steep path to our first campsite, Campamento Torres (free). The weight of our full packs and the brutal weather double teamed us, making it the hardest (although shortest) day of the trek. I count myself lucky after hearing stories of girls getting thrown off the trail 10 feet. Gracias walking poles.

Day 2: We woke up dark and early in order to hike up an hour to see the sunrise at the towers (torres). This was truly magical. The towers turned from red to pink to yellow to orange to brown. I have never seen anything quite like it. definitely worth shivering uncontrollably in my sleeping bag for over an hour. I later found out that even if the towers aren't covered by clouds the rocks don't change colors every time. There is something very special about getting to be there for this phenomenon. We then went back to camp to eat and pack up then headed West toward Campamento Seron, on the O part of the circuit (outside of the typical hiker's itinerary). When we passed the hotel B Burt lightened his load by leaving some of his things, like his white jeans and khaki shorts, at the hotel. I felt satisfied after I gave him a big "I told you so" and laughed it off. It was a relatively easy and peaceful walk through trees and streams. B Burt had really been struggling and needed to take several breaks along the way so it was a stop and go sort of day. Toward the end of the day I told him I would just meet him at camp (since due to language and fitness, talking while walking was out of the question) and set up things at Seron (which ended up being free since it was closed for the season, no complaints by me). I then met the people who I would spend the next 4 days with: an Australian man that kept craving a quality brew, a young British vagabond, an older man from FORT COLLINS, and a group of Americanos consisting of 5 guys studying in Buenos Aires and an American girl who joined their posse earlier in the trek. What I loved about the "O" part of the circuit was the community and solitude. We all chatted at the end of every day about how beautiful and rough our day was while we cooked our dinners, yet we rarely shared the trail with anyone else.

Day 3: I took the tent and all the shared gear from B Burt for the rest of the trek in hopes that he would have a more enjoyable journey and would be more positive (complain less). I decided it was better to walk at our own pace and reap the benefits of solitude in nature for the rest of the trek. I mean, who wants to look at someone's back when you're in nature? After I came atop the first big hill to view the crystal blue Lago Paine and countryside I could barely stand; I used my pole to stab the mountain to keep from being smashed into it. I walked through grassy fields, teetered on logs that prevented me from falling in ankle-deep mud and then I reached Refugio Dickson. Refugio's, in case you are unfamiliar, are usually cabin-esque type buildings built on hiking trails or on the top of mountains for hikers to stay. To me this meant I had to pay 4,000 pesos to camp (same as our hostel in town)...but I got a warm shower. Refugio Dickson was my favorite setting. It was nestled by Lago Dickson, Lago Quemado and had Glacier Ohnet as its backdrop. I wouldn't have minded going to summer camp there. While lazing in the sun, we got acquainted with a Chilean guy that had just finished working at a campamento and he joined our crew.

Day 4: Since we had a really short day (only 9km), I joined the Americanos on the hike to Campamento Los Perros (another campsite you have to pay for). Most of the day was spent along a river going through a forest and the grand finale was Glaciar Los Perros.

Day 5: This was the day everyone had talked up since we began (6 hrs are estimated for 12 km). "The pass" dun dun dun. I was told that winds can reach 200 km/hr. I didn't really understand what that meant but 200 sure does sound big. Turns out it's about 124 mi/hr and it is frequently closed when conditions are too dangerous. B Burt, our Chilean amigo, and I decided to take on the task together. We were extremely lucky with the weather and made it over the rock piles leading up to Grey's glacier with little difficulty. It was cold and windy, but tolerable. When I went over the peak of the last hill I was speechless. I felt like I was almost in the glacier I was so close, an indescribable feeling. The rest of the day was spent viewing this glacier from different angles (it is seriously massive) and being awed by Lago Grey. That night we stayed at Refugio Grey, where our Chilean friend used his connections to let us camp for free...hey oh! It was a bittersweet night since it was everyone else's last night (they had started with the W portion of the trek). We said our ciaos, took their extra oatmeal and continued on...

Day 6: On Easter Day we went from Refugio Grey to Italiano (the first leg of the "W" portion). Gorgeous views of mountains and lakes throughout. I had been spoiled with the O portion by always having the trail to myself but now I was saying hola to passerbys every 20 min. Just as I passed Refugio Paine Grande I saw something I've never seen before, I'll call it a raybow; rainbow colors formed a crown on the mountain yet there was no sign of rain. I didn't get to go to church this year, nor did I get an Easter egg hunt but I received the most glorious Easter present of all. Muchas gracias Jesus (Hay-zoos)!

Day 7: Since Campamento Italiano was a free campsite we decided to stay there 2 nights (and avoid packing up camp and paying 8,000 pesos for the nearest campsite) and have a lazy day. I went up Valle del Frances with my Chilean amigo and was blown away by the autumn colors. I've always liked doing things a little off season and this was no exception. Mountains, waterfalls, the whole shebang. I get 2 autumns this year!

Day 8: I was very sad to leave the park but I went out strong. Since I had carried the tent, set it up, and broke it down for most of the trek (without getting a single gracias...*cough* unappreciated housemate) I asked if B Burt could take it over now that his pack was lighter, and boy what a difference that made! I woke up for sunrise so I could make it to the buses by 2:30, an estimated 8 1/2 hour journey. Seeing the sunrise's reflection over Lago Nordernskjold was spectacular, why don't I get up early more often? I beat the crowd and had a wonderful walk, seeing more llamas than people. One thing I have learned about Patagonia is that they consistently overestimate hiking times, it took me less than 5 hours to walk out of the park so I had the remainder to relax and soak in where I was. I couldn't do anything but smile. What a week, what a week :)

Recoup- B Burt and I decided it was best to travel separately and what a relief that was. Still like the fella, just not compatible travel partners. I had a few days to kill while waiting for my flight so I was as lazy as humanly possible in Puerto Natales and El Calafate. I more than made up for all the calories I burned, liked everything and their mom on FB (sorry FB world), wrote postcards, e-mails & blogs, and hung out with people at my hostels. I exhibited symptoms of the all to familiar post-trekking depression combined with sadness about missing sakura/hanami (cherry blossom/picnic) season in Japan so I ate away my blues with a heavenly blueberry crepe. I thought it was fitting.

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