Moving mountains

Trip Start Sep 01, 2005
Trip End Dec 04, 2006

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Friday, January 13, 2006

Puerto Natales was reached after a flight down from Punta Arenas and then a bus up and is the starting point for treks in the Torres del Paine (Towers of Pain!!! echo echo echo echo) National Park. The place was laid back and we found a kooky hostel run by Omar and his sidekick Ajax the dog. With a great book exchange where we acquired the Chile and Argentinean guide, Omar happily sorted us out and got us on our way. With tents, sleeping bags, cooking stove and enough supplies to last 4 days and 3 nights we were ready to hike the "W" circuit. Named as such because the path looks like a "W", but due to bus scheduling we compressed our hike from 4 days to 3 days making our path look more like a "U" than a "W". We met a friendly French couple that had the same plan as us so we teamed up together to complete the circuit in ludicrous speed. Dropping our packs off at on of the base camps we power walked our way to Glacier Grey and back in next to no time. Well 7 hours including 30 minutes admiring the glacier. Up and down we went and images from "Lord of the Rings" entered our minds. Barely making it back to the base camp we refuelled on some instant noodles, before deciding that despite the fact that it was 9pm that we could still make another 2 hours on the trail to the next camp. Cutting it close we reached Camp Italiano at 10;45pm and scrambled to set up tent in fading sunlight (the sun sets at around 11) with only one torch that decided to die out jet just as the tent was planted. With no spare batteries we resorted to using our camera LCD screen for light when necessary and Amber managed to make a sandwich in pitch black.

The next morning was painful with muscles aching from the 9 hours of steep hill treks the previous day. Because of the rush to get to camp last night, we ran down steep hills with our full packs on, and incidentally I injured my right knee joint. Pain was settling in fast but we pushed on towards the Cuernos Del Paine. This scenery was amazing with lakes, abundant wildlife, dramatic mountains and fresh mountain water. This helped a lot as we were drinking like fish to keep hydrated since the weather changed hot and cold at random. With our spirits in tatters we urged the French guys (Alex y Humbert) to go ahead as due to my injury we were keeping them back. Joined by Virgil a fellow trekker from New York, we trekked with spirit and before we knew it, reached the crossroad - the high road to Chilleno which was another 1.5 hours away or the low road to Los Torres, only an hour down hill. We debated and figured if we didn't go up the hill now, then it would be virtually impossible to complete the trek tomorrow as it was too long; we marched on. Amber with her with sleeping maps tied onto her backpack made her look like Rocket Girl which seemingly propelled her up the mountains. Now the thing is that the track leads up towards the next hill and when you reach that it goes down and then up towards an even higher point. Over and over again, it was like on repeat.

Seven hours later, close to tears, aches and pains and legs that could not take a step more, we arrived at Chilleno camp and reunited with Alex and Humbert who were refuelling for their final stretch and minutes later by Virgil, no man was left behind. Alex and Humbert went on to the next camp to guarantee a sunrise the next morning, whereas we barely had the energy to put our tent up that night.

The 3rd and final day pushed us the hardest. Amber with her hurt ankles and sore back and I with my torn knee joints, we set off with Virgil at the crack of dawn to see the Torres del Paine after a cup of Cream of Spinach soup (portable stoves are the best thing ever). It took two hours with the last hour of climbing on all fours to reach the mirador. With shady rocks and random gusts of wind, there were parts where safety was an issue.

But once we finally made it to the top, it was worth it. With the wind growling the sight was breathtaking. I sat there opened my pack and chow-ed down on a packet of honeyed corn flakes and Amber with her well deserved piece of chocolate. The hike back was just as tough. Upon returning back to camp we found our tent surviving a wind storm - taking the tent down in that weather was almost impossible. The hike back was a nightmare - climbing steep sand cliffs some ready to give in any minute was scary and combined with the strong winds and our aching bodies, it was impossible to trek back. At times we almost gave up making our bus trip back but with the pain of the knee slowly subsiding due to the aches in the rest of my body rising and with every step it was like jumping off a flight of stairs and landing barefooted we made it down the hill determined. Cruel is the best way to describe what it felt like when we reached the hotel and asked where we could catch the bus back to town only being told to walk another 800 metres that way. With the wind in our faces it seemed like the longest 20 minutes of our lives. I knew I had it in me but I didn't realise that it would be so excruciatingly hard especially with the injury. Well done if I do say so myself. Three days, two nights and a 70 klms hike later we survived but only just. Respect to all who completed the U. You know who you are.

Sadly after returning to Puerto Natales we discovered that the bus we rushed so fast to get to was full so we made alternate arrangements to get to Punta Arenas. Not much was happening in the big town except that we got to taste some lovely Chilean Merlots and chow down on a home cooked beef roast that our new friends cooked for us.
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