The back of beyond

Trip Start Sep 12, 2011
1
25
34
Trip End Dec 20, 2011


Loading Map
Map your own trip!
Map Options
Show trip route
Hide lines
shadow

Flag of Chile  , Magallanes y Antártica Chilena,
Saturday, November 19, 2011

Torres Del Paine is Chile´s permier national park and according to the Lonely Planet, the best national park in South America. It is both spectauclarly beautiful and a totally unforgiving landscape. It is a prime hiking destination and that is exactly what we were there to do.

The most popular trip is called the ´W´ and takes 3-5 days but seen as we had some time on our hands and like to push ourselves that bit more.....we (Craig) decided to do the full circuit which takes 8-10 days. Once again we boarded the bus with our fellow Spanish traveller (I kid you not) and arrived at the park entance two hours later. We could have taken a mini bus on to the first campsite for 2500 Chilean Pesos but decided a wee 7.5km warm up was in order!

The first campsite at Las Torres was nice and we were allowed to build a big fire. The next day we set off along the trail to Campamento Seron, backpacks maxed out with 10 days worth of food. I won´t describe all the trails as you can look at the photo´s but the weather was good for us this day and the walk relatively easy. We set up camp on a grassy spot with a picnic table in the sunshine and I thought, hey this isn´t so bad! There were cute little puppies on site which distracted me for a while and then we met our fellow trekkers who we would continue to meet along the way for the rest of the trip. One group of 12 were all German and they had paid for wee Chilean porters to carry all their stuff around...now that is cheating if you ask me!! ( Slightly jealous!!)

After a rather restless sleep, thanks to Germany´s snoring champion, we set off on what was to be a very scenic trip to the next campsite. Upon arrival at Refugio and camping Dickson we were rewarded with fantastic views of the campsite with a large glacier in the background and winding river. The sun was shining for us again so we thought a beer was in order! The campsites with refugio´s ( basic accommodation) usually have small stores of over priced luxuries. These were to become our saving grace when we needed a little pick-me-up! The one thing that spoilt this idealic location were the swarms of MASSIVE mosquitos. Holy shit, these
things were huge and evil. I have never been bothered by these beasts before but they took a liking to me here and proceeded to take chomps at me. This is a warning to my mum...never come here!!!! We had our own little private beach by a cold glacier lake which proved to have less mossies so we hung out here. The other luxury at Dickson was the shower which I didn´t think I would see again for while. However it was practically outside...think feet and head on show, a little breezy!

From Dickson we headed over the back of the circuit to Camping Los Perros. This also sat very near a large glacier (these came to be very frequent sites, to the point I found myself saying, oh there is ANOTHER glacier!!). All was going well until the rain came!! Thankfully the campsite had a tin shed which provided some shelter from the rain (apart from the odd drip) where we stationed ourselves for the next 8 hours!! (Alongside the Germans and the porters!)

The next day we embarked on the most challenging part of the hike over John Gardner pass. In this part of the circuit, 100km per hour winds are not uncommon and neither is snow storms in the middle of summer. It is a tough hike too, all up and then all down and you are not advised to do it as a solo trekker. We were lucky that it wasn´t too windy but we did get the snow! When the top of the pass is reached at it´s highest point, you are rewarded with views of another glacier but this one is HUGE! You then have to descend down a mixture of snow, scree and mud. At one point there was no point on standing on two feet, best to just sit and slide! We were last to leave that day from Los Perros but proceeded to overtake 14 people and then the whole group of Germans. It was at this point that Craig started to call me the ´slave driver´and
´drill sergeant´...turns out I might have been quite suited to the army! I seem to walk incredibly fast, I think I get it from my dad. Anyway we arrived over the pass safe and to the first campsite. This was one of the free ones which didn´t have any facilities and I didn´t like the look of it so we pressed on. As it happčns, I didn´t like the look of the next one either so 8 hours later from when we set off (this should have taken around 11 or 12 hours) we arrived at Refugio and
camping Grey. This was a really cool spot where you camped right on the beach with icebergs floating pass! There was a shower too, bliss! We indulged in a carton of cheap wine and sat out overlooking the lake.

The next day wasn´t too difficult which was just as well as we were in agony from the day before. The weather started to change for the worse and we arrived just in time to Paine Grande, the largest refugio and campsite situated by a beautiful lake. We set up camp in strong winds and that was to be the pattern for the next few days. Add some rain to that wind and the next day proved too difficult to walk in. Again, we were lucky in that there was a cooking shelter for campers and we literally spent about 30 hours in there in total!! I thought I was going to go mad, although given I could barely walk because my muscles were so sore, it might have been a good thing. All we did was eat and drink, play cards and chat to people. We were pretty starving by this point and decided we needed protein so proceeded to consume 15 eggs!! We ended up hanging out in a bit of a group which consisted of us two scots, two danish, one german and one mexican. Now and again a few Chileans, Canadians and Dutch joined in the banter. Later in the second day the weather seemed to improve and we considered pushing on to the next campsite for a change of scenery but then we were warned by a couple of porters that the campsite was a mud bath. As such, we changed scenery by going into the bar in the refugio with the German and the Mexican and making the most of Happy Hour! The Chilean cocktail of
choice is called a Pisco Sour and it is delicious!!

At last, the next day brightened up and we pressed on. This next few days of the
trip was the ´W´part so it got a bit busier. We ended up doing a massive day...10 hours of trekking to arrive back at Camping Los Torres where we had started. We were shattered. We only had one more bit of the trek to do up the valley to the famous Towers of Paine. Supposidley
even if you are knackered this part of the trip cannot be missed so off we went. It turned out to be rather difficult too as it was a climb all the way up and then a long descent. The weather held out for us though and we got sunshine. Even the clouds gradually dispersed from the towers as we arrived allowing for some spectacular views. We bid fairwell to our fellow trekkers on the way back down (who were now a day behind us) and ran back down in a desperate attempt to make the afternoon bus. Get me outta here!!

Unfortunately, the transfer to the park entrance doesn´t link up with the bus back to Puerto Natales and so we faced a 3 hour wait at the park entrance in the wind and rain. Even although not many cars pass this route I was determined to hitch a ride and sure enough we ended up making our way back to civilisation with two Chilean girls and a Colombian guy. It turns out
we picked a good car as they fed us with juice and biscuits and then pulled out the Scottish whiskey!! So funny. Back in Puerto Natales we showered and headed out to the local pizza restaurant and I can tell you food has never tasted so good!! Never again will I take food,
warmth and shelter for granted.

GL

The only thing I would add to this is that these trails were absolutely nuts! Despite receiving 120,000 guests per year each of which pays 25 pounds to enter the park, the park authority carry out absolutely zero trail maintenance. This is the most visited national park in South America and they cannot even build a decent bridge to access the park. The bridge which every visitor has to cross cannot hold the weight of a full minibus. This means that the passengers have to get out while the bus crosses the bridge as otherwise it would break and everyone would drown. And this is before you get onto their trails.

The bridges are rickety as hell and are usually just a few logs held together by a couple rusty nails.Some of the ladders which you use to descend into the gorges have been washed away so you need to climb up a rope instead - see photo.

The section between Dickson and Los Perros was insane. It was like an obstacle course from start to finish. Fallen trees, deep bogs, eroded gorges and incredibly steep steps made for a challenging hike.

There are also many 2 foot deep bogs which in any other country would have bridges over them to prevent further erosion but not in Chile. You have to walk right through it or create a new trail round it causing further erosion. At one point they had started a bridge over a 300 meter long bog and then given up 1/3 of the way through leaving hikers to use the unused wood to build their own single plank bridges across the mud. Not only do the hikers get covered in mud but its really bad for the environment and causes damage which would take years to recover from. If they dont start maintaining these trails soon they are going to have no trails left and then people wont visit. However, the lack of trail maintenance does make for some interesting moments and presents great opportunities to photograph people falling into the bogs.

Rant over. Next time I come here I am bringing the bike. It was about the trail was about 90% rideable and had some epic singletrack which I have tried to capture in a few of the photos.
Slideshow Report as Spam

Use this image in your site

Copy and paste this html: