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Monday, 05 May 2008

Hiking the "W": Torres Del Paine National Park, Chile - Page 2

Written by Alison Aitken
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As the rain hammered against our window and freezing wisps of wintry air seeped through the tin-lined walls of our Puerto Natales hostel, we lay huddled under the thick down duvet quietly questioning our decision to spend three nights camping out in the Southern reaches of Chilean Patagonia. Of course, given that our bags had been packed and repacked, equipment hired and bus tickets bought, there really was no going back. Come 6am, we were scurrying around the dimly lit room looking for odd socks and anything else that might have fallen under the bed, before dashing outside to board the waiting bus.


Hiking the W: Torres Del Paine National Park, Chile, Chilean Patagonia, hiking Chile, travel south america, travel ChileCalculating that we had around 3 hours before darkness fell, we set off up the steep rocky track towards the glacier. My legs were definitely beginning to feel a little tired, but what was another 11km? I cheered myself with the thought that we would soon be able to consume some of the weight we were carrying. The half litre carton of cheap Chilean plonk clearly fell into this category. The twists and turns of the path seemed never-ending, and twilight was fast approaching. We made it to the Gray Lake just in time to see the glorious searing pinks and oranges of the sun setting behind distant snowy peaks. As my frigid numb fingers fumbled fruitlessly with camera settings, a curious owl swooped low over our heads, disappearing into the now silhouetted trees. Darkness fell soon afterwards. We continued our trek towards the campsite, now reliant on the cycloptic illumination of our bobbing headlights.


Our arrival at the deserted, dark and chilly campsite came as a great relief. We quickly set about erecting our tent and cooking up some delightfully stodgy food to help refuel our weary bodies. In an effort to defeat the notorious rats, we suspended our remaining rations high in the branches of a nearby tree. As this frantic burst of activity petered out into the weary stillness of a long day concluded, our senses pricked in recognition of our unquestionable isolation and the thrilling hugeness of our surroundings.


Hiking the W: Torres Del Paine National Park, Chile, Chilean Patagonia, hiking Chile, travel south america, travel ChileAfter a restless night that saw rain seeping through the floor of our battered little tent, we woke to the slightly surreal sight of miniature icebergs floating across the surface of the lake, only metres from our pitch. These were mere popsicles in comparison to the formidable expanse of the Gray Glacier, whose pitted surface reached as far as the eye could see.


The trail back to Paine Grande seemed longer and more arduous than it had been the day previously. As the weather closed in and our wanderlust faltered, our planned lunch stop back at Paine Grande stretched well into the afternoon. As night fell, we (and a few faltering others) gleefully resigned ourselves to a night of relative comfort. Red wine, cards and ping-pong were the order of the evening.


Hiking the W: Torres Del Paine National Park, Chile, Chilean Patagonia, hiking Chile, travel south america, travel ChileThe next morning, it was back to business. Soggy socks, cloudy skies and a lot of ground to cover. Fortunately the going was a little easier. After only a couple of hours, we crossed a rather rickety bridge to arrive at Campsite Italiano, a damp and uninviting hollow. The campsite is also the gateway to the central section of the “W” trail – the Valle Francais. To our relief, we had decided to give this now snow covered part of the trail a miss before setting out, and so felt no compunction to explore it any further. Instead, we pushed on through the valley towards Campsite Los Cuernos, where we would spend our final night in the park. The narrow, twisting trail led us onwards beneath the towering mass of the mountain from which condors launched lazy recces into the despondent sky. Other than the rattle of our boots against the gravel pathway, the enveloping silence was only punctured by the eerie sound of snow and ice avalanching down not-too-distant mountainsides.


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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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