Walkabout: Travel Life and Photographs

Patagonian Wind

Rachel – March 22nd, 2010 – Blog 10

Patagonian Wind

We made it to Puerto Natales and prepared for a 5 night trip into Torres del Paine National Park. The night before we were suppose to leave my hives returned! They weren’t as bad as before but had spread across my stomach, back, chest and face. I wanted to pretend that everything was fine, and head into the backcountry, but knew that it could get worse so we went to the hospital in Puerto Natales. It was early morning and long story short I ended up leaving the hospital without any help. They gave me short answers and wouldn’t let Andy come in with me. We eventually went to a local pharmacy that offered consultations and tried to fight the hives with pills, but ended up getting another steroid shot. What luck. Worried about what we should do we contacted home and got advice from my family doctor and decided to head to the park with Benadryl in hand the following day providing that the hives were gone or better, hoping they wouldn’t return.

P1040625 We arrived by bus and started hiking at 11:00. It felt so good to get out and begin to enjoy Patagonia. Even if we had to hike out the next day we were able to hike 17 kilometers with a panoramic view of the mountains, the sun shining the whole way, and not a care in the world. The trail was flat and passed by indigo blue glacial lakes. We had everything we needed on our backs. We pulled into camp around 5pm. We realized right away that the park caters to all types of travelers at certain points called refugios. This particular refugio was accessible by a catamaran across Lake Pehoe, had had a lodge with restaurant, heated showers and a small general store selling snickers for $2 each. We took a different route and saw an area that is less traveled by visitors. The camp area behind the “hotel” was packed. These visitors were from across the world. We put our tent next to a noisy Israeli group and checked out the communal kitchen area, which was sheltered, warm and therefore the place to be. They provided running water and burners with fuel. For a night it was fine, but this was a noisier, busier camp experience then I wanted. We did meet a nice Chilean guy who gave us some advice on what trail to take and it was interesting being around such a diverse group of people. Some looked as if they had been hiking for weeks, while others had all the new shiny gear and were ready to begin their adventure. After our meal of pasta followed by hot cocoa we hit the hay and listened to the Israeli’s late into the night. Several times during the night we heard scampering of mice, a couple even climbed up the netting of our tent and back down the other side. If they stuck around too long we would scare them off since our food was in our packs.

P1040705 The morning was cold with frost, but the sun was coming over the mountain by the time we had finished breakfast. Once we started hiking we shed several layers and got into the groove of the trail. At the first mirador (lookout) to Grey’s Glacier we ate lunch and took a long break. The view of the glacier was impressive and we decided to hike to the next mirador since we had daylight and energy. The trail crossed streams and followed the blue lake. Of course it looked closer than it was and a couple hours later we made it to a outcropping that sat right across from the glacier. Still feeling ambition to move camp we headed back and retraced out steps. I remember feeling at ease as we made our way back along the lake and then down the valley to our campsite. Once back we looked at each other and realized how tired we were and that it would be stupid to hike 2 more hours to the next camp. The tent village that had existed our first night had diminished significantly and we literally picked up our tent and moved it far away from the Israeli’s. We completed our second day by enjoying dinner next to the lake. Besides the scurrying mice we slept soundly and were ready to move in the morning.

P1040924 Feeling great and not seeing any signs of the hives we packed up and headed to Campamento Italiano that sits at the base of Valle de Frances. It was tough to get into our stride. Andy led the way and the trail curved and proceeded to go up then down. I remember not worrying about our pace and knew as long as we were moving we would get there and that taking in the scenery was more important than pushing ourselves up a steep slope. Slow and steady was my mantra. We ate lunch after setting the tent up in the shaded hole of a campground at Italiano. This was a free campground and was much more rustic than Pehoe. We were among the real campers. We headed up the valley and while trying to find the trail through a scree field we heard the grumbling glacier above us. Sure enough we saw an avalanche! It was very far away but we witnessed the whole thing. Andy even caught some of it on tape. This was the beginning of one the most memorable hikes. The weather was perfect and the trail traversed waterfalls and rode along a ridge top in and out of trees. It was my favorite section and the trail continued along the roaring river until we arrived at the mirador where we were surrounded by Patagonian peaks on all sides. We lingered here until the last of the day hikers left. The sun was setting and we enjoyed the trail all over again on the way back down. We ended the day with a rice soup fortified with pasta. Getting smarter we avoided the mice problem by hanging our food from a tree.

P1050198 The next day the weather turned and I was thankful that we had such a wonderful day in the valley the day before. We heard later on that several people turned around as the wind was too much. We packed and hit the trail. We had a long day ahead of us as we planned to hike 22 kilometers with our full packs. The wind threw us around at will. I have never experienced such wind. At first I was worried, but eventually I resigned to it and actually enjoyed the powerful gusts. People along the trail were miserable. We passed couples that were bundled up in rain gear and not seeing any of their surroundings. A guide we talked to before we left said, “Make sure and feel the rain and wind in the park… it reminds you that you are alive.” I did exactly that. The trail dipped and skirted a lake and then headed back into the hills. We pushed on and I set a comfortable pace. In the early afternoon we plopped the packs down and ate a hardy lunch. From there we branched off onto a shortcut trail. I kept my eyes on the clouds and hoped that they would clear up so we could make it up to our last camp near the famous Torres (towers). The trail steadily rose and we could see the vastness of the mountain range and the rolling lake valleys. We spotted the Torres Hotel and laughed about all the wealthy gearheads that were staying in their nice rooms and keeping their expensive gear very clean. We had been  wearing the same clothes for the past three days and were as happy as could be. The hardest part of our day was still to come and it makes me think of the saying… no pain no gain. To get to Torres camp we had to go up in elevation through a deep valley. As soon as we turned onto the steep trail that was literally on a small ledge above the valley we were hit by a strong gust of wind. Seeing AnP1050205dy ahead of me being blown left and right I hugged the canyon wall, tried not to look at the scree field leading down to the river bottom below and kept going. There were a few really sketch areas of the trail that we spoke of later like wow that was dangerous! Finally ascending down to the Refugio Chileno we crossed a rickety bridge that swayed back and forth in the wind and had huge gaps in the wooden slats that we stepped on. We got water inside before heading out to complete 5 more kilometers to our destination. Luckily the trail weaved in and out of a forest and was not exposed like the previous section. Our packs felt heavier than ever and we constantly had to go up and then down again. The uphill put strain on our backs and hips and the downhill put the weight on our already sore and tired knees. Barely moving at a snail’s pace and about to freak out if I had to go up one more set of stairs we saw a sign that read 1 min from camp Torres. We made it. 23 kilometers in 8 hours. To reward myself I ate half a milky way that night with dinner. The camp was fairly busy as others had the same idea as we did to see the sunrise at the base of the Torres.

Having lost my alarm clock earlier in the trip, I woke Andy up several times during the night to ask what time it was. Not getting any sleep I got him up at 6:08 to begin the 45 minute hike up to the lookout. A stream of headlamps could be seen on the way up and near the top we were surrounded with other hikers and a strong wind. Andy and I took cover behind a boulder and saw a poor, crazy hiker with one big pack on his back and another on his front get taken out by the wind. Once at the top of the lookout ridge we found a less windy spot and huddled with a few others to watch the sunrise. I was glad that I brought up my pad and sleeping bag to stay P1050074warm during the wait. One person in the group brought up a celebratory beer to pass around when the sun came up. His dreams were shattered when an English guy stepped on the can by accident. They paid tribute by taking a picture with the smashed beer can in front of the peaks. The colors of the rock face were amazing in the sunlight. It was brief and we stuck around so Andy could get more shots with the rising sun. The area was so bleak, windy, and desolate. The Torres were something to see though and I’m glad we made the. For the rest of the day our eyes were irritated by the particles that were blown in them during the trip. Back at camp we ate and headed down. The sketch area was just as windy as the day before, but the sun was out. The clouds rolled in behind us and my last glimpse of the Torres I saw snow had formed on the tops. I didn’t envy any of the hikers walking into the wind up the trail to see them. We had an eventful descent down as the wind proceeded to pick us up and drop us where it pleased. At one point I saw Andy on his knees, clutching a sign in order to keep from being blown away. There is nothing like Patagonian wind. Once down we wandered around with other hikers until we found the bus stop and a shuttle to the connecting bus back to Puerto Natales. Dirty, tired, but thoroughly content with our trip we sat on our packs and I enjoyed the rest of the Milky Way and Andy ate a whole package of cookies. Before we knew it we were back at the hostel and scrubbing the dirt off of our skin. Even though I washed all the sweat and dirt away I will have fond memories of our 4 night 5 day trip to the magnificent Torres del Paine.