Day 2: Refugio Paine Grande – Refugio Los Cuernos (13.1km)
If it were not for the hot shower the next morning, I’m not sure how I would have got myself moving. After a huge breakfast of oatmeal, apple and coffee, also having disposed of our defunct tent, we shouldered our packs and set out onto the day’s trail. The weather remained horrendous all morning, with constant rain, sleet and gale force winds we battled against the Patagonian elements. Parts of the trail had become small streams, with torrents of ice cold rainwater cascading down from the surrounding mountains. The trail became particularly treacherous in places, with loose boulders and slippery stones creating ideal conditions for a sprained ankle or deadly fall.
Somewhat beleaguered, we had no choice but to accept the poor conditions and pushed on through foggy forest, passing waterfalls and lakes until we reached Campamento Italiano, the centre point of the ‘W’ trek and at the base of the Valle dél Frances. Our plan was to hike the 11km return trip into the valley, which would give us panoramic views of the national park and the rear side of the Torres. Our plans were quickly scuttled as we were told the pass had been closed due to poor wether conditions. Instead, we found ourselves holed up and brewing coffee in a makeshift shelter with several other wet, cold and disappointed trekkers. The continuous stream of people returning from the valley did nothing to lift our spirits, with one group explaining that they had been forced to hide under a large rock as a small blizzard passed them! Apparently, the views from the top were non-existent.
Soaked to the skin, and disheartened by the abrupt ending to our plans, we decided to skip the valley and walk the remaining 5.5km to the next Refugio. We had made a good choice, in the last two hours the rain intensified to the point where the track was almost unrecognisable. We were spurred on by rumors of hot showers and a hot stove to dry clothes and shoes at the next Refugio, which we gratefully indulged in upon arrival.
At this point, I felt that the trek through the Torres Del Paine had morphed from a sightseeing, challenging trekking experience, into a physical and mental test of our abilities to cope with the elements we were facing. As we were limited to where we could stay by our lack of a tent, the following day promised to be a difficult one. We had to ensure we were able to hire one where we stayed, this would mean that tomorrow would require us to go several kilometres out of our way to borrow a tent to camp near the Torres that night. We feasted on rice once again, before crawling into our tent and praying for better weather the following day.
Day 3: Refugio Los Cuernos – Hotel Los Torres – Campamento Torres (19.9km)
As the sunlight peeked over the mountains, across blue skies and illuminating the clouds a pale pink, Day 3 of our hike finally delivered us the weather that we had been hoping for. After our standard fare breakfast, enjoyed while we watched Condors circle the peaks above, we set off to Hotel Los Torres renewed and energized for the day that lay before us.
Until this point I had little opportunities to take photographs, it was either too wet or too cloudy. With the absence of cloud and rain, the park finally revealed itself as we trekked alongside Lago Nordernskjöld.
A short distance into the day’s walking we bumped into two comical Poms, Freddy and Hugh, who had a great love of trekking and were superbly organised for their age. Just 18 and 19 respectively, they already had a great deal of experience under their belts. They helped us ignore our blisters from the two days prior as we breezed along the first part of the trail, recounting typically hilarious school-days stories. I was impressed with their independence during their travels across the South American continent, they were following a path almost identical to mine but in reverse. I shared some of my hitchhiking and roadside camping stories with them and they were already visibly eager to begin the next stage of their journey – northwards along the Carretera Austral.
Due to our lack of a tent, Sam and I had to part with the pair at a shortcut (unmarked on the map) between Los Cuernos and Campamento Torres. As they began the final ascent to their resting point for the day, Sam and I were forced to descend to Hotel Los Torres where we hoped to find a tent we could hire and carry up to the campsite. If unable to do so, we would be forced to stay at the campsite and make the walk to the Torres the following morning – thus missing the sunrise on the towers. A couple of hours later, including some questionable bridge crossings, and with fingers and toes crossed we enquired about a rental tent at the hotel. To our great relief, we were permitted to hire an average (and heavy, 4kg!) tent that we could carry up to the campsite.
With a lengthy climb ahead of us we excitedly began the long ascent. Although strenuous, the scenery was simply breathtaking as we trekked narrow paths above the river raging through Valle Ascencio. As we climbed, loose gravel rattled off the cliff side and deep into the valley below. An Autumn palette of colours on the mountainside was now set against occasional glimpses of the Torres themselves and the lengthening of the sun’s rays dipping below the jagged peaks in front of us. The trail dipped up and down through dense forest still damp from the previous days’ rain, now more challenging with the added weight on my pack.
We were welcomed at the campsite by our entire group, who having not needed to walk the extra kilometres were already well into their dinner preparations. Freddy and Hugh had tossed their backpacks and were practically running to the mirador to see the Torres before sunset and our group had been joined by some new trekkers who had been turned around at the closed pass on the other side of the ‘O’ trek due to bad weather. Rice and whiskey had never tasted so good, as we whiled away the evening in the log shelter. Planning to witness the sunrise the next day we set our alarms early and headed for an early night. Thankfully, the tent lasted too.
Stay tuned to the page for the third and final installment of our trek through the Torres Del Paine and the breathtaking conclusion to our four-day hike.