Days 3 & 4: Campamento Italiano – Mirador Los Torres – Hotel Los Torres (~24km)
It still seemed like the middle of the night when my phone vibrated to life underneath the damp hood of my sleeping bag. Although the wind was finally calm, it had been my third consecutive night on a hard tent floor in extremely cold conditions. Usually I can sleep anywhere, but I have to admit it had been three tough nights in the park.
The glowing screen told me that it was already 6:45am. The reason we had set the alarm so early was that we planned to hike up to the mirador (viewpoint) in darkness and watch the morning sun rise over the park’s centrepiece, the Torres Del Paine: three gigantic towers of granite, their sides too steep for the snow to stick, that cut sharply into the sky above. The walk to the mirador was a challenging 45 minute scramble climbing upwards through loose boulders, streams and fallen trees. We would be doing it in total darkness and needed to be at the mirador by 7:45am. I shook Sam awake and we made hasty preparations, leaving the things we wouldn’t need in the safety of the tent. Barely having time for two spoonfuls of breakfast, we set off into the darkness.
Almost as one final testament to our questionable organization for the hike thus far, Sam’s torch died five minutes into our climb up the mountain. Luckily, we weren’t the only trekkers on the trail and I had the foresight to have a specialised Torres Del Paine app on my iPhone (otherwise known as iTorch). We set a solid pace up the mountain, occasionally glancing upwards into total darkness to see the head torches of other trekkers bobbing through the forest above. The lack of light also made it difficult to judge the trail, and we had a few brief moments of confusion as we ensured we were on the right track.
As we made the final part of the climb towards the towers themselves, the morning’s first light appeared at the end of the valley spurring us on to reach our destination. As daylight crept over the horizon, snow-topped mountains that towered around us loomed out from the shadows as they too awakened. Our first glimpse of the Torres saw them half obscured by a mist swirling around their peaks, one that stubbornly refused to budge all morning.
The cloud however, did nothing to take away from the incredible spectacle that played before us as the sunlight peeked over the last remaining mountain that shadowed the peaks and the Torres were illuminated yellow, then orange, then red by the long rays reaching from the morning horizon. As with so many of the things I have seen on this trip, the pictures simply don’t do the scene justice. I had climbed above the rest of the group to gain a better vantage point of the sunrise and I sat alone, totally peaceful and enjoying the stillness of the moment.
I wandered down to find Sam and the rest of the group, now wide awake and buzzing with excitement. We had finally seen the Torres themselves, the only thing that lay between us and the end of this beautiful hike was the descent back to Hotel Los Torres, from where the shuttle bus would take us back to park administration and another bus would then return us to Puerto Natales and civilization.
Not surprisingly, we still had one minor incident to deal with. As we climbed over boulders towards camp one of the Australian guys in our walking group dropped his head torch and it rattled through the cracks and rested somewhere deep underneath. After lots of pole poking, some tentative boulder moving (which can be pretty dangerous) and with the help of a very small and flexible American guy, unbelievably, we actually retrieved the torch. Thankfully, we chose not to look for the batteries too.
Back at Campamento Torres 45 minutes later, we made light work of packing the tent and our bags. Only one bus runs back to Puerto Natales during the low season, and nobody felt like missing it. A hasty breakfast was had before we strapped on our packs for the descent. Thankfully, having eaten the majority of our food, our packs were now considerably lighter. Once again, we were blessed with beautiful weather and panoramic national park scenery. Our trekking group had swelled to six as we were accompanied for the walk by a couple from Australia, Toby and Lauren, and the funny Poms, Freddie and Hugh. A lot of the conversation on the descent was related to teachers and some staff room stories that my ex-colleagues would probably not thank me for publishing here!
At last, we reached the conclusion of the trek and posed for the camera timer. Slowly but surely, the other trekkers we had shared campsites with over the last few days filtered into the car park. After some laughs and reflections on the trip, we threw our bags on to the bus – bound for Puerto Natales.
After some fumigating of 3 day old wet socks and a lengthy hot shower we arranged to meet at Freddie and Hugh’s hostel for some hard earned beer and takeaway pizza. Even though the pizza place was just two blocks away, we insisted on ordering a delivery over the phone – damn the cost! Unfortunately, beer wasn’t available for delivery and a brief late night search ensued. Suffice to say my head wasn’t thanking me the next morning.
So that’s it! The conclusion of our trek through the Torres Del Paine. Reading back over my notes and posts, its hard to believe that so many things can happen in less than four days. Between losing our tent, our constant diet of carbohydrate, coffee and chocolate, the stunning landscapes and the amazing people met along the way, this trek has become an unforgettable experience. I’ll be back for the ‘O’ trek next year!