Sunday, February 20, 2011

Torres del Paine

While in El Chalten and El Calafate we were closely monitoring a large bus strike that had shut down southern Chile. This was a concern to us because our next destination was the most popular and probably most spectacular national park in South America which happens to be located just across the Argentine border in Chile. Torres del Paine is quite well known for its hiking and gorgeous mountain scenery so we were very happy to hear that the strike ended in time for us to make our planned visit. You can see the park in a variety of ways but the most popular is the famous W circuit. I painted the W on the map below in yellow so you can see what I am talking about when I refer to what we did each day. The campsites we stayed at are identified with blue circles and labeled with which night we stayed there. The red circle represents the location where I took the video you will find later in this post.

As you can see if you click on and blow up the map above, the hike we did looks roughly like a W. The first day we got dropped off on the right side near the Refugio las Torres and hiked uphill to the Refugio Chileno to set up our tent for the night. This campsite was the worst one in the park with the tents all crowded onto a small flat spot in a valley that acted as a wind tunnel all night, but we decided to camp there anyway because it was looking rainy when we arrived and we wanted to get up early the next morning to see the sunrise on the Torres del Paine. You can see the Refugio in the picture below and the tents are located in the trees just to the left.

The morning of the 2nd day we woke up at 3:30, braved temperatures that were probably in the high 30's or low 40's and strong winds to hike 2.5 hours up to the Base of Las Torres (the right tip of the W on the map). When I say up I do mean up as the entire hike was uphill with the last hour being a scramble over boulders and a very steep incline. The mirador was very cold but absolutely worth it as the view with the sun rising and hitting the Torres was absolutely gorgeous!

After seeing the sunrise, we quickly hiked back downhill to get the blood flowing again and back to our campsite for some hot coffee made with our handy dandy little camp stove (a great investment on mornings like this!) before packing up and heading off toward our camp for day 2. This day would be the longest hike we would do in the park and since much of it was with our full packs weighing somewhere between 30 and 45 pounds it was a challenging day. On the map we went from where we were camped the first night up to the Base of Las Torres, back down to camp, and then all the way over to Refugio Cuernos near the middle of the W. Along the way we saw one lonely guanaco posing for us on the top of a hill...
some beautiful lakes,and Los Cuernos del Paine (the Horns of Paine). The entire Paine Massif (basically the group of mountains making up the park) are not a full part of the Andes, but rather were formed by some magma that hardened underground into granite and then was pushed above ground due to the uplift that created the rest of the Andes. This is part of why the park is so cool, since there are combinations of different types of rock here that you just don't see very often.
The Cuernos above are mostly granite (the white parts at the bottom) with the tops being made of sedimentary rock (the black parts at the top). The granite was the magma that hardened under the sedimentary rock and was then pushed up. Pretty cool looking right!

The 3rd day we woke up, packed up, and hiked from Refugio Cuernos to the Camp Site Italiano where we quickly set up our tents and dropped our big packs. We then continued on up past Camp Site Britanico to a mirador (lookout point) in the Valle del Frances. While the Torres were gorgeous, this was probably the most beautiful day of our trip as we got to see glaciers, rushing rivers, and a wide variety of different types of mountains. About halfway up the climb, Jenna decided she wanted a jumping photo and proceeded to jump higher than she ever has in her life for this picture!

A little later I took this video (location marked with a red circle on the map) to show the incredible view from this point!

I can't really do justice photographically to the view from the mirador as it was in a glacial valley almost entirely surrounded by mountains but here are a few pictures that show some of it.

The next morning we packed up and headed down toward the Refugio Paine Grande with intentions of hiking with the tents all the way up to Refugio Grey. Unfortunately we got some rain and decided to hide out in the tents at the Paine Grande for the rest of the day. Our fifth day in the park we did a day hike up to Refugio Grey and the Grey Glacier instead. The glacier was beautiful but really not more impressive than the Perrito Moreno glacier so I'll skip the pics of the glacier itself and instead show you me enjoying some crisp, cold, refreshing glacier water,
Amy, Jenna and I posing by an iceberg,
and an incredibly blue iceberg floating in Grey Lake.

We then returned back to the camp at Refugio Paine Grande for some nice showers and beers to enjoy our last night in the park.
As you can see from the picture above, the park was quite popular (Can you find our tent in the picture?) and crowded. This was annoying at times but actually quite interesting because the 3 of us agreed that we had never been somewhere so international in our lives. Every group that we passed on the trails seemed to be speaking a different language, most of which we didn't recognize at all. It certainly made the approximately 75 km (near 47 miles) we walked over the 5 days more interesting!

The last morning we hopped on a boat and crossed Lago Pehoe to catch our bus out of the park. While waiting for our bus back to El Calafate near the Guarderia Laguna Amarga we got one final treat as we saw 7 condors soaring over a mountain searching for food at the same time. Great way to finish our time in the park!

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