Tuesday, February 06, 2007

A Sea of Ice: Torres del Paine Trek Report

Account with apologies to the late, great W.E. Bowman

It is with pleasure as well as with a sense of privilege that I associate myself with this account of the circumnavigation of the Torres del Paine. The difficulties were many. They were overcome by the determination of each member of the expedition to give his best to the common cause. No praise is too high for these men. This is an account that should be read - and re-read - by every schoolboy and by all who value human endeavour and fortitude.

The Team
The team was assembled in situ according to the requirements of the expedition, and at full strength consisted of Messrs Glacer, Schlaen, Vinciullo and Crawley.

David "I Belize I Can Fly" Glaser, a "bad ass" American with extensive experience of managing childish behaviour on camping trips.
Yoel "Where's My Gun" Schlaen, holds a wealth of experience from Israel, a marquee rather than a tent, and the all important spices and coffee.
Sam "Let's Party, Aye" Vinciullo, a winemaker from Perth, the team's Patagonian berry tester for his brief breaks between eating pasta.
Sam "Whingeing Pom" Crawley, brought a fearsome beard to the party, as well as extensive "salty" bread-making knowledge.

The Challenge
Parque Nacional Torres del Paine lies some 100km directly north of Puerto Natales in far southern Chile. Rising up from the flat steppes with breathtaking abruptness, the craggy mountains of Torres del Paine present an astonishing sight even when viewed from far off on the park's southeastern approach road. The park takes in a remote area of 1814 sq km at the southeastern end of the Hielo Sur, whose great glaciers landscaped the Torres.

The brief from Lonely Planet was simple but compelling: Truly one of the world's classic treks, the Paine Circuit is the longest and wildest route in the park, following the course of the Rio Paine up to Paso John Garner, descending the Rio Grey and skirting several of the park's spectacular lakes. To climb Mont Blanc by the Grépon Route is one thing; to circle the Paine Massive is, as Totter once said, quite another.

Day by Day Account

Day 1: Puerto Natales to Torres
On leaving Residence Dickson [GPS: 51.72795S, 72.50821W] early, Flor is still reluctant to take my money for my room, so I end up working out the bill myself and thrusting the notes into her hand. I slept soundly on the Gomez bus to the park, waking as we entered in glorious sunshine, the bus winding past pink flamingoes, herds of guanacoes, and Patagonian ostriches called ñandú, which evade their numerous predators by abruptly changing direction as they flee, which is fun to watch.

The Paine Massif rears into view

The entry fee for the park is a fairly substantial $15,000, or £15. I had been informed that one could avoid the fee by lining up to pay in the office, then just leaving the queue and walking out, as the permit is never checked. I don't mind paying though, as I assumed (how wrong I was later proven) that the money was used to maintain the park. Next a short minibus trip to Refugio Las Torres, where the trek begins. To my dismay all the Israelis I had enountered in recent days arrived in the park. I resolved to escape them by setting a good pace. Clouds were forming above as we trundled along in the minibus, squeezing over a British-built suspension bridge with mere inches to spare only by folding the bus wing-mirrors in. I noted that the park is a tinderbox of dead dry wood - it is surely no wonder that fires are a big issue here.

In a happy and excited mood, I start off, but as seems to be usual, immediately have navigation problems, as the trail is not obvious. I ask at the refugio, and am pointed on my way. Heading up the Rio Ascensio (perhaps the clue is in the name), and I find the going harder than I expected! There are huge numbers of people day-tripping up, some suffering more than me, but most without packs. The congestion on the path is fairly annoying, and I wonder what the Circuit will be like.

Up past Albergue El Chileno to Compamento Torres

I hadn't purchased a map for this trek as I have the LP Trekking in Patagonia book that Fred kindly gave me, and having tried a map in Fitz Roy found that it was useless for trail-finding, and really no better than the LP sketches. Here though, on paying the park entry fee, you are provided with a "free" topological map which is almost as good as the maps one can purchase.

At Compamento Torres, I set up my tent in the trees [GPS: 50.94325S, 72.93727W], then enjoyed a quick lunch of bread with cheese and salami, then "pan au chocolat", or a piece of toblerone in a roll.

Due to the length of the trek, only raw essentials were to be carried

Next I scrabbled up scree and boulders to see the Torres Lookout, the famous view to which people day-trip up. The trail is badly marked and wobbles about - I am intending to come up for sunrise the following morning, and given how hard the trail is in the light, I decide this will not be much fun.

The "trail" with camp site in the trees far below

The draw is that apparently at sunrise there are a few seconds when the Torres light up bright red. On the path there is little evidence of "trail etiquette" - it is good form to let the ascending person pass. I contemplate my trekking options for the next 10 days or so. I can either take the circuit fairly slowly, or if I do the additional Pingu Zapate trek, I will have to go fairly quickly round.

Enjoying the view

The Torres themselves are impressive, but now doused in cloud which refuses to clear. I sit for a while, enjoying the view [GPS: 50.94913S, 72.94913W] . The torres (towers) are three and a half pinnacles of hard Andean batholith rock.

Streaks of rock yield to glacial lake

Strange horizontal rainbow in the clouds

A last view

Down to camp, and I enjoy a marvellous sleep.

Day 2: Torres to Seron
Of course I didn't get up for sunrise. I pack up, enjoy a hearty breakfast of juice, tea, bread, cheese, salami, dulce de leche, and one piece of toblerone. A good descent, especially as it was too early for all but the keenest of day-hikers. I swing round on to the trail, passing some Scots who live in Shoreditch that I had met in Glacier Perito Moreno. It's a big place, Patagonia, but a small world on the tourist trail, and you tend to meet the same people again and again, which is generally a good thing.

As soon as I pass the Refugio, and join the "circuit only" trail, I am alone. There is a couple hiking far in front of me at a similar pace, and I am in no hurry. The trail passes round the side of the Paine massive, through pretty forests and meadows.

Mr Blue Sky!

The first half is relatively uninteresting, but the second I descend under the sun into a beautiful valley filled with fields of wild flowers, and the river Paine slowly winding back and forth. Beautiful. Reminds me of the view down from the Roebuck over Richmond, Ham and Isleworth.


I don't meet a single person in about four hours, and the tranquility is lovely. Several horses gallop by at one point, the only interruption.

Lunch spot, complete with fresh fruit - delicious ripe nectarines

I found the map misleading along the way, and fairly useless for trail finding, something that would become something of a theme on the trek. Luckily the paths were fairly-well marked, mostly with bright pink ribbons tied to bushes and posts, and I reach camp at Compamento Seron [GPS: 50.86594S, 72.89351W] without issue, at the end of the Paine river plain, not two contour lines up the hill as the map suggested. I meet an American chap called Dave there who looks familiar. He first twigs the connection - we had passed each other near FitzRoy, crossing Rio Piedras Blancas, just under the glacier. And then the team was two!

Home sweet home

We enjoy a lovely cool but small can of beer for $1,500, or £1.50. Just the one then. Then dinner. Q had told me about a former chef chap who lives here making fresh donuts and would also cook up any trout he had managed to catch, but there was no sign of this. Fresh loaves of bread were on sale for £2.50, so it was time to cook! I decided to use one of my three precious tomato sauce sachets already - what extravagance! Dave offers me some cayenne pepper, which does wonderful things for the flavour of my pasta.

Into my tent for a few spots of rain. Camping here costs £3.50 per person (not per tent, not that it matters to me), which is quite pricey - hostels in town charge about this for a bed with breakfast. The place does have hot showers though, and a flush toilet with... paper!! Such unknown luxuries!. I mull over my plan for the next few days. Depends on the weather. This site is extremely windy, so I make sure my tent is pegged down well. There are also mozzies here whenever the wind drops, the first I've really come across in South America, which is fairly annoying as I've left all my bug spray in town. Not many about, but the ones that are here are like homing missiles - you can watch them zoom for your arm as soon as you emerge from tent. Light rain sends me to a nice sleep after i read some short stories from Edgar Allan Poe.

Day 3: Seron to Dickson
After some heavy rain and strong winds briefly in the morning, the sun comes out and quickly dries my tent. The bird of prey which seems to be the pet of the chap running the refugio struts about in the long grass, keeping an eye on the place, and very helpfully eating any mice that may have designs for my toblerone.

Group 4 Security

With the rain gone there are some beautiful rainbows about as we set off.

Arched over the local supermarket

Dave is slightly suspicious of my influence over the weather after I predict strong winds about 3 seconds before a big gust hits us. It is extremely gusty as we wind up over a saddle reaching Lago Paine.

Others take a scenic breather above Laguna Alejandra

Lago Paine

We wound round high above Lago Paine, with a line of jagged snow-capped peaks in the distance marking the Chile-Argentina border, at times almost being thrown off the path by strong gusts, then along the valley through ground at times very boggy to the beautiful Refugio Lago Dickson [GPS: 50.87848S, 73.07491W] .

Sitting on an almost island-like small lakeside meadow

In the lodge at Dickson we enjoy beer at only £1, i.e. 50p cheaper than Seron. We calculate that this means we are saving 50p for each can, therefore we should carry on drinking to save as much money as possible!

The lodge and shop

We chat to some Germans, and learn that it is the birthday of one of them, Astrid. This is the excuse to order a litre of wine, for £4. They stock a nice Chilean Merlot, and as we enjoy this, someone Dave has met before called Yoel comes into the lodge. And then the team was three! Yoel joins us and contributes another carton of wine. Later in the evening another chap arrives, an Aussie called Sam. Our team is complete, and finally a name I will have no trouble remembering! Yoel impresses me as the first Israeli I've ever met who immediately comes across as a thoroughly good chap. More wine flows as we enjoy a goood evening in the refugio before retiring to our tents to cook.

Dining could be a risky affair here

We apparently talk rather too loudly for 10:30pm and get shssshed. Dave carefully measures out an appropriate amount of cayenne pepper for my pasta, and I sleep very warmly through the coldest night of our trek!

Day 4: Dickson to Perros
In the morning, the guys who run the refugio are still refusing to sell me bread, despite having baked some and having it on their (Andescape) menu for £2.50 a loaf. Finally I persuade the chap to let me have half a loaf for a £1. What a favour he is doing me! Overall we win though, as we were definitely not charged for all the wine we drank in the evening. I wonder whether they may radio ahead to another lodge to intercept us when they realise their mistake. Seems like they aren't too worried about the money though, as I later learn that several people didn't even pay the camping fee there!

Dave does his pre-trek stretches

Sam is suffering from a sprain he picked up on the previous day, so has left early. Yoel, Dave and myself set off and head round into the "wild valley", following the Rio de los Perros (River of the Dogs), supposedly named after a herder's dogs who drowned in the water. This valley heads up to the main pass on the circuit, which we will meet the next day.

Looking back..

Amusingly given three blokes and a dodgy map, the testosterone flows as we debate the route - of course we all believe we're right, and of course I am (as always, hehe).

All route discussions were held in the best of humour

In the forests we meet Sam having a break. Yoel makes some good coffee that we all enjoy before setting off together. Sam describes his job as a wine-maker. He follows the sun, works seasons of 2-3 months at a time, with travelling in between, being paid, provided board and food, and unlimited wine. There is a group resolution to enrole on a wine-making course as soon as the trek is over. Sam starts in Mendoza in Argentina in two weeks, and hopefully I will be able to visit him from Santiago before I leave South America. He's going to give me a personal wine-tasting course! Sweet!

Which one to believe?

Despite the best efforts of the trail signage, we find our way and head up over a moraine wall, revealing Laguna de los Perros, into which Glacier Perros melts. The wind was so strong here that I was worried that grit would be thrown up at my lens, so it was a case of waiting till a slight lull, then taking a fast snap and covering my camera as quickly as possible!

Quick snap

Round the lake, then we camp in the trees at Compamento Los Perros [GPS: 50.93175S, 73.13369W] . This is being run by a cool "geezer" with a vest, flat cap and tattoo. He looks a bit like an urban rapper, but is friendly and bakes me a fresh loaf of bread! What a guy! When it's ready, he wraps it in tin foil and hands it over, still lovely and warm, and explains (if I understood right) that fresh bread is great for getting chicks! Oh yeah! This site has a makeshift shelter, which acts as a great social area - we all cook there - us, a pair of Irish girls, the Germans, and occasionally some others.

I should explain my meals - I brought a big bag of pasta - two kinds mixed up. This would generally be cooked with chopped onions (good raw too obviously) and carrots, a base of a small amount (very salty otherwise) of a Maggi soup of some kind, then a chopped sausage, parmesan, and Dave's pepper. On "treat" days, I'd use a sachet of tomato, which also had garlic and some other bits and bobs in it. Only three of these for the trek though. I didn't really want to bring tins, but was really missing tuna. Apparently you can buy dried tuna somewhere. Interesting!

Then bread. This fresh bread I had just purchased was delicious, but.. oh so very very salty. Imagine a slice of bread with salt sprinkled all over it. That's what this bread tasted like. Think pretzels. Great with beer, but I found I could hardly eat it with salami, the meat also being salty. Definitely heading for high blood pressure after finishing the loaf! It also weighed a tonne, a concern given the pass we had to climb the next day. I think the bread was so heavy because the salt killed the yeast, preventing it from rising as much as it would otherwise. They had wine here too which we availed ourselves of, but it was a sweet cabernet sauvignon, which wasn't especially nice, curtailing our misbehaviour rather effectively! Sam admits that despite not liking merlots, it wasn't bad, compared with today's offering especially.

A berritable feast!

They have a log book here which we all sign. I searched the log book for Q and Natalie but it only goes back to last November and is full - an indication of the number of people doing the circuit. Also the order is fairly random. It is strange though that the circuit feels so quiet, as it is obviously fairly popular. Most people, however, do something called the "W", so called because that is the shape the route traces out, effectively missing the back half of the circuit which would close the top of the letter. We will meet all of these people when we hit Refugio Grey in a couple of days. Until then... peace!

After dinner we sit together in the trees talking, my phone dunked in my tea cup providing music. Everyone has been eating strategically to lighten their loads before the pass tomorrow, but I don't think it will be a problem - the pass is only 1241m and we're already fairly high at Perros. Plenty of US-UK-OZ banter which Yoel watches with amusement. How many tea bags to use when making tea? I say one bag is enough for the (smallish) pot, Sam disagrees, suggesting one bag per person. Someone who has clearly not read Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down!

We decide that the wild valley not so wild, and the conversation turns to all sorts of stories - Sam speaks of crocodiles, sharks and the other dangers you encounter on the way to the supermarket in Oz. Yoel is full of plans for his travels which all sound great - hiring a yacht with friends, becoming a fisherman in Alaska. With the Germans we find out that one of them had a Spanish girlfriend who is a member of ETA, and apparently they're not all obsessed with Hasselhoff. It's nice that given that everyone met at 1st or 2nd camp, there's lots of bonding going on. I notice that I have a bite on my back, i.e. a mozzy bit through my clothesI Damn mozzies! I sleep with the gentle roar of the river near us, hoping that weather good tomorrow.

Day 5: Perros to Guardas

It rains through the night, and the wind blows, showering us with heavier drops from the trees, but it stops in the morning. Unfortunately Sam is up first (he's worried about his sprain still slowing him down and will go ahead first), and curses us by proclaiming that it is going to be a wonderful day. I grimace in my sleeping bag. Not more than five mins later the rain starts, and continues most of the morning. It's light, but as we pack up in the rain, gusts of wind send showers down from the trees. We say goodbye to the Germans then head up through the forest, taking the new route, which is still very muddy.

Looking back

We approach the pass, having cleared the tree line.

We pause by a sign just before the pass saying "don't give up now" - this is after a few hours trek up, and about two minutes before the pass. Ridiculous! Up to the pass as a team, and WOW! Glacier opens up before us. Not too windy luckily, so we can stop to admire the view. [GPS: 50.94069S, 73.18510W]

Just coming over the pass

The view down below

It's hard to find the words to explain the scene. Photos don't really do it justice, and it's difficult to choose photos to include here as all of them are amazing.

Ignoring the scenery we took photos of each other

A sea of ice, covering the enormous Grey valley, and stretching up from Lago Grey on the left where it deposits enormous icebergs on a regular basis, up to the right as far as the eye can see (and beyond into the enormous Hielo Sur Patagonian Ice Field).


Tributary glaciers all along the far side of the glacier. Varied textures as the river of ice flows - choppy bits, like small mountain ranges, smooth bits, waves of ice as the glacier hits rocky obstacles. Incredible.

Edge of the ice

Towers of rock in all directions

Time to move on

There is a very steep drop down, so much so that there are ropes at points to help. Luckily despite the rain, this is still fairly dry, otherwise it would have been awful. They do say that you experience four seasons in a day in Torres. It's true. And the weather can be totally different in adjacent valleys. When we are nearing the bottom, we pass a guy on the way up. I never have the heart to say to people "you have a looooong way to go" - it's always nicer to encourage people, but what can you say?! Is it far? Oh yeah!

Dave tries the gay cowboy look next to a pair of dodgy bridges

At Compamento Paso, the Irish girls are pitching their tent, but we don't like the spot much, and so carry on. Just past there, we find a lovely spot for lunch, possibly the most scenic meal of my life. I shared my toblerone. [GPS: 50.95876S, 73.19974W]

There are scenic eating spots, and then there was this

The trek rises over cliffs, through lovely forests with enormous trees blocking the path, some of which have clearly just keeled over, still being adorned with green leaves. There are ladders to help us up and down through steep gorges - always fun with a heavy pack on one's back!

Who needs trails when you can use ladders?

Intermission: The Rules
In order to facilitate smooth trekking, some rules were drawn up as follows:

Rule 4: No talking about food
Rule 4: No talking about the weather
Rule 4: No moaning about the map
Rule 4: No moaning about the trail marking difficiencies

NB: The numbering developed over time. Initially all rules had their own number, but over time they all became "Rule Number 4", breaches of which would result in social exclusion. Of course, excluding discussing food and weather meant Sam and I had nothing to talk about. I and the group recognised their necessity though, given the dire "pasta soup for a week" and changeable weather situation which positive assessments of which would swing in storms to counter within minutes.

Right, back to the account.

Finally we arrive at Compamento Guardas - Sam is already at site, and has met a nice Irish chap called Mark. I yell out a somewhat impolite request for tea! [GPS: 50.98565S, 73.18296W]

Just through the trees from the camp site is a fantastic mirador [GPS: 50.98666S, 73.18498W] where one can gaze down on the glacier, especially by hopping down the rocks from the initial view.

Someone enjoying the view close up

The rest of it

There are also lots of red and pink berries, which Sam has tried today without dying. I try some - they're not bad. Subtle but slightly sweet flavour, and no bitter aftertaste (unlike calafate berries). I hear a big ice break but don't see the actual fall, just the debris floating away from the glacier.

Check the ice on the far side floating into Lago Grey

Looking back up the valley

We eat dinner then head back to the mirador to watch the sunset together (awww).

Surprisingly not that cold

Spooky glacial crevaces

Tomorrow in 45 minutes down we hit Refugio Grey and the "W" rabble. We can see them below on a rocky outcrop taking photos of the front of the glacier. Given how close our spot is, they are mad not to come up here though.

Day 6: Guardas to Italiano
Strong winds, rain and a muddy site mean that our tents are absolutely covered in dirt by morning. Filthy. I try to dust off th worst as they are fairly dry already from the wind, but it's still pretty awful! I hate getting dirty on camping trips!! A last look at the lookout then off. We pop in to Refugio Grey just to see the site - it's a diversion from the trail so we leave our packs. It's nice, but busy, and the people running the lodge are unfriendly, almost taking offence to my request for bread. The site did have a cool jetty running out into the freezing water - with the strength of the wind this made for an exciting trip. Apparently the Irish girls were busy guessing which of us was going to be blown in - it would only have taken one good gust!

A motley crew

We set a fast pace along the trail as the wind picks up. It starts to get ridiculous as we pass high up over the Lago Grey, though fortunately the wind is behind us, and so is helping with the climb.

A high and windswept laguna

Others have stories of being blown off the path, and having to crawl along the ground because of the strength of the wind, so I suppose we got off fairly lightly.

A large waterfall on the route throws spray out into the wind

The route is lined with berries, which we avail ourselves of, but finally descending to Pehoé quite hungry, past a beautiful small brown owl who eyes us each in turn with interest but apparently not fear.

Here's looking at you kid

The lake is an amazingly vivid colour blue and the refugio that appears is like an enormous hotel.

Lago Pehoé with the Cuernas behind

It has a minimarket. We are all starving. Yes, the perils of shopping when you are hungry. This place was made to tempt trekkers coming off the circuit!

I see dinner

Eggs, salami, juice, chocolate milk, bread. It had everything we wanted and then some! [GPS: 51.07263S, 73.09443W]

Scenic but windy camping

We eat in a warm "quincho" social area with hot water, free gas and big windows looking out with a great view over the Cuernas Mountains. All of us pig out and feel so good yet so full!

Hair unwashed for a week. Check.

Flossing required? Check.

Grayson beard. Check.

Cowboy hat. Check.

We all take advantage of the flush toilets - with paper (never ceases to amaze me, these treats!), then we set off for a 2 hour walk round to Italiano.

Two more hours?! Nooo!

Yoel wasn't feeling too good for most of this, possibly due to the amount of Dulce de Leche he had consumed in a very short period! I was about to burst from finishing a litre of chocolate milk, and Sam had almost finished an entire salami! We didn't quite set the same pace as pre-eat!

Why is there not a bus?!

Dark soon

Again very strong winds, and plentiful undulations. We passed Lago Nordenskjold where the wind was whipping spray off the lake into what the Australians apparently call "willy willys".

Fun to watch until you need to walk around the end of the lake

Compamento Italiano [GPS: 51.02347S, 73.04156W] is a busy site, as the "hub site" for those trying to do as much of the W as possible in free camp sites. As we had arrived quite late, there was almost nowhere left to camp, so we ended up next to the toilets, me closest, which was tolerable as long as the wind didn't swing round from its current northerly direction. We cooked, but I didn't feel that hungry still! Then wine (I'd accidentally picked some up in the minimarket) and jazz from my phone in the dark. The problem with most of the free sites is that there is no social area to meet people. Yoel makes some good Argentinian tea to aid digestion. Tomorrow the team splits - Dave and Yoel are planning to start early and camp at Torres, Sam and I will have a leisurely return trip up Valle Frances then stay in Italiano again. My ankle hurts after a mis-placed jump on to a loose rock - and I know I'll suffer more for it! We hit the sack - the site seems fairly sheltered but one can hear the wind up in trees and it's damn chilly!

Day 7: Italiano up Valle Frances
Yoel and Dave leave early with their long day ahead. We set off at a more civilised hour, walking up as slowly as we can to drag the day out. The book predicts a return trip time of 3-4 hours! Sam and I have made a lunch of sandwiches with our lovely new salami. My ankle gets progressively worse. It actually seems harder to walk this slowly than our normal pace. I suppose to a certain extent, when you're climbing, it hurts, and walking slower just lengthens the pain!

The hordes troop up

We pass Yoel and Dave on the way down, and in doing so let the hordes overtake us, which necessitates a sprint later to pass them, as even with our slow pace, none of us could bear to be behind a guided group! The mirador itself, just past Camp Britannico, is spectacular [GPS: 50.98271S, 73.05380W], sitting in the middle of an ampitheatre of mountains.

Who stole the Sphynx's head?

We pull out our sandwiches which have been callng gently to us from our pockets and enjoy, soaking up the view and the (fortunately) good weather.

More scenic dining

Next we considered whether to go further. There was an interesting-looking saddle on the right which according to the map may afford a route into the back of the Torres, via Valle Silencio. Worth a try, especially as we have so much time on our hands.

There could be a way up..

Beautiful blue skies and a way up for us

The route involved lots of scrabbling on rock, not good for my ankle, but the views just improved the higher we climbed. I split off left, circling over what appeared to be a shorter route, as Sam and Mark climbed high.

Spot Sam in the bottom left!

The ridge levelled out as I reached snow. [GPS: 50.97252S, 73.03599W]

Yeti or Crawley?


From this point one could see the back of one of the Torres, and indeed it appeared that it would be possible to head across, assuming there were no unseen obstacles or crevaces. What a marvellous unmarked route. I've subsequently been told that it is possible to traverse from Silencio to Dickson, a route that porters use.

UFOs launching from Cerro Espalda

Sunshine! Hurrah

Patagonian UFO cloud

Nordenskjold below

Descending was a painful experience, and Sam and I accelerated to the point of running to get it over and done with! Dinner at Italiano, then we hung around the toilets, as there was no social area at Italiano, and this was the place people tended to gather! People would come up and say "is this the queue", we'd reply yes, and we'd gain someone else to talk to until they twigged! An American couple next to us made "no-bake" cookies which they offered round. Marvellous!.

Day 8: Italiano to Puerto Natales
Up at 6am, I brew tea for Sam and myself. It's freezing. Quick pack, then we go our separate ways as I head back to Pehoé, mp3 player providing blues and Saint Etienne to keep me going. I trek fairly fast but get absolutely soaked by narrow paths lined with wet bushes. After about an hour an a half, I reach the legendary minimarket and avail myself of juice, which I enjoy with some tea in the warm eating room as wind drives sheets of rain across the site. Some unfortunate people are trying to pack their tents up in this.

I sip my tea and wait for the ferry. Eventually it arrives, and I wait in the cold, queuing up to board as various cargo is unloaded. Interestingly a troop of CONAF (The Chilean Corporation of National Forestry) people have appeared, which is strange as you never see them much. I realise why when they unload a widescreen TV, DVD players and a stack of comfy chairs. Nice to see our park entry fees are going on something worthwhile, CONAF. No wonder the park trails are in such a state. Also explains why they were rude to Yoel when he asked for some information - presumably they were in the middle of a movie or something. B**stards! All I can say is, if you visit Torres and have the opportunity to skip paying, do it.

Conaf have their priorities obviously

The catamaran whizzes across the water, as the chaps on board serve hot cocoa. Nice. They've also got specially designed tables that a mug with handle will slot into and be held secure. On the other side, it's freezing, windy and rainy, and my bus is there! So tempting, so very tempting, but this is going to the administration centre, then returning here in a couple of hours. I have a lookout to visit, so I troop off along the trail, past a beautiful waterfall.

"Salto Grande" Waterfall

The wind is so strong that I think I breathe in some grit as it gets blown into my face. Cough. Along the trail I don't meet many people. Could be because there's little to see! A couple stand aside to let me pass, and as they move to one side a gust nearly throws them off the trail! One way to make room I suppose. At the cuernos lookout [GPS: 51.04830S, 73.01238W] there is a bench that I enjoy for about 30 seconds before heavy hail starts, which I take as my cue to head back.

They're there somewhere!

I give up and go to the beach instead

Starts to clear then worsens again, and at Pudeto there is nowhere sheltered to wait for the bus. So cold, so very cold. The bus is heavenly when it finally arrives, and I have a lovely warm snooze on the way back into town. Of course the priority in the hostel was to cut my nails then have a steaming hot extended shower. The longer you go without washing, the better it feels when you finally do. I wonder if this principle can be extended to months or years. Something to try now rather than when I'm back in the UK I suspect!

Out to El Living Cafe where I meet, by chance, the Germans, then by design, the Irish girls

who wait with me until finally Dave rolls in at about 10:30pm. They ended up on the late bus rather than early one, hence the time. Soon after Yoel joins us, we eat, then retire to the pub for chips, table football and beverages.

Traditional celebratory methods

At 3:30am (!), it was time to call an end to celebrations as lassitude set in. It's been a long day...

Days on trek: 8
Approximate distance covered: 130km (est.)
Food consumed: 4 onions, 8 carrots, 3 nectarines, 3 apples, 3 sachets of tomato, large bag of pasta, 2 maggi soups, 1 large bar of toblerone, 2x salamis, 8 slices of plastic cheese, 1/4 pot of Dulce de Leche, 1x chocolate milk, crackers, lots of bread (salty and otherwise)
New vocabulary:
"badass" - a positive thing (contr. "a bad ass" - not good)
"dog" - a person (pron. "dawwwwg")
"willy will" - swirling dust, water or rubbish due to wind
oenology - whatever Sam does

Closing note: Bowman's Philosophy
Justice can be neither defined nor achieved: it can only be pursued, by infinitely delicate adjustment, of man to man in friendship. Its approximation is the state in which no man's will is imposed on another; where the whisper outcalls the shout; where the need of one is the need of all and strength is everyone's treasure. It is inseparable from kindness.

Torres del Paine was what brought me to South America, and I have to say it lived up to expectations. Anyone doing anything less than the full circuit, you are missing out, firstly on the marvellous scenery on the north side of the massive, but more importantly those doing the circuit are a sterling bunch, and it was privilege to meet Dave, Yoel and Sam and share this experience with them.


Lewis and Fliss said...

Your blogs put ours to shame! Where on earth do you find internet acess which allows you to upload your photos? Lesotho is truly prehistoric.
Blogdad is the highly revered Mark de Pulford (my dad!)Funnily enough, his favourite program is King of the Hill. Hmmm
Fliss x

Anonymous said...

Shave it off Samuel Crawley.

You look like your plane was hijacked and you've been on the runway for two months.

It's not sexy.

Although certain pleasant smells can be retained in the facial hair I grant.