Thursday – December 20, 2007 –
This morning we woke up to catch our microbus to Torres del Paine. Down the street we found the bus office for Buses JB. After some confusion on the bus we needed, we figured it out and booked on the 8 a.m. bus to Pudeto. We arrived at Parque Nacional Torres del Paine at around 11 a.m. The bus took multiple stops. We stopped at one place to buy lunch and hiking supplies. Upon leaving, we drove by some sheep farms and then saw some wild alpaca-like animals roaming free in the hills. Not long afterwards we entered the park and disembarked to pay our entrance fees. Then we passed along the shore of azure Lago Nordenskiöld before we arrive at the Pudeto village. We had finally arrived in Torres del Paine!
The Chilean park is considered one of the most beautiful parks in the world with astounding scenery including towering peaks, hidden valleys and stunning crystal lakes. Torres del Paine is widely known for as a trekkers, backpackers and climbers paradise. Visitors from all over the world come to hike one of the most famous trails on the planet: the W Circuit. Along the way, they enjoy world-class amenities such as full room and board – but only if you book ahead well in advance.
After arrival, we waited for the catamaran across Lago Pehoe to Refugio Lago Pehoe. We boarded a 150-person catamaran with mostly young backpackers and climbers from Europe, South America, Israel and Australia. To our right, we saw where Paine Grande would be towering above us. Unfortunately, at the moment, it was too cloudy to see the Paine Grande. We had heard a story from Germans who spent two weeks hiking the longer Torres Circuit around the entire park and had never seen Paine Grande. We hoped that wouldn’t be us!
After a 30-minute journey, we reached the other side of the lake and checked into Refugio Lago Pehoe to receive our reservations for accommodations and trekking. Unfortunately, our reservations had not been received for the first night and were messed up. Also, they didn’t have reservations for us to stay in the refugios. They fixed us up with tent camping (pre-arranged for us) for each night, but we had to pay out of our pocket in cash for tonight. Thankfully, Jeff brought extra U.S. dollars because ATMs are difficult to find in some of these rural areas.
We had a large domed tent with cots and sleeping bags that were set up on wooden platforms to protect the fauna. We stored our gear before grabbing our daypacks for our first trek on the Circuito W. We hiked the left side of the W (or south side) on a 9 km/5.5 miles to Refugio Grey. The four-hour trek took us through firebrush and almost tundra like terrain before going through forests of first and later arriving at Lago Pehoe. We hiked about 30 minutes to a lookout where we saw huge pieces of ice floating in the lake that had calved off the glacier. We enjoyed our late lunch as we watched the glaciers calve in the distance with a tremendous roar. The lake was a very milky color as strong as winds pushed the ice across the lake.
On the hike back to Refugio Lago Pehoe, we stopped along the way because of some tremendous winds. I cannot even describe how strong these infamous Patagonian winds are. When Jeff, with his basketball build, zipped up his jacket, the winds almost knocked him over when he stood up straight. We put our sunglasses on to protect our eyes from any potential flying debris. Jeff and I thought the winds were hurricane force, so probably around 80 miles an hour. They have been known to tear tents in half and snap tent poles.
During the day we saw some very interesting wildlife we had never seen in North America or Europe. We saw some guanaco, a South American camelid similar to the alpaca grazing on some rocky slopes. They were incredibly quick. We also some a few of the small South Andean deer, which are endangered and are present on Chile’s coat of arms. However, we were most fortunate to see the Andean Condor which are also endangered, soaring gracefully above the western ridges of Lago Grey.
After our 9 km/5.5 mile trek back to Refugio Lago Pehoe, we went to the lodge for dinner. We enjoyed a hot dinner of pork, biscuits and gravy and vegetables.
That night as we went to bed, we got in our sleeping bags on our cots and it didn’t take long before we fell asleep. I put my earplugs in because the winds were so strong and the tent was shaking. In the middle of the night, I woke up missing an earplug, and must have been half way awake. I yelled a couple of times, “where are my earplugs?” The strong Patagonian winds, that are known to drive people mad, had made me go crazy. The Chileans camping nearby must have been wondering, “what is going on with that crazy American?”