Chile 2003: Puerto Natales & Torres del Paine
Mar. 15 2003

Michael J. Ferguson

Les Publications INRS-Télécommunications, Montréal

Chile 2003: Main Index


1  Puerto Natales, Sat. Mar. 15 / Mon. Mar. 17
2  Torres del Paine, Mon. Mar. 17 / Tues. Mar. 24
3  Hosteria Las Torres to Las Torres, Tues. Mar. 18
4  Campiamento Las Torres, Wed. Mar. 19
5  Campiamento Chileno to Campiamento Italiano, Thurs. Mar. 20
6  Campiamento Italiano, Fri. Mar. 21
7  Italiano to Pehoe, Sat. Mar. 22
8  Pehoe to Refugio Grey, Sun. Mar. 23
9  Refugio Grey, Mon. Mar. 24
10  Refugio Grey to Puerto Natales, Tues. Mar. 25
11  Maps

Next Section: Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas & Santiago

1  Puerto Natales, Sat. Mar. 15 / Mon. Mar. 17

My major concern here was to get 14 days of food, reduce to essentials the stuff I would carry, and to get a new trekking pole. The nice people in my residencial agreed to store my bike, trailer, and unnecessary stuff, and much to my surprise, did so in one of their unused bedrooms.

Except for the ingredients for a trail mix, the food was quite easy, but I was very surprised at how heavy and bulky it was. The trekking pole was much more difficult. Although there were several places that rented poles, I didn't find any that sold them. My second choice was to make one from an extensible paint roller pole. In the last hardware store in town, I finally found one, and much to my delight it cost only 1200ChP, about $2.40cdn. To complete it, I wanted a bicycle handlebar grip for its top. However, there I was totally unsuccessful. There is apparently no bicycle shop in Puerto Natales. I searched and asked all over town.

However, I was able to provide a cushioned grip by glueing on some ensolite foam with contact cement. A nylon strap completed the handle, and I had to make to with the rather dull threaded plastic point. It did quite well in the Torres del Paine field test.

2  Torres del Paine, Mon. Mar. 17 / Tues. Mar. 24

My trek in Torres del Paine had a rather fitful start. At 6:45am, I walked up in the rain and total darkness to the JB office to get 7:00am the bus. The office was completely dark, and there was no bus to be seen. I waited until 7:20am, gave up, and went back to my residencial. Since I had to vacate my room, at 10:00am I was wandering around town, looking for a place to get out of the snow, which was the current incarnation of the rain, so I spent some time in the Puerto Natales Museum. At 11:50am, I went to check my email, and got a slip which said I was starting my session at 10:52am - very strange. After that, I went to the JB office to get a ticket for the 2:30pm bus, and discovered that, indeed, my watch, which had correct Santiago and Argentina time, was out by an hour. Apparently, Patagonia is an hour ahead of Santiago, and also Argentina, which is only 15km away.

My plan for the trek was to take the Circuit but at lunch, which was really a ploy to stay out of the snow, I discovered that, perhaps it was not such a good idea. I met a Swiss trekker who had just completed the Circuit, and at the top of the pass, had a total white out in a blizzard where he could not even see his feet. This was the first of three horror stories that I heard that dissuaded me from doing the Circuit. The second was an identical white out experience from Nardy an Brent, a couple from Atlanta, with whom I trekked, on and off, for several days. In addition, they both described the distress caused by 2km of serious, unavoidable Stewart Island knee deep mud before you reached the pass. The final horror story occurred while I was on my way to the Grey Glacier. I was told of a pair of trekkers that became so lost in the maze of trails at the top of the pass that they needed to be guided out by a ranger. I am still not at all certain how they made their distress known.

The bus left, on time. in semi snow, and arrived at the entrance station where we signed in. There I discovered that the Circuit was still closed - a section had been washed out in recent heavy rains. Although Lonely Planet indicated that single trekkers were discouraged, and occasionally barred entry, the people at the desk did not give any indication of unease when I said that I was going o be in the park for 10 days, was going to trek the W, and would check at Refugio Grey on the status of the Circuit before deciding whether to continue.

A minibus, which was waiting for our arrival, took the entire busload of trekkers to the Hosteria Las Torres campground. It was essentially a free ride since the 1500ChP charge reduced the normal 3500ChP campground charge to 2000ChP.

In the morning, I discovered that we had indeed arrived into the mountains.

3  Hosteria Las Torres to Las Torres, Tues. Mar. 18

This was good day, no rain, and had its own small miracle. The trail was reasonably flat for the first few km and then, at the split long Lago Nordenskj÷ld it started to climb in earnest. It was during this climb that I met Nardy and Brent, a Dutch/American couple now living in Atlanta.

They had just completed the Circuit and told me of their traumas, the white out and the depression caused by unrelenting mud. I was to trek with them, on and off, for several days. On the way up, I also met a German, who had been camped at Chileano for 4 days and still had not seen the Torres. The weather was obviously abysmal here and in Puerto Natales.

I arrived at the Campiamento Las Torres in the early afternoon, just after Nardy and Brent had set up their tent. They started up towards the Mirador (lookout) Torres and I followed about a half-hour later. It was then that we witnessed our first miracle. On our way up, the clouds cleared and we were able to see the Torres.

Even with small miracles, you start to get greedy, and I sat there wishing we could have a brilliant blue sky as a background rather than the mostly gray. Although the Torres were the main focal point, the entire valley had its own beauty.

4  Campiamento Las Torres, Wed. Mar. 19

Yesterday was a minor miracle, but today was a major miracle. During the night it sounded as if it were raining, but in the morning, when I got up, I discovered it had snowed - all the trees were covered. There was nothing on the tent, and the sky was a brilliant blue. It was simply spectacular. The Torre was gleaming above me.

The moraine leading up to the lookout was covered with snow, as was the entire valley both up and down. It was truly spectacular.

When I reached the top, I was not disappointed. It was much more than I could have ever hoped.

The clouds came and went while I was there, giving an occasional ethereal quality.

I hiked up the south (left) side of the moraine.

The entire valley was given a new breath of life.

In the early afternoon, I hiked down the valley to Campiamento Chileno.

5  Campiamento Chileno to Campiamento Italiano, Thurs. Mar. 20

Sunrise continued the miracle of the previous day.

Yesterday was a spectacular day, but today was merely good - it didn't rain. After the clear sunrise, the clouds came in and it was overcast for most of the day.

After coming down the hill, the trail went along the lake under the Los Cuernos mountains.

It then turned inland, in front of the Francis Glacier to Campiamento Italiano.

Nardy and Brent, who stayed the night in Hosteria Las Torres rather than Chileano, caught up with me just before we reached the Refugio Loa Cuernos. It was early afternoon, and the Refugio looked overcrowded, and less than inviting so we all pushed on to Italiano.

6  Campiamento Italiano, Fri. Mar. 21

Today was, unfortunately, a normal day in Patagonia - rain and low clouds. I don't like taking down the tent in the rain so I decided to climb up the valley. On the way up, I passed in front of the Francis Glacier, and past several small cascades.

In my zeal to follow the trail, I missed the orange blazes and started up right beside this raging torrent

After a while, it became too dangerous. One small misstep and you would be washed away, so I quit and moved away from the river. At that moment, I saw two trekkers coming down the trail, so I knew where I had to go.

I climbed up until I was deeply embedded in clouds, and decided that it was hopeless, so I turned around. On the way back, I met Nardy and Brent, who evidently had more faith than I did, on there way to Britanico, the campground deep in the valley. I hope the clouds did clear while they were there. The haze and clouds did part slightly on the way down so it was not entirely opaque.

7  Italiano to Pehoe, Sat. Mar. 22

The only excitement this morning was a visit by a red fox. Everything else was less than exemplary. The clouds were still very low so I decided that a trek up the valley would show little. The trek to Pehoe was relatively easy, with the Cumbres, the base of the Francis Glacier to the north, the occasional lake reflecting the Cuernos - the normally vicious Patagonian winds seem to have disappeared.

I relaxed for the afternoon, staring out at Lago Pehoe, and complimenting my risotto with some wine, which is sold in the Refugio store.

The Cumbres were to the east.

8  Pehoe to Refugio Grey, Sun. Mar. 23

The trail climbs slowly up a valley, passing the small Laguna Los Patos, which was being sprinkled with rain,

and with the occasional delicate flower (fungus?) at your feet if you take the time to look.

About half way, I came over a pass and got my first look at the Grey Glacier.

As I got closer, the two sides that slide into the lake become really distinct.

This 3.5hr trek actually took 6hrs. I wore some holes in my socks, then the back of my shoes, and created proto-blisters on my heels.

9  Refugio Grey, Mon. Mar. 24

Today I explored the Mirador right by the Refugio, and also hiked up to Campiamento Guardas, the next campground on the way to the John Garner Pass.

The glacier indeed sheds some large children. I did not see any being produced, but did hear the occasional thunder.

The closest face is in the east, but the western face seems much more active.

Some of the smaller ones drift all the way down the lake.

The climb to Guardas was, at times, quite steep, but, if you believe the contour map, nothing compared to the climb up the pass. On the way there are some great views of the front face of the glacier and the amazing ridges.

The real reason for climbing to Guardas is to go out to the ridge by the edge of the glacier. Here you get an almost intimate view, but are frustrated because you can't see to the back of the glacier because of an insurmountable point in front of you.

In fact this point does not really prevent a complete view. The real blockage is another point well beyond the Garner Pass.

On the way back, I enjoyed seeing the full length of Lago Grey and the calm, cool, walk through the woods.

It was up, but my GPS receiver had much trouble keeping lock in the woods near the cliff.

10  Refugio Grey to Puerto Natales, Tues. Mar. 25

It was a good day again, with sun and some low clouds, for the trek back to Pehoe. Again the wind was almost non-existent, and this time Lagos Patos was indeed a reflecting lake.

This twisted rock, in the valley leading down to Pehoe shows that there are some strong forces at work.

In the late afternoon, while I was waiting for the 6:30pm boat to Pudato, some clouds rolled in and obliterated the sun.

However, it did not seem to distress the geese in any way.

The boat arrived almost on time, and the bus was waiting in Pudato, as promised, to take us back to Puerto Natales.

Torres del Paine is an amazing area. I felt that I was always surrounded by mountains and glaciers.

11  Maps

This is my version of the W.

The cliffs and trees hid the GPS receiver from the satellites almost all the way between Grey and Guardas.

This is a link to the Google Earth Map of the trek.

Next Section: Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas & Santiago

File translated from TEX by TTH, version 3.02.
On 12 Nov 2008, 11:57.