Trekking the Torres Del Paine
24.04.2015 - 28.04.2015
Fresh off the back of my first narrowly avoided disaster in getting to Iquitos, more fun was to come in getting to my next stop. I'd just received a text from Val, asking if my flights the following day (any of the 4 of them that I'd need to get to Patagonia) went near the volcano. Volcano? What volcano? I'd been in the jungle for 4 days and hadn't seen any news. A quick google revealed that there'd been a pretty serious eruption in Chile, and a small town called Puerto Montt was covered in about 2 inches of ash and had been evacuated. Hmm. That name seemed a bit familiar so I checked my flight itinerary. Legs 3 and 4 of the trip were Santiago to Punta Arenas... yep, via Puerto Montt. Shit.
The LAN airlines office in town wasn't particularly helpful and couldn't give me any information about the flights the next day, they just said all flights in and out of Puerto Montt had been cancelled for today. Well, I figured it'd be better to be stuck in Lima than Iquitos, so what the hell. I went to the airport and got my first plane, feeling pretty aprehensive.
In Lima they were equally helpful, and said they had no idea what was going on with my other flights, but there were no problems with my next leg to the Chilean capital. Well, I figured I may as well be stuck in Santiago as in Lima, so what the hell. I got the next plane, feeling really worried now.
In Santiago I was amazed to find out that apart from a short delay, I'd still be able to take my flights into and out of Puerto Mont as planned! Absolute result! I got right on that plane, feeling a whole lot better!
As we arrived in Punta Arenas I was reminded of the reasons I'd wanted to come to Patagonia. One was that it's pretty much as far South as you can get without heading to Antarctica; really at the end of the Earth. The problem with places at the end of the earth is that they're bloody miles away, and generally a real bugger to get to. From Punta Arenas I had to catch a 5 hour bus to a town called Puerto Natales, from where in the morning I'd be able to take another 3 hour bus to the Torres Del Paine national park - the location for my 5 day trek. As our bus to Puerto Natales arrived me and the group of TDP trekkers I'd met on the plane came accross our next problem - the bus was full. Annoyingly they won't let you pre-book the buses apart from at the bus station (which was 3 stops and 20k's away) from which they depart, so we waited for the next one. It was also full.
This was another potential disaster, as if I didn't make it to Puerto Natales that night I wouldn't have time to complete my trek. Then we came up with a bright idea.
After a ludicrously expensive airport minibus ride my fellow trekkers and I arrived at the origin station for the bus, just in time for the next one to pull in. We bought tickets and breathed a sigh of relief! Some people returning from the park stopped for a chat and we asked them how the trek had been.
"Well, what we saw was good, and I think the park should re-open in a few days."
Re-open? What? Another probem with the ends of the earth is that they don't generally have that much contact with the rest of the world. Hence all of the arriving trekkers, myself included, were unaware that the park had been closed due to torrential rains for the last 2 days. Oh for God's sake.
Well, I figured... again. I may as well be stuck at the entrance to the park as in Punta Arenas. We got on the bus.
The next day we arrived at the park entrance a few hours late due to a road being washed away. At our chalet/hostel type place (called a refugio) we were told that the trails were closed, but would reopen tomorrow. This was good news, but not great, as I only had today to see the sight the park was named for - the Torres Del Paine. We quickly worked out that although "closed", many people were still trekking the trails, and that we could actually try to make the hike to the towers (a 750m climb away) that day if we wanted.
Apparently it normally takes about 9 hours to do the trek, and after our delayed journey we only had about 6 hours of daylight left. Given the state of the paths and that some of them were apparently like little rivers now, we realised the only sensible thing to do would be to forget about the towers and get on with the rest of the trek tomorrow.
...Or we could leg it double quick and hope for the best.
On the trek up the mountain the sceneray was pretty spectacular, yet surprisingly similar to Scotland I thought, for somewhere on the opposite side of the planet. As we reached the towers in 2/3 of the quoted time our perseverence and determination was rewarded with amazing views - of the fog and clouds surrounding the towers. Oh well, I guess you can't win them all!
For the remaining 4 days of the trek the weather was glorious. Despite being unexpectedly cold the next morning (when I slipped on some sheet ice on a bridge and fell off into a river) the sun was out most of the day, the scenery was breathtaking, and the log cabin style refugios were beautifully rustic and romantic. The Grey Glacier that we trekked to on day 5 before catching a ferry back to the park entrace was a fittingly dramatic end to the expedition. At several points on the journey here I had thought I wasn't going to make this trek, or at least not all of it, but for it all to have come good and to be here was pretty special. This really was the other side of the world.
Here are a few pics of Las Torres in the morning, a couple of the Refugios, Glacier Grey and the views around the park.