Torres del Paine at Last!

3 01 2012

Just to get the scale perspective, see the road by the lake?

Today, the highlights of our trip step up and will just keep on coming!

We drive two hours from Puerto Natales, Chile to Torres Del Paine National Park. Torres Del Paine, which appears on countless calendar photos year after year, just doesn’t disappoint!  This 600,000 acre park is South America’s Number One most visited national park. And for good reason. The Torres Del Paine massif is incredible, the hiking is unparalleled, and it’s got lots of jaw-dropping scenery in a compact area. Contained within its boundaries are 9,000 ft horns and spires, plus innumerable glacial lakes, and even the Grey Glacier, a 40-mile long river of ice wrapping around the west, visible from trail side. And behind it lies the Southern Patagonian Ice Cap. This cap of ice is the largest continental ice sheet outside Antarctica, and feeds no less than 300 glaciers! All of this comes right down to the steppe, which looks like Eastern Oregon. It makes its own weather. It is truly a spectacle bey0nd imagination.

One thing about Patagonian highways that’s got to be said is that they are empty. You can drive for a long time, during which you see the road for miles ahead, and there are no other vehicles around. You see dry desert steppe, and when you do see trees, sometimes entire hillsides have been blown down by the wind. But today, it’s not very windy. We have clouds, though. There are mountains all around, sometimes contorted in unimaginable shapes.

As we near, I keep thinking the mountains we see are the Torres Del Paine massif. They are all magnificent, but when the real thing comes into view, it’s something else. Vertical, 9,000 ft. spires dug out by glaciers, but then to one side, there is something only suitable to the Lord of the Rings – several vertical towers, and below the whole thing, many blue lakes dwarfed by the spires reaching to the sky.

We come by a herd of guanacos; in fact we’ll see a lot of these camel-relatives during our stay here!

We come to a trailhead and we’ve got the afternoon to explore. This trail wends between Lago Pehoe and Lago Nordenskjold. In front of us lies one of the “W” valleys Torres Del Paine is known for. If you think about it, a “W” is how this park is generally laid out. The left is a trail along the Grey Glacier, the middle goes up the horns, which we’ll witness today, and the right of the “W” we’ll be exploring tomorrow! WOW. The park is so popular, it’s got a system of vans which can transport backpackers between the trailheads at the bottom of the “W”.

Well, it’s time to get into the thick of it!

We hike, and bring our picnic lunch along. It’s only about 30 minutes before we come along what can only be described as a jaw dropping scene, one which will be duplicated over and over in the days to come! We lunch by this waterfall. Check out this video:

The lakes all over Patagonia, blue/gray with minerals from glaciers, often drain into each other in this fantabulous fashion.

We watch for what seems an eternity. But we move on, to the trail’s end. Along the way I see lots of special birds, and flowering plants only found here. The view is of Valle del Frances, surrounded by those glacier-topped vertical horns, and Lago Nordenskjold underneath. Glaciers unfold, wrapping and warping over the rocks.

The glacial lakes below the scoured valleys bear witness to timeless geological forces. The tops of these horns are sedimentary rocks heaved up from the ocean bottom, and the grey underneath is solidified granite which intruded from the earth’s liquid mantle. All to be cut down by ice! Wow. Holy cow. When we get back to our transportation, we are shepherded to Refugio Las Torres, which is a hostel at the base of one of the valleys at the right side of the “W.” We travel over bridges so rickety that our van must go over them empty. Everybody has to exit the vehicle as it goes over. The hostel “refuge” is six people to a room. It’s got a central eating “lodge” where we have dinner, and tomorrow, breakfast.

Our place for tonight

A bottle of Malbec costs only $7 here. I’m not complaining. But maybe I ought to complain that we are to hit the trail tomorrow at 7:00 a.m.!

In keeping with the theme in this blog I ought to mention we are here in early season. The park’s campgrounds are only 10% full. Our “refugio” has been open only two weeks. As such, our lodgings need some work when we get there. The heat needs to be turned on. But all is OK. It all works out. We get heat and HOT fantastic showers. We are ready for the assault on the Towers tomorrow!


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