February 23rd & 24th
The W stands for Wet
We got up early on this morning to get everything packed up and ready to go for our trek on the world famous “W” in Torres Del Paine. I was super excited and Susanne was bit anxious because it was going to be a big test for her foot. The day before had been just absolutely amazing, but the weather in the morning was a thick layer of low clouds. We were really hoping for it to burn off as the weather report was looking pretty favorable.
We showered and got everything ready and driver was there at 7:50. We rushed to get everything set and piled into the van. On the way over I realized that I had left the hot water heater on in Casimiro. Ugh. It was about an hour drive over to where we caught the ferry. We got there a bit early and had to wait for about 30 minutes. Susanne talked to the driver, Senor Nelson, who said it was not problem for him to turn the heater off when he got back to the hotel. Whew. He drove off. Susanne realized that she had left her nice Go-Lite visor in the car. Bummer.
I guess we were a bit excited for the trek.
We piled into the Catamaran with about 15 other people. One group showed up and then at the last minute decided not to go. I think they thought the weather was going to be bad. I was sure it was going to burn off.
It was a nice trip across the lake to Refugio Paine Grande, which was the start of our trek. We got there about 10:20 and got saddled up and headed out. Our plan was to hike eastward to Refugio Cuernos where I had rented a cabana for 2 nights. From there we were going to do a day hike up Valle del Frances, which is this amazing glacial valley with views of the Cuernos, Towers and several hanging glaciers. We would then hike to Refugio Chileno, spend the night, and take in the towers from the east side.
The one thing I can say about the plan is that the 2 nights in the cabanas turned out to be an absolute stroke of genius.
The temperature was quite pleasant, but the low clouds just wouldn’t break. We had a few sprinkles off and on, but overall the hiking was good. We set a leisurely pace as we had all day to make to 10 km. We arrived at Campo Italiano about 1 pm and realized the trail was quite a bit longer and we still had another 5.5 km to go. No biggie.
Campo Italiano was a disgusting pit. TP everywhere. Glad we didn’t camp there.
The last couple of kilometers were surprisingly hard. The footing got pretty tough and it just seemed to go on forever. Susanne gets an A+ for hiking spirit. We got to the camp around 3:30 pm and I sent Susanne in to check us in, while I hung with our gear outside. She went in and then came out to get our passports. She went back in. It seemed to be taking quite a long time. I heard her talking in English and then she switched to Spanish. And this was not your usual “Buenas tardes, Donde esta la cerveza” kind of Spanish. This was, “you better listen to me or I will throttle you within an inch of your life” kind of Spanish. Although my Spanish is, shall we say, a bit rough, it was pretty clear to me that if I was the dude on the other end of the conversation, I would give her what she wanted. Just sayin.
Anyway, I guess we had some stupid little piece of paper that we got when we crossed into Chile that we didn’t have with us and we had to pay another 36,000 pesos to get another one. Seriously? No other place in Chile gave a poop about it. Gak.
It is interesting, the differences between countries that are right next to each other. In Argentina, they have very clearly defined and posted rules that everyone completely ignores. In Chile, everyone follows the rules very closely, they just don’t bother to tell you what the rules are. Sigh.
As we head up to our cabana, which was quite nice, albeit not heated, it started to rain. We got a brief glimpse of the Cuernos that towered over our cabana. And then they disappeared.
I had packed in a couple of bottles of wine with us, so we sat on our little porch and enjoyed the view over the lake as the rain started to fall a bit harder. No worries. We were both pretty tired and hungry, so the 7:30 dinner hour seemed late. We headed down and had dinner in the common dining hall. We sat next to some Aussies who were on a 3.5 month trip of South America. They had some big tricked out 4 wheel drive bus that carried 21 of them and they camped and hotelled their way through the various countries. I doubt any alcohol was involved with 21 Aussies in a bus. I’m sure there is a good joke in there somewhere.
After dinner we headed back, through the rain, to the cabana and laid down to rest for a bit. We woke at 11 and decided that maybe we should actually go to bed for real. It was now raining pretty hard.
We had a nice nights’ sleep and woke up to the sound of pouring rain.
I tend to classify rain on a scale from “Continuous Seattle Drizzle” to “Milford Sound Sheets of Water”. It was definitely heavily weighted toward the Milford Sound side of the scale
All the campers and trekkers were still in pretty good spirits. It was about 7:30 am.
Susanne’s foot was a bit sore and the distance for the day was pretty big. 22 km up and back, so based on the weather and distance she was thinking she was just going to hang. I was raring to go. But with 22 km, I thought I’d make sure the weather would break, because Torres Del Paine is a bit lackluster when you can’t see the mountains. It just looks like the rain forest that is commonly referred to in our family as “The Death March,” but that’s for another blog.
And it kept raining. Still heavily weighted, and at times full on to, the “Milford Sound Sheets of Water.”
By about 10, the spirits of the various trekkers and campers didn’t look quite as perky as at 7:30 am.
Any of you that know me, know that I am not one to shy away from an epic journey of pure misery. Take for example the 80 mile ride up the “Sunshine Coast” in British Columbia in a storm that was rivaling Katrina, but colder, while dodging log trucks. Or the attempt to save gas by riding to work in a blinding blizzard when it was 8 degrees. Just to name a few.
So I was ready to go at any remote sign that the storm was breaking. I figured if I pushed the pace I could do the 22 km in about 5.5 hours. That gave me about a 1 pm drop dead time to head out and get back and still get some grub.
Two or three times the sky started to lighten and the Cuernos almost became visible, but the Milford Sound sheets of water would show back up; sigh. At 1 pm, I gave up all hope.
And it kept raining.
The bad news was that because I had laid out such an aggressive hiking schedule, I didn’t bother to bring any reading material along. Neither did Susanne. So we napped. We sat on the porch. We ate some food. We napped. We read the Torres Del Paine park map and information guide (that was our only reading material). We showered (there were showers). We napped. We ate some food. We checked to see if it was still raining…..and yes, it was. Milford Sound style. All the hikers and campers looked completely miserable. We napped. We read the Torres Del Paine park map and information guide.
It got so bad that we started in on the Torres Del Paine park map and information guide trivia contest.
- How many hectares is the park? (221,745)
- Which symbol is on the legend but not on the map? (Public transport)
- What symbol only shows up on the map once (Watch Tower)
- What year was the park formed (1959)
- At how many places can you do a Zodiac trip? (2)
Anyway, you get the idea. It was bad.
Now, I will admit that my battery was running on low and I needed to catch up on my sleep this trip, but sheesh, this was, what I think almost everyone could agree upon, a very boring day.
The best part of the day was to see how, with continued sheets of rain, the spirits of the campers were holding up. It looked pretty grim by happy hour when we opened our nice Malbec.
Now you see why my booking of the cabana for 2 nights was brilliant.
Ok, maybe now is the time for my second big philosophical waxing.
Although I love the desert (as mentioned before), and also the ocean and the beach, the mountains is where my spirit really finds it home. There is something about the ruggedness and changing nature that frees my mind. The mountains are like life. We were in the Canadian Rockies one time on this incredible hike when we ran into this ranger. We were chatting and he said something that has always stuck with me. He said “the great thing about the mountains is they are just like life. When you are down in the valleys they seem to take up all the landscape. But when you put in the hard work and climb to the peak, suddenly the valleys look so small and insignificant.” I just found that to be a very powerful observation. That is why I love the mountains.
But one thing about the mountains is that we pass at their pleasure. They can kill just as easily as amaze. One quote I remember from a mountaineer is that “it is better to live to try again than to die trying”. Those are the mountains.
I had an image of Torres Del Paine and it decided to deny me access. It was not my time. No matter how much I wanted it, the mountains said come back later. That is why I love the mountains.
Ok, back to the rain…..uh, I mean the day.
It kept raining.
We floated down to dinner and sat next to a couple from New York. He was from Cyprus and she was Czech. Very nice. The good news is the food wasn’t bad, gluten-free and no beef. Susanne was happy.
We paddled back upsteam to the cabana. It truly was a river on the path now. It kept raining. After a hard day of napping and map trivia we decided to call it an early night. And slept some more. It was raining when we went to bed.
Tomorrow is another day and we have to hike out. I hope the mountain spirits will see it in their hearts to give us safe and comfortable passage without having to get soaked to a squishy.
Ciao for now.