Written by TwoIdiots on 11 Apr, 2008
Day 1 and 2 – Start with the TowersWe arrived at Torres del Paine to do the "W" in late January. Most people opted to do it from left to right (like the way you would write a "W"), but we wanted to get the…Read More
Day 1 and 2 – Start with the TowersWe arrived at Torres del Paine to do the "W" in late January. Most people opted to do it from left to right (like the way you would write a "W"), but we wanted to get the toughest section out of the way first and therefore, did it from right to left. It wasn't that bad since we stayed at the refugio and did not carry a full pack. The first two hour of the trail from Hosteria Las Torres to Refugio Chileno was a constant uphill, so we rested often (it took us 3 hours). After that, we just relaxed at the lodge. Next day, we tackled las Torres (the Towers). It was a pleasant hike until the last stretch where we had to scramble over boulders and met the wind head on in front of the Towers. So we hid behind a big rock to enjoy our lunch.Day 3 - Refugio los CuernosThe trail between Refugio Chileno and Refugio Cuernos was wide open with several stream crossings. The sun was strong but the wind was even stronger - it blew the glasses right off Bill's face. We had to brace ourselves with trekking poles whenever we saw the wind headed our way across Lake Nordenskjold. Waiting for us at the relatively new Refugio los Cuernos were three cheerful young hosts and a three tier bunk.Day 4 – Relaxing at Lake NordenskjoldThe lakeside location of Refugio los Cuernos was perfect for relaxation. That was precisely what we did on day 4. It was sunny with fluffy clouds and gentle breeze. All the trekkers at the refugio were gone by 9:30am, we got the whole place to ourselves. We lounged around from beach to beach - some of them were rocky shores rather than sandy beaches. We had lunch with the staff. By 4pm, trekkers started to arrive, some of them in rather large group and took up all the dining tables. In order to accommodate the bigger groups and their guides, the two of us were asked to move to different tables several times before dinner could be served. We were finally being shuffled to a little table at one corner. Our hostess felt so bad that she brought out a red table cloth and lit a warm candle for us. Other hikers must be wondering how much did we paid for the candle light dinner in the mountain.Day 5 – French ValleyWe headed into the French Valley. It started to drizzle around 10 am. The trail into the valley was a little tricky because of the wet rocks. To me, French Valley looked something like a re-located Arizona/Utah canyon land. By the time we got to Camp Britanico, it was a white out. We headed back to los Cuernos shortly after lunch.Day 6 – The Zoo at PehoeThe sky had cleared up a little overnight and we could see the sunrise over Glaciar Frances in the morning. Later that day the weather turned cloudy, rainy, snowy, and windy - another typical Patagonia day. The trail from los Cuernos to the entrance of French Valley was rocky with a bit of ups and downs - not too difficult, just had to watch our steps. From French Valley to Refugio Pehoe was an easy hike. The lodge was extremely crowded since it was located at the junction of several trailheads and the boat dock. Unfortunately, some of the tourists hanging out at the lodge with their inconsiderate urban attitude started to annoy us. Next day, we decided not to continue up to Glacier Grey since the weather was not so good, and we had enough of the crowd. I wished we had brought our own tent and camped out in the wind and snow. By the way, do not rely on the camping equipment rental from the refugios. Some campers found out that they had a leaky tent the hard way - and that's no fun!Day 7 - The HornsAfter crossing Lago Pehoe, we took an easy hike to Mirador Nordenskjold. Though easy, this trail was highly rewarding. It wound through bushes and wildflowers to a lookout point on the south side of Lake Nordenskjold with dramatic view into the French Valley and the Horns (los Cuernos). A perfect ending to a great trek. Close
Written by aaron j on 13 May, 2003
Unlike Charles Darwin who explored many of these parts of the world over
170 years ago, he wasn't travelling with Donna . . . He had the time nearly every day to compose this thoughts, ruminate about what he had observed, consider his speculations, sit…Read More
Unlike Charles Darwin who explored many of these parts of the world over
170 years ago, he wasn't travelling with Donna . . . He had the time nearly every day to compose this thoughts, ruminate about what he had observed, consider his speculations, sit alone in his cabin aboard the Beagle, and write it all up. He couldn't have had as much fun as I've been having, but he
didn't have the level of frustration I've been experiencing as I write and write and write (when I have the opportunity), but don't get the chance to transpose it to a computer and send it out to friends and family via the Internet.
Three weeks out . . . and we've been to the end of the earth -- Tierra
del Fuego -- amazing!! We crossed the Beagle Channel and the Straits
of Magellan (as the weather and seas change every five minutes, these boat
crossings were both very rough and quite smooth all in the same trip). We have gazed at a sky still bright with light at 1am after a long and extended sunset that began around 11pm.
We have braved 75 to 100 mph winds as we attempted to take photographs at
Torres del Paine National Park (in Patagonian Chile) about 350 miles north
of Tierra del Fuego amidst the hundreds of Chilean island fjords on the
Pacific. We have dined in the lodge on Lago Grey at TDP Park, only 500 yards from an iceberg cemetery, where 25' to 50' high chunks of blue ice that had broken off the Lago Grey Glacier come to die and melt at the shallow end of Lago Grey.
Let me riff about the color of glacial ice . . . It is a truly miraculous sight to behold. The color . . . there is nothing like it. I don't know how to describe its color. Is it called luminescent aquamarine? Is it a translucent blue? Any words you might use to describe it, I had never seen it accurately captured on either film or with digital imagery. It is a color altered by sunlight in ways I've never witnessed before. My first instinct is to call it an "unnatural color," but given that these glaciers are made of water, snow, and ice that is 10,000 to 20,000 years old and, in all likelihood, predates even the first persecution of the Jews, I'd have to say their color is -- natural. But must be seen in person to be believed...
The mountains in the TDP (Torres . . .) Park, the Towers of Paine, are stark, beautiful formations of dramatic beauty that reach 6000 or 7000 feet into the blue sky, when not playing peekaboo with thick dark clouds that normally hide them from view. Although on the four-hour drive to the Park, we were warned that we may not be lucky enough to see the
Towers in full view, we ended up spending nearly three full days at the
Park and saw them most of the time we were there.
If I remember correctly, it was pictures of this place that instigated my
desire to come to this part of the world. That and a written description
that compared the entire physical environment to Glacier National Park in
Northern Montana and Southern Alberta. Calling TDP the Southern
Hemisphere's Glacier National Park captured my imagination -- and coming to
see it was well worth it, although I most honestly say no one had mentioned
how extreme and violent the weather actually is. The winds and cold were
brutal. We had all the proper attire . . . it was the rationale for our "third
bag." I will have photos of Donna in her pink ear muffs and purple parka,
standing on the boat only a few feet from the "blue" glacier -- it should be
I have never hiked to see the Glaciers in Montana's Park, but the added
attraction of TDP is that if one can brave the weather, cold, rain, and
wind, you can take a boat ride to within feet of the Glacier (and two
other boat trips if the winds aren't too extreme, a relative term down here, I
assume). Of course, we have told that even Lago Grey is a small glacier --
only 60 to 75 feet high at its melting end and 4-5 miles wide. We should have gone to see El Calafayate in Argentina, but IT WAS THE BIGGEST GLACIER WE'D EVER SEEN AND IT WAS BIG ENOUGH FOR US!
We have heard much discussion down here among inhabitants and visitors
about how quickly these glaciers are melting. Yes, they are melting, but,
as Donna points out, "That is what glaciers do. They melt." But she was
told that the pace at which they are melting has increased markedly. In
the next 75 to 100 years, some of these smaller glaciers will completely disappear. Some of the larger glaciers in Argentina though, we were told are
maintaining their size and one is actually getting larger. However, the
destruction of the ozone layer down here is palpable. When the sun comes
out and it gets warm (in Patagonian terms were still only talking 60°F), you get an "eerie sense" about what this global warming business is
all about. The warmth of the sun doesn't feel good. It is unnaturally
strong. If some of those geniuses in the Bush administration's EPA could
experience what we did, they might come to believe that global warming is
in fact a reality.
Every year, this region is experiencing new record-high temperatures. The snow pack is decreasing. What used to be once-every-100-years floods are becoming yearly occurrences. Several cities and towns we spent time in (i.e. Punta Arenas on the Straits of Magellan and Puerto Natales on a bay about 50 miles from Pacific) have been told that there is a pretty good chance that within 75
to 100 years, the water level will rise high enough to place them under
water. Moving to higher ground is not an option and jokes about beachfront
property are not funny down here.
This is an actual piece of dialogue from us while we were touring around in Tierra del Fuego.
Donna: What's the problem?
Aaron: It's the wide angle lens. I can't seem to get it mounted properly on the Nikon so that the light meter reads right.
Donna: Don't worry about. It's not like its the end of the world.
Aaron: (after a beat and a glance around) I’m sorry honey, but this is the end the world. This time it really is!
While I'm back to this "end of the world" business. . . Some of you may have heard of this "things of magnetism at the poles of the earth." People who have been to the Poles (the Arctic and Antarctica) have spoken and written about this "natural or unnatural surge of energy" they experience in a physical sense when and after they've traveled to these places. While it probably far stronger than we felt 600 miles from the South Pole, Donna definitely felt it in Ushuaia, during the five days we stayed in Tierra del Fuego. I got a bit of a rush too and I'm certain it wasn't just the coffee.
Which brings me back to the subject of Chile!
Let me simply say (or paraphrase "The Godfather" one more time), "Any place that does not brew real coffee cannot call itself a real country!" I'm not talking about bad coffee. Or even weak coffee. Or even standard American-style coffee. I'm referring to a country, which, as a rule, offers you nothing but NESCAFÉ! Not even the best version of Nescafé (who knew there were more than one quality of Nescafé, but there is, so I'm told), perhaps Nescafé that comes out of espresso machines, or Nescafé in samovars, giant urns of hot water. Or even packets of Nescafé served in very attractive bowls with really good, very clean water. Shit! At Lago Grey, they harvest ice from the glacier. That's right, they harvest ice, which they serve in Cokes and gin and tonics! I'm sure you usually drink your Nescafé with glacial water. Nescafé in a country that borders Brazil and Peru -- you could walk to a coffee plantation from Chile and yet . . . Nescafé? Now many of you know that I travel with my own espresso pot and, on this trip, even some of Trader Joe's finest French roast blend. So I've been able to prepare us about an inch-and-a-half of superb coffee each morning upon rising wherever we might find ourselves, but we still need to supplement this taste with another cup or two of brewed coffee to get our
minds in gear . . . but in Chile that was not a possibility. No way, but