There's a fine line between pleasure and Paine!
11.02.2010 - 15.02.2010 12 °C
Torres Del Paine Part 2
Part 1 can be found here: http://cbadv2010.travellerspoint.com/6/
We pick up the TDP adventure back up at Day 4.
Day 4: French Valley and Chileno, 35kms, 11 hours of walking
We woke up early on Day 4 as we knew ahead of time we had a big day ahead of us. Just how BIG though we hadn’t quite processed – or more likely we deliberately ignored (“ignorance is bliss; ignorance is bliss”). We had 35km of walking ahead of us, which is like walking from Sydney CBD to Hornsby, and then walking halfway back again.
The middle part of the W contains the French Valley, a steep walk that is about 4 hours up and 4 hours back from the Refugio we were staying at, Los Cuernos. Fortunately we could leave our packs behind at the Refugio and walk in relative comfort. Trust me - this is a godsend after 3 days of lugging 12-15kg around!
The walk to the bottom of the French Valley was quite mild, but from then it was uphill all the way, as you walk steadily up towards the Mirador (lookout). A short way into the walk we fortuitiously ran into our American friends form the Navimag, Don and Terry. Terry had caught the same bug I had, and I could tell we had similar war stories to share. Don was OK and joined us on the walk up. What a spectacular walk too! Waterfalls to the left of us, mountains to the right, here we were stuck in the middle of TDP heaven.
Despite getting lost a few times, and Don and I considering a not-so-sensible scaling of wet rocks near a waterfall that plummeted down into rocks below (common sense prevailed) we made it to the French Valley lookout after 2 and a bit hours walking. What greets you is a 360 panaroma of snow-capped mountains and Torres and your main problem is your eyes don’t know where to look! You're surrounded by towering landscape and feel slightly in awe of what you are seeing. There was also light snow starting to drop down as well, just to top off the immersive nature of what you could see, hear and feel. We couldn't even hope to capture the lookout in pictures, but here's a few attempts.
We left Don at the French Valley as we were on a mission to get to our destination Camp Chileno which was still a good 24km away. Slightly depressing when you’ve already walked for 4 hours and 11km, but soldier on we must.
Downhill walking in the Valley is a knee-killer (I kept apologising to mine, promising them a massage) but we made it OK back to Los Cuernos and, after a 30 min break that consisted mostly of staring vacantly into the distance, we started on the way to Chileno – 13km to go. 13km of MADNESS! Was followed was the most intense physical thing I’ve put myself through, even more so than trying to watch all 40-odd world cup soccer matches back in 2006. It was not so much the terrain, which was uphill but with mild incline, but the fact that there's only so much you can put a poor sick body through. We were taking each step at a time, one hill at a time, and doing a fair bit of this:
I really struggled as we were nearing 30km for the day, and if it wasn't for my superhero partner who took our bag on her shoulders I'm really not sure we would have made it to Chileno. Part of the problem was that I had not been eating, and so it was time to pull out the big guns: chocolate. A few rows of cocao goodness later and I was a different man. Like a marathon runner who knows they only need to push through that final barrier of pain, I took the backpack and became a madmen, power walking up the final hills to Chileno, breathing and grunting like a cavemen, and scaring women and children on the way. I was going to get to Chileno if it killed me! And get there we did.
We were meant to camp in Chileno in a tent, but Day 4 had a special meaning to it: Valentine’s day. Therefore I decided we were going to splash out: one more Refugio sleep and meal it was to be, on me! That night we spent at the table, eating dinner together at the Refugio over some Gato boxed red wine, both of us almost too comotised to talk. Who said romance is dead?
Day 5: Las Torres, 15 km, 5 hours walking
Torres in Spanish means “towers”, and to culminate our W experience we were to finish on the most famous of all the TDP landmarks, the three towers: Torre Sur, Torre Central and Torre Norte. Call them the 3 sisters of TDP if you will.
Before going to sleep we had spoken to some people in our dorm room who had apologised in advance for waking us up at 4am in the morning to go see the Las Torres over sunset. They need not have apologised – we were going there too. Only problem was that we had forgotten a basic essential when one wants to walk in the dark – a recent invention called ... a torch. And that is where our fellow dorm-mates came in handy – Celine and Allison – both of whom were much better prepared than us, and had kindly offered to be our unofficial night guides as we were to climb towards the Torres in the morning.
So up we got at 4am in the morning, blurry eyed and wondering what we were doing getting up in pitch blackness to walk through a national park. We had a gang of 5: Celine, Allison, Chelle and I and Neil, and off we set to conquer the Las Torres . The walk is relatively easy for the first hour and half, apart from getting lost when you take the wrong turn in the dark. The last hour however is the hardest walking section in TDP. It’s steep incline all the way, up gravel and dirt and boulders, and you have to take it one step at a time, often getting close to crawling on all fours. It's a funny sight though because as you walk up you can just see these headlamps meandering ahead of you all the way up the mountain, like fireflies in the pitch dark. I couldn't help but have some David Attenborough commentary in my head, "And here we see the human species of Chileno, often known to come out in the early hours of the morning in search of the Torres ..."
When you reach the top of Los Torres, an achievement in it's own, you find about 20-30 fellow crazy people who have also done the same morning climb. Together you sit on rocks facing the Torres, and wait in anticipation. Waiting in freezing cold. Except for those people you stare at enviously with their cookers and warm cups of coffee and tea. I was contemplating taking a few of them out in return for their bounty but decided against it.
The three Torres are a spectacular sight in the day time, but at sunrise the ice-shaped granite and the morning light waves combine to create a red-glow that we had seen in pictures, but didn't really expect to be like that in real life (thanks to photoshop). After waiting for about 15 minutes we were concerned that it wasn’t to be our day and maybe the Torres and Sun weren’t coming out to play.
Then, Chelle spotted the top of the Torre Central changing colour into a deep, dark, rich red. And soon all of them had their tips painted. And gradually this rich red got painted over all three Torres before your eyes, along with the surrounding mountains, like the sun had a giant paintbrush out sweeping the landscape.
What was left after the painting stopped was one of the most amazing sights I have seen and may ever see in my life. An entire mountain glowing red before your eyes. All 5 of us just looked in wonder at each other with smiles on our faces, going “how good is that!?” You had to see it to believe it and experience it.
That is TDP for you – it puts you through hard work and pain, but it rewards you at the end of it.
After dragging ourselves away from the red painted Los Torres (we kept looking back at it like we were saying goodbye to a friend we won’t see again) it was time to head on home to Puerto Natales. The W circuit had been completed! It was a real exhilarating feeling and sense of achievement, and we were so stoked that we got back off that bus to appreciate it in its entirety. For any nature and trekking lovers reading this blog, if you ever get a chance to do TDP – do it, you must! You won't regret it.
And so ended our time in Chile, and it was time to depart for the lands of Argentina. El Calafate – next stop!
Until then, adios!
Ben and Chelle