Torres del “Pain”

25 Feb

National Geographic say the Torres del Paine hike is one of the 50 things you should do before you die, but I believe there was a mix up when they published that and it was meant to read “the top 50 ways to die”. So I have amply named this post Torres del Pain, not Paine, let me share my “memorable” Torres del Paine experience with you.

I had already completed the busier 4-5 day “W” section of the Torres del Paine circuit. I said good bye to my Dutch, Swedish, Scottish and English “W” hiking buddies and set off to hike 3-4 more days on the less visited back section of the circuit where I bumped into Craig and Roz a kiwi couple who were to be my new hiking buddies.

On what was my 5th night we made it to Los Perros camping ground which is the jumping off point for “The Pass”, the hardest part of the hike. Your experience of doing the pass relies a lot on the weather, you can have blue skies and wonderful views looking over the Patagonian ice fields coming down the other side, or you can have knee deep snow, strong winds that would send a five year old flying and visibility that would make a blind man feel comfortable!

Well guess what experience I had! Actually I had no experience of the pass, I will explain.

When we arrived at the camping ground we set up our tents at 8pm and then it started to rain and it didn’t stop for 36 hours! To add to the fun DJ Mother Nature decided to mix in some tent breaking icy cold winds, fluffy white snow that lost its appeal right away and every other kind of natural element you don’t want when camping.

The morning of day 6 I woke at 2.30am thinking a freight train was passing my tent but then realised I was in the heart of Patagonia and it was only the wind and rain. I managed to grab a couple more on/off hours of sleep as the cold kept nibbling away at my body and mind.

At 7am I got up and cooked some porridge with Craig and discussed the plan for the day. As it was raining which meant it would be snowing in the pass and no visibility we decided to wait a couple of hours and see if the weather passed as in Patagonia the weather has the “four seasons in one day” reputation. The video below is of me waiting in my tent, worth a watch, pretty funny looking back at it.

Well 11am rolled around and the bad weather kept rolling. 5 people tried for the pass but all turned around due to the dangerous conditions and ended up back at the camp wet and cold recommending us to wait out the day, stay dry and hope for better weather (little did we know at this point the bad weather would last 36 hours – unheard of here).

So that’s what we did. There was one smoke filled canvas sided shelter that the camping ground population swarmed to for some protection from the elements. As the afternoon dragged into evening hikers kept coming in varying forms of unhappiness, wet covered in snow, some with blue lips, some crying. It really was quite dangerous, a serious risk of hyperthermia as you have a lot of people that are just unaware and unprepared.

Torres del Paine attracts a lot of tourists, a lot with no hiking experience, which is great for them to get out and experience it, but also in these situations can be quite dangerous. When they arrive cold and soaking wet wearng jeans and sneakers and have a lack of dry clothes and their tent is wet from the night before, the night coming is not going to be enjoyable one in the freezing cold climate. Fortunately growing up in NZ I had done my fare share of hiking and with the local knowledge I picked up from the Erratic Rock seminar I was prepared for the inevitable bad weather.

As the stormy grey skies were taking on a darker shade indicating the arrival of night I pondered our situation. We were at was the most isolated point on the circuit where you would have to hike 14 hours in either direction just to reach a point where you could be transported out. There is no rescue infrastructure here in Chile like back home, forget about the helicopter to safety, think more like being slung over a horse – just what you would want if you had a broken leg.

As I was thinking all this I got a nauseous feeling in my stomach. Then my thoughts turned to thinking that “yeah this would be a shitty place to get sick”. With that thought the days macaroni and porridge starting knocking at the door saying they wanted out, so I left the smoke filled shelter to get some fresh air (rain) hoping that would help. No sooner had I left the hut and I found myself power spewing at the base of the nearest tree! As I was hunched over with my hands on my knees looking down at my rather impressively large puddle of spew I couldn’t help but think “wow, my porridge looks the same as it did when I had served it up”.

My fascination with my porridge puddle was shortly lived as Mr Macaroni started knocking at the back door. I made a bee line to the 2 camp toilets that just happened to not be flushing and being used by the 60 hikers. Let’s just say I thankfully made it in time and I was not as impressed with Mr Macaroni’s appearance as Mr Porridge – and remember the toilet wasn’t flushing! (sorry campers)

I made my way through the mud, puddles, rain and wind to my semi dry bright orange tent oasis and crawled into my cold sleeping bag. I contemplated my night ahead, cold, spewing, diareaha and a nice 2 day hike (14 hours) to get out. At this point all I could focus on was the bus back to Puerto Natales.

But I also felt very thankful that I was prepared, I was dry unlike a lot of the people, and I was warm. Craig and Roz offered their assistant but there was nothing they could really do, I just had to ride it out. They kindly made me some lemon drink and I swallowed down some Imodium pills to board up the back door as the last thing I would want to be doing during the stormy night is making the 50 metre dash through the mud and rain to the camp toilet.

My night consisted of me with my head outside the tent in the rain heaving, I couldn’t even keep down water. I didn’t get any sleep and probably my poor neighbours didn’t get any either but I’m sure they weren’t too worried as they would of rather been in their situation than the poor barstard beside them. A couple of time they shouted out above the wind “Are you OK?”, I just replied “yeah mate, dry and warm”, and I was just soooooooo thankful for that Imodium.

This continued most of the night. I was just praying that the wind didn’t blow my tent down as at some points the poles flexed near breaking point (I was so glad I decided at the last minute to rent a quality tent than risk it with my cheap Paraguayan tent). I finally nodded off at 7am until 9am when Craig came over and offered me some hot water and looked down at me in my tent with eyes that said “you poor barstard”. He told me the weather hadn’t given up and the pass was still blanketed in a fury of snow and wind so they had decided to go back the way we had come. Probably surprisingly to him I said “let’s go”, the whole night I had been sitting there and I knew there was only one option, and that was 2 days hiking for that bus, I had prepared myself (the photo below I put on my angry face being the poser I am but actually I was glad to be leaving and making a move towards that bus).

After breakfast, I popped my last Imodium so I wouldn’t have to keep stopping and we started the hike out. Finally the rain had stopped although the skies were still grey and gloomy and with the past 36 hours of rain the once nice tracks had transformed into rivers of mud.

Many games of famous people and going through the alphabet naming countries took my mind off the walking and the tiredness I should have been feeling. After 7 hours we set up camp, all exhausted and we had a tired laugh as I said “and we do this for fun?”.

The next day I was up early at 5.50am as I had 7 hours hiking between me and that 2pm bus that I had been thinking of the last 2 days and I was catching that bus no matter what. And as fate would have it, my 8th and final day I was welcomed by blue skies!

But Mother Nature decided to send me off and remind me of my inferiority and battered me with winds that made me feel like a rag doll battling a hair dryer – check out the video, sorry I drop the “F” word.

I made it back an hour before the bus left. I snuck into the national park hostel, unboarded the Imodium barricaded back door, peeled off my clothes and put myself under the hot water of the shower that was the most amazing feeling after 9 days of no showers (9 days because the morning I left my Puerto Natales hostel I went to have a shower but there was no hot water, so icy cold water at 6.30am in the morning didn’t sound too enjoyable and I thought “what’s one more day”)

After I showered I went to the bar and ordered a beer out of reflex. For some reason there’s something about that victory beer that tastes soooo sweet after achieving something. Obviously my stomach and brain weren’t communicating too well as that beer did not sit too well. But as I sat there I looked up and right there in front of me bathed in sun with blue skies as a background were the three towers that had eluded me. Beside me at another table was a young guy showing his girlfriend the photo of the towers and recounting his day hike tour. I sat there, and recounted my hike to myself; it had snowed so I hadn’t seen the towers, I hadn’t completed the circuit (although I had walked the same distance but what would have been last 14 hours hiking the pass and the glacier were spent retracing my footsteps) due to the weather and getting sick, but it was memorable. As cheesy as it was I thought to myself “it’s not all about the photos, it’s about the memories”.

I arrived at Puerto Natales, dropped my gear off, gave the poor lady at the laundrette my bag of 8 day clothes that were soaked in ALL mine and Mother Natures body fluids (you try peeing in those winds) on them and even someone elses! And then headed for some homemade Pumpkin and Ginger soup and green tea.

After that I made my way back to the hostel where there were some excited hikers preparing their packs for their hike in the morning. They asked me “how was the hike, any advice?” “ummmmmmm…..beautiful scenery…………………take some imodium”.

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4 Responses to “Torres del “Pain””

  1. Geoff February 25, 2010 at 2:04 pm #

    Hap Bro
    This is very interesting epidemilogically speaking.
    Clearly you picked up a virus after your frolic with faeces in the forest! If you eat E.coli chances are bad shit happens! Great to see the OB training comming through. Maybe a refresher in medical training..alcohol based hand gel in pack?
    Cant fault your resilence…outstanding!
    cheerz G

    • Hap February 28, 2010 at 11:30 pm #

      sup G
      epi what. sorry i cant find the question mark and all the normal grammatical symbols on this keyboard. when i left that camp i saw that upriver from the stream that ran through the camp had a large human poo mine field right beside it, so no doubt Mr E.coli came to the party. Also the other people i stayed at the camp with emailed me and said they got sick as well, so probably that. I had my ol alcolhol gel.
      Will try and ring to talk about dates etc.
      NBL Hap

  2. Jo February 25, 2010 at 4:36 pm #

    I have no idea how you have done this – but curiosity has now put this on my list of must do’s. Damn you and your sob stories!
    Nothing ever comes easy in life and if it did, you would sound like your bragging.
    Your Poppy is at the right height Hap.
    Safe travels – I really hope the bus was better than the walk…in my experience these can be just as traumatic without imodium!

    • Hap February 27, 2010 at 7:30 am #

      haha,
      god bless the person who made imodium!
      Cheers for the comment Jo, as much as i make it sound like a horror story it was a great experience, even if the last three days were a bit shitty so to speak. Yep definitely worth doing.
      Good to hear the old poppy is at the right height. Not long now before im back in NZ for a bit, so cant wait for that to recharge teh family batteries.
      Hope all well with you.
      Nuthin but love Hap

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