Tag Archives: Torres Del Paine

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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A “shit” time at Torres Del Paine!

22 Feb

The photo below is the famed Torres Del Paine photo that every tourist like myself is after (I hope I’m not breaking any copyright laws, but this pic I took from http://www.cornforthimages.com). It is like Machu Pichu, everyone wants the photo with the bragging rights.

Some people get that photo by doing the 4-5 day “W” trek, some the 8 day circuit or some the day hike, or some just get it off the internet and save themselves a lot of money – it’s bloody expensive here in Chile, prices are more like New Zealand than South America.

Of course I wanted that photo as well and so did everything in my power to get it, but some greater force had different ideas for my Torres Del Paine photo. Check the video out below, it’s of me getting up at 4.30 am, basically you get a good view up my nostrils and I continually rub my beard.

I set my alarm for 4.30am and was welcomed by wind and light snow outside my tent. But the locals say that even if it’s snowing you still have to go to the towers as the Patagonian weather is so unpredictable that within an hour you could be experiencing the most breath-taking Torres Del Paine sunrise.

My “W” hiking buddies on their way past in the early morning shook my tent to make sure I was up, I shouted back to say I would meet them up there. I put on my hiking clothes and stuffed my sleeping mat, sleeping bag and dry clothes in my pack. I exited my tent like cocoon to the darkness outside to start the 45 minute hike up to the look out.

I decided to follow some rat tracks and take a short cut up through the back of the camp ground onto the lookout trail. As I clambered over bush and between branches it wasn’t long before the unmistakable smell of human faecal matter started following me. The photo below I took after the sunrise shows that unbeknown to me I had actually entered a human poo mine field (that’s toilet paper)!

My first reflex, I point my head lamp in a downward direction to inspect where the smell is coming from, only to be disgusted by a distinctly coloured brown smear down the left inner calf of my pants. My second reflex with my 4.30am brain was to wipe it off, so with my right shoe I scrap it off! Yep, real bright idea Hap, you guessed it, the brown smear just got bigger!

The sole of right shoe and my inner left calf now made me look like I had been hiking through mud……………..human mud. In a frantic attempt to rid myself of the smell and dislodge as much of the poo matter as possible I got on all fours and like a dog that has had his hind legs clipped by a passing car I started dragging my left inner calf along the dirt and shrubs.

Despite my “shit” situation I had a photo to take and so the show had to go on!

I made it to the look-out where my “W” crew had already set-up camp ready for the photo. Much to their disgusted amusement I tell them of my unfortunate morning and changed my pants and hop into my sleeping bag to wait for the sun.

But it looked as though my shit situation was going to get shittier………………………..or was it better. As you can see from the photos there was a distinct lack of sun. But we all took great amusement in how stupid our situation was, here we all were, freezing sitting in a snow storm waiting for a sun rise! Haha.

We all sat there laughing, drinking hot tea which Julia kindly made for us as she had lost cards the day before.

I didn’t get the photo of the famed towers, but the photo below to me is even better (usually the rock pillars tower in the background of the below photo). Good memorable times.

Then we made our way back down the snow covered trail, to break down camp and move on. For my “W” buddies it marked their final day and for me it marked my half way point with the back of the circuit waiting for me…………………………………….more on this in the coming post.

Torres del Paine photo journal

18 Feb

First of all if anybody is reading this and is heading to Puerto Natales to do the Torres del Paine hike then make sure you go to the Erractic Rock Hostel information seminar that they hold at their base camp everyday at 3pm. And also they are the only place in Patagonia (the southern region of Chile and Argentina) that recycles your gas canisters – so take em along and join the “rucksack revolution”.

OK, in this post I’m going to give a day by day photo tour of my Torres del Paine 8 day hike, which didn’t go quite to plan let’s say, but I will explain the “didn’t go quite to plan” in my coming two posts that will make some entertaining reading for you guys, although it was very UNentertaining for me.

If you don’t know, Torres del Paine is a famous eight day hike that circles three phenomenal rock towers (Torres del Paine). If you read some hiking websites they rate it as one of the best hikes etc, obviously that’s a pretty big claim, but yep it is pretty darn cool.

The circuit is split up into the 4-5 day “W” section which is popular for people with less time and people not wanting to carry 8 days worth of stuff for the entire circuit. It is the busier part of the hike where you are constantly passing hikers going both ways along the track (I was here in the peak of high season). The “W” also has many facilities, there are Refugio’s which are basically hostels in the park that charge ridiculous prices for bunk beds and meals for hikers not wanting to camp.

Then there is the 3-4 day back section of the circuit which is more isolated with less facilities but home to some different landscapes and a bit more tranquillity and not to mention some crazy winds.

The total circuit comprising of the “W” and the back section is an 8 day (can be less or more depending how fast/slow you want to go) loop covering 93 km of varied terrain. But anyway, I will let the photos do the talking for me.

Day 1 – Paine Grande up to Mirador Grey then to onto Campamento Italiano to camp the night (6 hours)

 

It looks like I’m quite enjoying getting blown. Strong winds with Glacier Grey in the background.

 

My virgin smile on my first day, little did I know Mother Nature was going to slap that off my face and violate my happiness in the last couple of days.

 

Lucas my Dutch violin playing Astronomer hiking buddy. One of many instant macaroni cheese dinners.

 

Day 2 – Up Valle del Frances then onto Campamento Cuernos (6 hours)

Looks to me like a river and Rocky Mountains

 

A backpacker in a hiker’s world.

 

I call this photo, “dead trees and a big rock”

 

Lucas and I literally “chilling out” at the top of Valle Frances.

 

Not a bad spot for lunch.

 

Is it just me or do I actually look buff in this photo? Oh yeah, Lucas and I went swimming, and for the record lakes that are fed by Glacier melt are rather cold.

 

Day 3 – Cuernos up to Campamento Torres which is the jumping off point to see the famous Torres del Paine sunrise (7 hours)

A video of my early morning tranquil settings.

 

A lake

 

I really enjoyed this part of the hike, I was up early and only had to share the track with these horses.

 

My campsite at Las Torres camping ground. Hanging out my pack and towel to dry off.

 

The “W” crew, cooking dinner (the UK contingent were cooking crackers sautéed in beef stock and tuna oil as they had run out of food) on our last night together.

 

Day 4 – Up early to catch the sunrise (more on my sunrise experience in the following post), then down to Hosteria Las Torres where I said good bye to “w” hiking buddies and then carried onto Campamento Seron, the first camping ground on the back circuit. (7 hours)

Patagonia is known for its unpredictable extreme weather. We enjoyed the summer snow!

 

A diverse landscape, rocky mountains to fields of daisies.

 

Talk about 4 seasons in one day, I started the day with snow, I walked through rain, hail and relentless winds and ended the day with glorious blue skies!

 

Camping ground Seron, the first stop on the back circuit. A surprising amount of tents. The sunshine gave me a great opportunity to dry my gear out.

 

 

Day 5 – Met kiwi couple Craig and Roz. We did a big 10 hour day, pushing through to Campamento Los Perros which is the jumping off point for “The Pass” (Paso John Gardner).

A video with lots of wind noise I say it’s rather windy (I say it’s day 4 but it’s actually day 5)

 

My first real chance to get my feet wet. Little did I know there were plenty more opportunities to come.

 

After 5-6 hours hike to Refugio Dickson on the backside and 4 more hours to go up to Los Perros I thought a photo of the soccer field was a better idea than a game. Not a bad setting for a kick around though.

 

The Chilean flag and the Chilean Patagonian flag blowing in the wind.

 

Craig and Roz blazing the trail through the forest on our way up to Los Perros camping ground.

 

A lot of times during the hike I thought I could of been back home in New Zealand, very similar landscape. Oh yeah, this photo is of a river!

 

You can’t see but the wind was pretty darn strong. At one point the wind was blowing the waterfalls in the back ground back up the cliff.

 

Kiwi hiking buddies Craig (how kiwi is Craig in his shorts – classic) and Roz enjoying another instant macaroni cheese meal in the drizzle at Los Perros camping ground.

 

Day 6 – Ummmm lets just say the coming days are going to require a post of their own!