Patagonia: Part 2

IMG_20141225_090610748After spending a mostly sleepless Christmas Eve in Natales, due to the partying around us, we boarded a bus early Christmas morning and bounced our way down a graded dirt road into the park.Once checked in at the park entrance, we quickly plopped our tent down at the campground in Los Torres and took off on a 12 miles day hike to see the triple granite spires that form the Park’s namesake (Towers of the Blue Sky). We were blessed with perfect weather and a nice alpine lake summit.IMG_20150106_174734

The route we planned to take is referred to as the “W.” It is popular because it combines backpacking and dayhiking to allow one to see all the highlights of the park. The red line on the this map outlines the route, and illustrates why it is know as the “W.”

W Circuit Map

Back at camp we dug into some curry, the first of the dehydrated backpackers meals that helped to save weight, beneficial when flying and in minimizing the load Aminda would be carrying with her pregnant belly. (all the fresh air, long walks and good sleep had her feeling great, a couple weeks into her 2nd trimester).

Chile-Argentina1415 053Asleep before the 10:30p.m. sunset (the region only gets about 6 hours of darkness

this time of year), we were well rested for day two, carrying our gear 9 miles to Camp Italiano, at the base of the French Valley.  The next day we charged up the French Valley for a nice long day hike Chile-Argentina1415 046passing glaciers and more granite domes of awesomeness along the way.

After our day hike, we kept going, moving on from the crowded campground.  While the dramatic landscape of the park provides a sense of remoteness, we were definitely not out in the back country. The main trails are very popular, especially this time of year. We could easily pass a hundred hikers in a day. Our trekking compadres were a diverse mix of ages coming from all over the world.Chile-Argentina1415 008

A nice downhill hike along a stunningly azure glacier lake brought us to Camp Grande. Despite it being a loud night, we slept well after our three full days of hiking, and got up ready to hike to Glacier Grey on day four.  Once at Grey, we hooked up with Hernan’s local guide service to take us kayaking on the glacier lake. This was another highlight of our trip – it was super fun kayaking around the floating iceberg calves, and getting up close and personal with the 100 square mile Glacier.Chile-Argentina1415 069Chile-Argentina1415 078

Back at camp we dealt with our first significant rainfall. Fortunately we still had some dehydrated food left for a hot meal and easy preparation. The rain also gave us an appreciation for the Park’s refugios. Trekkers who prefer not to camp have the option of staying in these small lodges along the trail. They gave us a nice place to hang out with a hot tea and warm fire during the rain.

Chile-Argentina1415 102A second day at Grey gave us time to hike up towards John Gardner pass where we were rewarded with king views of the majestic glacier. Face-numbing wind and gathering clouds ensured we didn’t linger too long at our viewpoint so we could make down the steep, muddy trail before the rain got heavy.

On day six we hit the return hike back to Camp Grande where a ferry and a bus (not at the same time) would take us back to Natales. From there, we reversed our trip back to Santiago, including a 6a.m. New Year’s Day flight, passing the tail end of the previous night’s parties on our way to the airport.

Chile-Argentina1415 013We’ve been asked which area of Patgonia we liked best – Argentina or Chile? Josh would say the highlight of his trip was Fitz Roy, which sways him towards Argentina. Aminda would be more diplomatic and say that they share similar scenery but are also unique and each worth a visit. The Park in Chile is bigger, so there is more to explore, but the Argentine side is very accessible and has great trails.

Chile-Argentina1415 024We’ve also been asked how the area compares to U.S. National Parks, or in other words “is it worth it?” When researching the trip, we found travelers who compared the Torres del Paine vistas to those of Yosemite. Neither of us would agree that anything at TdP would compare to the view of El Capitan as you enter the Valley. That’s a very special vista, that still hasn’t been matched. SO, while we didn’t really find that one single breathtaking scene, Torres is packed full of viewpoints around every corner – granite towers, glaciers, rivers and waterfalls, azure lakes… it just keeps going and going.

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