Saturday, October 22, 2011

the "W circut"

Torres del Paine - The “W Circuit.”
Today, Tuesday October 18th, we set out for three and a half days in Torres del Paine National Park to complete a popular trek known as “The W-Circuit.”   
Our first view of the towers
We started the day in Puerto Natales, so we had to take a bus ride of a few hours to get to the park entrance.  The scenery along the roads on the way there was unbelievable. It was hard to believe we about to put ourselves of the middle of all the beauty to set out on foot and see what we were capable of. 

To get to the starting point of our trek we had to cross over a few interesting bridges.  By interesting I mean the kind where passengers have to get of the vehicle for it cross safely!

We started the first day’s hike from the parking lot of a fairly fancy hotel - you can stay there for $400 USD a night if you really want to. The trail was 9km in and 9km out, but when the day was over I think we had hiked about 21km in total, because we started about 1km short of the start and finished about 2km further on than where we’d begun. 
By 10am we were headed out on out first section of the “W.”  We were on our way to see The Towers, along the east leg of the “W.” The weather was beautiful at the start. I think I was down to my very last layer within about 30mins of beginning the hike.  About two hours in and little bit of down-hill hiking later we stopped at a campsite called “Chileno.”  We had lunch at the picnic tables outside the refugio (shelter) there.  While we were eating the wind picked up, and it started to look like rain, so I changed out my hiking pants for my rain pants - it turned out to be a wise move.

Onward we went.  The terrain went from the dirt and rocks on exposed land to stones and logs thorough forest.  It was beautiful.  There was a lot of up and down through the forest, but mostly a gradual uphill.  One of the coolest things about this park was that if you needed a refill on water you could get it from the always nearby waterfalls, and it was clean!  


The hardest part of today’s hike was the final kilometer.  It was only 1km on the map, but the elevation change was about 400meters up!  It was tough, and the whole time I was going up, I was getting a little nervous about going down.  The longer we hiked, the stronger the wind became.  A few times I had to stop and ground myself as to not get blown off the mountain.  We had come for adventure, and we getting an adventure alright!

Working our way to the top

It's just a few minutes past that giant rock, Reb!
Giant rock, achieved!!!

The view at the top was unbelievable.  Just like in the pictures, but even more magnificent and more unbelievable!  It was mighty cold up there, too.  We took a few pictures a tooled around a little. I wanted to get up close to the glacial lake, as did Mark.  Brandon and Rick were already a few steps ahead of us.  On the way down we saw a load of rocks falling off the mountain and into the lake.  Rick and Brandon were on some of the rocks near the water.  Midway through the rock fall, they realized the water was rising and their feet were nearly covered by water.  A few pictures later the weather showed no sign it was going improve. Clearly, it was time to head back.  We still had a good three hours of hiking ahead of us. 
Group shot at the towers

Going down the steep rocks in the wind was just as tricky as I anticipated it would be. It didn’t take too long, before we were all at the bottom of the steep section safely.  Then it was back though the forest, up and down the rocks, over some bridges.  Every time you stopped to look around your breath was taken away by the beauty of the environment.  It was wonderful.  Rick and Mark took their long longs and found their way ahead of us girls.  But Brandon hung back with us.  Every couple hundred meters he would stop and turned around to wait for the “Yankee girls” to catch up.  

When we realized we were getting close to the refugio where we had stopped for lunch, we decided we wanted to stop there again for a short leg rest.  Not only had we been hiking for 6 or 7 hours, but it had been the first activity our bodies have seen after 4 days on the Navimag!  We were getting tired.

After affixing back at “Chileno,”  we had a beer, and some snacks and about 20minutes later we all set out for last stretch of hiking for the day.   The only hic-up now was that it was pouring down rain!. It was wet and muddy trek back.  I managed to only fall once in the downhill mud hike, but it was raining hard enough and from all directions, that most of the mud was washed off by the time we were finished.

21km later, we had finished our day, we were soaked, and we were hungry.  Jay and Jem pointed out which tents belonged to whom, and handed out duffel bags and sleeping bags. We all headed for the refugio where there was a hot dinner waiting for us, and place to change our clothes and place to hang out our soaking wet stuff.

Clothes hanging out to dry

Dinner was nice - chicken and mashed potatoes.  Afterwards we all went back to the room with our wet clothes and gathered near  the warm fire. We plugged in the ipod speaker and shared some wine for a little entertainment, while reliving our day and watching our clothes dry. One by one people made their way back to camp site.  

When we got to our tent, Michelle and I discovered it was much smaller then what we had while hiking the Lares trail, but we made due with what we had, laughed at ourselves some, and made our way into our sleeping bags.  And then we realized we were stretched out on a slight hill.  Haha,  Ahhh… isn’t camping fun!

Day 2 on the "W"

Today is a “short” day, not nearly as difficult as yesterday.  The trail on the map is 11km.  By 10am we on our way.  I looked at Mark and said, “So today is our short day…”  He smiled and said, “Yep, I’ll bet you we’re there by 3oclock.”

At the start of day 2

The trail was east to west on the SE bottom “U” of the “W.”  The trail was relatively flat.  A few steep elevation changes here and there but for the most part it was a pretty steady up and down.  I think the elevation change at the end of the day was up about 250meters or so, not too bad. 

The trail actually started out with a rather steep 3 or 4 min uphill stint, but at the top of the first but was a nice look at “Lago Nordenskjold”  A magnificent glacial lake.  We took a few pictures and continued on along the lake.  The whole day, for the most part, was  spent walking the trail along the lake.

A couple hours in, a guy hiking VERY FAST passed us on the trail.  The crazy part about how fast he was hiking was the amount of stuff he was carrying.  It looked as though he were wearing at least a 100L bag packed to the max.  Shortly after he passed us we came upon the others of our group settling in under a giant tree near a water fall.  It was so picturesque, right out of a movie, I would have to say.  However,  it was all real, and it was our friends.  It was lunch time. Shortly after I sat down, another guy with a giant pack came running past.  He stopped briefly to say hi to Jay and Jem.  That was when we figured out that these crazy-strong guys were our porters!  Wow, those guys are unbelievable!

Our lunch spot was also a good photo-op spot.  Rick got out his tripod to try to get some waterfall shots.  Padrick bent over backswards, literally, to get the perfect shot of the waterfall with lake in the background. I just messed around with the manual setting on my camera to try and get something with waterfall and mountain in the background.  Waterfall pics are tricky when it’s really bright outside.  

Shortly after lunch we came to the steepest, longest climb of the day.  I don’t know what the elevation change was, but it was only about ten minutes to get from the bottom of it to the top.  At the top we were well rewarded with a magnificent view of the lake with mountains and more lakes that seemed to go on forever beyond the Lago Nordenskjold .  Rebecca,  Michelle, Brandon and I decided to take a few cheesey pictures up here.  You know, the kind with our backs to the camera and then turning around to look at the camera, as though we were taking our senior pictures again.  The really cool thing about this photo stop was when we were all sitting there looking at the lake and all of a sudden about five condors flew up from the lake below right in front of us and over is.  It was REALLY cool. 


At about 245PM Jay gathered the group to explain that we were getting close to the refugio  - our destination for the day.  He said we wanted to get there quickly before the wind picked up so we could watch as it got stronger and stronger over the lake.  He said when the winds reach over 100km/hr (about 60mi/hr) it pushed the water on the lake sideways.  He pointed to spot on the lake where it was already happening and said “let’s go…”  I asked him how close we were to the refugio and he said, “about 15 minutes.”  I looked to Mark, and said, “nice estimate on the hike time, we’re going to get there right at 3:00!”  15 minutes later we arrived at “Refugio los Cuernos.” Well done, team!  

Los Cuernos

In the refugio we had bunk beds that stacked three beds high, and we had a chance at some hot showers too.  We were Becky-camping now!  (luxury camping, that is.)

It was still early in the afternoon, and dinner was not until 7:30pm, so being a large group - 13 - we quickly clamed an empty table, pulled out the snacks and cards and got comfortable.  The beer was $5 a can so Michelle and I quickly decided to opt for a bottle of wine.  We can share this with everyone, and it will last much longer.  Mark opened the Pisco, Sam still had the whisky from Felicity’s BINGO win, and Padrick discovered a rather affordable box of white wine for the table. Rebecca discovered they had hot chocolate.  Everyone was quite happy with the beverage situation.  Let us not forget we still have two days of hiking ahead of us!

Michelle, Rebecca and I dove right into the card games.  Brandon started a movie on his ipod, Felicity settled in to her book, Sam, Mark, Jay, Jem and Rick got in to some good conversation at the other end of the table.  Rob and Padrick came in and out of the card games.  Dinner was the same as the night before, but a little different.  It was chicken and mashed potatoes again, but it was prepared completely differently and VERY good.  

After dinner, people began to go to bed one by one again, similar to the night before.  Several of us stayed up and played some more cards and had more good conversations about nothing in particular.  I was playing with my camera and got a few cool shots in low light.  My favorite one is of Sam, it’s catches him wearing an interesting facial expression, but I like it especially because, out the window behind him, you can perfectly see Los Cuernos perfectly, even though it’s in the dark.

We played a few rounds of jenga and had some pisco sour and by about 10pm 

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