Monday, 18 April 2011

Walking Torres Del Paine: The W Trek, Day 1

Big.  VERY big.  That was the initial impression on seeing the mountains of the Torres Del Paine National Park in Chile.

It wasn't my idea of fun to leave my tent at first light this morning, but I was on breakfast duty for the group I am travelling with and the kettle had to be boiled.  Having arrived at the Lago Peho campsite in the dark the previous night, I had no idea of the view I was in for.  The snow capped peaks were set alight by the morning sun and the sheer scale of the mountains dominated everything.

Day 1: Refugio Paine Grande to Refugio Grey and back.

22km, 6.5 hours.

This was the first day of the famous "W" trek, so called for shape of the walk being roughly a capital W.  Day 1 was an out and back route along the long left edge of the W.

We set off with a half hour boat ride across Lago Pehoe (11,000 Chilean Pesos one way, 19,000 return) to Refugio Paine Grande which was the start point for the walk.  Having heard bad weather reports from the previous few days and feeling nervous about four full on days of hiking, I was not planning on walking the full W, and had packed accordingly.  The plan was to do Day 1, stay overnight at the Refugio then get the boat back the next day, but something about the sight of the mountains on the way over made me buy a one way boat ticket.

The route

The walk started gently through a beautiful green valley of low shrubs, proceeding up to our first reward, the view over Laguna Los Patos.  Onward along wooded paths, with views across Lago Grey and the occasional small, blue iceberg.  There was a little ascent and descent but nothing serious.  We crossed a wooden footbridge over a river that had cut a deep gorge into the rock.  The only way to describe everything here is BIG.  The lakes, the mountain peaks, the rocky cliffs and then Glacier Grey.

The river cutting through the rock

On the trail

First look at Glacier Grey

This was my fourth glacier in a weekand it did not disappoint.  The glacier splits around a rocky island as it enters the lake.  We stopped at Refugio Grey to watch blocks of ice wash up on the lake shore, then walked a little further to the Mirador (viewpoint) to stand in awe right in front of the glacier.

Icebergs at Glacier Grey
The air was cold, just ok when walking briskly but chilly immediately on stopping to rest.  The sun was bright, even behind the clouds and perfectly illuminated the lakes and mountain sides.

We did not stay long at the mirador.  At this time of year the ferry sails only once per day so we had started our walk at 1pm and wanted to be back before nightfall.  We had the pleasure of walking back as the light faded and saw the moon rising over the mountains.

Rising moon over Paine Grande
 The Refugio Paine Grande was lovely.  We paid 43,000 Chilean pesos each for a bunk in a clean dorm room.  This included dinner, breakfast and a substantial packed lunch for the next day.  The food was better quality than I would have expected for such a captive market (this place was very remote with no competition and only suppliable by boat).  I would recommend staying here.  A cheaper option is to camp outside.

Close up across a rock

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