Martin on Cnicht

Martin on Cnicht

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The Torres del Paine Circuit - Days 1 to 3

Day 1 - 16 November - CONAN Administración (Lago Toro) to Refugio Paine Grande
17 km, 300 metres ascent, 5 hours including stops

The day started, for the third day running, with a bus ride. But not before Fasthosts finally got their server running just before 7 am, hence the last posting just made it, then we said goodbye to Internet access for nine days. So I've decided to group the postings into three chapters, each covering three days, with two pictures from each day.

Today's pictures, the top two, comprise:

1 A photo from the bus as we passed in front of the Towers of Paine, and
2 A view towards the Paine massif from our walk in.

Lots of Guanaco were passed during the scenic bus ride. One of them had a baby and another was trotting alongside a South American Grey Fox. As usual, Upland Geese and Southern Lapwings lined the verges. At the entrance to the National Park (various formalities and a payment equivalent to £18 each) two eagles circled high over the proceedings. Lower down, the ubiquitous smaller birds of prey were up to their usual acrobatic antics.

Some folk left the bus, one of five or six that does this trip every day, at the entrance to the Park. The bus then continued to Pudeto, from where it's a half hour journey by catamaran to Refugio Paine Grande. The bus emptied, apart from us and a random girl. Half an hour later, at the end of the road for the bus, we were at Administración with our rucksacks and walking poles. After more 'Park Admin', and in my case rucksack repacking, we were on our way, nearly. Sharon and Rich arrived on a later bus. We paused to swap cameras for some photos before Sue and I set off and S and R went to be 'processed'.

The five hour walk to the Refugio was a delight. Here's Sue's take on it:

'We set off towards the Paine massif at noon. Remarkably, it was fairly calm, with broken sunshine and high cloud. The path started across flat grassland. Around 1pm we had a bite of lunch. Hares were common. After an hour and three quarters we passed Campo Las Carretas and a small stream where water was picked up. Beyond that the path undulated past vivid red Fire Bushes above the steel grey, fast flowing Rio Grey.

There were plenty of flowers, from Lady's Slipper Orchids, Dog Orchids, Common Yellow Violets, Streaked Maiden, Wild Blue Pea, to Native Anemones and Buttercups.

A loud crack revealed an avalanche from one of the glaciers - the resulting cloud of snow showed its location.

Sadly, there were a few areas of blackened trees, perhaps the reason for very tight rules in the Park relating to fires. We risk a heavy fine and a prison sentence just for brewing up beside the trail.

Sharon and Rich joined us and the last few kilometres passed quickly as we chatted. At Mirador Pehoé, we looked down on Lake Pehoé - it was a breezy spot, and the weather was becoming cloudier. The last part of the walk was beside the lake, over a bridge, and over a rise to Refugio Paine Grande, a large brown building with a city of tents behind it.

We were just in time, as the first of a series of showers arrived as we reached the Refugio.'

Sue and I were just in time anyway, but Sharon and Rich would need another couple of hours to reach Campo Italiano. They were good company today. We hope to see them again.

Meanwhile, having paid US $190 for full board at the Refugio, we thought we'd best stay put. We are in a dormitory with four others, where we need to use our sleeping bags. There are signs apologising for the lack of hot water. We enjoy tea and coffee in the bar, then Pisco Sour, a drink recommended by many. It was great. We have no idea of its components.

Dinner was served in a large canteen, where we collected various ingredients on a tray, very much in Canadian Ski Marathon banquet style. A woman several inches taller than Robert towered over us in the queue. We sat next to Kunal and Rajni and their guide. He'd been telling them about a walk in Italy, and didn't seem at all upset that we knew more about walking in Italy than he did. The evening was spent in front of a log fire in a room with fine views to the mountains and across the lake.

Day 2 - 17 November - Refugio Paine Grande to Campamento Italiano, with a side trek to Mirador Britanica and back
18 km, 800 metres ascent, 7 hours including stops

The four others in our dorm were French. They rustled crisp packets in a way that only the French and Graham Stevens have mastered, but we were awake anyway and they were polite.

Breakfast was substantial, as was our packed lunch.

We were not in a hurry. We watched as groups of walkers kitted up to brave the elements. It looked cold and windy outside, on a grey day with low cloud.

We got going around 9 am, on a pleasant but crowded trail. The trail also has crowds of hares, giant by UK standards, seemingly dashing about in a confused manner. There are lots of guided groups. The guides have a tough job! There is only one trail - a groove from which you are not allowed to stray. Junctions are clearly signposted. Posts regularly indicate latitude and longitude (but beware of these, a number of them are incorrectly positioned). It is impossible to get lost. We haven't bothered to buy a map although we do have the excellent Cicerone guide written by Rudolph Abraham.

The upper reaches of the Paine massif were engulfed in cloud which merged with the snowy lower slopes on the grey day. It took us two and a quarter hours to reach our destination, just 7 km from our starting point.

Campamento Italiano is a 'Free Camp'. There is no charge. Facilities comprise a toilet and a cooking shelter. Cooking in your tent is not permitted. A sign points to the river, for water. The Chileans are proud of their healthy river water.

There's a cabin manned by a Park Ranger. You have to sign in, and you are allowed to stay only one night.

We bagged a flat earthen pitch at the edge of the site. Soon we had neighbours - less than a metre away - some friendly Canadian girls. Space is at a premium here and our Nallo is one of the larger tents.

We enjoyed half a lunch and at 12 noon set off up towards Mirador Britanica. There used to be a campsite there, and the trail went a further kilometre up the hill, but nowadays both the trail and the campsite are closed.

The weather was fair. Birds flitted about in much closer proximity than in the UK. Commonest were Rufuos-collared Sparrow and Austral Blackbird. We also noticed Patagonian Sierra Finches, the Thorn-tailed Rayadito (a sort of tree creeper) and a Magellanic Woodpecker with its distinctive crimson head. And more.

Sharon and Rich were coming the other way. They had seen nothing but fog after the first Mirador on the 5.5 km trail. We soon reached that viewpoint and devoured the second half of our lunch. The mountains were still largely in cloud, but there were fine views down Lake Nordenskjöld.

High above, one of several large avalanches we saw today.

After a brief snowstorm the weather had cleared. We found ourselves gazing up to lofty peaks surrounding us in a vast amphitheatre. At the circa 800 metre high point we enjoyed a few minutes in the company of Gary and his son Charlie, from Norfolk. The views were stupendous.

The easy walk down was marred only by Sue temporarily mislaying her poles and my need to test certain characteristics of the local type of moss. Enough said.

We hadn't been looking forward to dinner in the rather messy cooking area, but we managed to get a corner of a picnic bench that was otherwise occupied by a delightful group of twelve Chileans. We hope you find these words and make a comment, and we really did enjoy your company over dinner.

Today's pictures, the third and fourth from the top:

3 Looking back to Refugio Paine Grande from this morning's path
4 A small selection of the many summits visible from near Mirador Britanica.

Day 3 - 18 November - Campamento Italiano to Refugio Las Torres
17 km, 500 metres ascent, 7.5 hours including stops

We slept well at the quiet site, despite it being full of tightly packed tents. I did wake a few times to itch at the multitude of bites I seem to have picked up at Refugio Paine Grande.

A leisurely departure on a fine, calm morning, saw us heading past the 'Chile's are better than Argentina's' toilets to an undulating footpath beside the turquoise waters of Lago Nordenskjöld.

Fire Bushes were the plant that dominated the day. They are, shall we say, ubiquitous in these parts, like bright red honeysuckle.

The single file path was crowded with people coming the other way. Lots of 'guided' groups as always, trying not to get lost! There are also 'Pack Carriers' - not real Sherpas but regular guys, mainly students, from places like Santiago who make a holiday income from portering two packs at a time for lazy rich tourists. The packs are distinctively stashed one above the other in brightly coloured waterproof containers that tower over the wearer's head. These guys, despite their heavy loads, are some of the more courteous on the trail. It won't surprise you to hear that, with some exceptions, the guided groups are the rudest.

Lovely birdsong, waves crashing on the pebble beaches of the lake, and a cool following wind, all featured.

Half an hour after our 9.20 am start we passed the platforms of Camping Frances. Our next landmark was Refugio Los Cuernos, where we failed to get a coffee as the staff were all in a meeting. However, the campsite reception had a superb indoor picnic area, so we brewed up. 11.20 am. We chatted at length to Chris, a 25 year old Londoner, and his two Chilean mates. Time passed. Lunch was taken. It was nearly 1 pm by the time we set off on the 11 km leg to Torres.

There were fewer people about now, but also some horses, with grauchos in the saddle and horses in tow carrying rucksacks. Good views of the mountains to our left, with only the very tops draped in cloud. There was a bitter wind that didn't deter Sue from walking in her t-shirt.

Approaching Torres we encountered Jeff and Tori, from near Indianapolis. They had spent some time with Peter and Dorothy. We were sorry to hear that Peter had lost his phone. Later we dined with a Canadian / American couple who had been just about to pick up a dropped phone when a horse trampled it.

Refugio Las Torres was located at the far end of the Torres complex, which also features a large hotel and a campsite.

Unfortunately the Refugio had no record of Sue's booking. Nor did Sue have any substantive evidence of it other than her entry on the trip spreadsheet. She had paid over £300 for two nights accommodation. Her bank account password wasn't available. After about an hour the staff took pity on us and found us space in a dormitory, and we were given some meal tickets. Next episode tomorrow....

It was good to get a hot shower and wash some clothes, and the meal was fine. We are sharing a room with people on a trip organised by Explore. They had an epic crossing of the high pass (Passo John Gardner) that we are due to cross in a few days' time. The group got split up, porters were injured, and two bags have still to be recovered. It sounds shambolic, but apparently the guide saved the lives of an ill-equipped couple who were not on the Explore trip. It's a trip we nearly booked on. It sounds as if they need to look after their porters better.

Today's pictures, the bottom two, feature the beach at Lake Nordenskjöld and Fire Bushes overlooking the same lake.

10 comments:

Orchids and Nature said...

Stunning, I've always fancied going to this spectacular location but perhaps I've left it a bit late now I'm in my mid-70's.

Phreerunner said...

It's never too late David!

John J said...

Wow, £300 for two nights - not cheap. Even less cheap if you end up paying twice.
Anyway,I wondered where you'd got to - lack of WiFi?
It's all looking quite wonderful, the mountain scenery is quite spectacular, keep it coming.

Phreerunner said...

Yes JJ, it's expensive here, especially when you pay twice for the same thing. Hopefully Sue will get a refund when she can prove that she paid (when we get home). Correct, we had no wifi or phone signal for 9 days. We aren't complaining about that.

BrextonT said...

Looks spectacular. Was the lady really taller than me?

Phreerunner said...

Yes Robert, she was definitely taller than you, but her hands may not be as clumsy! I've deleted your three other duplicate comments...
It's great to hear from you all the same.

wuxing said...

Pisco sour (from Wikipedia)
Main alcohol: Pisco
Ingredients: 1 oz Lemon Juice, 1 Egg white, 1 1/2 oz Pisco, 3/4 oz Simple syrup
Preparation: Vigorously shake and strain contents in a cocktail shaker with ice cubes, then pour into glass and garnish with bitters.
Served: Straight up; without ice
Standard garnish: Angostura bitters

BrextonT said...

Only posted the comment once so not sure why you had 3 copies.

Phreerunner said...

All four comments were slightly different Robert!

Thanks Nick - that looks like the recipe La Marmita was using last night.

Phreerunner said...

Much later when we got home:
Sue scoured her credit cards and emails for any evidence of the 'mislaid' booking at Refugio Las Torres. She drew a complete blank. The alleged booking of this refuge turned out to be a figment of her imagination. We thank the staff for their forebearance.