Martin on Cnicht

Martin on Cnicht

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The Torres del Paine Circuit - Days 4 to 6

Day 4 - 19 November - Refugio Las Torres to Campo Torres, plus a side trip to view the Towers
11 km, 1000 metres ascent, 7 hours including stops

We rose with the Explore group couple. There was no hurry on the grey morning as we had a short day planned.

Breakfast was substantial. We couldn't manage it all. Caramel spread was an interesting ingredient.

We set off with our packed lunches bulging from the tops of our rucksacks at 9.20 am (again), after paying US $266 for the second time for the privilege of last night's accommodation. It's clear why some people stay outside the Park and get bussed in every day. They will try to find Sue's first payment and refund us if they can track it down. In the meantime it's just as well we have loads of US dollars, which is the preferred currency at the Refugio.

Making our way up the glacial moraine towards Refugio Chileno, we paused after an hour to enjoy the view back down the valley. Sharon and Rich turned up, providing the first of a number of natural breaks that we enjoyed today. They had started early from Campo Torres and watched sunrise on the Towers. They are a day ahead of us now, so we won't see them again on this walk. We planned a rendezvous in Puerto Natales. We hope that works out.

A little further along the excellent path, came Gary and Charlie. They had also been to the Towers, and they are also a day ahead. We invited them to gatecrash our party in Puerto Natales.

Refugio Chileno came into view. Chris was outside, eulogising about the fine view of sunrise in the opposite direction to the Towers.

We adjourning to the cooking area for a brew and 'half lunch'. It was cool compared with the heat inside the Refugio, where much beer was being quaffed. For many folk spending 4 to 5 days here, this is the final part of their 'W' route. Many would be leaving for Puerto Natales on a lunchtime bus. Chris is another person we won't see again.

Beyond the Refugio the path leads pleasantly up through woodland. A bridge (pictured - top) was crossed before reaching the campsite after an hour or so. It was virtually empty. We found the good spot (second picture down) recommended by Sharon and Rich. The tent was soon up and another 'half lunch' - a rather indigestible beef and lettuce roll - was ingested.

Then it was a 45 minute, 300 metre, climb without the encumbrance of our luggage, to the top of a moraine and a fine view across a lake to the Towers of Paine. On the way we met a very jolly Canadian couple who we encountered at breakfast. (Another natural break.)

The Towers were partially, from time to time, visible across the lake. We met the American / Canadian couple with whom we dined last night. They had been up there for three hours waiting in vain for a view. A stalwart effort. We chatted for a while, and later when we caught them up on the descent. They are Jeff and Julie, observant enough to discuss various items of gear, varying from Suunto watches to Berghaus Paclite overtrousers  and Pacerpoles. Very few people spot or show interest in the Pacerpoles, which surprises me. Julie is a physiotherapist, which perhaps explains her interest. Sadly we won't see them again on this trip, but we do hope to meet again either in Canada or the UK, or maybe both.

We spent the best part of an hour watching rockfalls, a scavenging fox, and soaring eagles. The Towers offered occasional glimpses. Then it was quickly back to camp, now quite busy but not a patch on Campo Italiano. The cooking shelter was crowded but convivial, with a multitude of nationalities dominated by Brits and Canadians. Our risotto with added tuna and blue cheese dressing was delicious.

Meanwhile the camp warden juggled outside his sharp sided house with three large knives.

Day 5 - 20 November - Campo Torres to Campo Serón, plus another side trip to view the Towers
23 km, 700 metres ascent, 13 hours including 5 to 6 hours stops

Sue's alarm went off at 4 am. We left the tent at 4.20 and joined a parade of headlamps heading up to see sunrise at the viewpoint across the lake from the Towers, where we had been yesterday afternoon. Folk ascending from Refugio Las Torres must have had to get up before 3 am.

Soon the first daylight allowed torches to be stashed, but it got colder as we rose to reach the viewpoint around 5 am. About 15 minutes too early.

Today's pictures, the third and fourth down, are of the sunrise that is the climax of many visits to this area. My hands and feet were extremely cold.

Some people bring sleeping bags and mats on which to watch the sunrise. Entertainment was provided when one of these mats was blown away. It made a very passable impersonation of a demented circling eagle before disappearing into the heavens.

We heard that it was one person's fourth attempt at seeing the Towers at sunrise. Fourth time lucky. They are usually in cloud.

After 30 to 40 minutes in the icy, windswept broken boulders choked with snow, and many photos later, a quick descent back to camp. And a welcome breakfast.

We took our time packing up from our earthen pitch, then embarked on the pleasant path to reach the warmth of  Refugio Chileno after less than an hour. Coffees were welcome as we chatted with Nick and Jess. It's their last day in this area, which they are visiting as part of a two week holiday. They will have got a bus to Punta Arenas this afternoon. It must be galling for them to know that the vast majority of people they have met here are on much much longer trips.

N and J and a Canadian couple were good company on the easy path down to Refugio Las Torres.

Then we endured the next episode of the lost booking saga. Sue had paid for full board tonight at Refugio Las Torres. They had failed to locate either of her bookings through fantasticosur, made and paid for back in around June. And unfortunately we have no proof with us that Sue made a booking.

We decided to have lunch - a three course meal comprising very tasty local dishes, at the Refugio and then continue to the campground at Serón. We would have just enough food and gas for the extra night's camping.

Lunch - '12 to 2' was based on Chilean time. It started at 1.20. But the receipt for our extra payment for Wednesday's accommodation etc, took even longer to produce.

Eventually we set off again at 2 pm after a two and a half hour break, on the gently undulating path, including the crossing of marshy areas and numerous small streams and passages through woodland. The weather was fine with sunny periods and just a smidgen of cloud on the summits. We saw five other people in the three and a half hours we spent on the winding trail. Bliss.

Eventually we descended to walk beside a wide river, the path taking us through grassland and wooded areas, with the occasional grazing horse. Upland Geese and Southern Lapwings were in residence. High mountains towered in the distance. It was great to be on a good but quiet path.

Campo Serón was reached at around 5.30. It's a great spot. There is grass on which to camp, and a pretty clean area for cooking, with large new picnic tables under cover. After the statutory brew-up  (Yorkshire tea), we managed to cobble together a good bowl of tortellini in mushroom sauce with parmesan cheese, followed by hot chocolate. So that's our 'emergency provisions' gone.

We are pleased to have come here rather than stay at Refugio Las Torres. It's a calm, sociable place with a sunny disposition. We talk about favourite destinations with a variety of like minded folk. We seem to have lost the trainers and jeans brigade (the Muppets, as Sharon so eloquently described them).

That's because we have left the 'W' route that most people do and have embarked on the 'reverse Q' route that will take us around the back of the Paine massif. 

Another advantage of continuing from the Refugio is that tomorrow's walk is rather shorter than the 31 km endurance test we'd originally planned!

Day 6 - 21 November - Campo Serón to Refugio Dickson
19 km, 500 metres ascent, 6 hours including stops

I woke to the sound of chirpy birdsong, Sue's snoring and melodic Chilean music in the background. It was perfectly calm. The sun was drying the condensation on the tent. Apparently it had been a frosty night. A blue sky day with no vapour trails.

Breakfast (pictured 5th down) was a leisurely affair despite us having to rummage for ingredients, after which we got going on the riverside path at 9.40 am.

This delightful path undulated over a couple of bluffs after crossing meadows with no livestock.

The remainder of today's posting is based on Sue's diary.

... We climbed to a shoulder, past flaming red shrubs. Below was the lazy blue-grey river. It was hot, as there was little wind. (The bottom picture was taken near here.) A lake was soon passed and from a shoulder was a view of Lago Paine, with snow covered mountains lining the horizon.

A descent followed, in and out of trees, crossing small streams. In many places dandelion clocks awaited a breeze to disperse the seeds. The flowers were a feature of today, with Magellan Orchids and lots of others, including the Wild Blue Pea, plantains, stitchworts, buttercups, pasque flowers, thrift, Streaked Maiden, clovers and more orchids.

There was a large area of bright red compact prickly bushes, bursting into flower. Then copses of low knarly trees looking like wind blown skeletons, and the musky smell of airborne pollen.

There were relatively few folk on the trail. We got to know the Americans, Andrew and Cali, and Cali's father Mark, who has joined his daughter for a short part of her six month break.

Half way along today's 19 km route was Coiron, a guarderia, with a dome tent (very warm inside) and a couple of toilets. We completed the record (our passport numbers are now committed to memory) and munched a few nuts.

We haven't carried water, as there are sufficient streams that a handy mug provides a cool drink at regular intervals.

The afternoon was less undulating and the views were stupendous. All around were snow-capped mountains, and now we were seeing the back of the Paine massif. Large cliffs of granite divided the dark, jagged volcanic rock.

A section of boardwalk crossed an area of marshland. In the distance a huge glacier tumbled. It turned out to be north of Lago Dickson, where tonight's refugio is located. A last moraine provided a lovely view over Lago Dickson and the refuge and camping ground.

A lone iceberg floated in the lake. Later, Daniel swam out to it, climbed on, and swam back - he was suffering and only just made it! Then the iceberg rolled over and fell apart.

Refugio Dickson is small compared with the others we have visited. We have a dormitory for six to ourselves. Our booking is recognised - we were expected. We showered immediately after arriving around 4.45 pm, which was lovely. Washing was done, and hung on a sunny line. We brewed on a picnic table in the camping area (excellent pitches), looking down the lake to the ice at its end, and chatting with the Americans.

Avoiding insects (not really many to speak of) we adjourned to the cosy lounge in the refuge. Dinner was asparagus soup, a beef and rice dish, and brownies with a caramel sauce. It was delayed slightly by the chef's desire to take full advantage of sunbathing weather.

Outside, a mother Lapwing was trying to teach a small chick survival lessons.

Then further socialising before the Americans adjourned to their rather too thin sleeping bags.

6 comments:

AlanR said...

OMG. Absolutely stunning. Now thats what i call hiking.

Eva Lutian said...

Sunrise on the towers, soaring eagles, orchids, and fuelled by brownies with caramel sauce. What is not to admire.

wuxing said...

'Caramel spread' aka Dulche de leche (Argentina) or Doce de leite (Brazil) very popular everywhere. Very nice on warm rolls/toast :-)

Sir Hugh said...

Drinking out of streams? When I tried it in the French Alps I suffered. It all sounds like a great trip.

Phreerunner said...

Thanks everyone. Yes, this is not like the French Alps, Conrad. No high mountain huts or unhygienic animals to pollute the water. Further south there's a walk where you are advised not to drink from streams due to pollution from beavers, but that doesn't apply here.

Phreerunner said...

Much later when we got home:
Sue scoured her credit cards and emails for any evidence of the 'mislaid' bookings 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.