Chile - Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine

 

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Dec 7-20, 2000

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Sep 4-9, 2000

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Aug 5-9, 2000

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Jul 26 - Aug 4, 2000

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Jul 16-25, 2000

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Jul 11-15, 2000

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Jul 5-10, 2000

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Jun 22 - Jul 4, 2000

Brief return to the USA
Jun 6-21, 2000

Ecuador - Quito and surroundings
Jun 1-6, 2000

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May 25-31, 2000

Ecuador - Quito and the jungle
May 21-24, 2000

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May 17-20, 2000

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May 11-16, 2000

Bolivia
May 3-10, 2000

Zimbabwe and South Africa - Vic Falls and Blyde River Canyon
Apr 27 - May 2, 2000

South Africa - Motorcycle trip
Apr 12-26, 2000

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Mar 30 - Apr 11, 2000

Argentina - Bariloche and San Martin de los Andes
Mar 25-29, 2000

Chile - Exploring the Lake Region
Mar 17-24, 2000

Chile - Pucon and the Bio Bio
Mar 9-16, 2000

Argentina - El Calafate and El Chalten
Mar 1-8, 2000

Chile - Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine
Feb 18-29, 2000

Argentina - Rio Gallegos and Ushuaia
Feb 13-17, 2000

Chile - Santiago and Punta Arenas
Feb 8-12, 2000

Guatemala and Honduras - Rio Dulce and Copan
Feb 4-7, 2000

Guatemala - Coban and Spanish school
Jan 28 - Feb 3, 2000

Guatemala - Tikal and Spanish school
Jan 22-27, 2000

Guatemala - Antigua and Spanish school
Jan 16-21, 2000

Belize
Jan 6-15, 2000

 

Fri Feb 18, 2000 - Puerto Natales

The comfortable bed and soft sheets encouraged us to stay in bed all morning. And this seems to be just what the doctor ordered. With our rejuvenated energy, we headed out into Puerto Natales to secure logistics to get to the park and learn as much as possible about El Circuito.

We timed our outing exactly as almost all of the stores and shops were closing for the three hour lunch break. A few of the travel agencies were opened and answered our questions about trekking in the park and logistics for our next adventure to Perito Moreno. We learned that there are some refugios with stores along the trail so we won't have to carry quite as much food.

We had lunch at a nice restaurant a few blocks from the hotel that served good food quickly! Next stop was the grocery store for rations. We had to hunt to find some of the foods that we wanted, but succeeded. The peanut butter we had to purchase from a specialty shop for an exorbitant price which we thought was funny.

We hit an internet cafe to send off a few last notes before disappearing into the wilds for 10 days. Remax Pizza served up a delicious stuffed pie. We chose the meat-lover's pizza considering the lack of meat in our diet during the trek.

Louisa noticed that another english-speaking couple had a copy of the trekking book on their table and asked if we could borrow it for a few minutes to read. We were devouring every word about El Circuito when Louisa sprinted out the door and convinced the man at the photocopy shop to reopen so we could copy the few pages and have more information.

Before heading to bed we finished packing and prepared our bag that we left at the hotel with all of the items that we have but will not need in the wilds.

 

Sat Feb 19, 2000 - Torres del Paine 1: Campimento Torres

We were ready for 7am for our bus to Torres del Paine which arrived just before 8am. Typical. There were four chatty Chilean girls also heading out on the Circuit. It was a 2+ hour ride to park, but we got some great views of the Torres and gorgeous mountains during the ride.

Next we took a transfer down the road to Hosteria Los Torres to the beginning of the trail. Tom talked with a couple from Santa Cruz who just came from Perito Moreno and raved about it. Louisa spoke with a disgruntled Santiagan Finance Manager and learned much about the Chilean economy. We saw the couple from Montana that lent us their book the night before, and discovered they are brother and sister heading out to do the "W," another popular route.

We decided to do one leg of the "W" before starting the circuit. So we started the climb to the "Torres del Paine Lookout. We climbed up a monster hill for more than the first hour. It was treacherous, but at the crest we could see the first landmark which inspired us to continue. The day was gorgeous with blue skies and hardly a cloud. We continued to hike up through some lovely forest to Campimento Torres which is 45 minutes from the top. We peeked at the Torres, but did not do the final ascent in anticipation for our sunrise trip.

Instead we made camp, cooked dinner and went to bed early. While we could see other tents, it was a great camp sight since it was remarkably quiet.

 

Sun Feb 20, 2000 - Torres del Paine 2: Return to Camping las Torres

We woke up at 6:00am to make the steep ascent to the lookout for the Torres at dawn when the light is supposed to shine on them from across the valley. However, the clear weather did not last through the night and we had low clouds so the sun never quite broke through for the picturesque view we wanted. It was still impressive, however.

Overall, the pre-breakfast climb was enjoyable. The rock formations near the towers are immense and beautiful. The climb itself took us above the hills for great views south through the valley of the park.

We returned to camp for breakfast and to break camp, then headed down. During the final leg of the descent after Campimento Chileno we had great views of Lago Nordenskjold which we soaked in during our lunch stop.

We intended to do the first leg of the circuit in the afternoon, but Louisa woke up with what seemed to be pink eye and this was uncomfortable and not improving throughout the morning. We were not sure if Los Torres had a phone and feared that we might need to make the trip back into Puerto Natales and lose at least one day. However we stopped at the Hosteria Los Torres enjoyed a long, filling, hot lunch and asked if we could use their phone to call the doctor at WorldClinic. Our medical kit included eye drops to cure pink eye, but we opted to camp at Los Torres and recuperate Louisa's eye before embarking on El Circuito.

We had a great view from our tent, but overall the campsites were crowded. Also, they let the horses out for their dinner, so horses graze the grass in-between the tents, which was a little odd.

 

Mon Feb 21, 2000 - El Circuito 1 - Coiron

With Louisa feeling much better, we got up early, cooked breakfast, and hit the trail by 9. We climbed past lots of rabbits (we were somewhat surprised to learn they're not native to Patagonia) and trees full of wild parakeets. The morning was brisk and sunny, and we stopped overlooking the Rio Paine for a break.

During most of the morning we walked alone, climbing through forests and meadows, but by lunchtime we began to see other hikers. We also got great views from above the rushing, milky waters of the Rio Paine. We then descended to cross a broad meadow in the valley. Finally, we stopped for lunch around 1pm at Puesta Seron, where we saw some horsepackers go by.

The afternoon found us climbing above Laguna Alejandra, where we saw a guanaco in the distance. We then broke out above Lago Paine, and got our first fantastic view of the mountains behind the Torres. We continued to climb and dip along the length of the lake, tiring a bit, but finally dragging ourselves into the campground at Coiron around 4:30. We had covered nearly 30km today, and we were feeling it!

The campsite was nice, with 4-5 other groups also doing the circuit. While putting up the tent, Tom accidentally launched one of the bungee cordds into a tree, and had to climb pretty high to retrieve it. Then, we cooked some dinner and fell into our sleeping bags.

 

Tue Feb 22, 2000 - El Circuito 2 - Los Perros

We got up early again, and this time were on the trail by 8:30. We had a gorgeous day for hiking, sunny and cool. Our inspiration was the Torres on our left and huge mountains and glaciers ahead and to the right. After about 3 hours climbing through picturesque meadows, Glaciar Dickson appeared. After admiring the view, we descended steeply down to Lago Dickson for a brief break before lunch.

The Refugio at Lago Dickson is beautifully situated at the end of the lake, with a great view of the small glacier at the other end. We found it nicely kept up, with a small store and cooked food available. We stopped for a soda, and chatted with some folks there. All of their supplies come in by jeep, horse, and tiny ferry - a lot of work, but sure appreciated by hungry and weary trekkers!

We hiked the afternoon away through thick, gorgeous forest, with occasional views of the Perros glacier that was our destination. We stopped for lunch at one spot, and took another break at a beautiful waterfall. Further up the river, we crossed a truly frightening suspension bridge - many of the slats were missing, and the whole thing swayed and rocked. And immediately after our crossing, the heavens opened and a cold rain blew in. We bundled up and continued on.

The weather broke a bit after a while, and we began to climb up the moraine towards the small glacier. When we reached the top, we saw glacier Los Perros leading straight into its lake with a huge iceberg in middle. Tom greeted the sight by exclaiming "Wow!" not once but three times.

The rain started again, so we hurried to the nearby (and crowded) campsite Los Perros and pitched our tent. We huddled under the awning, cooking our dinner and trying to stay warm and dry. After our second 7+ hour hiking day in a row, we were beat, and went to bed early.

 

Wed Feb 23, 2000 - El Circuito 3 - Paso John Gardner

We had decided to get an early start at the pass, weather permitting, so we got up early and took a look - totally socked in. We made some breakfast, cleaned up, and checked again - still cloudy and possibly snowing. So, we decided to take a rest day and hope the weather would be better tomorrow. Since it was still drizzling a bit, we went back to bed and slept for an hour or so.

When we awoke, we decided to check the pass again, just in case. The weather changes fast in these parts - it was completely clear! We decided we still had time to take advantage of it, so we quickly packed and headed up, leaving at about 11am.

We had been warned about the muddy bogs on the way up to the pass, but we didn't realize how huge they were. We spent over an hour picking our way through dribbling streams and knee-deep sucking mud. Louisa tweaked her hip muscle a bit, and neither of us were having much fun. Finally, we crossed the creek - a little scary, but we're getting to be old hands at this - and started heading up the moraine. After a final look back at the valley we were leaving, we aimed ourselves for the top.

The climb wasn't bad, just steep and a bit slippery with the rocks sliding beneath our shoes. The weather continued to hold for us - not sunny, but crisp and high overcast. We stopped for lunch on a particularly inviting rock halfway up.

The view from the top of the John Gardner Pass is worth every bit of effort required to get there. The view is truly spectacular. We looked down on the massive river of ice, framed by snow-capped mountains and a beautiful lake in the distance. Glacier Grey is truly fantastic from above - fed by several high mountain valleys, you can see how it "flows" down to the lake. And the scale is impossible to judge - we later found out that the ice "waves" we thought were small are over 30ft high.

We spent an hour on top, admiring the view, having a snack and posing for a tripod & timer picture. The weather stayed clear, and amazingly wasn't even windy, which made the day even more spectacular. Because we were a bit later leaving, we were the only ones on top, which made it even more special.

We decided that in our opinion, there is only one direction to do this circuit in, primarily because of this view. If you were going the other way, nothing later would compare - you would just spend 3 days hiking out. In this direction (anti-clockwise), you work your way up, the views keep getting better. The descent on the Grey side of the pass confirmed our opinion.

Our GPS told us that we dropped 2600 feet in less than a mile. We have climbed ladders that were less steep. The "trail" often went straight down slopes we would have been afraid of on skis. We went slowly, and used our poles a lot, but we couldn't imagine climbing up this way.

We finally reached a small flat spot called Campamento Paso, where there were 20 tents in a space the size of a small house. We went on a little ways and pitched our tent right in the middle of the trail, thus temporarily re-routing the trail while we were there. However, since we got in late and left relatively early, it wasn't a problem.

 

Thu Feb 24, 2000 - El Circuito 4: Camp Paso to Camp Grey

After a hot breakfast of hot chocolate and oatmeal we headed out through the forest to find the ravines that trekkers coming in the other direction had mentioned. The forest walk was nice, but the trail continually took us up and down. The ravines were quite steep, but there were ladders and good footholds, so they were not treacherous.

The entire trek we were inspired by great views of Glacier Grey and Lago Grey. The Glacier is incredibly vast and clean showing off a crisp white and deep blue. When we reached Campamento Guardas we took a side trail mentioned in the book to a lookout over the glacier. It was a great place to soak in the beauty. While we were eating a few ant-size dots started to move along the glacier. Quickly, we realized they were 6 ice-trekkers out from Grey. It was incredible to realize how small the people are in comparison to the glacier.

After a few hours, we reached Refugio Grey. We were expecting an oasis similar to Dickson, and were disappointed in the crowded camping available. We made camp and headed into the refugio for a hot chocolate and a rest. About 5 minutes back up the trail was a side path that leads directly in front of the glacier. We enjoyed the close proximity and water level view. We also gained an understanding of the massive size of the icebergs.

We returned to camp psyched for hot showers only to discover that the water for campers is not heated. We tried to pay for hot showers in the refugio but were turned away, so we braved the glacier-water shower. Somehow, they managed to find water that was actually colder than freezing - "cold" does not even begin to convey the actual temperature. Louisa could not bear to put her head underneath the glacial water, but Tom actually washed his hair.

We indulged ourselves by having dinner in the refugio. They cooked pasta, but with lots of meat. We talked with lovely Italian couple in Spanish about many of the wonderful places they have traveled in the world.

 

Fri Feb 25, 2000 - El Circuito 5: Camp Grey to Camp Pehoe

We were awakened at 4:30am by a thunderous calving from the nearby glacier, but rolled over and went back to sleep. In the morning we got a bit of a slow start, but after we packed up we went back to look at the glacier to see if we could see any new bergs. From what we could tell, some of the bergs had moved around, but it wasn't obviously different.

By the time we got back from our side trip and loaded ourselves up, it was nearly 11. We had been hiking every day for 6 days now, and our bodies were taking a while to get going in the morning - we started out pretty slow. And, of course, we had a lot of climbing to start with, to get above the cliffs that surround Lago Grey.

Once we got moving, though, we made great time. We cranked through the next few hours and reached Lago Pehoe in record time (for us). We had originally planned to head up to Campamento Italiano, 2 hours further on, but decided it would be easier to base camp here for 2 nights, doing the Valle Frances tomorrow as a long day hike.

We also found out why they call this area the "Valley of the Winds" - the wind was fierce! We had to batten down all the hatches so we wouldn't blow away. We spent a good deal of time in the Refugio, journaling and resting, and found out about this cool raft trip out of the park. We took a bit of time arranging and paying for it (expensive, and cash only), but it looks worth it. Then we had dinner there too (spaghetti with tuna & tomato sauce - different), since we are low on food and the stores in the park seem to think that trekkers only like to eat cookies and candy bars.

 

Sat Feb 26, 2000 - El Circuito 6: Valle Frances

After surviving the windy night, we enjoyed the calm morning with breakfast in bed. We were up relatively early to make the long roundtrip up the Valle Frances. We bought boxed lunches from the refugio since that seemed to be the only way to get healthy food which we needed for the trek.

We were off by 8:30am and made incredible time. Just after Campamento Italiano we made one stop, but were still up to the Mirador for the Valle Frances in less than 4 hours. The hike was nice, with not too bad of a climb. Also, around ever corner and at every clearing it seemed that the view of the Glacier Frances improved. We even saw a few amazing calvings down the mountainside.

The weather cooperated. It was sunny with mostly blue skies. We camped out on a rock, had lunch and gazed up at the incredible view of the cuernos, towers and other beautiful rock formations. After an hour snoozing on the rock, Louisa thought that it would be a great idea to climb to the very top of the valley to have a direct view back across the valley with the towers. We started up, but after 45 minutes were only half way there, and the easy half. We did have an even more amazing and unobstructed view of the valley from up here, but decided to turn back for the sake of time.

The descent was slower at almost 4.5 hours and not as fun because Louisa's knee hurt and for once we did not have the medical kit wit us. We reached Camp Pehoe at 7:00pm, famished. We immediately started cooking our final camp stove dinner and devoured it. As we were stretching just before bed at 9pm, our friends, Espen and Katherine, from Santa Cruz were just making it back from their day trip. It has been fun to run into them most days around the circuit. Fortunately, the winds were not blowing as wildly, so we went to sleep quickly.

 

Sun Feb 27, 2000 - Posada Rio Serrano

We woke up just as the sun was peaking over the mountains and transforming the sky into a gorgeous palette of pinks. We enjoyed the view and had breakfast in bed again before getting up and breaking camp for the last time in Torres del Paine.

We took the catamaran across Lago Pehoe and enjoyed gorgeous views of the Cuernos of the Valle Frances. Once we reached Pudeto we found a transfer to the Administration Center at Lago Toro near a refugio or posada where we can spend the night.

Surprisingly, the CONAF staff were friendly and helpful. The building houses a good exhibit describing the formation of Torres del Paine and its current wildlife.

We decided to stay at the Posada rather than the refugio. The latter was incredibly basic with a bunch of old mattresses strewn across the floor. The hotel charged a high fee for the condition of the room, but it was definitely better than the refugio.

We luxuriated in long, hot showers. We had not had a hot shower in a week. It seemed that some of the dust from the trails had glued itself to our skin. It was delgihtful to feel truly clean again.

Being Chile, the restaurant did not serve dinner until 8:00pm which seemed incredibly late compared to our camping schedule. We had a good dinner of pork and chicken. The only other patrons all involved the raft trip for tomorrow. One family runs ONAS, the grandfather drives the guests tot he boat, the father is the captain, and his 14 year old daughter is the crew. We chatted with them for awhile. The grandfather was practicing his English. and we our Spanish. He became quitie endeared with us and bought us each a glass of red wine. At the end of dinner, another patron came in who was the only other guest on the boat, Hansel from New York City.

With full stomachs and clean bodies we fell into bed and enjoyed the comfortable mattress and well-heated room.

 

Mon Feb 28, 2000 - Rio Serrano rafting

The grandfather pickced us up at the hotel and drove us to the end of the road where the first raft was waiting. Basically, it is a large zodiac that seats 10 or 12. The first leg down the Rio Serrano took us by some pink flamingoes. We zipped along in the tiny boat gazing back at the Torres with the morning sun glinting off the rock and looking forward at the lush banks of the river.

We came to the confluence of the Rio Grey and the Rio Serrano. It was quite amazing. The crystal blue waters of the Rio Serrano meet the milky gray of the Rio Grey and swirl together.

The skies opened up and we continued through some rain and wind. We stopped for awhile on the edge of an estancia to have hot chocolate and cookies. We were joined by the man who livs on the plot of land. He lives by himself in a house made out of timber aand corrugated tin. Rather than being a rectangle, the sides lean up against each other to form a triangle, and that suffices as his year-round house. He smokes the meat of the cattle for his food and had a few skulls and hides laying over trees.

Miguel chatted in Spanish about Puerto Natales, with its low crime rate and strong community. We learned about the pumas near the Estancia who kill up to 40 sheep a night when teaching their young how to kill.

The waters got rougher when Rio Serrano ended into an inlet of the sea. Fortunately, this was our next stop,Glaciar Serano. We hiked out the trail for a closer look and watched as rocks tumbled down the glaciar and crashed into the water. This is where we transferred to the large boat, 21 de Mayo, to take us down the inlet to Puerto Natales.

The boat ride on the 21 de Mayo traveled by another huge glacier, Balmaseda. The other stop showed us a colony of seals and a few condors.

Upon checking into the hotel, we took luxuriously long and scalding ot showers to continue the cleansing process. Next stop was the lavanderia to drop off the huge pile of disgusting clothes - we would have asphyxiated ourselves had we tried to sleep in the same room with them.

We dined at a highly recommended budget hotel and restaurant, Concepto Indigo, with Hamsel and had an interesting chat. Then it was off tto a deep sleep in the huge, comfortable king size bed.

 

Tue Feb 29, 2000 - Puerto Natales

Our "re-gather day" started off slowly by relaxing over breakfast. Then we hit the town to make travel arrangements for the El Calafate and El Chalten week ahead.

Much of the late morning and afternoon we spent in internet cafes sending emails and gathering travel information. This was interrupted by a delicious lunch at El Maritoma next to the hotel. We finally tried a steak "a lo pobre", which seems to mean "poor-style", but actually comes with fried onions and two fried eggs - fantastic!

Before dinner, Tom practiced guitar while Louisa took a long, hot bath to continue the post-camping deep cleansing. We had a huge dinner at La Bujadura and then packed and went to sleep.

Revised: Wed Feb 13 11:37:54 2008 on www.shieldsaroundtheworld.com.
Copyright 2000 Tom & Louisa Shields. All rights reserved.