The Conclusion to Torres del Paine
Sorry it has been so long since I´ve posted anything. I have been spending a lot of time moving about Argentina and trekking, so I haven´t been at a computer much. This is the conclusion to my Torres del Paine trip. I had intended to detail each day as individual blog posts, but I´m accumulating too much to write about, so I just combined it into one big post. I also have a ton of photos to post as soon as I get to Buenos Aires, so don´t worry, you will see photos soon.
We gave ourselves the luxury of sleeping in our first morning in the park. We had our shortest day ahead of us, and it had been raining all night, so nobody was anxious to get up. Even so, Sam and I were awoken by Sarah´s perfectly whistled rendition of Revelry. Apparently our idea of sleeping in is different from our companions.
It was a paid campsite, so we had the luxury of cooking in the enclosed kitchen area. They even had stoves for us to use so we didn´t have to spend our own fuel. It felt a little like cheating, to be camping and have a place to go inside, but it was cold and we were half asleep, so nobody complained.
We started our hike at about 10:00 that morning. The weather was decent, although cold. Clouds had moved in obscuring our view of the mountain peaks, but at least it wasn´t raining.
Just like the day before, as soon as we started hiking Robbie took off at a pace impossible for anyone to match. Everyone else went on at their own pace, spreading out along the trail. I´ve never been a fast backpacker, I like to go at a reasonable pace, take breaks and take pictures, so I was content to be behind everyone else.
After a couple hours of fairly easy hiking, we reached our campsite for the night and set up our camp. Now came the fun part of the day, hiking up into the Valley Frances. It was about a 6 mile hike, going up in elevation about 3000 feet, I was very glad to not be carrying my pack.
When we had climbed for about an hour, we started to see snow on the ground. After another 30 minutes, there was a lot of snow, and the wind and lack of sun made it very cold. Sarah and Sam decided they had gone far enough, and started back down into the valley, but Robbie and I chose to keep going.
The higher we hiked, the more snow we encountered. It was quite a wonderful hike, to be up in big mountains surrounded by snow covered trees, with a beautiful glacier and river in the valley below us. Robbie and I had a great time hiking and talking about whatever came to mind. We eventually reached the campsite we were aiming for, and decided there was no point in going to the higher viewpoint an hour away. With so many clouds, we wouldn´t be able to see anything anyway.
The hike back down was even more enjoyable than coming up. We could see down into the valley, the lakes and fields below us, and descending had the added benefit of it getting warmer the farther we went. However, about halfway down the mountain, I noticed that my right ankle was starting to hurt a bit, which worried me, but I didn´t think much of it at the time.
The third morning we woke up early. We had the longest and most difficult hike of the trip to do that day, so we didn´t waste any time getting on the trail.
At this point I was starting to get pretty sore. It had been a long time since I´d done any trekking, and my legs were complaining. My knees ached on the downhill sections, and my ankle hurt on the uphill sections. The wind was strong and cold, and I hadn´t seen the sun all day. I found myself getting very frustrated, especially knowing how far I had to go.
After a particularly unenjoyable stretch of going up and down many steep little valleys, I started to get angry. I really didn´t want to be hiking anymore. Then I came upon a section of trail with a huge hill on either side effectively stopping all wind. It was a nice little spot to take a break. I sat down and had some trail mix and suddenly had a revelation. ¨What the heck am I complaining about?¨ I thought. ¨2 months ago I was sitting in an office drawing signs, and my knees hurt then, too. Now I´m in possibly the most amazing place I´ve ever seen, I have absolutely nothing to be angry about.¨
From then on I had a much better attitude about the hike. Sure, my knees still hurt and my ankle felt worse with every uphill climb, but I considered myself lucky to be there.
By the time we all got to the campsite, it was dinner time. We had hiked roughly 15 miles that day, the second half being uphill and in the rain/snow. It was the longest I´d ever hiked in one day, and I felt triumphant, despite the nagging concern that my ankle was not getting any better.
To set up our tent, we had to first clear away snow. There was about 3 inches on the ground, and we did not have warm enough sleeping bags to camp on top of the snow. After quite a bit of snow removal, we pitched our tent in wet mud, with snow constantly falling off the trees and melting inside the tent. Finally after drying the inside of the tent with a dirty shirt, we had our tent set up.
We went to the little wooden shelter and started to cook our dinner when a National Park employee came over to talk to us. He was staying in a little cabin in the campsite, and after talking for a minute, he told us we could join him in the cabin. Grateful, we all piled into his little living room and sat around the wood burning stove. It was so exciting to be inside with a warm place to sit and eat our food.
We stayed there for a while but eventually had to go back into the cold and go to bed. It was the coldest night yet, windy, high elevation, and it snowed three inches that night.
We woke up to what only can be described as a winter wonderland. Snow covered everything, including the tent, and there was still snow falling from the sky. Leaving our camp as it was, we began to hike the 1 hour extremely steep section to the viewpoint where in good weather conditions you can see the famous Torres for which the park is named. After about 30 minutes of going up, Sam stopped in the trail saying he was not feeling well. He told me to go on ahead with the others and he would catch up. I continued up the rocky snow covered trail until I found Robbie and Sarah waiting for us.
After waiting a few minutes, we were all worried that Sam had not caught up yet. It was extremely cold, the sun had barely come up, and it was snowing even harder than before. Knowing that Sam had no hat or gloves, I couldn´t convince myself that he was ok on his own. I told the others to go on ahead, and I went back down to find Sam. About halfway back down the trail, I found Sam slowly hiking down the mountain. He did not look good, and said his knee was hurting a lot, so he had started heading back. Not wanting to hike all the way back up the trail I´d already climbed once, we both decided just to head back to the campsite.
At this point I had a decision to make. Sam was leaving the park that day, and the rest of us were going to continue around the full circuit of the park, for an additional 4 days. I really wanted to continue the hike, but my ankle had continually hurt more and more in the past 3 days. I don´t know from what, but it felt like it was sprained. After much carefull consideration, I decided it would be best to leave with Sam. I didn´t know what was wrong with my ankle, but I was afraid I´d get halfway around the circuit and not be able to walk anymore.
About the time I made my decision, Sarah and Robbie returned from the Torres viewpoint. They told us that as soon as they got up there the clouds cleared and they had the most amazing view of the Torres. We all laughed, knowing nobody could see anything through the snow clouds, and they admitted that they got up there, couldn´t see a thing, and left because it was unbearably cold.
Sam and I said our goodbyes, packed up our gear and headed down the mountain. After hiking for a bit, I felt like my ankle didn´t hurt as much as it had been. Optimistic, I began to think ¨Maybe I don´t need to leave the park.¨ Those thoughts were quickly silenced when a long uphill stretch sent sharp pains through my ankle with every step. There would be no continuing the hike that day.
A half hour from the shuttle pickup, we emerged from the foothills onto the grassy fields below, and the sun came out. It was the first time since we´d entered the park that any of us had seen the sun. It made me very depressed to be leaving, defeated, on such a beautiful day.
After a while I started to feel better about it, though. Sure, I hadn´t made it as far as I wanted to, but I had done the most difficult 4 day hike of my life, through the most awesome mountains I´d ever seen. I had made it to a place I´d dreamed of going for months, where most people will never get to go. I realized just how lucky I was.
And as for hiking the full circuit... I will be back.