Thursday, February 09, 2006

At last ...W Trek here we come!!!

Feb 9th. The big day dawns!!! Jumped on our bus that would take us to the park entrance, about 2 hours away so time for a good snooze, especially as it was a bloomin' miserable wet day, not looking too positive at all! Who do we see coming on board but Jennifer, our other fab pal from the last hostel! Yah! As we talked it over, we all agreed it made sense to start at Glacier Grey due to the weather (you can't see the Torres if the weather is bad - and it was rotten!). The bus left us off at Lake Pehoe where we would take the boat to our first Campamento and our official starting point! For the first time ever, Dominique and I both miscalculated how much money we would need for the trek (actually I totally forgot we had to pay for the silly boat across the lake, a mere 10,000 pesos, and then we had the darn camping fees too!) - oops! This meant we had to change our route slightly to make sure we could reach the "free" campsites if possible, rather than the more popular and slightly more accessible (in some cases!) sites that you paid to camp in! Great... now we had to lug these damn packs (we think they weighed at least 40lbs each at the start.. phew!) that much higher and that much longer. Could i do it? Well, read on!!

Remember i said about meeting people.. well, it kept happening. As we waited for the boat, we met Hazi and his dad from the Pucon hostel and who else should amble over from their bus but Nir and Barak, who decided due to the weather, they too would start on the glacier side! What a laugh!! Its so weird, you begin to feel like you know tons of people when this keeps happening... ahh the old gringo trail!

Arrived at the campsite completely soaked! Decided we couldn't wait around (unlike the boys who decided to set up camp and cook up a feast of steak marinaded in red wine.. seriously who camps like that???.. but these boys are gourmet all the way and love their food!). So we said goodbye to them and Ducky (remember him! he's checking out Jennifer's hiking poles above!), and us girlies headed off on the first leg of our trek...a mere 4+ hours hiking pretty much all uphill to Paine Grande and Lago Grey and of course, the immense Glacier Grey. Seeing the glacier for the first time was incredible - I'd never seen one before and it seemed to go on and on and on! Some of it was startlingly white, but some of it had this really blue tinge to it, almost as if it had been dyed with some sort of cleaning fluid (i know..how to ruin a beautiful moment!) but of course it was all natural! Even in the cold, wet rain, you could see how beautiful everything around us was. We dropped Jennifer off at Refugio Grey and headed on upwards another steep 45 mins till we reached our "free" campsite! Met some lovely people here .. Matthias and Regula from Switzerland and a wonderful Canadian couple...they and everyone else at this campsite were doing the "Circuit"... def. seen as the more impressive of the two hikes primarily due to its length! "So, are you doing the circuit too" we were asked.. We quickly replied, "Oh no, we are doing the W". "Oh, we didnt know this site was part of the W"... "Hmmn well its not, but it is a free campsite and we have no money"...we replied laughingly!!! All good fun. Put up our new tent and actually cooked dinner.. pasta no less.. with a wee cooking stove (ok we had to ask for some advice on how to light it) but we were very proud of ourselves as real campers that first night! Ahh.. the fresh air, the starry skies... and of course,the bluuudy bugs!

Feb 10th. Woke up this morning with my left eye completely swollen shut. Lovely ..had Dominique swatted me during the night or was it merely a spider bite as some people on the trail diagnosed it? We will never know! Jennifer came up to meet us and we headed out to the mirador to check out Glacier Grey, the third biggest glacier in the world, behind only those in Antartica and Greenland! 50-60m above the water with up to 100m below. An incredible sight.. hard to put into words. It went on and on and on. A huge mass of ice, glistening jagged white-blue towers, spellbinding! Amazing! Took the obligatory 200 photo shots (I take photos like I write blogs...)and then headed down the mountain side, a mere 3+ hours to base camp where Jennifer was staying that night. So interesting coming down as the weather was gorgeous and sunny, so we had a totally different view of the landscape from the day before! Alas for us, at 5pm we headed off for another 2 hour hike to Campamento Italiano where we would spend our second night. Even the Canadian couple said we were hard-core to keep going (me - hard-core, I love it!!) Another beautiful trail with incredible views of pristine lakes and immense mountains all around... cant truly explain how amazing and wonderful it was!! Hope the photos do it justice! Had a giggle in this camp with the guides who said we couldn't imbibe our box of wine (don't snigger; boxed wine is quite delicious, especially at a campsite!) unless we shared it with them..hmmnn just a drop we replied as felt we needed it more! So much for us drying out while we were out in the wilderness!!! Lovely evening as we went down to the roaring river next to the camp to drink our wine and reflect on the amazing things we had already seen.....loving this trek!!!

Feb 11th. Today was our first day of not hiking with our big packs! It really did literally feel like a giant load was off our shoulders!!! We left them and skipped up to Campamento Britanico, a mere 2 hours up through the Valle of the Rio del Frances. This valley climbs between Cerro Grande Paine and the Cuernos del Paine; with a raging river down one side bringing all the melting snow with it! The views were amazing. And the wind! I had to hold on to Dominique as she took some photos in case she blew away! Seriously!!! You could hardly stand up in it! Loved this part of the trek, totally different from the last 2 days, equally beautiful! Felt more like a trail in New England or even Scotland than southern Chile. Headed back down and of course, we bump into Jennifer, Nir and Barak! See, its a really small world on the W Trek! Chatted for a while with our pals, and planned to meet up with them at our next destination, Campamento Los Cuernos (a big change as this would be our first paid site (with hot showers - teehee!), about another 2 hours away. The trek to the site was (sorry to be repetitive but!) amazing again! It was wild, windy, wet and just gorgeous!
There was a huge turquoise lake that the wind crashed along, picking up speed and then dumping huge amounts of spray onto the trail, and us! Soaked but fantastic! The wind was so strong we both fell over at different times. Lots of river crossings too.. fun but a little nerve wracking when you are carrying your heavy mochilla and have to balance on a muddy log and try not to fall in! But we arrived and tried to set up camp in what we thought was a picturesque spot; hmmm looked good but was so damn rocky, we bent almost every tent pin we had and it took us forever! We had dinner with Jennifer when she arrived and met two lovely new friends; Barbara and Grimm from Belgium. Chatted over our boiling pots of water for after-dinner tea, then decided more vino was in order (yes, the refugios sold everything you might need when camping, even vino!). The boys arrived late, late, later, think it was about 11pm....but still felt the need for culinary creativity so cooked up some fab lemon and ginger risotto! They are hilarious - such posh campers!!! We had a great evening...yet again! How lucky are we!

Feb 12th. So easy to lose track of days, dates etc. out here in the middle of nowhere. Ok, its only day 4 but it feels like we have been here for ages....We ran out of gas for our wee cooker so Nir kindly boiled us some water for our respective tea and coffee! Phew! Today was going to be a big hike day as wanted to get to Campamento Las Torres .. so we said goodbye to the boys (yup, they were slowcoaches again and needed time to cook their 5 course breakfast...!) and headed off! Today it was sweltering hot (or was it windy.. or both....the days are blurring now, oops!). The route to the Torres site went via a so-called short cut. Let me just say it didn't feel short at all, and it just kept going up, up, up! Have to admit the old calf muscles were burning today and i felt a bit knackered ... see, my old age is coming into play here! Think Dominique had had enough as she decided to bound ahead to enjoy the views.. either that or she just had MUCH more energy than me - a bit of both i think!!! Finally! After hours of steep climbing, we got to the campsite! After a quick discussion, we decided to leave our packs in the forest and head on up to the Torres right there and then! Now I'm being honest... Part of me was saying "What!".. more climbing. But we were worried about the weather for the next day, and wanted to see the Torres in all their glory, plus i was with my uberathletepals, Dominique and Jennifer, so couldnt let them down... so of course, onwards we went.The last hour up to the Torres is very different to anything else we have seen so far. Massive big boulders of rock everywhere, all around you. As i lugged myself up, trying to swerve the mini-showers of pebbles and rocks (one or two of which managed to hit me on the head - owwww!) i kept thinking, "this better be worth it!". Got to the top and it was SO, SO, SO worth it! These giant rock towers sit quietly over the valley; there is an amazing turquoise lake below, waterfalls cascade down the rock walls, and snow falls from jagged edges above every now and then when the wind picks up ..... so incredibly beautiful. Peaceful. Inspiring. Stunning. This time words really can't do justice to the landscape. Lets just say this was definitely one of the highlights of my trip!

Eventually headed back down the mountain to camp! It was an amazing feeling. We had officially "done the W", well, except for our last day when we had a few hours of hiking to get down the mountain but that was fine...The three of us celebrated, you guessed it, with more wine!! What can i say .. we hike in style! Well, apart from our delicious dinner of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches..yum! We polished off our box of vino and Dom decided we needed more to celebrate so said she would just "run down the mountain to the refugio store" and get another box... and very kindly offered to get the park rangers one too! Now i have to make it clear...running down the mountain, meant running an hour each way, down and back up a really steep trail, that we had already done that day along with about 5 hours of hiking! Was she mad - Jennifer and I asked her? I dont know but she did it!! I was SO impressed but also concerned about her new dependence on vino tinto (teehee!). She is mad as a hatter! We met up with Barak, who was waiting for Nir to come down the mountain as he had gone up for sunset on his own.. had a great campfire evening with them chatting away about how wonderful this trek had been!! Can't believe its all over! Although it was definitely tough going at times, it was such an amazing experience, from the incredible and very different views of glaciers, mountains and lakes, to the hundreds of "Ola's" we said as we passed our fellow hikers on the trails, we all had a feeling of accomplishment and wonder at such a fantastic time!!!

Feb 13th. Barak, Nir, Barbara and Grimm all headed up to see the Torres at sunrise (yup, they were literally up at the crack of dawn, about 5am i think!!). We decided once was enough so headed down the mountain that morning. Can you see way way,way back where it looks like the river begins? that's where Jennifer's campsite was (ours was even further away and higher up in the mountains than than that one!) Arrived at Las Torres resort (the end of the road!) and we all went crazy in the wee shop buying up Fanta, ice lollies, and chocolate as if we had been lost in the mountains for months! The gang reunited for our bus journey back to town, with a new pal, Anka, a German doctor the boys met over the last few days!

Back in town, we returned to civilization..yes this meant showers...! Im sure you know what came next.. our celebratory dinner and then drinks of course! Met up with our Swiss friends again .. see a pattern here! We were having a very jolly time in the local pub, when all of a sudden, Jennifer, Nir and Barak disappeared! Apparantly they were having too good a time, and the bench they were sitting on collapsed in two, dropping them unceremoniously to the ground! The whole pub gave them a standing ovation and the bartender said that had never happened before! Hmmn.. me thinks a little too much partying going on.. either that or the boys gained so much weight over the last few days from their gourmet camping meals!!!! It was hilarious and a brilliant end to an amazing adventure! We head off to another fabulous town and another hiking trip tomorrow but more on that later!!!

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