Torres Del Paine: Trekking The Full Circuit
More high winds and a bout of food poisoning should have dampened my spirits further but the psychological crux of arriving in Puerto Natales under blue skies and light winds makes the past few days troubles pale in to insignificance, as I ride in to town I sing my head off (albeit badly).
After almost two days of sickness my legs are left feeling empty and depleted, a dose of rest and relaxation is required. Enjoyed amongst a small cluster of other cyclists heading north we congregate around many of the fine eating options in this small Chilean town making up for our basic diet on the road.
Puerto Natales acts as the main tourist hub for trips in to the Torres Del Paine national park attracting over 140,000 visitors each year in the short window of time that the Patagonian weather gods offer.
Torres Del Paine’s W trek proving a perennial favourite amongst travellers looking for their own personal slice of adventure in Patagonia’s wilderness.
Rested and relaxed; Beat, Lucia and Anita with whom I’ve cycled with since Punta Arenas bus out to the park together. As the bus whisks us through the Patagonian steppe, days worth of cycling are compressed in to a simple and convenient two hour bus journey.
Entering the park Guacano roam freely and from afar we even catch sight of Chilean Flamingos as we navigate a series of connecting gravel roads dropping trekkers off at various starting points for their adventures.
By the final bus stop at Park Administration we are but a handful of trekkers left. Leaving the dusty gravel roads behind we begin the walk in to the heart of the park marvelling as clouds move quickly overhead and draw our eyes to the Paine Massif and the contrasting shades of Los Cuernos stood high above the grassy steppe.
As we draw nearer to Paine Grande our destination for the day Lago Pehoe provides a striking foreground to the moody skies and imposing mountains.
We spend the evening eating together, chatting and toasting our respective plans in the park. After a week spent in fine company its time to part company at least temporarily.
By morning I say my goodbyes to the trio of cyclists and leave to trek the Full Circuit a continuous loop around the Paine Massif. Keen to spend some time on my own to digest my personal thoughts and feelings, and gain some perspective on a tumultuous couple of weeks on the road.
The narrow well trodden trails are easy going underfoot and I move quickly. In many ways the W Circuit is a veritable natural art gallery as trekkers are neatly deposited at the next awe inspiring view.
The French Valley a densely forested valley with hanging glaciers.
Offering fine views back to Lago Nordenskojld.
On my third day in the park I reach the Valley Acensio. As rain showers draw in for the afternoon the prospect of a clear views up to the Torres Del Paine (Torres of Paine) it is an easy decision to put up my tent and set my alarm for an early start.
As my alarm wakes me at 5.45am rain patters on my tent, my hopes of a stunning mornings sunrise over the Torres don’t sound promising but I dutifully make the hours walk up to the Torres by headtorch.
Occasional flickers of light high above tell me I am not the only one, and as daylight slowly begins to dawn I switch my head torch off, looking up I see the Torres shrouded in cloud. In many ways it would be easy to turn back but looking over my shoulder I see the sun rising further down the valley.
As pink irridescent light slowly makes its way up the valley I find myself racing upwards, moving faster trying to beat the sun’s rays ever hopeful that all those magical elements will come together.
The sunrise, the Torres bathed in pink tones never comes as clouds swirl and taunt expectant onlookers. I sit for an hour underneath the Torres, the veil of cloud slowly unfurling. Slowly revealing these dramatic and imposing granite spires
As the cold begins to penetrate my hands its time to leave. One last look over my shoulder outlines matchstick men stood underneath the Torres. The scale and grandeur of this cirque underlined.
Arriving at the trail head of Hotel Las Torres the link between the northern and southern halves of the circuit a jumble of cars and vans wait to collect foot sore and weary trekkers.
It feels neither remote or isolated, I came seeking natural beauty, peace and serenity in the wilderness instead I am left feeling claustrophobic. Overcrowded campsites, sullen and unfriendly trekkers all dutifully trudging the same path ticking off the sights rather than marvelling at them. It feels superficial and souless.
Away from the majesty and spectacle of the W circuit, the southern half of the Paine Massif offers something completely different, a peaceful beauty. As the trails widen and birds chatter I remember why I am here.
Grasslands stretch out in front me packed with daisies and dandelions. Wild horses roam and graze.
Hares and mice scurry across the trail. Caracas stand sentry.
Walking to the head of the valley snow capped mountains once again draw closer, and cold harsh blue glaciers plunge in to Rio Paine.
Leaving the grasslands behind I walk with Justin for the next few days. We walk through densely packed forests. Mosses and lichen cling to Beech and Lenga trees. A velvety cover over rocks.
Each twist and turn of the trail providing interest. Gaps occasionally open up in the dense canopy providing far reaching views.
Inky blue skies reveal us slowly making our way back to the geological chaos of Los Cuernos.
We stumble over the Paso John Gardiner like two drunkards buffetted by the wind. Laughing and whooping at the ferocity.
Afforded amazing views down to Glacier Grey and the Southern Patagonian Ice Field stretching off in to the distance.
As sun and rain combine a rainbow forms over the glacier. The scale, colour and texture of the glacier’s crevasses combine to offer an awe inspiring view.
We drop down through steep trails, arriving at camp early. With beers, wine and Piscola we toast a finale to the trek and friendship on the trail.
With sore heads we drop our tents the following morning as the stable weather we’ve been so fortunate with closes in.
The trail offers one final surprise as purple and white lupins line the trail.
Walking back to Paine Grande we take the ferry across Lago Nordenskoljd and head back to Puerto Natales, sated and satisfied with our adventures.