I have decided to write about the “O” Circuit of Torres del Paine in two parts, mainly because I have so much to say about those incredible 11 days and I figured that nobody (including me) would want to sit through all that rambling in one go. So this way, there is a natural break.
Let me just start by saying that I must be the luckiest person to come to Patagonia. First off, great weather in Fitz Roy, great weather in El Calafate, and I am pleased to report we had phenomenal weather in Torres del Paine. Unreal. Who said that Patagonia is supposed to have horrible weather? The weather was such a blessing, and was one of the main reasons our originally 8 to 9 day trek stretched into 11!
Still traveling with my awesome Australian friends (Carla and Adam), we caught an early bus to the park not quite sure what our first day would bring. We had purposely left our schedule open to give us three opportunities to see the famous Torres of the Torres del Paine due to the unpredictable weather. Completely disconnected with the Andes mountains, the Paine masstif is it´s own unique range that rises up from seemingly nowhere. The classic “O” circuit wraps pretty much around the entirety of the range, with numerous side-trips possible. Our first glimpses were of dramatic mountains, teal lakes, and foreboding clouds, giving you the impression that this place is truly wild. On a tip from a fellow traveler, we opted to do a short mirador hike apart from the circuit to start out, giving us a view from a distance of the mountains on whose feet we would soon be walking. It was my first real glimpse of the sculpted Cuernos (or Horns), whose photos were one of the inspirations for this trip.
So excited to be there!
We caught a bus back to the beginning of the true circuit only to find that the skies were clearing and the sun was coming out. Low and behold the Torres came out of the clouds and we knew that now was our chance to see them. Even though it was late in the day by this point, we decided to climb up to the Campamento Torres (with full, 10 days worth of food, packs – ugh) which is situated directly below the classic laguna and vista of the Towers. We hiked up, made camp, and went to bed early, hoping for a clear sunrise which would turn the granite Towers a fiery red. We were not disappointed. We hiked up in the pre-dawn with a stunning sunrise behind us, and were rewarded with a perfect fiery view of the Torres. Unforgettable.
We hiked down that day in pure, warm sunshine, that matched the euphoria we felt from seeing the Towers in all their glory. We ended up camping by the base of the trailhead relaxing and getting ready to begin the real trek the next day.
The next day was once again beautiful and we left on a rolling walk to Refugio Seron. Let me just pause a moment to talk about the refugios on this trek. I am not used to trekking with refugios, so staying by a building every night with flushing toilets, hot showers, a restaurant, and a store where you could buy soda, candy, snacks, wine, or beer was crazy. At some of these refugios you can even pay with a credit card! What? And this all miles away from civilization…
Refugio Seron was peaceful, but more of a stopping point before the more dramatic scenery ahead. The next day we walked to Refugio Dickson, a beautiful refugio situated by a glacial lake and framed by the backside of the masstif. With perfect skies, we lounged around in the sun and were more worried about our chocolate melting than any sort of bad weather. A nice problem to have. We couldn´t believe our good luck with the weather, and decided that we would push our chances and opt for a day hike to Glacier Dickson the next day instead of continuing on the next leg of our journey. So, we jumped on board the raft the next morning to take us across the river, and we walked the beautiful miles to a massive glacier that spills over white, iced mountains, defining the border from Argentina and Chile. Looking back behind us we were able to perfectly see the Paine range rising up. Every ranger we talked to that day expressed how rare it was to have such clear skies where you could see both the glacial range and the Paine masstif perfectly. Blessed.
Part of the hike to Refugio Dickson.
Adam and Carla relaxing at the campground.
View of Glacier Dickson from the campground.
View of the Paine range from the backside (the Towers are to the left)
Continuing on from Dickson, we marched up into the mountains, the scenery changing from open rolling bluffs, to forested narrow valleys. Once again, more glaciers, beautiful clouds, and a peaceful walk up. We camped at Campamento los Perros, the campsite at the foot of the hardest leg of the trek – climbing up over the pass to cross back over to the front side of the range.
The day of the pass was a bit windy and overcast, but created a pleasant temperature for the arduous climb ahead. We started early, and reached the pass in good time, only to be greeted by sweeping views of the largest glacier in the park, Glacier Grey. This creature is massive, I mean, HUGE. It takes your breath away as you gaze up and down the long, mass of white ice, and it seems to just disappear over the horizon into the white ice fields of the Hielo Sur. Hiking down from the pass, you have the glacier always in front of you, and if anything it just seems to get bigger the closer you get to it. The steep hike down was painful on the knees, but pleasing to the eye, and a breathtaking way to cross over to the other side.
View looking back from the pass.
Whoohoo! Yup, that´s pretty much how I felt.
(side story – you may notice that I am wearing my glasses, and I NEVER wear my glasses unless I have to. Well, there is a bit of a saga regarding my eyes this trip… first of all, I forgot my sunglasses which I didn´t think would be a problem at first until we had the most brilliant sunshine as our constant companion. Brushing that aside, I opened my pack the first evening to find that my contact lens solution had exploded all over the inside of my pack, dampening everything inside. Luckily I could dry everything out in the sun, but that also meant no contacts for me for the duration of my trip. Bummer. And then, I was setting up my tent at Refugio Dickson, and the right side of my glasses randomly fell off! What?! Luckily (again), Adam had super glue and I was able to glue the piece back on, but I ended up doing it a bit crookedly so they were a little loose and kept slipping down my nose throughout the trip. A bit of a nuisance, but at least I could see!)
Stay tuned for part two of the Torres del Paine adventure!