[Continuing a personal blog of life in the Falkland Islands, with the occasional detour to Chile. Last week, I described getting to Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia. This week, I try to show some of its highlights. By the way, I see there are some readers of this blog in Ukraine and Kazakhstan. Hello to all!]
|Torres del Paine National Park is famous for its guanaco herds.|
|Icebergs in Lago Grey|
I've always been interested in physical geography and found the park a fascinating display of the topics I learned about in school (many moons ago!) - glaciation; erosion, hanging valleys, etc.
Glaciers have gouged out deep troughs between the mountains and these were filled with countless years of melt-water. One in particular, Lago Grey, had a huge glacier at one end, which regularly calved icebergs into the lake.
|The glacier has retreated about 200m in 10 years.|
|Ice scouring the tilted layers of sandstone|
|Glacier or meringue nest?|
|Zodiac picking up walkers.|
|New icebergs making their way down Lago Grey|
Our other main highlight was a walk up to the Torres del Paine themselves. "Torres" is Spanish for towers, and is extremely appropriate - 3 vertical, windowless, granite skyscrapers! (It's not clear who or what "Paine" was, but we did "feel the pain!").
|View from hotel|
We could just glimpse the top of the towers from our bedroom window, but quite often they were shrouded in cloud. We had heard tales in the bar of people who had hiked uphill for several hours only to gaze at mist when they got to the viewpoint! However, we only had one day spare to do this, so set off early one dank morning, hoping for the best.
|Happy not to meet some horses.....|
We followed a well-worn horsetrack up a side valley for about 3 miles, stopping frequently to enjoy the growing view, and to get our breath back. The path was very narrow in places, and it was with some relief that we didn't meet any horses coming the other way. There was a 500-foot drop into the river on one side!
|4,000ft waterslide, and contorted landscape.|
After a couple of hours we came to a Refugio - a hostel and camp-site on the banks of the river. Here were toilets and a cafe, and for the campers, it meant a shortened walk to the Torres.
We continued on the path, crossing the river, and enjoying the shade provided by the evergreen beech forest.
|Evergreen beech forest|
The path undulated higher and higher up the valley, until we came to the foot of a steep scree slope. This is where the real uphill effort started, like climbing a set of stairs for an hour, and where I missed my Nordic Walking poles the most. Oh, how I missed them! (Given the number of people using trekking poles, I assumed they were readily available to hire. But, it seems, only in Puerto Natales, 80 miles away).
|The scree slope approaches...|
Gradually, with many stops to admire the view, we steadily gained height. Our total gain was about 1,000 metres - about the same as climbing a Munro in my native Scotland.
|Nearing the top of the scree.|
But it was definitely worth the effort! Thank goodness the clouds had cleared!
|Raw glaciation. Ice vs Granite|
Looking across to the towers, some people said they could see climbers on them, but I couldn't make them out. In fact, until I read a book, "Against the Wall", by the climber Simon Yates, I doubted they could be climbed at all! They were sheer, for 2,000 feet.
|We made it!|
|A quick snap before the weather changes.|
I would have loved to spend hours up there, but we could see the weather changing by the minute. Simon Yates describes, in his account of the climb, violent storms that threatened to blow him off the cliff, and yet were not felt at its base!
|One last look before heading down.....|
So, we enjoyed probably the most scenic setting to eat a packed lunch, took dozens of photos as the light changed, and then turned to negotiate the scree slope. It was probably a good thing that the view disappeared in seconds, meaning we could concentrate on our footing.
|The sign guides you through the scree.|
Once again rueing the mistake of not bringing poles, we gingerly made our way down the path, through the beech forest and back to the Refugio.
|Grey granite, topped with brown sandstone|
This route is part of the famous "W" trek, so-called due to its shape. We had just walked the right-most part of the "W" . The whole circuit takes about a week, so, sadly we could not do it all in the time available. It's not actually a circuit, as some of you will know, but the boats and ferries that ply the lakes connect hikers to the next section, or to lodging for the night.
|Excellent signs don't hide the truth. It is uphill! Torres in distance.|
A last glance back at the tops, and then we continued for about an hour back to civilisation and our hotel and a hot soak - very tired; very happy. I feel for those who got all the way up there, only to see cloud.
|Friendly sparrow at the Refugio.|
If anyone would like more details on the Torres del Paine National Park, check this site, or ask away. I'll try to help if I can. There are also good online travel forums such as Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor.
I wonder where we'll end up next...?