Torres del Paine: The “W” Trek, Day 4-5

Day 4, the day of death. Okay not quite, but to anyone else, it definitely could have been. Kendra and I handled this day like champs though. There were absolutely moments of stress and unknowing, but I think they were warranted. So, with the bridge being out, we had to backtrack out of the park and to Refugio Grey, where a shuttle bus was departing for the visitors center at the main road at 2 PM. We probably should have left a little earlier than we did, but the 22-26 kilometers we hiked the day before really took us by surprise and we were beat. At least we had already hiked this segment of the trail, so there wasn’t much more for us to stop and look at. We hit the trail, goals in mind. It wasn’t too bad, just 11 km out of there. We made decent time, but as we approached the Refugio, we could see the shuttle bus ahead of us, loading up the last few passengers. We started running! I was waving my arms frantically over my head as we got to the bus just as the driver started to get into his seat. We had made it. Now would come the fun part. We were still a bus ride, a boat ride, and an 11 km hike away from our campsite. There was a boat that left at 4:00 and one that left at 6:00. There was only one bus that left at 4. That meant, we wouldn’t start our 11 km hike until after 6:00 PM, which seemed far too sketchy to us. So, in true Kendra and Kelly nature, we hitch hiked. It was like New Zealand all over again! I am terrible at asking strangers for rides, however, this is where Kendra excels in our little duo. She actually found a ride surprisingly fast. I think it was maybe the second person she asked that agreed. I came out of hiding (I don’t know why, I’m so awkward) and we hopped in this family’s SUV. It really was awesome. We got some great pictures of guanacos and of the park itself. The family driving us spoke enough English that it was fairly easy to communicate. The couple had a 7 year old daughter who was one of the most friendly and outgoing children I’ve ever met.

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We made it to Pudeto, where the catamaran leaves for Paine Grande with plenty of time to make the 4:00 voyage. I was starting to feel a little woozy and fell asleep the minute we got on the boat. The winds were out of control at this point, but the boat was sturdy in the water. We definitely understood why they weren’t shuttling people in the dingy boat anymore. Upon landing at Paine Grande, we were so beat. We had already done a full day of hiking and traveling, and were dreading the final leg. We tossed around the idea of setting up camp at Paine Grande, but after seeing the winds blow a tent out of the ground, across the field of campers, and into the lake on the other side, we knew we had to keep going. Our tent pole had a crack in it, which we had duct taped on the first night, but we knew that it wouldn’t hold in the gusts here. Refugio Grey was much more sheltered, so we had to move forward.

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Looking back, I am so proud of what we did. As we left Paine Grande, we basically entered a wind tunnel. The trail cut through the center of a valley that funneled the wind gusts right into our faces. We found out the next day that the strongest gusts were between 70-80 kilometers per hour. It was slow going to say the least. I also wound up meeting some people the next day who saw us hiking that section and said they felt so bad for us. According to these hikers, we looked miserable and exhausted. I can’t say that we weren’t. However, I can say that it was still a gorgeous hike. The trees that lined the valley were recovering from a fire that happened several years back. This gave the whole scenario a rather eerie vibe.

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There were points where the gusts had us crouching on the ground, holding on to rocks to keep us from blowing over. We did reach one segment of the trail where we found some protection from the wind. I quickly gobbled down some snacks, and added a bandana to my ensemble for extra wind protection. As we got back on the trail, thinking we were making good time, we saw one of those “maps” stating we had much more to go. It was like a slap in the face. The wind had been slowing our tired bodies down more than we realized. Kendra and I found ourselves again, having to put our gears in to full throttle so we could make it to camp before dark. This was the only disappointing part, the views as we hit the last stretch our journey for the day, were incredible. The sun was setting over Glacier Grey. There were icebergs dotting the lake below us, their blue ice glistening in the dimming sunlight. I would have loved to really slow down and enjoy the scenery, but time was of the essence, as we had no idea what the trail looked like in front of us and did not want to be caught out there, unable to clearly see our surroundings.

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I think we could hear Refugio Grey before we even got to it. The campers were in full party mode, sloshing around bottles upon bottles of wine. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so ecstatic to reach a campground in my life! The day had just been so long, we had started at 9 AM and arrived at camp at 10 PM. The vibes were upbeat, everyone was so happy! We found one of the last level campsites, set up our tent and gear for the last time, before joining the masses to cook dinner and do some yoga stretches. As much as I would have liked to dance and drink wine with celebratory crowds, I was done. All I could think about was my snuggly sleeping bag, and was more than happy to bunker down for the night when we were done eating. It had started to lightly sprinkle, the perfect setting lulling me into a deep sleep.

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This was actually the next morning after most of the tents had cleared out

Day 5:

There are two ways you can finish you “W” Trek Journey. We opted for the catamaran that leaves from Refugio Grey. It picks you up on the beach and takes you up close to Glacier Grey. You even get a free pisco sour, chilled with a piece of glacier ice! The alternative is to backtrack the 11 kilometers and take the catamaran over from Paine Grande. Either way, you’re paying for a boat ride, so we opted for the one with alcohol and a view. Kendra and I packed up our campsite, ate a quick breakfast, and took the trail down to view the glacier from the trail. After soaking in the views, we scurried on over to the beach to wait for the catamaran.

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This was it! We had really done it! The trip without detours is supposed to measure around 55-60ish kilometers. Due to the back tracking from the fallen bridge, we wound up hiking approximately 70 kilometers. It was worth it though. We heard of so many people not being able to complete the trek because of the bridge. I am thankful we persevered and completed the “W” Trek.

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Oh, and for the record, while we were on the catamaran drinking our pisco sours, we met those crazy people crossing the river near the fallen bridge. It turns out, they were trekking with a tour guide, who paid for a permit that allowed them to cross the river. They had tied a rope from either side so that they could hold on to something while crossing the rapidly rushing water. One of the girls showed us a video and you could see her legs shaking as they held her up. The guide told me that other people tried crossing, and some people even crossed the bridge, but there were rangers waiting on the other side, arresting people who crossed illegally. So, good thing we didn’t attempt that!

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THE END.

Torres del Paine: The “W” Trek, Day 3

The third day of our hike began with the realization that we would not be crossing the bridge. After discussing our options with the staff members at Los Cuernos, we decided to leave our big packs there and just bring daypacks to do a roundtrip hike up through Valle de Frances and back. We were supposed to be staying at Campamento Italiano, but we knew we would have to turn around the next morning to come right back out. The only downside to this option is that it turned into a nearly 25ish kilometer day. The distance in of itself wasn’t too terrible, but we wound up nearly running the last half which was pretty killer. The plus side, we had another day of gorgeous weather, despite some heavy winds that intermittently raged upon us with their fierce velocity.

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Upon departing Los Cuernos towards Valle de Frances, the trail leads you along a rocky shoreline, gently winding in and out of trees and beaches until you reach the Valle de Frances campground area. There are some steeper areas as you near the campsites, but all in all the 3.5 kilometer hike it isn’t too difficult. From there, it’s about 2 more kilometers to Campamento Italiano.

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As you pass between Valle de Frances and Campamento Torres, the trail begins to turn inland and cross an open valley. The wind velocity picked up quite a bit through here, but it was just a taste of what we would experience over the course of our remaining trip. I heard what sounded like a train or a large plane going by, and it only took me a second to figure out there was an avalanche happening somewhere. I quickly scanned the mountain we were walking near by and saw the snow pouring from the top of the rocky ledges. I had heard this was quite common in the area, and we saw several more small ones throughout the day.

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In the center of this picture a little cloud of the avalanche aftermath

When we entered the campground at Italiano, we could see guards and large tree trunks blocking the entrance to the bridge. The bridge that, to our dismay looked fully intact. We questioned some of the people surrounding the barricaded entrance, to which they responded that a group of people had crossed it and as they passed over, the bridge began to swing dangerously back and forth. One of its side rails collapsed and they were scared that the entire bridge would fall. The water rushed below, powerfully and terrifyingly swift, over massive rocks, making me feel confident in their decision to prevent anyone from falling off, surely to their death. We knew we had made the right decision to leave our packs behind, and we started the 5.5-7.5 km ascent to the Mirador Britanico. (I’m telling you distances were so confusing. Different maps said different things.)

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The trail wound up through the trees before spitting us out onto a rocky opening overlooking the glacier where the river originated. We saw two groups of people crossing the river up here! We watched them for a while and even though they were quite far, it seemed like crossing the river was a dangerous undertaking. So, we continued on our hike, as the winds pummeled us in various outcroppings that we would find ourselves on from time to time.

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It wasn’t until we passed a “map” stating it was approximately 6.5 kilometers one way from Campamento Italiano to the Mirador that we realized we needed to step it into high gear. It was getting later into the evening and we needed to be able to get back to Los Cuernos in time to set up our tent and eat dinner! We made it to the Mirador as fast as our tired legs could move us, before we high-tailed it back down the trail towards camp. I think we made it back just a couple hours later, which is thoroughly impressive considering how much ground we had to cover. But, back to the Mirador… before you reach it, you come to the incredible opening. The opening is a massive rock field with all of the granite mountain formations surrounding you. It is incredible! From there, you hike up a little further to this lookout, which gives you some seriously awesome views of the valley. It began to sprinkle on us as an ominous storm cloud loomed over the mountains, threatening us with some volatile Patagonian weather. We quickly hit the trail to get back to camp.

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Upon arriving at the campground, the staff members gave us confused looks as they seemed to have forgotten their promise to us to reserve a campsite in our names. After a few minutes of fumbling around, one of the staff members had us follow him to a really depressing looking spot sandwiched between a couple trees, with rooted and bumpy ground. We asked if there was anything else, to which he replied “No.” We were exhausted, and were grimly accepting what would be a rough night of sleep, when he said, “Okay I know of another spot, but it’s a secret.” He led to one of the already set up tent platform spots and reminded us that it was a secret! It was such an upgrade, Kendra and I were thrilled! We settled in for the night, happily knowing we would get a good night of sleep before the long day ahead of us.

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Torres del Paine: The “W” Trek. Day 1

5 days, 4 nights, something around 70 kilometers… I still can’t seem to find anywhere with a definitive sum of distances that you hike along the “W” Trek within Torres del Paine National Park. You learn to guess-timate how far 6 hours of hiking equivalates to, as that’s how distances are “measured” in the park. They do have signs with some ambiguous distances listed, but at the end of the day it really seems to be a rough estimate. Anyway, the entire backpacking trip was beyond incredible. There were some bumps in the road, and by bumps I mean a broken bridge that gave Kendra and I a run for our money, but nothing we couldn’t handle!

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It is recommended to stay in Puerto Natales the day before starting your treks in the national park, so that is what we did. We stayed in a quaint, quiet hostel called the Yagan House, where we could relax and organize all of things we wanted to bring in our packs. Since backpacking wasn’t the only thing we would be doing during the entirety of our trip, we had a few extra articles of clothing that we were able to store with the hostel while we were away. We also rented a tent and some cookware here as well. While initially planning for the trip, we had decided it was worth renting as we didn’t want to lug around too much unnecessary gear after the trek was through.

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Packing and repacking
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Yagan House Hostel

Kendra and I had originally walked to our hostel from the bus station, but we opted to treat ourselves to a cab ride the morning of our departure. I had been advised by an REI employee during a chat about the trek, that the buses can be a little crazy on the way to Torres del Paine. He was not lying. Thank God we had purchased bus tickets well in advance. There were so many backpackers waiting, hoping to get a seat. We were at the bus station 15 minutes early, and barely got our bags under the bus and ourselves into our seats before the vehicle took off on the two hour journey to the park. Upon arriving, we had to pay the entrance fee and sit through an information session, which can be paid by credit card FYI. It was about 30$ USD. The visitors center is still several miles from where you begin the trek, so we caught another shuttle from the center to the trailhead area.

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Last minute stop shop for gear

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There is quite a bit of debate as to whether you should hike the trail East to West or West to East. Kendra and I decided on East to West and I am so glad that we did. Enter: Broken Bridge. The bridge was supposedly down between Campamento Italiano and Paine Grande. We would be getting to its location on Day 4 of our trip. This damn bridge became the forefront topic of all conversations had along the trails. Would it be fixed by the time we got to it? Would there be a boat shuttling people over? Could we just cross it, as heard it wasn’t that bad? Could we cross the river somewhere else? How were other hikers dealing with it? Well, other hikers getting royally screwed. That’s the answer to that. Camping reservations were getting all messed up as people were having to turn around and go backwards, hiking many more kilometers per day than they should have been. People were having to shell out even more cash for the main catamaran that transports hikers to Paine Grande. There was a shuttle boat for maybe one day but winds were far too strong to not have stable transportation after that. We heard nightmares of people hiking for hours and hours extra just to be turned away from campsites that were deemed too full. It seemed that the people hiking the circuit West to East were the ones having the most difficulties in this aspect.

The first day of the trek consisted of roughly 9 kilometers of challenging inclines. Right out of the gate, the trail climbed quite quickly until it reached a valley of which it ran along side.  The sun was beating down on us, and our packs seemed heavier with every step. But honestly in retrospect, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. The rest of the trek seemed so much easier, even the extra long days.

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The trail descended through the valley, following Rio Ascencio. The trail flattens out near the end of the valley as you reach Refugio Chileno. Kendra and I had opted to camp for free at Campamento Torres, which was still a steep hike up the next mountain.  If you have the extra funds, I would say to stay at Chileno. That way you can just take a day pack up and leave the heavy stuff down below.

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The remainder of the trail crawled up through a forest of tall, thin, twisted trees. I was hot, tired, and wondering if we would ever reach our destination. Everyone who was coming back down the trail, kept telling us, “It’s only 15 more minutes.” For the record, it’s NEVER just 15 more minutes, it’s FOREVERRRR. Ha! But honestly, when I finally saw the semi-hidden entrance to Campamento Torres, I was ecstatic. Our plan was to set up our tent, rest for a short while, and then complete the hike up to the Mirador Torres. Patagonia is notorious for strong winds that snap tent poles, and we were a little worried about our rental tent whose poles were showing their wear. Thankfully, the Torres campsite was well protected, tucked away securely below the trees. We set up our tent and I changed my shoes before starting the ascent to the base of Las Torres. As a tip, I would really recommend having an alternate pair of shoes. Mine were just a lightweight pair of trail runners, but they saved my feet.

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Kendra hiked ahead as I took my time climbing up the rocky trail, absorbing the vast scenery. There were also segments of scree which made the trail tough on my knees. When I took the final turn on the trail, the view opened up onto the beautiful towers and lake. And right as I started walking towards the water, a grey fox popped out from behind a large rock. We had a few moments of eye contact before she scrambled atop a small boulder, sniffing around for tidbits of food. She didn’t seem bothered by me at all, as I stood there snapping picture after picture of her. I actually ran into this beautiful creature several times while meandering around the crumbling granite walls bordering the Torres lake. The place was nearly empty, as we had gotten there later in the evening, avoiding most of the daytime rush. The sun had begun to set on the other side of the towers, creating a beautiful beam of light that shown onto the emerald lake below.  The whole scene was breathtaking and I couldn’t help but sit there in awe of the granduer surrounding me. After we had soaked in enough of the views, and the temperature began to drop, we climbed back down the mountain, cooked dinner, and hit the hay.

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Garden of the Gods

My lovely mother joined me in my move from the East coast out West. We had a good time, listening to tons of old school jams and stopping in Atlanta and Missouri along the way. After we arrived in Denver, we got my room all set up and cozy at my new house and went to visit the popular Garden of the Gods, in Colorado Springs. It was a pretty warm day, making the park packed with visitors. So, we hiked a nice trail around the perimeter of the large red rocks and briefly walked through the main part to view the spectacular formations. While the garden is definitely fit for an assembly of the gods, I would recommend going on a weekday or time of day less frequented by tourists and visitors. Also, I would recommend that if you take your pup hiking here, that they should be comfortable in crowds, heat in the summer months, and that you keep an eye out for rattle snakes! Later, we drove back in to Denver and had a wonderful dinner and a couple beers at Highland Tap and Burger.

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