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 2

Kendra and I had survived our first day and night on our journey across the “W” Trek within Torres del Paine National Park. We awoke to another beautiful, warm and sunny day. It felt great to sleep in a bit, but since we were getting a later start to our day we quickly packed up our tent and belongings, and hit the trail. Day 2 of hiking was the least iconic in my opinion. It was still absolutely gorgeous, however, there was no remarkable destination that we were aspiring to reach. And yes, I know how that sounds, “it’s supposed to be about the journey, not the destination”… and the journey really was fantastic! To be perfectly honest, we were mainly just trying to get to our refugio in time for dinner.

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Kendra and I trekked down from Campamento Torres, out of the valley, and across the front of the mountain range. Over the course of the 16ish kilometers, Lake Nodernskjöld  grew from a little blue, grey spec in the distance, to this massive turquoise lake we hiked alongside all day. The weather was still warm, but the wind added a chill to the air. I was constantly in and out of layers all day. Shorts and a tee shirt, pants and a tee shirt, shorts and a jacket, shorts and another jacket. It was a never ending game of finding comfort as the temperatures changed around every bend in the trail.

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Word on the trail was that the fallen bridge was still unaccessible, although rumors were starting to pop up about how people were getting around it. Some hikers told us that they heard of groups of people crossing it in the early hours of the morning, before rangers could catch them. Others said they heard the really adventurous were crossing further up river. We still had two more days before we needed to cross it, so we remained hopeful that we would find a way to get to the other side without back tracking. In the meantime, we crossed over what I feel was the most sturdy bridge on the trek, hiked up a couple of challenging and steep hills, and basked in the beauty of the land.

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We eventually began our descent through a forest of Magellanic deciduous trees to our final destination for the day, Refugio Los Cuernos. We had opted to stay at Los Cuernos with full board and dinner, as it was actually the cheapest option for places to stay due to the actual campground being fully booked. We arrived just in time for dinner, and I was ravenous. The food did not disappoint! We feasted on salad, vegetable soup, salmon and mashed potatoes with a lemon butter sauce drizzled over top, and a delectable caramel flan.

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A little post dinner exploring lead me down through the campsites to a rocky beach. The refugio is nestled amongst the trees on the bank of Lake Nodernskjöld, with the granite mountains towering behind the quaint building. I took some time to soak in the late evening rays, in awe of my surroundings. I continued to tinker around on the water’s edge for a while, gazing up at the sun as it slowly set over the mountain range in the distance. It was difficult to truly catch the actual setting of the sun, as the sun doesn’t really set until 11:00, with light lingering in the sky well into the night. In fact, the only night I ever even saw stars was during a bathroom run at around 3 AM. However, the peacefulness of watching and listening to the low lit waves crashing on the shoreline was just the mind clearing meditation I was needing after a long day on the trail. Afterwards, I walked back up to the refugio, played a couple of songs on the community guitar, and hit the showers before climbing up and settling into my third story bunk bed.

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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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Patagonia Bound

If you’ve been following along on my blog, then you know that I haven’t posted stories on about half of the road trip that John-Hilton and I completed over this past summer. It has been a whirlwind of a few months since then and I fully plan on updating that section of our story. But for now, I will give you a brief update on life and the unfolding of events that have caused the delay of activity. After we arrived back in Florida, I immediately headed south to Marco Island with my family to celebrate the life of my late Nana in a beautiful memorial service out off the coast. That is, also, another wonderful story that I fully plan on writing about for another day. After that John-Hilton and I met up in Siesta Key with a bunch of our friends to celebrate the union of our dear friends, Chase and Lindsay. After several more days in Florida, I hit the road once again to begin my journey back out to Colorado. Oh yeah, and John-Hilton moved out here a month later!!! As I keep saying, I have so much I’d like to share, incredible photos and stories from friends who visited over the past few months, but one thing I will share which is pertinent to my state of life as of now is that I began and finished a yoga teacher training program.

I began my yoga teacher training back in September and I just graduated two weeks ago! My life was, in a nutshell, out of control busy! I was working full time at a research company in Boulder (I live in Denver), going to class 4 times a week (for extended blocks of time), volunteering at my studio, and participating in yoga classes we were required to take in order graduate. Let’s just say that being up for work at 4:45-5 AM and not getting home until 10:00 at night is slightly intense. There’s not a lot of room for the in between, you know like showering, cooking dinner, seeing your amazingly patient partner and beloved puppy, just all those normal people things. So like I said, it’s been a whirlwind of a few months. But, it was one of the best things I have ever done. I have learned so much about myself, met so many amazing women, and gotten to be a part of community whose foundation revolves around love and light. It really isn’t often in life that you get to try new things, put yourself in situations potentially outside of your comfort zone, and receive no judgement from the people you are surrounded by. The program created a safe space for learning and growing, and I am excited to apply what I have learned to my physical and spiritual life.  Will I walk down the road of teacher life? I’m not sure! But I have plenty of adventures to fill my schedule in the mean time.

So, on top of everything I undertook in the last few months, I had to plan out my trip to Patagonia! It was a trip I knew I would be making, I just hadn’t really hashed out the details. I am flying down to Chile to meet up with my friend Kendra, a true beast at planning and booking itineraries. This is the same friend I traveled to New Zealand with last year, and if it wasn’t for her I would not have been able to get anything done planning wise for our current trip. She sent me all the links that I needed to look up the potential places we could go, and then single handedly contacted and confirmed our dates with all of the campsites, hostels, and tours we will be attending. We both have a passion for adventure and exploring new places, and have created a pretty epic trip in my opinion!

So far, the itinerary looks as follows:

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Day 1: Fly into Washington D.C. to ensure adequate time the following morning for my flight to Santiago.

Day 2/3: Travel, travel, travel.. so many hours in airports and on planes; fingers crossed my delayed package containing my inflatable neck pillow arrives on time.

Day 4/5: We will stay in Punta Arenas for a night before heading to Puerto Natales and prepare for our 5 day hike on the W Trek of Torres del Paine.

Day 6-9: Hike the W Trek! This will be my first backpacking trip and the weather in Patagonia is known for being extremely volatile. Winds of 60 mph and spur of the moment rain and snow storms are considered normal. Those views though… I can only imagine!

Day 10/11: Take a catamaran back to Puerto Natales where we will stay for two nights to recover from the hike!

Day 12: Travel to El Calafate, Argentina! Yay, passport stamps!

Day 13: Hike the World’s 2nd largest glacier, Perito Moreno. Apparently you get a shot of whiskey at the end containing ice from the glacier itself. Yum!

Day 14/15: Travel to El Chaltan, which from what I’ve seen in pictures looks absolutely incredible, to do some day hiking.

Day 16/17: Travel by bus back to El Calafate, Puerto Natales, and finally back to Punta Arenas.

Day 18: My last day in South America! In the morning, we are going on a Penguin viewing tour where apparently we will see thousands upon thousands of these little guys!! I fly back to Santiago later that night and hop aboard my red eye to the states.

Day 19: Home sweet home to my little Colorado family.

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Stay tuned for pictures and stories to follow the trip! I am SO excited albeit incredibly nervous! I am hoping to use my yoga zen practice to calm my nerves and help me get through the tougher parts of the trip. I have also recently parted ways with the job I’ve had for the past year as it was no longer serving me and my goals. So, I feel that Patagonia is happening at such a transformative time in my life, and I know this trip will really test my limits physically and mentally. I am incredibley excited to see what this experience will bring!

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