The next thing on our fairly packed agenda was to head back into Chile to a small town called Puerto Natales which is well known for being the gateway to Southern Patagonia and an amazing national park named Torres Del Paine. We had decided we needed to challenge ourselves even further than we have done in the last couple of months and were going to take on a 5 day 4 night trek over 67 Km of pretty rugged, mountainous terrain with hopefully a dramatic last day sighting of the three rocky Mountain towers (Torres). This is know as the ‘W Trek’, due to the shape and direction of the walk.
We spent the first night in a fairly basic hostel but the second night we moved to a well renowned hostel named Erratic Rock. It has a great reputation, mostly because at 3 pm everyday they hold a free information talk for people wishing to visit the national park and undertake either the W trek or the whole circuit (the O trek which takes more like 10 days). The Chilean guy who have the talk was superb and gave everyone (about 30 people) in the room a great idea of what to expect and what to bring. This was going to be a pretty full on trek by our normal standards as we were going to be pretty much self sustained for the whole trip meaning we had to bring and cook all our food on a tiny camping stove, carry our tent, sleeping bags and clothes for all types of weather all in our world famous Two Bags!! So we spent all of the rest of Wednesday buying and packing as much food as we could and then thinking about what clothes we might need. By the time our bags were zipped up tight they were both pretty fit to bursting point and must’ve weighed nearly 15kg’s each which wasn’t ideal considering we’d be lugging them up and down steep mountains for up to 7 hours a day. However, as I don’t like being hungry I demanded we took all the food we could carry!
We awoke early on Thursday, wolfed down a hearty breakfast and set off up the road to the station and caught the bus to Torres Del Paine. After a couple of bumpy hours and a sneaky half an hours catermeran cruise over the lake we arrived at our starting point. Unfortunately for us it also started to throw it down, so we had to have a quick wardrobe change into more waterproof clothing and attempted to cover up our big rucksacks as best we could. Its fair to say that Caroline handled the testing starting conditions a lot better than me, as I struggled to see the point of climbing up these steep hills with a heavy backpacking in the cold, driving rain. Whereas, Eccles thought it was pretty and that a bit of rain wasn’t anything to worry about! Instead I switched myself into Grumpy Beast mode and got on with it setting a decent pace until eventually the rain stopped and we were greeted to some sunshine and some fantastic views over the mountain ranges, iceberg lakes and even the astonishing Grey Glacier (our second glacier of the week!). Once we weren’t cold anymore and we could see the beautiful views I started to understand why we were here, it was pretty spectacular and felt nice to be in the middle of nowhere, at the bottom of our planet!! Our first walk was 10.5 km, which was a pretty decent way to warm up for the next few days. Even though distance wasn’t enormous it was still pretty tough as our backpacks felt heavy and some of the hill climbs were pretty steep in both directions. We made it to our campsite in the Grey Refugio in about 4 and a half hours, which is not bad with food and water breaks every hour! The best bit was we didn’t need to worry about carrying tonnes of water as the water from the streams was a pure as it ever could be because it flowed straight from the melted ice and snow on top of the mountains! We pitched our minuscule tent, boiled a welcome tea and coffee before we headed off to take a closer look at the Grey Glacier. It was pretty fantastic and enormous in size but we had definitely been spoilt with seeing the even more stunning Perito Moreno Glacier a few days previous. We went back to camp, demolished the tasty chilli we made the previous and were left with little choice than to grab an early night as the temperature began to drop with the sun setting.
We woke up around 7am and Caroline cooked up a tasty power porridge considering we only had powdered milk to work with, the added tinned peaches gave us plenty of energy to take on the 11 Km hike back along the route we had taken the day before. It was much needed as all the hills we had wandered down previously were even harder clambering back up them! The scenery was equally amazing as the day before and distances were covered quickly thanks to my strict 15 minutes per chewy sweet discipline! We made it back to where the boat had dropped us off and rustled up a strange but tasty concoction of soup, quinoa, tinned tuna (akin to cat food!) and salami. It was actually miles better than it sounds and again gave us a little boost for the afternoon which would be another 8 Km trek to our nights free campsite at Campiamento Italiano.
I think the morning’s power walking session had taken its toll as we both felt pretty tired by the time we got there at 15:30. I put up the tent as Ecco went on tea and coffee duty. As soon as we’d finished we went for an early tea as we were now working like athletes and demanding calories like crazy. On the menu tonight was mushroom risotto, peas and frankfurters!! Yet again it was pretty yummy and generally was a million times better than the vast majority of other people’s tea which was either pot noodle, plain pasta or plain rice. We were spending our night camping in the woods next to a very fast flowing river of glacier melt. It made for a beautiful place with the most fantastic place to grab your drinking water and do your dishes. As with the previous day it began to get pretty nippy early on so we climbed into our sleeping bags and went to bed by around 7pm (it’s not all rock and roll this year!!). Unfortunately it was pretty cold and uncomfortable so we didn’t get the best nights sleep and woke up at at 6:30 felling pretty jaded. A quick power porridge and coffee made us feel better and we packed up a much lighter bag for the morning to make our way up the nearby mountain to get an excellent view the surrounding glaciers and mountain ranges of The French Valley. The coolest thing we saw that day was that every now and then there would be a pretty huge avalanche which would fall from the enormous mountain opposite and would then be followed by massive rumble and crash. After nearly 3 hours of pretty steep uphill climbing through streams, boulder fields and forests all surrounded by a vicious flowing glacier river we reached the lookout point at Camp Britanico. The view was absolutely spectacular up there. We sat for a few minutes and took some obligatory photos before turning back around and heading straight back down. As it was downhill we got down half an hour quicker but were pretty pooped in time for lunch.After we had repacked our tent and bags we set off on a fairly straightforward 2 hour walk to our next campsite called Los Cuernos.
For once the path was a lot more straightforward and we reached our nights campsite earlier than planned and even managed to grab a fairly pricey beer with the sun still out. Again we watched more avalanches crash down the mountain opposite and saw a couple of huge ones! The added benefit of this campsite was that it had lots of hot water and meant we could finally grab our first shower after 3 sweaty days! It felt amazing to be clean again. A surprisingly tasty dinner of instant mash and veggie mince was again wolfed down before we both retired to bed before 9 feeling pretty knackered after another 6 and half hours of trekking and a big day of 11 Km walk ahead of us the next day!
So our last full day of hiking began pretty coldly again so we struggled to get out of our sleeping bags. We eventually set off just after 9 and headed to the campsite at Los Chilenos which was meant to be about 4 – 5 hours walk away.
We felt pretty used to trekking with our heavy packs now so the first couple of hours went pretty quickly with the added bonus of a cookie an hour rations! After the third hour things took a turn for the worst as it was pretty relentlessly uphill for about 45 minutes thanks to us taking the ‘shortcut’ route. When we could eventually see the Refugio (campsite) at the bottom of a kilometre long hill we got an added spring in our step and I even ran a bit of it! We made it in just under 4 hours and were a little spent. We put our tent up and had a well earned lunch. During that meal we had the crazy idea of perhaps going up to see the world famous viewpoint of Las Torres (three spiked mountain towers!) as the weather was good and we somehow still had a little energy left. Boy did we need it as it was an hour uphill and over streams to the closed Las Torres Campsite and then a pretty remarkable and very tough 45 minute scramble up and over a boulder field.
As we neared the top the tips of the three peaks appeared and looked amazing. This was nothing compared to when we finally scaled the boulders. We were greeted with a crystal blue Laguna below waterfalls descending from glaciers beneath the three 2000 metre rocky peaks. It was so beautiful it had made all the hard work and trekking worthwhile. There were plenty of times my bottom lip had come out and I’d questioned this pointless walking but finally I appreciated just how beautiful this National Park could be. A special note must go to Caroline’s relentless happiness and positivity during the whole trek. Even when we got of the boat on the first day and got absolutely drenched and freezing she said, “it’s fine, it’s nice, it’s character building and I promise it will all be worth it!” I took some persuading and there were definitely times when I wasn’t overly enamoured with so much walking, I finally got into it (perhaps as the finish line was in sight!) plus I saw it as some pretty amazing exercise and a sneaky bit of leg training for the Tough Mudder I’m doing in July again!!
The last day began with a quick uphill trek and then a pleasant, relatively easy downhill hour which left us with just enough time to have one last gas stove cooked mushroom risotto before catching the bus back to Puerto Natales. Everyone was knackered and pretty much passed out asleep for the couple of hours it took to get back to town. That night we were invited out for dinner with the lovely couple we’d met during the W Trek, Benedict from France and Mitchell from Oz (plus another Aussie/Kiwi couple). Mitchell had done a little research an found an amazing restaurant called Afrigonia which was an African influenced Patagonian food. I ordered an amazing steak and we all shared some lovely red wine which was soon to become a standard pairing as we were heading back to Argentina.
The next morning we were up super early again to cross the Argentinian border on a 14 hour bus to the last City on Earth called Ushuaia. I’d been to a place called Ushaia before but that was a super club in Ibiza on my mate’s Stag Do so I figured this time would be a little different. Unbeknown to us we also had to cross the Straits of Magellan on a large ferry. We got an added surprise when some pretty awesome looking black and white dolphins started swimming in the wake of the boat, they looked similar to Orcas but a lot smaller.
After arriving pretty late we spent our first day sorting and planning a rough itinerary for the next couple of weeks as my brother would be joining us in Buenos Aires for a couple of weeks. In the evening we went out for a few beers and an average pizzas with our new found friends, Mitchell and Benedict who were doing pretty much the same route as us just a couple of days in front. This was really great as they could give us loads of handy tips on where to go and what to do.
We got up early to take a catermeran cruise to see giant Sea Lions, an amazingly photogenic lighthouse and Magellan Penguins. Caroline was ferocious in her hunt for some King Penguins (the ones on the biscuits!!) as Mitchell and Benedict had seen them the day before, but unfortunately for her (or do I mean me!). As you’d expect being the last City before the Antarctic it was blooming freezing cold whilst you were stood on the deck, so photos were taken quickly before heading back to the nice warm cabin.
Once more in the interest so saving a few pounds we chose an indirect route to Buenos Aires via El Calafate which was fine apart from the slightly dull 7 hours lay over in a small airport!! On board of the second flight the lady who sat next to Caroline spent 4 hours colour correcting all her photos of the King penguins she had seen somewhere in Ushuaia! Miss Eccles was not amused, her bottom lip was out and the illusive King penguins have been added to her ever expanding ‘must see sometime’ list!
We landed in the Argentinian capital around 10 pm and jumped straight in a taxi to take us to the B & B my brother Will had sorted out for us. We were both really excited to see him after an emotional goodbye nearly 10 months ago. He’s a very talented little man and can get extremely busy so we were delighted he’d managed to find time to join us for a little slice of our trip. As we got out the taxi I noticed another taxi pull up an instantly knew that would be him. Even though he’d left from London three hours earlier than we had from Ushuaia (in the same country!) we pulled up at exactly the same time. I think when we first saw each other we were both distracted with paying our drivers so we had a quick very formal English handshake. Then we dropped our bags and had a huge group hug. It was going to be a fun 12 days!!
Tommy and Caroline.