22.03.2006 - 28.03.2006
We returned to the more civilized environs of El Calafete, glad for the opportunity to get a decent meal, something that was not possible in El Chalten. After a day or so, we took the bus across the border to Chile and Puerto Natales. From here, we could book our trip to Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, which has some of the most spectacular mountains anywhere on the planet. As a concession to comfort, and to age if I care to admit it, we decided to stay in the refugios spaced out along the trail. Ridiculously overpriced for both food and lodging, and mediocre at best, they are the only alternative if you want respite from the vagaries of Patagonian weather. We decided on a five day trek known at the W, and it is not named for George W. our ex, gracias a dios, president. To do the full 10 to 11 day circuit, would have required us to go around the far side of Campo Hielo Sur, the largest ice cap outside of Antarctica, where the weather is wetter and if possible, windier. Hence we opted for the relative comforts of the shorter trip.
On the first day, we hiked up to the base of the Torres, towers of rock, and then back down to Refugio Chileno.
There we met a nice mix of people, three of whom were from Tasmania, an island which is part of Australia. Since the W is a popular route we ran into them several times, and started to hike with a some of them, keeping an eye out for one another in the rapidly changing trail conditions. Each afternoon we ended up in the same refugio, so that was easy enough to do. The path was challenging, but the elevation was relatively low so that didn't add to the difficulty.
The biggest problem, as it was at Fitzroy, was the weather. It would change from sun and relative warmth,
to cloudy and cold, ice pellets being blown sideways at 40-50 miles an hour, all within the space of 10- 15 minutes.
In a single hour, and I was keeping track, I added or subtracted several layers of clothes more than 5 times. That was an effort unto itself, and slowed down the pace considerably at times. Once again, there were occasions when we were almost blown off the trail, and going back was not an option.
Staying in the refugios turned out to be the right decision. There was one night when the wind gusted with hurricane force, shaking the building where we were attempting to sleep. It was tied down with big cables over the roof, so this couldn't have been a rare event. The next day we heard that the tents of several nearby campers were shredded or blown away, and they had to hunker down amid the rocks just to make it through the night.
On the whole, I'd say we were lucky. There had been heavy downpours and flooding on the trail a few days before we arrived. That didn't happen when we were there, and while the weather was a mixed bag, the summits were often visible.
This was one of those touchstone experiences that you never forget, much like the Solar de Uyuni, though a very different environment. Razor sharp ridges and spires, and an ever changing vista of rock and ice that would make a geologist drool.
Upon our return to Puerto Natales, we stayed couple of days before heading back to Argentina. As The Handbook points out, it is a quiet town of brightly colored wood and tin houses that is a good place to relax. I would say soporific, might be a better description, and the place we stayed was not especially comfortable. On the other hand, we found a tiny, hole in the wall local place that had good salmon, and we went back a few times. This was a nice treat after the food in the refugios.
View From End of Town