Thursday, January 31, 2008

taking the paine ...

We've spent the last few days back in Chile in Torres del Paine National Park.

Armed with tents, stoves and enough food to sink a small cargo ship, I joined part of our group in heading out into the wilderness to attempt the parks classic W Trail. Having twice completed the leg of the "W" which provides the classic view of the towers only to find them in cloud, our driver Rhys had been keen from day one to recruit us for the challenge.

It was a slow start with my legs incredibly stiff from a 24km trek from El Chalten just two days before, but after four hours we reached the summit of the first leg to enjoy excellent cloud-free views of the Torres (above) where we celebrated with a rum coke. Purely for medicinal purposes of course.

It was all downhill from there. Or at least that was the plan.

After the four hour return hike we collected about 150kg of camping equipment from the base of the trail for the promised "flat" walk to the campsite at the beginning of the second leg. In fact Rhys had promised it was so flat that it would take us just 3-4 hours to complete, rather than the recommended six on the official map.

Ten minutes in as we began staggering up a steep rocky incline the gravity of our predicament revealed itself and it wasn't long before the trek descended into something closer to an army training exercise than a scenic hike. Four and a half hours and an icy cold river crossing later, sheer exhaustion forced us to make camp several kilometers short of our intended destination. I don't think dehydrated meals have ever tasted so good.

Had it not been for an entertaining encounter with a Pygmy Owl en-route I probably wouldn't even have made it that far.
The trek ended with the majority of us missing the second leg of the "W" to complete a rather more leisurely "U" over the following two days. An altogether more enjoyable experience that concluded with us enjoying panoramic views of the Grey Glacier. I think I'm done with glaciers now.

Despite the rather testing nature of the first day we all managed to have a great time - although I suspect I will continue to find it hard to mention Rhys' name without the temptation to add the prefix "That lying b*****d".

After carrying enough weight to sink a small cargo ship for 3 days, it's now time to board one as we spend the next 4 days sailing Northward through the Chilean fijords ...