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Sunday 19 Mar 2006
Torres Del Paine, Chile

Just Three Rocks (Part 1)

Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine is situated at the foot of Chile and is only really accessible from Argentina or by a 4 day boat ride from Puerto Montt near Chiloe. It's attraction is a spectacular mountain range surrounded by Glaciers and lakes. Right at it's centre, 3 large granite towers reach 2800m into the sky. The park is very popular with hikers and set up with refugios and campsites all the way around. The refugios are very expensive so camping was the only option for us. As we decided to do the "Big Cicuit", which is supposed to take at least 7 days, we had to carry our tent, sleeping bags, cooking equipment, clothes, wet weather gear and all our food. Our backpacks weighed an absolute ton.

On our first day we left our packs at a campsite and hiked up a beautiful valley, with a gushing jade green river at its bottom, to see the Torres del Paine. The scenery was stunning, changing from grassland to forest to raw granite as we made our way up. Unfotunately the weather came in and by the time we arrived the top of the towers were masked by rain clouds. It was still impressive as the torres dropped vertically 1000m into a deep green-blue lake. Sara was dissapointed, but I didn't mind - the walk had been wonderful anyway. "It's only three lumps of rock", I said flippantly.

The second day was our first carrying our full packs and, thankfully, the going was relatively flat. We rounded the saddle of a hill to be greeted with a beautiful and vast glacial valley and snow capped mountains off in the distance ahead. However, the weather soon came in again and was covering these moutains too. It quickly reached us in the form of fierce gusting winds and driving rain. Sara was quite bitter about our luck and passing cynical remarks about how amazing it would all be if the skies were clear. I found this a bit odd as it certainly wasn't the first time we'd been hiking in crappy weather. Before we reached the campsite for the day we had to cross a series of rivers and streams which had little or no crossing points. I took my shoes and socks off for one but we still ended up with wet boots and there's nothing I hate more when hiking.

Day three took us down a large river and every time we heard a gushing stream ahead it made us anxious that there may be no way accross. Often we had to make considerable diversions to find a dry thoroughfare. The wind and icy rain came in frequently during the day, interespersed with patches of sun which cooked us in all our layers of waterproofs. We managed to keep our feet relatively dry until, 2km from the campsite, we hit an impenetrable bog and had no choice but to go straight through. We spent the evening next to stove in a refugio trying to dry our boots and warm up whilst watching our tent being blown flat by the wind outside.

Day four met us with blue skies and unspeakably beautiful hiking. We climbed to a point surrounded by mountains and glaciers, walked down through a lush forest and, as we neared the campsite, climbed a shale mound to be greeted by a perfect bowl of deep green water, being fed by a glacier which appeared to be dripping off a steep cliff like a frozen waterfall. The lake was filled with sky blue icebergs and the whole scene fit perfectly into our field of vision. This had easily been the best day's hiking in my life, even without Glacier Los Perros at the end. As we reached the campsite the heavens opened again. The Austrian couple we had been meeting along the way had decided to continue over Gordon's Pass and we thanked our lucky stars we decided not to go with them. We spent the evening in a cold, polythene hut only emerging once to move the tent which was now sitting in a small river of water. The day's hiking had lifted our spirits, but they soon fell again with the weather.

Day five was Gordon's Pass: a steep climb to the highest point on the trail (1240m). We decided if the weather was bad when we woke up we would not go, as we had heard it could be quite treacherous. However the sky was clear and we set off quickly over the wonky log bridge that had only just been replaced after being washed away 2 days before. We followed a marked path for a while which did not look like it was taking us in the right direction, but the map was so poor and often wildly incorrect so we carried on. After an hour it was obvious that we were on the wrong side of the mountain. I was furious and threw rocks about whilst cursing the park wardens for marking this path which led nowhere. We retraced our steps to the birdge and found a sign pointing to "Glacier Puma" - a path not mentioned on the map. This was all my fault as Sara had seen another path, but I had ignored her. Two hours late, we finally started on the right path, just as it started raining again. We immediately hit huge rivers of deep mud on the hillside. For 3 km we tried desperately to navigate the deluge of sludge as the rain hit us with a full frontal attack. Sara had had enough by this point and broke down in tears. To her credit she managed to pick herself up and we carried on slowly, going up and down the hillside trying to find a way through. When we finally made it to the treeline the rain turned into a howling snow blizzard. The hill top, which had been clear in the morning, was beggining to turn white. We then had the choice of turning back through the mud and trying again tomorrow (Sara's preferred option) or carrying on. As there was no other way out fo the park, if we went back we might get stuck for days wainting for the weather to improve and, of course, there was all that mud. I elected we should carry on as we were nearing the top, but we needed to get a move on.

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    Rob and the three lumps of rock
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    A foreboading sign on the 2nd day of our hike
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