I spent March 3rd to March 8th in the small mountain Argentinian town of Chalten hiking in the area. From March 9th to March 14th I did the O Circuit of Torres del Paine. Yesterday I came down to Punta Arenas from Puerto Natales.
I enjoyed getting to know Margaret over the week that we hung out. She did not have the easiest of childhoods and moved out of her parents´place when she was only 16. She was abused verbally and physically by her neglectful mother and her father had turned to alcoholism. She moved in with a friend and calls her friend´s folks her real parents. She studied Adventure Education at Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO and has lived there since, rejecting any money from her Dad who is a CEO or CFO at a successful company.
She flew to Columbia in November and has made it almost the whole way to the bottom of the continent on a very small budget.
We hiked up to Fitz Roy together on March 5th. We could not see the tops of the peaks when we arrived but the views of the glacier lake far below us and another glacier that came all the way down to the lake to our right were impressive. After about an hour the clouds began to break up and we were able to see the tall spires above us.
Margaret likes to cook and that night I helped her make pizza.
The next day we hiked up to La Torre and crossed around a glacier lake and over a river. We needed harnesses and caribbeaners to clip into a rope over the river. We climbed up to a most impressive glacier before retracing our steps.
It started to rain again after almost 30 hours with none, which at this point seemed like a record to me! After the Torre hike we made stirfry and fries.
The 7th was cold and after two big hiking days I took it easy. Margaret and I went for coffee then I did some short walks from town to a viewpoint of Lake Viedma and of a waterfall north of town. That night, it was fries again along with veggie burgers.
My mattress deflated last night and despite attempts to fix it, it´s pretty much shot. A guy from Holland lent me his mattress while he slept in the the hostel.
The 8th was the rainiest day I can remember in a long time and a good day to travel. After egg sandwiches in the morning, again thanks to Margaret, we went for coffee before saying goodbye. I got an early afternoon bus to Calafate and connected from there to Puerto Natales where I arrived after dark.
I found a nice hostel near the bus station as the chilly rain continued into the night. There really wasn´t much to see through the fogged up windows of the bus all day.
On the trail again on March 9th! After doing some errands in the morning like buying a cheap mattress pad and getting groceries, I got the bus to Torres del Paine where I was to do the circuit trail- also called the ¨O ¨ I took a boat to my starting point at Paine Grande and hiked an hour and a half to Campamento Italiano. It was very wet and muddy. The rushing river was loud and I was a bit worried with yesterday´s rain that the whole campsite might be washed away because I kept hearing moments when it sounded like the river was rising to torrent levels. It turns out that what I was hearing was not the rise of the river but the sounds of pieces of the glacier up the valley falling to the valley floor.
On the next day I had planned to go to Britanico Look Out, but due to the previous rain, the trail was closed and I could only go as far as the Frances viewpoint where I was in a cloud. The clouds broke as I came down the valley and I was able to get a good view of the glacier and the towering mountain above.
I spent a good long day hiking to Campamento Torres, less than an hour´s walk from the viewpoint at the Base de los Torres (Base of the Towers). But the trail to that viewpoint was also closed and I had to wait till the morning.
On the 11th, I put in a marathon day – literally 26 miles of walking. I trudged up to the Torres viewpoint then came down, broke camp and walked over 9 hours straight with only one real stop for 20 minutes to eat. I ran into a few people whom I had met in the past couple of weeks either on the Carretera Austral or in Chalten. The sun was very strong and I had lost my cap somehow, so I used my bandana in bandit-looking fashion to cover my nose. The UV index must have been high that day – I could feel the cancerous rays soaking into my nose when I had to lift the bandana so I could get in enough air when I was going uphill.
Reaching the refugio at Dickson was a relief after such a long day, and a hot shower and cooked meal made me very happy. It was a pretty mild night and I set my tent up on a soft and dry piece of grass near some horses chomping away.
With a good breakfast in the morning and the company of an older Canadian couple and two older women from Mexico I was in a good spirits. The day was a short one up the valley to Los Perros. But the wind picked up in the afternoon and it soon started to rain. My tent was protected in the trees but the windgusts were strong and my lightweight tent was tested.
The next morning was an important one – I had to get over John Garner Pass. The wind remained strong and it snowed almost all the way to the top of the pass by which point I was well above treeline (at about 2000 ft) At the pass (around 4000 ft) I endured the perhaps the strongest gusts I have experienced – maybe over 100 miles an hour. A young woman I overheard later said it was like the wind you feel when you go skydiving – that would be about 130 mile an hour winds! I can think of only two other times that I have felt wind that was comparable – last year in New Zealand at Mt. Cook and almost ten years ago on the top of Mt. Vesuvius. Other hikers today reported losing gloves and hats at the top of the pass.
On the other side of the pass the Glacier Grey came into view and it was like nothing I had evern seen – a massive icefield miles and miles wide and stretching from the north as far as the eye could see. The way down was steep and the tendonitis acted up in both my knees. Later in the day we crossed two pretty scary suspension bridges, the cross sections were made of wooden planks.
The sun came out in the afternoon, it couldn´t have felt better on my face. Another hot shower and a good meal at Grey Refugio.
It was clear as I tucked into my sleeping bag that night but by the middle of the night it was raining again and continued most of the next day, my last day on the circuit.
Near the end of the trail I started talking to a father and his two adult sons who were from Eastern Washington. They were very nice people, the kind of people who are successful because of how happy, appreciative, friendly, and respectful they are.
After the boat ride back, I caught my bus back to Puerto Natales.
I waited there for two days for my new credit card to arrive, but it did not, and I found out yesterday that it wouldn´t arrive until at least Wednesday. It spent 8 days in customs in Santiago! I took the bus yesterday south to Punta Arenas which is where I am today. Hoping to visit some museums, maybe buy a new phone (and camera), and maybe see some penguins!