“There are going to be times when the wind blows so hard you are going to have to lie down so you don´t get blown off the side of a mountain,” the guy who was giving an introductory talk to Torres del Paine told us. To be honest he wasn´t really selling it too well. So far he´d told us we´d have to wade through rivers, endure sudden rain storms and it was inevitable that at some point during our visit to Chile´s most famous National Park we were going to end up peeing on ourselves due to the constantly changing wind direction.
Just weeks before I arrived at Torres del Paine a huge area of the park had been destroyed by a fire. Although the authorities had managed to reopen some areas, much of it was still off-limits, including one of its biggest attractions, a huge glacier. The effects on tourism were clearly being felt in Puerto Natales, the gateway to the park. When we were at the introductory talk the staff told us it was usually attended by anywhere from 50 to 100 people every day, compared to the eight who had turned up.
Not wanting to tackle the trek alone, I paired up with a Swiss girl, which enabled us to share the task of carrying the tent, our stove and food along with the rest of our equipment. She was also a keen trekker and camper which I thought could be a good thing, as it´s been quite a few years since I attempted to put up a tent in Girl Guides (and even then, to be honest, I was usually the person who faffed about trying to look busy while not actually doing much).
We decided on a four day trek to avoid doubling back on ourselves too much as a result of the closed routes. The success of carrying my own stuff on the Inca Trail had clearly gone to my head, as I was feeling quite confident about being able to carry everything, after all the only extra things were a tent and our food – how hard could it be? The answer, or course, is very. After packing all of the essentials my bag weighed an absolute tonne.
|Do I look the part? (Can we all please take a moment to appreciate the fact that I am rocking a bumbag?)|
Thankfully the first day didn’t look too bad, as it was just a four hour walk to our first campsite. However I quickly discovered my trekking partner and I operated on very different speeds. While she sped up the steep paths
at the speed at which I would approach a shoe sale, I was left lagging behind trying to drag myself to the top. When I eventually reached where she´d stopped to wait for me she´d usually give me some encouraging words like “Can´t you go any faster?” Obviously completely oblivious to the look of absolute horror on my bright red face.
The hardest part of the day came when we had to cross a huge river. Despite what we had been advised in our pre-trek talk there was no way I wanted to get my feet soaking wet by walking through it when we still had another two hours to go. Everyone else obviously felt the same and people were stepping from rock to rock to cross the fast-flowing water. Which is all very well when you’re tall but when you have got short legs like me and you’re carrying a backpack which is almost half your body weight, it’s not so easy. To my credit, I at least managed to get halfway across before I absolutely froze. I was eventually rescued by a kind American girl who obviously thought I’d be standing there all day if she didn’t come and help me.
|One foot wrong and it’s an early dip…|
By the time we got to the first camp my shoulders were killing me and all I wanted to do was lie down and have a really long sleep. But unfortunately it was straight into putting up the tent, collecting water from the stream to make our dinner (just call me Bear Elliott) and cooking the staple campers’ meal of pasta.
|Cooking up a storm.|
The next day was a full eight hours of walking but luckily we were able to leave most of our things at the campsite. I felt like I was walking on air without my big backpack. Walking up the French Valley was lovely and shaded and when we reached the Mirador at the top we had an amazing 360 degree view of snow-capped mountains and the beautiful lake. At the top we met some Israelis who kept us entertained on the long, steep, walk back down, before inviting us for a cookies and dulce de leche party (the height of excitement when you’re camping.)
|One perfect view…|
The third day of our trek was the most difficult as we needed to carry all of of things to the next campsite. There was a lot of very steep hills to climb up and down and despite being told about all of the different weather conditions we would could expect, we only experienced one – sun. After setting up camp we set off again without our bags to one of the parks most famous sights, the three towers. The path was steep and very rocky, especially towards the top but the view when we finally got there made everything worthwhile. The three towers which stand above an ice-blue lake were absolutely stunning.
|Worth the walk.|
It was an early night for me as I had an early start planned. Even though I am not a morning person (as anyone who knows me can attest to) I’d heard enough about the sunrise over the towers to know that it was worth setting the alarm for. At 5am I headed out into the freezing cold with my head torch and began the same climb as the evening before. However in the dark everything obviously looks different and somehow (don’t ask me how) I managed to lose the path. One minute I was following the red poles which marked the path and the next minute I was climbing over huge boulders. I could tell I’d gone the wrong way but as I wasn’t sure where I decided there was no point turning back and as I could see the top I thought I’d just head up. As I climbed over boulders I tried not to think about all the horror stories of walkers falling and breaking bones and laying undiscovered for days. The more I climbed the further away the top seemed to be and I was just starting to panic when I saw some walkers on the path up ahead who looked very surprised to see my sweaty face appearing from a sea of rocks below them. Talk about the path less travelled.
But after my somewhat unusual climb to the top I then got to enjoy a perfect morning for my troubles. I had taken my sleeping bag and some porridge with me so I ending up having the best breakfast in bed ever as I watched the towers light up one by one as the sun rose over them. Definitely the highlight of my trek.
|Taking the road less travelled…|
|…but it was worth the climb.|
When I got back to the bottom my camping companion asked me how it had been. “Great” I said. There was no way I was admitting to her what had happened…