Thursday, December 28, 2017

Patagonia 2017: Intro to Torres del Paine National Park - Día Siete

Patagonia 2017:   Intro to Torres del Paine National Park - Día Siete – 2/14/17

[The central focus of our Patagonia adventure is hiking the “W” route in Torres del Paine National Park.  The name is a combination of Spanish Torres del (Towers of) and the native Tehuelche Paine (Blue.)  Paine is pronounced PIE-nay.  The Torres del Paine are three granite peaks of the mountain range or Paine Massif, reaching to 8,200 feet.  The primary hiking trail circumnavigates the Massif and is called the “O”.  If you include the out-and-back route up the middle of the “O,” that is called the “Q”.  If you look at the “O” as a clock face, the most popular section goes from 9 o’clock to about 4 o’clock and includes the middle in-and-out to the French Valley and the out-and-back hike to the base of the Towers. This is called the “W.”]

Finding breakfast in Puerto Natales in the actual morning time – why is this so hard? Clearly we did not yet have the lay of the land and no time to learn it.  Several (closed) places looked great; we finally landed in a café with good coffee and yummy food. Back to the apartment to clear out our gear.  Each of us had stuffed a bag (or two) of extras for storage in the building’s laundry room.  Placing the bags out of the way (hopefully) on a top shelf, we crossed our fingers that the housekeeper understood we would return in a few days 

Our bus to Torres del Paine was scheduled for the afternoon. We had some hours yet, so we walked a meandering scenic route to the bus station, beginning at the end of our street: Father Pedro María Rossa Cemetery. We intended to take a quick look but couldn’t resist wandering up and down rows, absorbing the lovingly crafted displays for the deceased.

There were elaborate crypts with barred openings - some featured altars with candles and photographs, some had chairs for visitors to sit.  There were above-ground graves of marble and stone, some subdued but many very colorful.  Most interesting to me were the walls of above-ground slots fronted with “shadow boxes” filled with photographs and mementos of the departed.  Each one told a story of a young person gone too soon or an old person loved and missed.  Some of the walls were eight rows high!

Outside the cemetery, more local art

Doggie caption contest?

We circled around through town again – now bustling and lively – looking for food for our trek.  Even though we’d be staying in lodges with supper and breakfast included (similar to the Mont Blanc trek Jim and I went on the previous summer) we had that perpetual backpacker fear of running out of food.  We found a small shop with a wide array of dried fruits and nuts and went a little overboard creating trail mix combinations.

In a larger grocery store across the street we took turns shopping, leaving one person with our backpacks that were not allowed inside.  We stocked up on crackers and cheese and corn dogs and empanadas for lunch.

Early arrival, lunch at the bus station

I found myself in the front seat of the bus for the ride to Torres del Paine NP, rolling with the constant pitch to and fro on narrow roads.  The expansive views were enhanced by animals and the occasional glimpse of a sombrero-wearing sheep herder on horseback.  The guanacos here seemed less fearful of cars and noise.  

The Torres del Paine “Towers of Blue”

At the park entrance ranger station we disembarked from the big bus and threw our gear onto a smaller bus, then went inside to pay the fee ($33) and present our passports. We got a ranger presentation of the rules, more stringent than those in the U.S., i.e. no fires anywhere, any time. In 2004 a fire started by a camper raged for over a month and consumed over 150 km. A second significant burn in 2011 sealed the deal for the no fires rule and it is strictly enforced.

Every seat was filled on the shuttle bus, fingers crossed not to hit any big bumps and be crushed by a gear slide.

So where is the shuttle bus going?  To Refugio Las Torres on the eastern side of the “W.” Our adventure is a cushy one, no camping, just bunk beds and electricity and hot running water (most of the time) in lodges on the circuit. Some are critical of the luxury accommodations in Torres del Paine (there are none in Los Glaciares NP) but it’s similar to U.S. parks like Yellowstone attempting to control the human impact.  By comparison, Torres del Paine sees 250,000 visitors per year while Yellowstone has 3,500,000.

Our best view of Torres del Paine

L/R: In the foreground is Almirante Nieto (Grand Admiral) – the South Tower is hidden behind it here -  Torre Central (Center Tower), Torre Norte (North Tower), Cerro Peineta (The Comb) and Nido de Condor (Condor’s Nest)

Refugio Las Torres

Our six-bed bunk room (sharing with Victoria and Corey, a young couple from Washington D.C.)

Winding down from the day

Next door to the refugio:  Ecocamp Patagonia.  Green technology, fully sustainable, certainly fun to look at, but also certainly out of our price range.  I don’t think I’d ever be able to stay in a place like this with a straight face.

After claiming our space in the refugio, we took adult beverages outside and sat on the ground, practicing yoga poses and toasting to our great good fortune once again for health and wealth to be at this awesome patch of the planet. 

Serving meals in two shifts, the dining room was large and raucous, too noisy for good conversation.  Supper started with onion soup, then salmon and potatoes, salad (iceberg lettuce).  Dessert was a custard with raspberry sauce.  Rick isn’t a fan of salmon, and unfortunately for him it featured in nearly every supper on the route.  BUT pisco sours are also featured and we continued the celebration with another round after supper, chatting with some of the other guests. 

Nightly ritual of paring down for tomorrow’s dayhike, made more challenging by the pisco sours.  Tomorrow we step out onto the “W” hiking to the Mirador Las Torres and the towers.

 “No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied - it speaks in silence to the very core of your being.”  ~Ansel Adams

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