Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Patagonia 2017: Mirador Las Torres - Día Ocho

Patagonia 2017:   Where Are Those Towers? Día Ocho – 2/15/17 – 23 km

Nobody asked me, but so far breakfast in Chile seems poorly organized.  Following the rules and getting in line for our assigned time of 7:00 a.m. was a rookie mistake. Everyone wants an early start, both hostel guests and campers. The crush to show vouchers and grab tables was a little unnerving and the cacophony of voices was similar to last night, too much for easy conversation. Hostel food: strawberry yogurt, corn flakes, thick dry toast with butter, jam, Nutella, slices of Swiss cheese and scrambled eggs. We learned a trick watching a fellow make a sandwich out of his toast, eggs and cheese, which I employed every morning after that. 

[Okay, so this doesn't convey the crowdedness, but I promise it was noisy]

Today’s hike is the park’s most famous: out-and-back to the base of Torres del Paine.  What do we want to see?  Blue sky, towering granite spires above a glittering glacial lake.

The drizzling rain and misty clouds were not encouraging, but what else have we got to do?  Anything could happen as we hike up.  Other hikers shared our optimism as we crossed Río Ascensio on the bouncy suspension bridge.

Notro flower or Chilean flower bush

Two hours of steady uphill took concentration without conversation.  It was necessary to stop often and (catch our breath) take in the expansive views up and down the Valle Ascensio. 

Back over my shoulder, a sliver of Lago Nordenskjold

Up ahead, clouds are still moving

Valle Ascensio and robust flowing Río Ascensio

Danger careful slippery!

About halfway up the valley, another bridge crosses Río Ascensio to reach Refugio Chileno, smaller and more rustic than Las Torres but the best overnight option to see the Torres by moonlight or sunrise.  AND there are banós!  Here our little party of four took a l-o-n-g break.  The weather wasn’t clearing and there was a short debate about continuing but again – what else have you got to do?  Onward!

The trail soon crosses the river a third time and enters the forest, a dense tree canopy and low undergrowth of mosses and plants, no flowers, and yes, still going up.

Cathy must be ahead of us

On the back side of the sign

 An hour-and-a-half later the trail reached the turn to Camp Torres, where we are not going.  At this junction hearty hikers seeking the towers turn left and the serious work begins.  For a while the trail follows close by the tree line before veering out onto an impossible boulder field sprinkled with slippery moraine.  Yikes!

This giant gets everyone’s attention as a rest stop


Forty-five minutes after the junction for Camp Torres, we arrived at Mirador Las Torres…but there was no mirador today. We explored along the rocky shoreline, keeping one eye on the dense cloud hanging near water level.  My clothes were damp with sweat from the strenuous hike and soon I was chilled (as was everyone else).  We hunkered down to eat and recover, watching other visitors take turns posing on the edge of the “photo boulder.” The crowd gasped as the clouds teased, but ultimately the Towers were a no-show. 

We lingered for 90 minutes but saw little change.  Still, the scene was breathtaking, rivulets of water flowing down the sheer cliff sides to the milky green glass lake surface. Disappointing not to see the Towers against a sparkling blue sky, yet altogether thrilled to be immersed in the Patagonian landscape.

Okay, time to go
The return proved to be what’s good about an out-and-back hike: everything you missed while you were huffing and puffing and looking at your feet on the ascent. 
 Adventurers on horseback

During the hike back to the refugio, Cathy struck up a friendship with a young French-Iranian woman named Pauline who had been in the park for several days and was figuring out a way back to Puerto Natales.  Pauline was conversant in several languages, very outgoing and interested in each of us, as we were enthralled with her adventures.  Cathy bought her a bus ticket and a beer and we toasted her safe travels. 

Once again we endured the obnoxious dining room (chicken risotto - not salmon! - red cabbage salad, rice pudding) and Cathy treated us to a bottle of red wine.  Carol befriended a woman named Uta, who was eating alone at the end of our table.  Don’t get me wrong: I recommend Refugio Las Torres as very comfortable, clean and warm, but be forewarned that if you don’t love chaos, you don’t have to be in the first round at mealtimes.  Several communal spaces on the main floor have cozy fireplaces and floor pillows, inviting folks to gather and chat about what they’ve been doing and what’s next, and we all enjoyed chillaxing. 

Well, would you look at that?  Just before sunset

Tomorrow we move on to another refugio and the weather forecast is rain, rain, rain.

“A taste for the beautiful is most cultivated out of doors.” ~Henry David Thoreau

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