Torres Del Paine
Torres Del Paine National Park, Argentina
On Monday we awoke to a beautiful view of mountains over Rio Serrano from our campsite at Serrano Los Andes just south of Torres del Paine National Park. After breakfast we packed our gear. Today we would hike to try and get a close-up view of the Torres. Before we even hit the trail, though, we were in for a treat. Up to this point, we had yet to spot a rhea or a guanaco, but Natalia assured us that on our drive to the trailhead we would see some of each, which we did! We especially saw many guanacos, often lone guanacos on the tops of ridges, and we marveled at their size. At one point on the drive, we got off the bus and walked behind it as it crossed a bridge because the bridge would not take its weight if we stayed on board.
Once on the trail, we crossed Rio Ascencio just below a narrow canyon, and then headed up the west side of Valley Francis. We went up steeply at first, rising enough to get our first good view of the topography of the area. After going around a high, windy corner, we descended down into the valley, and hiked for some time through thick trees, which were all Notofagus (beech) trees. The sun came out, and shone patchily through the thick forest, making it a very pleasant hike. We had a snack at an exposed and windy spot, and then left Valley Francis, heading straight up the side. It was extremely steep, and we had to scramble over loose rocks and boulders…we appeared to be climbing a dump moraine.
At the top (Mirador Las Torres, elevation 3000 feet) we saw a beautiful glacial lake and then the base of the Torres ascending up into the clouds which were rolling in. We ate some lunch and sat on a big rock, keeping one eye on the Torres, but while we caught short peek-a-boo glimpses of the Torres through the clouds, we never got a full view. Clouds thickened, snow began to fall, and we began to get cold, so we headed back down the mountain. As we descended, the sun came back out behind us, but the Torres were already out of sight.
We hiked the five miles or so back to the bus quite quickly, stopping only when we came across an authentic Patagonian gaucho whose horse had dropped a bag by the trail. He was even wearing blades somewhere between knives and swords in length! After the bus crossed the Chile-Argentina border, we settled in for the long drive to El Calafate, passing through some of the most remote-looking land imaginable. Unlike the rural American west, where you might expect to see power lines, telephone poles, fences, rural roads, and the occasional lone homestead, there was nothing. We went hours and saw only sheep, glacial erratic boulders, and kettles with flamingos out our windows.
Suddenly, though, we were driving into El Calafate. At night, its main street looked at first glance surprisingly like that of an American ski-town. We arrived at a nice guest house near Lago Argentina where we enjoyed a hearty and meaty meal, fine Argentinean wine, and a good night’s sleep.