Monday, April 7, 2014

Torres Del Paine

Nellie and I left our Buenos Aires hostel for the airport at 3:30 in the morning, and somehow managed to go 14 straight hours without consuming any food, except for a bag of airplane cookies. A series of  last minute buses were really to blame. Needless to say, we were in a frantic hunger-stricken delirium when we arrived at Puerto Natales. Luckily we made it to a restaurant before collapsing.

We set out for the park at 7:30 am the next morning. We hiked a beautiful six-day/five-night circuit in Torres del Paine national park in southern Chile. The park feels like it's at the end of the world and is famous for its huge granite towers. We were fully decked out with waterproof gear, but miraculously managed to totally avoid rain, and even had a few bluebird days.

The park is an extremely popular hiking destination, and we arrived at the trailhead in a four bus caravan with 200 other hikers. To avoid some of the crowds we hiked the backside of the mountain range in addition to the the classic route on the front, making an 'O' shaped trek overall. The mileage is entirely impossible to say, since maps, the internet, and trail signs all disagree, but we're estimating 65-75 miles.

See below for the day by day breakdown. Note that you can click on a picture to zoom in. Some of them are really great full size.

Day 1
After a rainy bus ride to the park the skies broke just as we hit the trail. Nellie and I ended up hiking in shorts in the sunshine. It was a great start.

We knew that Nellie's co-worker was in the park at roughly the same time as us, but that's about it. Lo and behold, as we were setting up camp at our first campsite, IN STROLLS JUSTIN! It was incredible. We had a great dinner together, and the next morning, parted ways (we were trekking in opposite directions). Nellie is now two-for-two for random run-ins in Torres del Paine.

We had been warned that there were mice in the campsite and hung our food from a tree to protect it. But despite our efforts, we awoke to chewing noises outside of our tent in the middle of the night. THE MICE ATE OUR BACKPACKS!! They chewed the plastic tabs and the rubber tubes from our water sacks. I have no idea why they would chew non-edible plastic. They are pure evil. We vowed revenge.
Nellie and I at the start of the trek.
It had rained hard the night before we got to the park and the rivers were swollen.
Crazy blue lakes and blue skies! The blue color in the lakes is caused by the glacial silt in the water.
Nellie on a calm beach with clear water.
The towers, in all their glory.
Nellie and Justin!

Day 2
In 2011 there was a fire in the park caused by an illegal campfire, and we spent the entire second day hiking through a burned forest. It was a bit sad.

Toward the end of the day we reached the enormous Glacier Grey. We set up at a nice campsite near the glacier and each had a beer while watching icebergs float by on the glacial lake.

Pretty flowers in the burned forest.
The towers were looking more like Mordor with the mist.
Looking out at Glacier Grey. It drains from the icefield in the background, which is 220 miles long.

In front of Glacier Grey.
Standing guard at the campsite. Note the excellent rock placement.
Day 3
The third day dawned with disappointment: the mice had struck again. We had hung our food bag from a tree branch with a thin string, but a mouse had climbed up the tree, out the branch, and down the string, and had then proceeded to chew through our nice waterproof stuff sack to eat a few bites of cheese. Gah!

Leaving the campsite behind, we climbed higher and higher above Glacier Grey as we traversed John Gardner pass. It was a serious climb, but the views were great, and it was snowing lightly at the top of the pass. We arrived at the next campsite quite tired.

Nellie gazing out at the icefield.

Nellie and I at the top of John Gardner Pass.
Sliding down a snowfield at the top of the pass. Note the excellent "penguin-style" form: knees bent, chin high.

Day 4
We took a short fourth day and didn't hit the trail untill noon. The views were great and it was nice to have a lighter day on the trail.

Looking back at the pass in the morning sunshine :)
Perros Glacier tumbling into a small lake. I tried to scramble to touch the bottom but couldn't make it.
Lago Dickson, with more glaciers in the background. 
Our next campsite was right on the Lago Dickson.

Day 5
To squeeze the full circuit into six days we had to hike 20 miles on the fifth day. The terrain was gentle and the weather was nice, but we were definitely tired by the end of day. Much to our delight, there were fantastic hot showers at the campsite that night. They felt incredible.

The beginning of our long day...
Part of the route is on private farmland and therefore outside of the park. We're at the border here.
Huge hawks (southern crested caracaras) were patrolling a campsite looking for mice. They were totally unafraid of us and walked within ten or fifteen feet. It was awesome to see them up close.
Day 6
On our final day we left our backpacks at camp and climbed the valley to the base of the famous Torres towers. We had to start early so we could catch the bus back to town, and the sunrise was beautiful. The heavy crowds on the trails by lunchtime made us glad that we had started early, and that our trek had included the less-crowded backside of the circuit.

We had a nice sunrise.
Nellie with the famous towers. She has a very similar picture from four years ago.
Nellie was pumped to finish the Tabasco sauce!


  1. Wow. That's about it. What a world, with such places in it.

    Highlights of your blog: Mouse tales, penguin slide, Nellie's face at the corner of a pic.


  2. This is so cool! and the pictures of the glaciers are really beautiful. Michael you should make a journal of everywhere that orange coat has been with you...and way to go writing the blog! :-)


  3. Such amazing pictures! Mike, your beard looks great! I know where I want my next trip to be...

  4. I'm with Sam! Not sure thatbIncould manage 20 miles in one day, though...

    Great job with the blog - - thanks! Can't wait for the next installment.