We stopped off at a little hostel in Puerto Natales for the night and split out all our supplies into our 3 bags. My bag weighed a ton and that was with a fair bit of my clothing taken out. I got maybe an hour of sleep as I was eagerly anticipating the trek we had ahead of us. We ended up leaving around 10 the next morning, after having a quick chat with the hostel owner’s sister, who recommended we do the W trek from east to west.
On the way towards the park entrance we saw a lot of guanacos roaming the hills right next to the main road. We did try and get some close up shots by sneaking up on them and making various noises to try and get their attention, but they only let us get so far before scampering away. When we got into the little hut where we were meant to pay for the park entrance tickets, the lady asked us if we wanted to “cancelar ahora?”, to which I quickly said no, but then she looked at me strangely and then some other helpful soul shouted from the back “pay now?”, so I hurriedly agreed and coughed up the cash. It was the first time I’d heard that verb being used for “to pay”, which is obviously very confusing for any English speaking person and it still perplexes me as to why they use it, just another Chilean quirk I suppose.
We found out that all the free camp sites had been booked up and that we’d have to pay for each one. The first camp site we aimed for was Chileno, which took about 2 hours and wasn’t the toughest of climbs but carrying lots of food and all the camping equipment meant we had to take the route a lot slower than I’d been used to in El Chaltén. The wind on the trail was absolutely ridiculous, I was being lashed by the rucksack straps, passion of the Christ style and my cap flew clean off, whisked away, never to be seen again. My sunglasses were suffering a similar fate but I just about managed to keep them on my head. It was mainly sunny the first day with a little bit of rain as we reached the camping area. We tried cooking outside but were soon told it wasn’t allowed and that if we didn’t stop we’d get fined. We cooked pasta with tomato sauce, I was very glad to get rid of some extra weight from my backpack, as even just six sauces weighed 1.5kg. After looking at the map we realised we had a huge day ahead of us to get to the next camp site, around 14 hours of walking. We set the alarms for 2.50am.
I woke up feeling surprisingly energised and full of energy, after a better than expected sleep. We set off at around 3am and headed for the mirador de los tres, about 3km from our camp, under the cover of darkness. I was very glad I’d bought my headlamp a few days before as it would have been impossible without it. We only went wrong a couple times as we fumbled around in the dark for the trail. We managed to get to the viewpoint just as sun was rising and it was a beautiful sight, a lot less crowded than it would have been in the middle of the day, but there were still around 50 people there. The towers were very imposing and as the sun rose it added to their tough facade.
We headed back to camp, packed up our things and started on the long journey towards the next camp site. As soon as I put the bag on my shoulders my hips were aching and my body was instantly suspicious as to how long it was going to have to endure it this time. We took little breaks along the way and soon arrived alongside a beautiful lake and a different set of mountains, every bit as impressive as the ones we’d seen that morning. The trail views were stunning, with green shrubs in the foreground and lakes and mountains making up the background. People seemed a little less friendly on the trails than I’d been used to in El Chaltén but I put this down to the huge backpacks the majority of us were lugging around. We reached the next campsite (Francés) at around 7 and were absolutely shattered by the time we got there. I’d even bought 6 snickers for 2000 pesos, around £10, a testament to the fact that when you’re completely drained of energy you don’t make the smartest financial decisions. Roderick had a pretty bad headache by this point and went without dinner, so me and Justin chowed down on the rice that we’d set aside for the evening, it was pretty shitty compared to the glorious pasta we’d had the day before but I wolfed it down all the same. Justin had accidentally poured what tasted like 1/2 the bag of pepper into the rice, so we had to pour in an equal amount of cheese to try and restore an equilibrium, but we had crackers to help it down anyway. We were to spend 2 more nights at this campsite so we could rest easy knowing we didn’t have to rush to pack away all our things again the next morning. The tents were all placed on top of platforms as the ground was so uneven below. I was very grateful for this as the night before I’d woken up 5 or 6 times at the bottom of my tent as it was placed on a hill. My legs felt completely knackered as well as some other muscles I didn’t know existed until that day. The campsite’s facilities were top notch, much better than the previous one, plus we could cook right next to our tents. You wouldn’t have thought you were in a campsite if you’d taken a trip to the bathroom. It was all surprisingly modern and squeaky clean. We’d vowed not to take any showers for the duration of the trek but they looked like they were straight out of a hotel.
We woke up relatively late, around 10. Roderick stayed at camp due to a savage headache. We stoked up on some cake and noodles and headed for the Britanico lookout. It was a joy to walk without the backpacks again but I was still aching a lot, especially my calves and feet. It was crazily windy again when we reached the first mirador and I was really struggling to keep upright at points. There was a great view of the nearby glacier and the lake that shone in a lovely light Carribean blue.
Justin said he couldn’t carry on because of his knee so I went on ahead alone, although I screwed up the first time by walking in a giant circle and ending up where I started, because of a fallen tree trunk obstructing the path. The second time around I got on the right path and set off around 4pm. I got to the last mirador for about 5 and the view was stunning, as all around were mountains and forests, encircling the lookout. One looked like a cross section of a pyramid while others had their own mighty feel, with the ever changing clouds racing by overhead, billowing behind the mountains like smoke rising from volcanoes.I enjoyed the trek more than the previous day as the landscape was a lot more varied and interesting, dead tree forests and waterfalls getting diverted by strong winds, sometimes causing the water to go nearly horizontally as it fell. Every 5 minutes or so you could also hear a low rumble as snow would hit the mountain side from above. If you stopped to watch it happen, you would see the powder plunge down silently, only to have the sound catch up a good 5 seconds later. It reminded me of how I felt seeing the glacier in El Calafate and how my sense of scale was just completely off. As I was walking back I saw Justin walking up the path, he’d decided to carry on, so we both went back up to enjoy the scenery once again. We didn’t get back to camp until around 9pm, cooked some delicious pasta and called it a day.
We left camp just after 11, with about 3 hours until we reached Paine Grande, the place we’d spend our last night. The bag was feeling lighter which was a great relief, but half way through the trek my muscles were aching more than before. I was very relieved when we finally set eyes on the camp site and I could be set free from the shackles of my bag. There was still 6 hours of trekking ahead of us, towards the glacier. We set up the camp one last time and took a quick breather before setting off. We left at 4pm and knew we’d be cutting it a bit fine since the map said it would take around 3.5 hours each way. There were many a beautiful lake on the way there, the landscape just kept giving. We arrived at glacier grey for around 8pm, it wasn’t quite as impressive as Perito Moreno but it was still cool to see such a range of different landscapes in such a small area of land and the trek itself was really enjoyable anyway.
On the way back we were asked by some of the park wardens what we were doing (I think this may have been because I jokingly said to Justin “Hide the weed!”). We had to explain that we were trying to get back to Paine Grande for that night. At first, they told us the trail closed at 7pm and that we’d have to stay at the Grey station. I explained that I didn’t have any money and that all of our belongs were at the other campsite. They radioed to some other park wardens and we were granted special permission to walk back. We left around 8.15pm and knew we’d probably be walking part of the trail in the dark, but luckily we had our headlamps with us.
We got around half way when the light started dying but we got to see a hare and an owl soon after nightfall. We stopped for a little while to look at the stars while Justin tried to get a good photo. In the 10 or so minutes we were sitting there, a shooting star zoomed past, then the International Space Station and then another star-like object, which I was later told was most likely a satellite. I should like at the sky more often, I thought to myself. We finally got back to camp at around midnight and decided to cook up the last of the rice in the men’s bathroom, it was as disgusting as it sounds but we didn’t have a choice as the designated cooking area was closed. In hindsight it wasn’t worth the hassle.
We stirred at around 10, relaxed in the knowledge that today would be an easy day. We started packing up camp at 11.15 with an aim to get the catamaran for 12.30. I bought some luxury items like coke and chocolate and waited patiently for the boat. As we were queuing I was worried that there wouldn’t be enough space for everyone, as there were a lot of people lining up. My fears weren’t alleviated when I saw the boat coming into view, but then as I saw the streams of people emerging, resembling a clown boat, as they kept coming, I felt relieved. We hopped on the boat and were on the other side of the lake half an hour later.
A couple of buses later we were back at the car and luckily nothing had been stolen, although my chocolate had mysteriously gone missing, a real shot to the heart. We threw all our bags in the car and headed to the final viewpoint, the iconic image of the “cuernos”, or horns with the lake in the foreground. I was surprised that is was ever windier than all the other places we’d been to combined, but it was only an hour walk and was a great way to end the as adventure. I had my big waterproof jacket on and was able to lean at 45 degrees without falling over, as the wind was so powerful and constant. It was like sailing on land, I’m sure if I’d attached some rope around a toddler and put a wingsuit on them they’d be able to fly like a kite behind me. The view of the lake and the Cuernos was spectacular, but I was glad I wouldn’t have to do much walking afterwards as I felt completely spent.
Justin realised he’d lost his wallet, so we had to go back to where it all began to search for it, luckily someone had handed it in, with everything in it that should have been. We stopped by a beautiful waterfall on the way out and as we continued onwards on the road, seeing emus, guanaco herds (with babies) and other birds, this made me realise how vast the national park was, since we’d only spent our time in a very specific area, where there’d been a lot of development, but the park was a lot more than just solely a tourist attraction, it’s home to many species, some of which we never even saw. It felt like a safari as we were driving away from the centre, a world away from the trekking that we had done only hours before.
We tried to go back to the hostel with that we’d stayed at before going to Torres, but it was full, although Guillermo’s (the owner of said hostel) sister’s hostel had a lovely triple room available with a godly shower and bed, although anything would have seemed heaven sent at that point. We went all out on our evening meal, a 3 course dinner with wine. I had absolutely gorgeous lamb, cooked naturally, no mint sauce, but it didn’t need it, the meat simply melted in the mouth.
The next day I bid farewell to the Dutch guys as they were heading to El Calafate and I planned on heading to Santiago. To get there I had to travel south again, to Punta Arenas once more. I booked a flight a couple days later and said a long goodbye to Patagonia as we flew over the Andes, getting yet another spectacular view, as if this part of the world hadn’t given me enough already.