Torres del Paine W Trek: Day 3

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I got up early this morning and left at 7 am, in hopes of meeting my friends at their campsite 7 kilometers away, so that I could hike with them the rest of the day. I was the first one to leave the refugio. Purchased breakfasT at the refugio isn't served until 7 am, and most people weren't attempting to go up the notoriously long and steep Valle de Frances pass (the middle part of the W), so this day for them was shorter.

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This was the first and last time on the entire trek that I wouldn't see another person on the trail for more than 30 minutes. I thought I'd be nervous, but I really enjoyed the quiet and peace of walking alone, in the early morning's softer light. The wind was so strong that it was blowing water off the lakes, making it look like the water was evaporating. Despite the forceful wind, which I had to lean into in order to stay upright, all felt calm.  

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I realized how great of a decision I made to start the trek from the west, so that the mountains were always in my sight as I walked, instead of behind me. I can't get over how dreamy and mystical everything looked.

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I reached the campsite earlier than I expected, and after crossing a heavily swaying bridge, quickly found my friends. Paul had built a nice little fence around his tent to shield himself and his tent from the wind throughout the night.

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Apparently, the entire Valle de Frances pass, the lions' share of my day (6 of 11 estimated hours) and the reason I got up so early, was closed due to weather. But then another group came back and said it was fine, so we set off with the agreement that we would turn back if we felt unsafe.

Did I mention all of the water in the park is potable? I filled up my camelbak at streams and lakes, and the water tasted great! It definitely makes you feel even more connected with nature and removed from urban life! Christophe filled up his water bottle when we crossed our first stream.

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After the initial ascent up little and big rocks, the trail mostly went through trees, so the wind didn't affect us.

After less than an hour, we reached the first mirador, where our upward progress was visible in our view of the valley.  The wind was actually crazy up here, since the mirador was just a huge flat rock with no surrounding trees, and we all immediately sat down to avoid getting thrown off our feet. We didn't stay long, and quickly kept going to take protection  inside the forest again. 

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The forest shielded us from wind, but we could often hear and see the trees' burden: we heard several trees creaking as they were pushed to one side, and even saw the roots of one tree rocking up and down, lifting the dirt above it. After seeing the number of fallen trees and branches on the hike, we definitely sped up our pace a bit whenever we heard or saw a tree struggling against the wind. 

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We made it to the final ascent of the trail to the final mirador within another hour, after passing an empty campsite. At this point, we were really just scrambling up rocks for 10 minutes until we reached the top, where we found a few other trekkers and an incredible view of the mountain range.

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The wind was really rampant up here, but we all found rocks to sit against and protect us as we marveled at the view of the mountain and valley.

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We went back down the trail with a great view of the valley and Lago Pehoe.

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We were also lucky, and saw an avalanche happen on the mountain to our right!

Once we reached campsite again,I set off to the next refugio alone while my friends packed their tents. I had started to get used to the solo travellers' luxury of being selfish, and I wanted to walk alone so I could go at my own pace. I mean, I wanted time to take some selfies and pictures of flowers!

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In addition to some incredible views of waterfalls and the big lake, I also passed a nice beach right before arriving at the refugio, but I think the water was too cold to be even remotely refreshing.

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I arrived at Refugio Cuernos within 2 hours, beating the map estimates again! It reminded me of a tiny ski lodge. The common area, warm and cozy, was full of hikers enjoying card games and drinks. 

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Instead of a bed in a regular refugio room, which were full on this date, I had booked a bed in a dome tent, which was way cooler! It was surprisingly toasty and a little more unique of an experience.

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I found out that no one had gone up the Valle de Frances path. It sounds like we only got up because we went early; others who had left later from the campsite or refugio were prevented from going up by the guarderia, or park ranger. I hate to say it, but i got a greater sense of accomplishment and satisfaction knowing that I was one of few people that week who would actually complete 100% of the famous W trek.

My camper friends arrived and Paul taught us and a few other Americans we met a French card game called Elevator, which we played outside with some boxed wine until it was time to cook dinner.

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I went to bed feeling lucky: lucky to go up the Valle de Frances, lucky that I hadn't gotten any rain in my first 3 days, lucky to just be here in Patagonia! And, as I found out the next morning, lucky I chose to stay in the refugios because my camper friends barely slept due to the wind howling and clapping into their tents!