A Day Off In Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine

So the beauty of reserving camping at Refugio Paine Grande two nights in a row is twofold.

1. In case of bad weather we could choose which day would be better suited for a hike to Glacier Grey

2. We could hike with a day pack, as opposed to backpacking to Refugio Grey on day 1 and backpacking back to Refugio Paine Grande on day 2

It rained off and on from midnight until 11 am. The wind battered our tent. Though the only, single pole alpine tent set up in camp, it survived handily. Since we hiked to Glacier Grey yesterday, we got to take a day off from hiking on a gloomy day. We showered when no one was around, though I would have liked my shower better had it been hot. It was cool with an occasional surge of luke warm water.

During the dreary morning, we played cards and read in the dining area. We warmed up with a hot lunch of lentil soup with salad and bread as we watched the changing weather pattern. Eventually, the sun peaked out. We thought we’d take advantage of the clearing sky to stretch our legs.

We strolled down to Lago Pehoé and found the trail that leads from the park’s administrative headquarters to our campground. This section is part of the Q route. There is also an O route. Both of these routes include the W, but extend to a less crowded section of the park. Having said that, we didn’t find our hike to Glacier Grey to be terribly crowded, especially in the evening.

So we climbed the path to the top of the ridge and admired the landscape from above our campground. On our way down, we saw a woman eating berries. We asked what they were and she replied, “Calafate berries”. We decided to try some, though I didn’t find them that tasty.

Dinner tonight was roast on rice with salad and cream of lentil soup with a terrible dessert and peach juice. After David’s third glass of juice, I said, “You know, I think that juice is straight from the canned peaches that were used for the peach tart last night.” He laughed and replied, “Yeah, and I think the cream of lentil soup is leftover water from the hot lunch that was served today.” Well, at least they aren’t wasteful!

Tomorrow we are headed to Campamento Italiano and Valle de Francés and the forecast seems promising! ETB

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Hiking to Glacier Grey in Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine

Our bunk beds were rough for David. He nearly killed himself before we started the W route in Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine. Still in one piece, we had out breakfast at 6:30am. The lodges are very accommodating for those who leave before the scheduled breakfast time. As usual we got cheese, meat, yogurt, and toast. Eggs would be nice. They put eggs in soup, on pizza, and with a million other things, but not with breakfast.

IMG_3616 breakfast

We shared a cab with two more hikers to the bus station. The 30 minute walk is only a $3 cab ride! We had Buses Gomez tickets that our lodge purchased for us in advance for the 7:30am bus. As soon as it pulled into the terminal we walked outside. This was a brilliant choice. David threw the bags underneath, while I handed over the tickets, and we were the first of five to board the bus and to snag good seats. Being early kept us from waiting for a second bus, though they caravaned together so it didn’t matter too much.

The bus took us past estancias, guanacos and several farm animals during our two-hour transport to the park. We even spotted a grey fox trotting across the hills while waiting a few minutes by a construction site. As the park scenery came into view, at first I was very upset to be sitting on the right-hand side of the bus. Eventually, the road turned, however, and I got to snap some photos.

Several companies operate at the same time. They stop at a small town for a restroom break and soon arrive at Laguna Amarga. Here all passengers must fill out paperwork, purchase park passes, make campsite reservations for free locations, and watch a video on the rules of the park. David’s papers were in his backpack as was the itinerary I made which had the dates for reservations I needed. While I had it memorized, I felt better to have this in hand when making reservations, so we had to do some digging under the bus. I don’t recommend this. Luckily, we were able to get reservations at the free campgrounds when we wanted because some dates were already full. It was amazing that with all the people, no one seems to get left. The buses wait around a while, but it a little chaotic.

I read that we should take the ferry ride for beautiful views so instead of starting the hike at Laguna Amarga, we took the bus to the second stop…Pudeto. Here, we started the line for the 12 o’clock ferry. Boarding the ferry first allowed us to get seats up top for good pictures, however, our bags got stored at the bottom of the pack. I didn’t mind having to wait for our bag, as we had to pay for our $22 one way tickets in cash before we left the ferry anyway. We could have done that anytime during the boat ride, but we wanted to enjoy the view. We felt a like sardines on the ferry, but the spectacular weather made it worth the thirty minute ride across Lago Pehoé.

We had reservations for camping and food at Vertice Patagonia’s Refugio Paine Grande which was located adjacent the ferry dock on the south side of Cerro Paine Grande with magnificent views of los Cuernos del Paine. We checked in, received our laminated food tickets and set up our tent. Fortunately we had our own tent, as tent rentals sold out by the afternoon. The refugio was equipped with mens’ and womens’ bathrooms which included sinks, flush toilets and showers; a kitchen for campers to cook on their camp stoves; a large dining area; a small shop selling limited food supplies; and of course hostel style rooms with bunk beds should guests wish to share a room with strangers and not sleep in a tent.

After getting the lay of the land, I suggested we hike to Glacier Grey today as the last weather update I saw called for rain tomorrow. David was in a more lackadaisical mood until we checked the latest weather forecast with the staff. In Spanish, English, and hand gestures, we learned that tomorrow there would be a chance of rain and low clouds. The gentleman suggested the hike to Lago Grey was only two hours and told us to “go NOW”. Fortunately I had scheduled some buffer time upon arrival at the park because I didn’t have full confidence in the transportation system that they somehow have down to a science with paper tickets!

So we hustled back to our tent, tossed together our day packs and headed toward Glacier Grey around 2:30pm. Just near the turnoff to the trail, I read a sign “11K and 3.5 hours to the glacier”…hmmm. At a quick pace, we followed a light incline up an impressive valley through dead and stunted trees until we reached Los Patos Lagoon. Only 30 minutes into the hike, and we enjoying superb scenery which only got prettier as we climbed. Snow capped peaks towered over the Lago Grey which stretched the entire length of the trail. After about 1.5 hours of hiking, the glacier came into view. It looked magnificent in the nearly cloudless, sunny sky.

We stopped for a brief time to enjoy the grandeur before we continued toward the lookout point by the glacier. This is when we figured out the hike would take three hours at a steady clip as we were going beyond the lake and close to the base of the glacier. The sign and the staff were both right. We were the challenged ones! We had to hurry to finish as we had purchased dinner which ended at 9pm. At least we didn’t have to worry about the light given it doesn’t get dark until 10pm, and we had our headlamps anyway.

While we rushed toward the glacier through intermittent forest, I did not fail to take pictures. Flowers sprinkled the trail and waterfalls tumbled down the mountainside. Soon we reached Olguín bridge not too far from Refugio Grey, also operated by Vértice Patagonia. We passed by the refugio and through the campground to the final lookout point. We climbed out on the rocks, enjoyed a quick snack and view before racing back. Admittedly, I would have liked to enjoy a slower pace, but I also didn’t want to be the last one on the trail or miss our dinner. We capped our hike off by spotting six hares as we descended to our campground.

For David’s map and corresponding pictures, click here: map of our hike

Our cafeteria style dinner was good, though nothing spectacular. The burger patty, potatoes, corn soup, salad and peach tart beat cooking dried camp food. After dinner, we admired an absolutely fantastic sunset that lit up the rocky Cuernos del Paine! We couldn’t have asked for a better day, especially when the clouds blew in just after dark at 10:30 and the rain began at midnight. ETB

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