Monday, March 22, 2010

Trip Report Patagonia - Torres del Paine Circuit

I've been quiet most of Feb and March. A sprained ankle slowed down my local hiking activity, and then got wrapped up with the trip to Torres del Paine. A side note re the sprained ankle. I was doing a training hike, with a 30 pound pack, hiking poles and a gps. I was holding both hiking poles in one hand, while looking at the gps in the other hand, all while walking down a muddy bank to a stream ford. A bad combination. Once my center of gravity got far enough out, there was no stopping the fall, though my ankle tried. I landed in the mud - head to toe, and bounced back up. No immediate pain, but by the time I had walked the six steep hilly miles to get out, I had substantially unmatched ankles. After a week with an ace bandage, and then an ankle brace, it felt fine. It made one change in our Patagonia trip. We have been using trail runners for hiking shoes for about five years, but this trip I used my boots, just for extra ankle insurance.

We did a similar trip last year, and I blogged extensively on the planning process http://timecheck00.blogspot.com/2008/12/patagonia-torres-del-paine-trip.html . For the Torres del Paine part of the trip, those notes are still valid. We did get there via a different route. Last year was fly via Santiago, Chile to Punta Arenas, by bus to Puerto Natales, and bus from there into the park. This year we flew via Santiago to Puerto Montt, and took the Navimag ferry for four days south to Puerto  Natales. I always thought of Patagonia as a place for exotic wildlife. Well, it is there, but you see most of it outside of the parks. Rheas we only saw from the windows of the bus as we went across the pampas between towns. Guanacos we saw from the bus, and at the entrance to the park - Laguna Armarga. In the park, however, remember to look up when you are near the high peaks. Several days we saw Andean Condors.


The circuit is an 8 to 10 day walking route circling the park which also includes the W route. The two  additional days are if you are going to stay a night in the higher parts of the W route - Camp Britanico in the Frances valley, and Camp Chileno or Camp Torres in the towers part of the W.

The bus dropped us off at Las Torres Refugio, and we immediately started  hiking to Camp Seron, about 6 hours way. Ok weather, but hard rain for about an hour. This is about two weeks earlier than our trip last year, and everything seems much greener. When there was a refugio with meals, we would eat supper and breakfast at the refugio, to save carrying the food. We carried lunches for every day. Seron, Dickson, Grey and Las Cuernos had meals, as well as Las Torres.

From Seron, it is a long day to Dickson Refugio, with a couple of sections that are risky if you  don't pay attention to your footing. Towards the end, you encounter an incomplete boardwalk through a swamp. No boards, but you can walk the rails, balancing carefully. However, it ends, and there is still more swamp, so you get wet anyway.
From Dickson to Las Perros is listed as a four hour walk, but give your self a couple of hours more time, especially if the weather is bad. Last year there were gusts of wind that would knock you over. This year, beautiful.

From Las Perros the trail leads up over John Gardner Pass and then a very steep down to Camp Paso, where we stayed. Last year we couldn't get over the pass because of weather, but things were fine this year. There was a muddy root infested trail for a few miles after Las Perros, but then above timberline it was fairly easy going. Going down the other side of the pass was slow, but there were some steps, sometimes hand rails, and lots of trees to hold on to. It took us four hours to get to the top of the pass, and four hours to get down to Camp Paso. The dominant feature from the pass on to Grey Refugio is Grey Glacier.

The next day, from Camp Paso to Grey Refugio is the ladder day, dreaded, but no big deal. Spectacular views the entire day.

The following day was long - Grey Refugio to Camp Italiano - skipping Pehoe Refugio, also the wind was picking up. It took me a half mile to tie my shoe. Every time I reached down to tie it, a gust of wind would blow me back.

Italiano is at the base of the Valley Frances. The next day we hiked up to just short of Camp Britanico, to a good view of the Glacier Frances, and then back down and on to Las Cuernos Refugio. Tremendous winds, along with rain. For about 100 yards, the trail goes down a rocky shore of a lake, wind driven water blowing off the lake in 70mph gusts, along with the rain, made it a walk between gusts situation.

The last day was from Las Cuernos to Las Torres Refugio. We didn't go up to the towers as we had done that last year and had good photos already, plus we were out of time. Patagonia had one last surprise for us. We are in the Las Torres campground, wind is howling, we can barely walk, but we crawl in our Stephenson's Warmlite tent, rated for 95 mile per hour winds. No problem, I say. Ten minutes later, a loud crack, and the main tent pole has snapped. We drag the tent over to a more sheltered location, punch a hole thru the top front of the pole sleeve, and use some cord to tie the top of the tent to a branch, so the tent stays somewhat erect for the rest of the night.

Bused to El Calafate in Argentina, plane to Buenos Aires and home.

Postscript re gear. The boots worked out ok - Lowa Renegade GTX .There were a number of muddy stretches and these kept me dry in places that would have been over the top of my trail runners. Also, I felt a little more secure on some of the sections where the trail changed to just a steep fractured rock slope. Still, overall, my feet stayed hot. I would take my boots off, and my socks would be damp - not good for the feet. In my ASICS Gel Nimbus trail runners, my feet always stay comfortable, so I plan to stick with the ASICS.

I've sent the tent back to Warmlite for repair, and noticed that they have revised their website to say 60 mph instead of 95. I also told them to add wind stabilizers to the tent which should handle about 100 mph under their revised ratings.

Used everything I packed at least once. Warm gloves - once, fleece pants - twice, light wool long underwear pants most nights. Synthetic long sleeved tee - every night and 1st hour of most mornings. Montbell down sweater - most evenings. Ex Officio shirt every day, Ex Officio pants every day. Lightweight fleece pullover top - part of every day.

1/1/12 starting this up again to get a handle on the fire damage. So far I have heard that Italiano has been burned,  Refugio Grey at least closed, as was Refugio Cuernos and Refugio
Affected area:
http://www.emol.com/noticias/nacional/2011/12/31/519538/infografia-areas-afectadas-por-el-incendio-en-torres-del-paine.html ,