I was going to Torres Del Paine for 4 days. what kind of food does one need for that kind of trip? I wanted to get enough food so that I wouldn’t be starving, but at the same time, I didn’t want to weigh my pack down w/ too much food. the grocery store across the street from the hostel was tiny, only 5 aisles or so, and yet I still spent over an hour in there agonizing on what to buy. I kept picking up items, then putting them back… too heavy, too bulky, too much prep work, etc. in the end, I settled on what I thought would be the optimal stuff:
- 2 small packets salami (280 grams)
- 4 bread rolls
- 2 small bags of pasta (600 grams)
- 3 small tins of pasta sauce (580 grams)
- tiny packet of parmesan cheese
- 3 cereal bars
- 2 small packets of peanuts
- a few small packets of powdered kool-aid type stuff
as you can see, there would be absolutely no variety to my meals. pasta and sauce for all my dinners. cereal bars for breakfast. salami sandwiches w/ no condiments of any kind for lunch. peanuts for a snack. yeah, sounds pretty sad doesn’t it. but I’d rather have it be that way than haul a ton of crap. I put the food, my tent, a bit of clothes, the bare minimum toiletries, a saucepan, fork, gas, mini stove, umbrella, and mp3 player in my backpack. camping gear kind of amazes me. it’s unbelievable what kind of crazy technology there is out there. how is it possible for a tent to fold down so small as to fit in my backpack and still leave room for other stuff? how can they have a stove that is literally 3 inches by 2 inches when folded up? crazy. my backpack didn’t really have any of the proper straps for backpacking, so I kind of haphazardly tied my sleeping bag and sleeping matt to it. everything just kind of dangled ridiculously and I’m sure any real backpacker would have laughed at it, but oh well. I guess I was ready to head out to the park.
that night, a new guest checked into the hostel, so unfortunately, I didn’t have my room all to myself. I cant remember this guy’s name, so I’ll just call him Odd Man from now on. There will be more about him later, but for now let’s just mention that Odd Man snores. yes, Odd Man snores a lot. when I came into the room, the lights were already off, and I didn’t want to wake him up by turning on the lights to get my ear plugs. so I went to bed w/ no earplugs, and a bit later, the snoring commenced. I didn’t get too much sleep that night.
Distance to hike: 19km
Map’s time estimate for this: 8 hours
although hella tired, I got up feeling fairly excited about going to the park. I had heard so many good things about Torres Del Paine. this place practically seemed legendary or something. after a short bus ride to the park, and then a shuttle transfer, we were ready to start the day. by “we”, I mean me and these 2 girl from Finland who I had met one a bus to Ushuaia and then again on the bus from Ushuaia.
The path most people take through the park is the “W” (I traced it in black on the map above). the first day, you start off on the right at Hosteria Las Torres, you go up to the top of the right leg of the “W” and then back down and camp where you first started. day two, you walk along the right curve of the “W” till you get to where the two curves meet in the middle at Campo Italio. day three you walk up the middle leg of the “W” to the top, then back down to Campo Italio and then head down the left curve down to camping Pehoe. the last day, you head up the left leg of the “W” and then back down again. the nice thing about the way things are set up is that you retrace your steps a lot. this way, you can set up camp, ditch as much of your stuff as possible (tent, etc), do the hike with a minimal amount of weight, and then pick everything up when you get back to camp later.
I was able to set up my tent with minimal difficulty, and then we were ready to set off. I just took my small daypack, but the girls took their large packs since they were worried about leaving their brand new sleeping bags behind. it was a beautiful day and the weather was great. the trail we were on was really scenic and the views all around were really good. as we kept hiking, we kept getting small glimpses of the Torres (towers) from time to time. the trail wasn’t super steep, and was wayyyy easier than the hike I did in Tierra del fuego, but was still steep enough to make you sweat. the trail kept heading uphill for a long time, but just when you were stoked that you’ve gotten up so high, the trail would plunge back down till you were at the bottom again, only to have to go up once more. up, down, up, down, over and over. we walked by rivers, snow covered mountains, through forests, and many times had to hop from rock to rock across streams.
the going definitely got tough at times, and the girls did a fair amount of trailing behind, which I attributed to the fact their packs probably weighed a little more than mine. but by the time we were about 3 hours into it, one of the girls was starting to have a really hard time of it. actually, I think she may have started crying, but I’m not sure. I couldn’t understand what they were saying to each other in Finnish, but I got the picture that one of the girls wasn’t too sure about making it the rest of the way. so, I did the only thing I could do, which was to tell them that I’d go on ahead of them and just see them at the top. without the girls, my pace up the mountain was much faster and… no, I’m just kidding. what I actually did was to volunteer to trade backpacks with the crying girl.
I handed her my daypack (contents: bread, salami, mp3 player, and a highlighter), and she gave me hers (contents: EVERYTING SHE HAD BROUGHT WITH HER). yes, I had thought that she had just brought her expensive sleeping bag along to protect it, but instead she had made the genius decision to not unpack a single thing out of her backpack. it had all her clothes, stuff, huge cans of food, and probably at least a few bricks or something for good measure. it really was unbelievable. this pack weighed more than my backpack did when it had everything I own in it including my tent. so, with my new cargo, we started uphill.
this switch in backpacks coincided with us getting to the hardest part of the route. there wasn’t really a trail anymore, just a mountain covered in large boulders that you had to climb over. actually, this is my favourite kind of terrain. when I was a kid, my parents used to take me on family vacations a couple times a year, and inevitably these vacations would be to national parks. over my lifetime, I’ve seen quite a large percentage of the national parks the US has to offer. whenever there were rocky hills, my brother and I used to love to try to scramble up as high as we could, navigating a path upwards and jumping from boulder to boulder. I’ve always really enjoyed trying to figure out the best way up while scrambling up as fast as I could. so yeah, this should have been my favourite part of the trail, but instead it was really difficult and exhausting with this huge backpack weighing down each step. there would be no jumping from rock to rock… only slow calculated difficult steps. *sigh*
eventually, we made it to the top. holy crap. the view of the towers from here was absolutely fantastically amazing. I was totally blown away. this was really one of those kind of sights were you could just stare and stare and then still want to stare some more. the towers were enormous and had these incredible vertical sides where it looked like the rest of the mountain was just lopped off with a huge axe. I must have taken a billion photos with my camera, I just couldn’t stop snapping away. to make the scene even better, the towers were situated right above this frozen pond. well, the pond was partially frozen, and it was this incredible shade of light blue with the less frozen bits contrasting with the more frozen parts. the edge of the ice was really cool where you could watch the ripples of water lap up onto the ice boundary. if it wasn’t so cold and windy, I think I could have really sat there for ages and just looked at the towers, and then at the lake, and then at the towers, and then at the lake again. it was definitely one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen on this trip.
the view in the other direction
I wish there was some way that the photos could do the scene justice, but they just don’t. one of the most stunning things about mountains is that they are huge. their sheer size is awe inspiring, and gawking up at them you cant help to be overwhelmed. a photo cant capture this. a photo will always be small. sure, there are tricks that a photographer can do. you can photograph a person or something in the scene so that the viewer can look and see the relative hugeness of the mountain. but the problem with these tricks, is that they are still just tricks. you still look at the photo and think “oh, these people look tiny, that means the mountain must be ginormous!”… but you still don’t see the mountain as it is and feel its immenseness.. you only see it in 4 by 6 inch size.
we sat and ate our lunches, and then after switching back to our own packs, headed down the mountain. by the time we were 6 hours into the hike, I was starting to get fairly tired. it had been a long day and my legs were starting to hurt a bit, especially my knees. plus I was getting hungry. ok, actually I was starving. I couldn’t wait to get back to camp to make some food. luckily, after 7.5 hours hiking total, we got back to camp.
(on the way back down the mountain)
at camp it was quickly getting dark, so I cooked my pasta as fast as I could. I had never been this happy to eat pasta before. after hiking so many hours, it just tasted so damn good! the girls had a huge spread of food: bags of rice, random condiments, cans of vegetables, etc. I couldn’t help but glare at their food, not cause I was jealous of it, but because I had hauled all that junk up the mountain. couldn’t they have packed light? or at least left their stuff at camp? not only was it getting dark, but it was also starting to get hella cold. trying to keep your hand warm by holding them next to your tiny camping stove only does so much. after eating, even though it was only 8:30, I was beat, so I went to sleep. surprisingly the sleeping bag kept me warm despite the freezing temperatures outside and the fact that my tent was a bit broken and the flap that is used as a “door” didn’t shut at all. I put on my headphones so I could listen to this Bloc Party cd that I’ve been obsessed with, and passed out.
Distance to hike: 16.5km
Map’s time estimate for this: 6.5 hours
I was worried the night before that I’d wake up today and be sore as hell, but surprisingly I was only slightly sore. mainly my knees were feeling a bit jacked. I was really glad to find out that the campground had hot showers since I had sweated like a filthy monster the day before. after my shower and breakfast (the girls had a large spread of all sorts of things that I didn’t even begin to look at and I had a lone and fairly small cereal bar) we packed up and set off. today was gonna be the hard day since we couldn’t leave anything behind. we would have to haul our packs the full 6.5 hours.
hauling my pack sucked. a lot. when you’re constantly looking at your watch, 6.5 hours goes by really slow. each time, after an eternity, I’d look at my watch, and only 5 minutes would have gone by. my pack weighed me down like crazy, and having straps etc not adjusted well at all made things even worse. the sleeping bag would swing forwards and back, hitting my back with each step I took. the sleeping matt would fly all over the place when the wind blew and often would get caught on branches of trees etc. there was plenty of uphill on this stretch and when going uphill, each step was an effort. once again, I was sweating like crazy. it kind of sucks that I was hauling this damn pack cause the trail was actually really nice and scenic. there were beautiful views all around, but I didn’t really feel like stopping and enjoying them… instead I was just concentrating on keeping on going and staring down at my feet instead of up. my knees were slowly deteriorating more and more. my feet were developing blisters. my hips were hurting where the pack sat on them, and I found out later my waist was actually bleeding from being rubbed so much.
I started wishing that instead of camping (and thus hauling all this stuff) I had stayed in the refugios in the park. the thing with the refugios was that they were so expensive. 38$ for one night for basically just a bed. back in Buenos Aires, I stayed at a nice hotel for only 15 bucks.. how could I spend 38$ on a Refugio? plus, food at the refugios was bank too. I heard later from someone that one night at the Refugio along with food and everything winded up costing him 52$!! ouch!! actually, in a lot of ways, the people who run this park totally rip you off. you pay 7$ per person at the campsites where all you are provided with is a shower basically. the bus to the park costs 15$ for a rather short journey. the short 20 minute catamaran ride across a lake costs 20$. all of these prices really high for south America. and the sad thing is that they don’t even really use much of this money to upkeep the park. during high season, this park is *swarming* with people… who knows what happens to all their money.
halfway though the hike, I realized something horrible. the previous night, when I went to sleep, I had left my glasses in the tent’s pocket… and I forgot to get them out today. the glasses were still inside the tent when I rolled it up today and I had taken great care to apply as much pressure as I could and roll the tent as tightly as possible. crap. there goes a couple hundred bucks down the drain. *sigh*, I have the worst luck with glasses.
I had been counting down the hours to the end of the trail today, and finally we made it. I was so relieved!! the girls, hoping to do equal amounts of hiking each day in the park, decided to keep going along the trail till they reached the next campsite further north. yeah, this would mean less hiking the next day, but this would also mean 4 hours of hiking with their packs when they could have gone without the packs. seemed like a bad decision to me, so didn’t continue on w/ them. to be honest, I was kind of glad that we had split up at this point. it’s not that we didn’t get along, I think all parties were courteous and friendly to each other, but I wasn’t really sure they really wanted me around, and I didn’t really care if they were around either. plus, I was kind of excited about hiking the trails by myself… just me and the outdoors.
at first I was excited that this campsite I was staying at didn’t cost anything, but soon I found out why. the campsite I was at was a sorry excuse for a campsite. there were trees everywhere, and all the spaces between the trees were mostly covered in roots. the bathrooms, for some reason had a board across the door. I snuck under the board, and figured out why. when I lifted the toilet lid, I was greeted with a sight so disgusting and foul that I wont even begin to describe it here. it was so disgusting that later, when some other girl wandered in there, she actually let out a scream when she saw. well… I guess that’s what you get when things are free. I set up my tent, and to my total amazement, my glasses were still totally intact. I don’t know how they survived. too lucky. one thing that I didn’t bring along (to conserve weight) was a book. crap. so here I was at the campsite, all by myself, and there was nothing to do. it was only 4:30pm, and even though it had been a tiring day, I doubt I could have made myself fall asleep quite that early.
I walked down to the nearby stream to hang out for a while and stare at the scenery. above me was Glacier Frances, a huge mass of ice on a mountaintop. below me was a crystal clear stream tumbling over rocks. everywhere around were trees. definitely a nice place to hang out.
after half an hour, I was too cold to stay there any longer. here is a checklist of my cold weather gear:
thermal underwear: NO
big jacket: NO
wool socks: NO
fuzzy hat: NO
thin sweatshirt: YES!
so, as you can see, I wasn’t exactly well prepared. I had no choice but to get in my tent and lay there huddled in my sleeping bag until 6:30 when I decided it was late enough to start dinner. I didn’t want to get out of my sleeping bag. for a moment, I contemplated setting up the stove and boiling my pasta inside the tent while still inside the sleeping bag, but then decided that that would just be *begging* for trouble. I got out of my tent and quickly realized that my knees were now barely functioning. I kinda hobbled from place to place. I gathered water from the river to cook my dinner which was fun. there’s something cool and rugged about just going to a river and getting water from it. after scarfing my food, it was back into the tent where I huddled in my bag and listened to Bloc Party for a while. it was extra cold tonight and even in the sleeping bag, I was still not all that warm. plus, my tent was on a slight slant, so I would constantly slide downhill as I slept. as I began to fall asleep, I began to wonder what tomorrow had in store for me. waking up after two days of hiking, would my legs work at all? also, it had been threatening to rain today, would tomorrow’s weather carry out the threat?
Distance to hike: 22.6 km
Map’s time estimate for this: 9 hours
I got out of my tent in the morning and to my total shock, my legs seemed to be working ok. they felt much better than they did last night. I quickly ate half a sandwich, and put a cereal bar in my pocket for the hike. I mixed one half the kool-aid packet with some water, and stashed the rest of the packet in my pocket. grabbed my lunch, and mp3 player and set off. ahhhhh, it was SO nice not to have the pack on! I felt light as air. the hike today was really great. fairly easy, and I just walked along and enjoyed the views. the views were pretty amazing. I got to see glacier Frances from much closer and I also got to look out over this incredible aqua colored lake. it was nice to be hiking alone, with Bloc Party providing the soundtrack to the hike. I realized that I was pretty lucky that I had done the hike during this time of year. as I mentioned before, during the high season, there are TONS of people here swarming all over the trails, but right now, when winter had just ended and it was still cold, the place was practically empty.
in the end, after a few hours of hiking, I made it to the end of the trail… or what I thought was the end. by the timing estimates, it seemed like I should have kept going longer, but I looked everywhere and it seemed like this was where the trail markers ended. heh, actually the trails out here were not so clearly marked. it was weird, you’d go for days in these parts where the trail was dead obvious and they’d have trail markers everywhere, and yet often when you got to places where the trail was much more obscured and difficult to see… they wouldn’t have any markers! so lame. well, end of the trail or not, this was an excellent place to end the hike. I was on top of this gigantic boulder and I had a wonder 360 degree panorama view of the surrounding area. there were all sorts of interesting rock cliffs all around me.
after taking it all in, I started making my way back to camp. somehow I had lost my cereal bar. also, somehow my packet of kool-aid mix had turned upside down in my pocket and emptied itself. *sigh*. anyways, a few hours later, I made it back to camp. it had been a great morning! I had my lunch. ugh… so sick of salami sandwiches. and I also had pasta yet again to expect for dinner. sad! then I packed up my tent, taking care to not leave my glasses inside (phew!). the last 7.6 km would be done with the pack on. I was a bit nervous, seeing as it was so hard to hike w/ the pack last time, but this trail was marked “easy” on the map, and in the end, it totally was. the trail was not very steep, and there weren’t and rivers or obstacles, just easy straightforward hiking. actually, this is what I had been kind of expecting from all the trails before I got here. so I walked and walked and walked. as always, the scenery all around was awesome!
as I walked, it kept getting windier and windier. my sleeping matt was flying all over the place, and I was almost getting blown off the trail. I looked up and the clouds above were an ominous shade of grey. hrm. soon enough, it started drizzling. really lightly, so it was ok, but I was really worried that it would get worse. I picked up the pace, trying to walk as fast as I could. if it started pouring, I would be screwed. luckily though, I soon reached the campsite. reaching into my pocket, I realized I had somehow lost the remainder of my pesos along the trail. crap. luckily, I had some reserve dollars in my pack, phew.
this campsite was the best so far. they had kitchen facilities, a small minimarket, and hot showers too. I quickly set up my tent which was a bit difficult cause the wind was getting insane. honestly, if this place didn’t have a kitchen, I don’t know if it would have been possible to cook in the wind. I was craving something to add to my pasta dinner, so I paid the 7$ for a can of domestic beer and a pack of Pringles. after dinner, I needed a shower. badly. there was a slight problem though: I had forgotten to bring a towel. I know what you might be thinking: sheez, vlad, what were you thinking, it seems like you’re not really well prepared for all this!! well, if that’s what you’re thinking, then I only have one answer to that… you’re right. so, to shower, or not to shower. I desperately needed a shower. the other day, when I showered in the daytime, it was ok to kind of just drip dry since it was warm, but tonight in the freezing cold with crazy winds, that wouldn’t be possible. so I improvised. I went into the bathroom, and stuffed my pockets as full as I could with toilet paper. desperate times call for desperate measures! the hot shower felt amazing, and I went to sleep fairly dry.
that night, the wind was insane. my tent was rattling around like nuts and kept hitting me and waking me up. I had a horrible night’s sleep.
my alarm woke me up at 7:45 today. it was the last day of the hike and all that was left was a short 1.5 hour hike up the hill to go see Glacier grey (the HUGE glacier on the map) and then back to camp. but, I had to make it back here by 12:30 no matter what or I’d miss the catamaran and not have a way to get back. I crawled out of my tent and… everything was wet. it was raining and had been all night. not raining hard, but it was enough. crap. what to do? it was my last day and I really wanted to see the glacier. so I had my enormous breakfast (breakfast bar) and set out. the problem was that I only had a waterproof jacket and not waterproof pants. within 15 minutes, my pants were getting soaked. I didn’t think I could handle 3 hours of that, so I turned back. I would have to waste my last day just sitting around waiting for the catamaran. oh well, at least there was the Bloc Party album. I went back in my tent and huddled in my sleeping bag till noon, and then caught the catamaran back. after the short bus ride, I was back in town.
view from camp
the catamaran coming to take me away!
so, the 4 day trip had been amazing. Torres Del Paine definitely lived up to all of my expectations. one of the most beautiful parks I’ve seen. I can see why people love it so much. the view of the towers on the first day especially were just so dope!! also, it had been fun actually getting out into the outdoors and kind of roughing it for a bit. i had hiked a total of 58.1 km (36 miles) in 3 days!! walking till I could walk no more. hauling stuff on my back. drinking from streams. living in nature. it was a blast. but at the same time, it was also so nice to be back in the real world and have a comfy bed to sleep in, a variety of food to eat, and clean clothes. ahhhh!