Patagonia Trek 2012 Trip Report
by Tye Chapman
Let's be honest, Patagonia (more specifically Torres del Paine) wasn't discovered yesterday. Nor did Magellan pass through the Straits last year. In fact Torres del Paine National Park was established in 1959. And while all this is true, Patagonia was new to IMG, until 2012.
We spent a few months researching possible itineraries as well as developing some relationships in the area. This legwork was quickly put to the test a few weeks before the program was scheduled to leave when a massive forest fire in the park broke out. This fire forced us to put together a Plan B, a Plan C and eventually, after the fires burned out, we settled on Plan D. We like Plan D.
Despite the fires (oh and the earthquake) the stars eventually aligned in our favor. On February 12th, everybody arrived in Punta Arenas on-time, with all duffels in hand, the first big step to any of our programs. After a quick dinner in our hotel, Day 2 came to an end.
After a couple days of traveling it was time to get to business. We met for breakfast and made our way to the town square for a photo with Magellan and then to the Money Exchange. Back to the hotel by 10:00am to meet our local guide and driver and catch our ride to the Penguin Colony.
You might not think you like penguins, but once you're surrounded by them it's almost impossible not to love the lil' guys. After a couple of hours with the penguins we were off to Puerto Natales. Puerto Natales is a nice little town. Everything is pretty much walkable, and the locals seem to know each other by name. We spent the afternoon here double-checking our gear and picking up any last minute supplies (read souvenirs) we needed. We gathered for a wonderful pre-trek meal and got to know each other a little better.
So far so good for our first go at Patagonia. All drivers and vehicles were early, our local guide (Tad) was a wealth of knowledge, and the weather was cooperating.
Day 4 was our first day on the trail. After a couple of hours in the van, the standard duffel shuffle in the parking lot, and a pitstop at the bathroom, we were on our way to see Los Torres, the signature of the park. Not too hot and not too cold is what I remember about the weather on day 1 of the trek. We all settled into a nice rhythm. After a lunch break, we cached our packs with the park ranger and headed up the sidetrail to Los Torres (The Towers) lookout. Up the creek bed and through the trees, and Boom, there they were. Incredible! We soaked in the moment individually and as a group. Months of training and planning culminated in one moment and we weren't done yet!
Once back down the trail, we grabbed our packs. After about an hour more of hiking, we were at our only true campsite for the trek. The good got better thanks to the porters who had already packed in the tents, sleeping pads, stoves, fuel, dinner, as well as tomorrow's breakfast and lunches. Tad and I cranked away on the stoves while everybody got settled. Spicy chicken with rice, zucchini, squash, peppers, carrots and onions. Lights out at 10:00 with full stomachs!
Day 5 was spent in the Silence Valley. Cloudy, rainy, windy, snowy, D: all of the above, but despite the weather our perspective was brought into focus by April, who standing in the freezing rain said, "a bad day in Patagonia beats the heck out of any day in the office." The highlight of the day was hunkering down for a few minutes in an old climber's cave pretty cool stuff. The evening was spent warm and dry in Refugio Chileno sipping on a glass of wine.
Day 6 was spent making our way from Refugio Chileno over to Los Cuernos where we'd hang out for a couple nights. A pleasant day covering some ground, taking in the countless views of Los Cuernos and Lake Nordenskjold.
Day 7 was scheduled to be a trek up into the not often traveled Bader Valley, but with some looming lenticular clouds forecasting some bad weather the following day, we called an audible and went to see the not-to-be-missed French Valley. An incredible day filled with some tough miles on the trail, perfectly spread out amongst spectacular views.
With clouds socking-in both the French and Bader valleys, the morning of Day 8 was spent casually around the refugio. Smiles all around having altered the itinerary a bit the day before. 5-6 hours on the trail today stopping for some long breaks in the afternoon sun. We pulled into Pehoe around 3:00pm. Our Catamaran was scheduled to arrive at 6:30. We all had a coke and napped in the sun along Lago Pehoe. 6:30pm on the dot the Catamaran pulled in. Great views from the boat were trumped by our side-trip to Salto Grande, the signature waterfall of the park. The day culminated with an amazing sunset from our hotel on the banks of Rio Serrano. Salmon dinner and a glass of wine brought the evening to a close.
Day 9 started off with a few folks doing a little horseback riding along the Serrano River while others kept it low key around the comfortable hotel. The afternoon was spent hiking up to the lookout on Mt. Ferrier. Amazing panoramic views made the uphill worth the effort. Views of Lago Grey and the icebergs floating within was the highlight of the day. After lunch we made our way back down to the trailhead and into the sunroom for a coke before our evening boat ride to the Refugio Grey where we'd stay for the night.
Day 10 was a big day, and we woke up ready for the challenge. After a couple hours in the trees, the views of the Grey Glacier really started to appear. Stunning views of the massive glacier brought the group to several standstills. We made our way up to the lookout for lunch, some photos and some reminiscing of the past few days. After lunch we made our way back to the new refugio where we soaked in some sun and a beer or glass of wine. Before dinner we took an evening stroll down to the beach to hang out with the icebergs who made their way ashore. Champagne toast at dinner brought the night to a close.
Day 11 started casually with an informal breakfast and a walk back down to the beach before boarding our boat for our ride back to the mainland. Jaws dropped for the close-up views of the glacier and the glacially chilled pisco sours handed out by the boat crew. A nice end to our inaugural Patagonia Trek.
Special thanks to Laurie, Nola, Doug, Bill, April and Hagen for making the first ever IMG Patagonia Trek an amazing adventure full of great memories and amazing photos!
Tye Chapman, IMG Operations Manager & Trek Leader