Patagonia Trek 2013 Trip Report
by Tye Chapman
What a trip! How can so many great memories come from just two short weeks? It's pretty simple when you mix 12 great people with the unbelievable landscape of Patagonia!
For a few it was almost a no-go the Great Nor'easter of 2013 almost said 'no,' for others it was a simple connection in Santiago and on to Punta Arenas either way, we all made it to Chile with our bags in tow. After the necessary "Name & where you're from" introduction meeting we were off to dinner. We hit La Luna, a must stop for all IMG trips going through Punta Arenas . Most followed suit and had the Chupe de Centolla a creamy, cheesy, king crabby, baked bowl of goodness, while others opted for the salmon. All were happy. Bedtime.
Up with the sun, we all had breakfast at the hotel and ventured out for our first group outing. On the agenda touch (not kiss) Magellan's Toe near the town center, exchange some money, hit the grocery store, and then meet our driver back at the hotel at 10. And at 10, there they were, Pedro, our driver and Tadeo, my Chilean counterpart. Next stop: Puerto Natales via the Penguin Reserve. After little a sit down with the Penguins we were back in the van and off to Puerto Natales. We checked-in at the hotel and quickly dispersed for gear checks and some free time before dinner at Don Gorge's. It still hasn't completely set in that 1.) We just walked along the Straits of Magellan 2.) Just visited some penguins and 3.) Tomorrow would be the first official day of the trek!
An early breakfast and back in the van for the three hour drive to Torres del Paine National Park. It was about noon before we officially put the packs on for the first day's trek. Up to Refugio Chilleno, drop some gear and continue on up to the towers (Los Torres). The weather was relatively cooperative. The tips of the towers tickled the clouds giving off a slightly auspicious aura. It was nice for a lot of the group to just take it in and appreciate where we were in the world. Back down to Chilleno for the night.
Day two on the trail started off great, a chilly morning and partly cloudy. A nice day for a hike. On the docket today was a hike up to the Silence Valley, a not-oft-traveled trail. Through the boulder field while peaking up at the amazing rock faces above us, up the creek bed and eventually above the treeline, and onto the scree slope/moraine we went. I figure it was near the creek bed when it started to rain. We pushed on as far as we could but eventually gave in to the rain. Soaked but happy, we pulled back into the hut, gathered the rest of our gear and continued on for another hour and a half to our next refugio Torres Norte. Hot showers for everyone! We put on whatever dry clothes we had, and toasted with beer, wine, Coca-cola and water to a great day on the trail. The fireplace warmed us and dried our wet clothes as we recanted stories from the day.
Up at 8:30 we put on our now dry clothes and made our way to breakfast. No hurry today, we took our time at breakfast, then hit the trail around 10. It sprinkled for the first hour or so, but after lunch the clouds eventually gave way to the sun. We walked along the trail taking in some jaw-dropping views of Lake Nordenskjold and Los Cuernos, almost forgetting how wet we were just 24 hours before... Our next hut, Refugio Cuernos, sits lakeside with a nice deck. Most soaked in the sun then showered up and eventually ventured down to the lake to enjoy the vista. Two nights here.
Hint: Getting up with the sun give some great views of Los Cuernos in the morning light.
It's hard to believe it's been a week since we left home. Today we're off to another hidden gem (special permit required), the Bader Valley . We made our way up the steep trail to the entrance of the valley then continued onto the ill-marked, but fun to travel trail, hopping from one boulder to another, moving from one cairn to the next, eventually making our way up to a nice lunch spot. Most of us ate our sandwich, Robin had other ideas. She busted out her kite yup her kite! Winds were gusting 20+mph, perfect for a kite. Once airborne we started counting the condors! I think the final count was 10 condors circling above checking. (Note to self: bring a kite). After lunch and some kite flying we made out way back down to the hut for an afternoon Coca-cola.
Up next was the French Valley a Torres del Paine must-see. A couple hours on the trail got us to Italian Camp where we dropped our packs for a break. From there, some opted to continue up to the viewpoint, while others made their way over to the lake at the toe of the glacier all were happy with their decision! We came back together for lunch and continued on to Paine Grande where we caught our Catamaran across Lake Pehoe we may have had time for a beer before boarding the boat. Absolutely stunning views as we crossed the lake. A quick stop at Salto Grande and we were on our way to Tyndall for the night. We managed to sneak in just before they shut it down for dinner thankfully!
Now things start to get a little interesting... the schedule had us on a morning hike to the Mt. Ferrier lookout, but the boat schedule changed so we opted for a short beach hike on Lago Grey instead no big deal. (Note: this will be the itinerary moving forward due to it being awesome). After the short hike in some pretty extreme winds, we went back to check on our noon boat departure all of us with the thought 'will they run the boat in this wind' in the back of our heads. No they would not, was the answer we got from the Captain. They cancelled the noon run but hinted at a 3pm departure, but it too was cancelled. No big deal, right; we'll just head back to the Catamaran, damn, it was cancelled too. Huge winds were roaring in over the pass forcing all boats to shut down for the night (and the next day it turns out). Our options were to camp or head back to Puerto Natales and regroup... A quick straw poll = Puerto Natales! Everybody took it in stride quoting Randy, "You have to be able to adjust on trips like these!"
Now back in Natales for the night, we grabbed some grub and toasted to another awesome adventure! At this point we were well past Plan B or C, it more like Plan M or N; I can't quite remember either way we were off to the Milodon Caves, after a sweet pizza lunch, mind you. With our afternoon hike and cave exploration complete, we hit Rustika for some authentic Chilean food and plotted tomorrow's plan: a boat ride up the fjord.
Breakfast at 7, hotel lobby at 7:30 and on a boat at 8. Today we cruised up the Seno Ultima Experanza Fjord to check out the Serrano Glacier in Bernado O'Higgins National Park. Cormorants, hanging glaciers, seal pups and rainbows were the highlights of the day. After the cruise, we jumped on a bus (yes, a bus, Mike) and headed to a local ranch for some authentic Chilean BBQ and a glass of wine. The day culminated with a farewell dinner (read drinks and apps because we were still full from lunch) at Baguales, the local Brew Pub. We toasted again, this time to Tadeo, and then to each other, for making it through a great adventure together. We took our lumps from the weather, but through it all, the gang kept a great attitude, and in the end we had a blast!
Oh, and everybody made it home safely.
Tye Chapman, IMG Operations Manager & Trek Leader