Torres del Paine, Chile

Towers of Pain(e)

The Torres del Paine National Park is located in Chilean Patagonia. It is characterised by towering mountains and even taller cloud formations, vibrant blue lakes and an impressive ice sheet that terminates as the Grey Glacier. The park is ideal for hiking, the two most famous trekking trails are the 'W' and the 'O'. The 'W' being a 5 day subset of the 9 day 'O' trail.

View from the Paine Grande campsite.

View from the Paine Grande campsite.

After arriving in Puerto Natales with our two new hiking buddies Shannan set about organising provisions for the 9 day adventure around the 'O' circuit or, as it's called on the official maps, 'circuit paine', an apt name. Quite a significant amount of food weighed down our packs as we set off. At least this would only get lighter over the following days, giving us the illusion of increasing strength and fitness.

Giving vivid meaning to 'bed bugs' this critter was apparently a victim of my rolling about in a sleeping bag. 

Giving vivid meaning to 'bed bugs' this critter was apparently a victim of my rolling about in a sleeping bag. 

Campsites varied in price and features from free and basic (one where a visit to the toilet involved the judicial and well balanced use of a rope, I was less than impressed) to paid sites run by private companies varying between 4000CP to 6000CP, again with varying levels of facilities. All paid sites technically provide hot showers etc. but sometimes they were limited to a 2hr window of hot water and other times there were only 2 showers for an already overcrowded campsite, both leading to Soviet Russia style queuing for the limited resources. The campsite locations were usually somewhere spectacular with a short walk to a waterfall or icebergs floating near glacier faces or a 180 degree view of the ice sheet itself. This had the tendency to mollify any of our grumping. Besides, where is Australia do you get even the promise of a hot shower and a morning coffee mid-hike?

The hike itself made sure to throw us a number of challenges to distract us from the postcard scenery encountered at every turn. Day 4 is well remembered by all, this day saw us climbing to over 1200masl over rocky glacier deposits into a headwind gusting to excess of 100km/hr. The wind would change directions making it hard to brace your position, the backpack acting as a sail. Even when braced the gusts could literally move the ground underneath as the small rocks would give way and you found yourself sliding downhill. One hiker we passed recounted being lifted off her feet and deposited, roughly, about a meter away from the path.

The following day we had the excitement of crossing two canyons with ladders held to the mountainside by ropes, the bolt holds left dangling in the air in a rather disconcerting manner. This was actually an improvement over the previous wooden ladders with occasional steps missing and ropes fraying.

Of course, all this excitement was done for the purpose of seeing the spectacular landscape of the Torres del Paine region of Patagonia and it did not disappoint. We were constantly rewarded with scenes that took our breath away and on several occasions I found myself exclaiming my excitement out loud as we burst out of the trees to a waterfall running off to a glacier that seemed superimposed where the sky should be, or scrambling over rocks to a summit and seeing ice melt flowing between immense blue icebergs.

The texture of the glacier as we walked alongside it was amazing. The weather was not always conducive to capturing it (water on the lens being a constant nemesis) however the following images manage to capture some of the curves, shades and vivid blues that were our companion for 2 days of hiking, either in a sweeping vista or poking through the trees in a surreal fashion. Its difficult to show perspective, but these crevasses were tens of metres deep.