Thursday, December 15, 2011

Torres Del Paine - The Mirador Trail

Puerto Natalies has developed into a town for one reason and one reason only. To get paying travellers to Torres Del Paine National Park. There is no shortage of hostels, restaurants, travel agencies, tour operators, and all the things that go with a well prepared tourist town. What it does not have are touts, louts, flashing signs, or the tackiness that can emote from such places.
The Colombia, Marmot and North Face shops are a bit overpriced and yes, you can get it back home cheaper. I just ponied up $40 for a really good pair of water resistance gloves for my journey to Antarctica. I am happy about the purchase but reluctantly went to the MEC website for a comparison. About $10 over prices. Meh! my gloves are cool and they go very well with my overpriced waterproof Doite jacket I bought in Santiago!

Today it was Torres Del Paine National Park. (Towers of Pain) The Crown Jewel of the Chilean National Park System so says LP. I had one day so the logical trek would be the Mirador Trail. It would be 9 km up, 9 km down and then 7 km back to the ranger station. I can't walk to the fridge without stopping at the stove for a rest so I dont know why I always think that knocking of 25 km would be a fun thing to do. The shuttle bus took me to the starting point so that saved me 7 km in the morning. I was told by anyone with a voice that I would need to camp because it was to long and hard a trek for one day..Whatever!
The bus ride was expensive at $30 and the park entrance grabbed another $30. The bus dropped you off at the ranger station where shuttle busses waited to take you  the 7 km to the trailed. That will be another $5 amigo. These guys must have Disney Training.

There were buses coming and going in a fits of fury. Daze yet excited people getting off in starry eyed panic then like zombies walking to the baggage hold of the bus. There they put on thier packs and just stood around with the "Well I'm here, not what" body lanuage. Most if not all were geared up for the 5 day W trek. You could tell the veterans, thier packs small and well packed. The rookies, some with thier packs that tower 2 feet above thier heads look like they were loaded for a 1 month expedition. They needed help to loaded up then power wobbled as they walked. They were in a bit of trouble. The W is a serious trek and being over prepared with to much a heavy pack will kill that dream in a hurry. It did not take long for me to find a few younger people stopped with thier pack on the trail, maybe 45 minutes in already exhausted. I checked to make sure they were ok, and moved along.

The Mirador Trail was a mixture of everything. Starting through open pastures where horses galloped by a little to close for comfort. I know they were fu**ing with me. I crossed a cloudy blue stream, the water being fed from the glacier above and it was fast! Walking across a creeky old footbridge brought me to another pasture where trail started the expected rise. Off we go! 9 km and 3000 more feet to paydirt. The Torres.

At first I was a salmom swimming upstream. Exhausted looking people who wereproably on the W passed me going down and there were alot of them. Hola, Hola, Hola could be heard echoing through the canyons. The trail then rose up and became sandy and dusty. When I reached the top after about 30 minutes I entered an area that was brilliant green with wooded forests. I walked down and found myself winding in and out of the forest that provided much needed shade.
Mother Patagonia was showing another side of herself today, sunny and freaking hot. I was good food and drink wise. 1.5L of water, 1 litre of apple juice, assorted fruit, chocolate of course and a big tuna sandwich. Water was not an issue as you could drink from the streams. Yes sir, put your bottle in the river and fill er up! It was cold and clean. When was the last time you drank straight from a stream? On my first fill up I had that run through my head. Once in Algonquin many years ago.

I broke out of the forest, crossed couple more interesting footbridges and there was a refugio complete with a campground. I suspect this is where I was suppose to stay for the night.  I sat and ate a bit but did not feel like talking travel and trails with everyone. I said a few hellos and enjoyed the surroundings. When a guy walked by with a portable GPS it killed my buzz and it was time to go.
I left the camp and the trail went back into the woods. It then went uphill and kept going uphill. A muddy wet wood trail that we all know and love. Breaking into a clearing the trail levelled out the views (broken record) were crazy beautiful. I went crazy with the Panasonic and was enjoying myself, but that joy was not long lasting. I started to walk and a new bend in trail brought new excitement, scree. We All Love Walking On Scree.  The drops to the right became a bit extreme with the river below adding a great blue to the greys and greens. I found various spots to challange my vertigo and had no problems. Marked with bright orange metal poles it was pretty hard to tet lost, but our hero did and more than once. What is up with that!!

After 30 minutes of screeing and the joy that goes with that the trail turned up, and I mean up. The scree said "oh yeah bitch, you want to whine how about this", and turned itself  into rocks and boulders. Now it was time to really focus on where you were stepping and take one step at a time. Twisting or breaking an ankle was an acute possibility. My Solomons (Merrell I will never doubt you again) are getting a little worn so that put a twinge of "ah shit" into my ascent.
It was fun, climbing up using your hands when needed. It was also really interesting to stop, look up and around and see all the colors of my fellow hikers in various stages of ascent.
At one point I had to stop. While I was gasping for air and making love to my water bottle and German or Dutch dude and his wife of about 70 blew by me with a hello and not a bead of sweat. This was not the hardest trek I have ever done but it was the most diverse. If I am getting dusted by 70 year olds there had better be a pole dancers, talking llamas or something pretty freaking spectacular at the top.

The Payoff!
I found myself traversing more horizontal than vertical and the trail show no real signs of peaking. It was then that a few people passed me going down with big shit eating grins on thier faces. "Ten more minutes and its amazing" they said. Energized I climbed around a huge boulder and up the trail went. You could see the Torres peaking over a rise just up a head. The Mirador! Up I went and as I climbed over a boulder that had no right being there I stopped. There it was in living color. The Torre Del Paine. Beautiful greys changing shades in the sun against a deep blue sky with just a hint of cloud. In front a milky green glacial lagoon being fed by the waterfalls running off the glacier in front of the Torres that were hued in whites and blues. All this surrounded by the boulders and sand dunes of the mountain giving the area not only color but texture. (Good lord, when did I become an art affictionado..colors and textures?)

There were people scattered everywhere. Laying on various rocks and outcroppings, others hiding in the shade. I found my space, took of my shirt because it was soaked, not to show of my pear shape and dried it in the sun. The same with my pack. Everyone was chatty and not intrusive. I met a nice couple from Etobicoke who were travelling with thier 3 kids. The kids were late tweens or early teenages but polite and just digging the trip. There is something to be said about families that travel together to countries out side of the Disney World vacations. I think makes them strong and the kids more well rounded, but hell what do I know when it comes to kids, right?

It was around 3:00 and I had to get back to the ranger station. Last bus to Puerto Natalies was 7:30. That  makes it 9 hard km down then 7 km across country to get to my destination. Off I go.
Walking down the boulders proved tricky but it was slow and steady. After that the uphills did not seem so bad. Remember most trails are not all one way, there are rolls so its possible to have to go uphill in order to get downhill, and vice verca.
I got to the refugio, buried my head and filled my bottle in the stream and continued.
I dont have issues walking uphill. I mean you have the breathing and thirst but that is easliy managed. I find that I do get sore knees when coming down any trail. Not "sore I cant move any longer" sore, but sore "holy crap I have to start using trekking poles" sore. So its off to the sports store for me before my next climb.

I got to the bottom easy enough, passed other trekkers asking me for directions (look at the big sign to your right that says Mirador Trail I was not rude) and now had the 7 km to go. It was mostly on the road back so if need be I could have gotten a ride. My knees were talking to my feet asking "what is up with this guy anyway"? I did it in about 90 minutes but I was spent. I had about 45 minutes to kill so I just chilled and watch this Guanaco. There were a few people hanging around and I had a short talk with a guy who had just come back from Antartica. "Better than anything you have been imagining" was what he said.
The 2 hour bus ride back was with Bob Segar on the Ipod as the Torres stood strong behind me, as they have done for millenium...Like A Rock (yeah, you were thinking it)

1 comment:

Ken Parker said...

Ken, I would be posting more comments but what is there to say from a guy sitting at his computer in an apartment in Niagara Falls that would add to the story that you are telling.Amazing stories about amazing places you have brought them to life for me in more ways than you can imagine