Hiking in Torres del Paine


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We wake to cloudy skies, but no rain, and relatively little wind.  Debate continues about whether or not we will hike or ride to the waterfall of Salto Grande and to starting point of the Mirador de Los Cuernos trail near the falls or if we will hitchhike.

If we ride, we will be doing a half day of hiking in our riding gear (boots, heavy clothes, etc.).  If we hitchhike, it could be a slow day in the process which means we may need to consider staying another night.  The forecast is for the weather to turn and the winds to pick up around lunch time. But then again I haven’t seen a forecast since yesterday morning, and since that all changes in a matter of minutes in this part of the world, who knows what’s gonna go on.  We have slept in a bit too, which we needed after a long and windy day yesterday, meaning our planned good weather window is down to about 3 hours.  Well, that’s it I suppose, our decision is made for us.  We have things we want to do and we aren’t ready to go yet.  So if we have to hunker down for another day or two we will do it rather than leave early and miss something we want to see.

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As we walk out to the road I see a Huemul deer grazing.  There are a lot of puma around here and I wonder if that’s what gave the deer that nasty scar.

We walk out to the office and ask if hitchhiking is easy here and the man on duty says it is, and very safe. I’ve only done it once before and that was on this same trip a couple of months ago. We only need to go a few miles up the road to a turn off and parking lot where we plan to start the trail.  But as we walk back to the road we see there is no traffic. So we start to walk and hope to see some opportunities down the road.

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The view of the Cuernos from Lago Pehoe is incredible this morning. The wind is getting stronger by the minute and on we go.  Winds come in from across the lake and lift water off the lake and scatter it like rain as it approaches us.

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There are only 4 cars that pass us this morning and most are probably filled with tourists in rental cars who aren’t used to picking up hitch hikers…and I know if the roles were reversed I’m not so sure I would have stopped either.

We finally get to the turn off and head west.  There is a small cafeteria here and a dock for the catamaran that takes hikers out to the Grande Paine Lodge where they can start the famous “W” trail.  A 10-minute stop allows us to fill up on snacks and some water before we carry on to the falls and mirador.

Maybe a half-mile or mile up the road the trail starts and we opt to go further out to the mirador first and then stop at the falls on the way back.

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The view is amazing.  Few clouds cover the Cuernos themselves but we can see them rolling in fast from the west carried on the strong winds. And on the crest of Paine Grande a small avalanche gives way sending tons of snow down its side.

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The trail runs along the edge of the upper lake, Lago Nordenskjold, and then up over some low hills as we approach the Cuernos.  Lago Nordenskjold catches melting snow in its basin and then spills out at the Salto Grande Falls to fill Lago Pehoe on whose shores we have been camped. There are small trees growing here, but none with leaves, and most are broken from the ever-present high winds.

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We get to the overlook just in time to get some funny photos of ourselves with my crazy blowing long hair. And then the weather really kicks in and we can see sheets of rain coming across the lake. Time to move.

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We start to get sprinkled on at first, and within minutes we are getting rained on, but strangely, only halfway.  As the wind carries the rain (or is this water it’s blowing off the lake?) to us it’s only hitting our right sides and I look down to see I’m half soaked.  My right half head to toe is soaking wet, but my left half is nearly dry.  Welcome to Patagonia.

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We stop at the falls for a quick look and then I practically sprint back down the hill and road to the small café for some shelter. I’m soaked head to toe.  And while I am not yet cold, I will be.  We need to get back to camp and get into dry clothes as soon as we can.  We have a hot drink and wait for the rain to slow, but it never does. So we finally work up the courage to go back out to the main road and start our 3 mile walk back to camp or hope for a ride.  Thankfully, two kind German guys stopped and made room for us in their rental car.  I apologized for all the water and they laughed “it’s a rental car, who cares” which made me laugh.

An afternoon nap in dry clothes and my sleeping bag followed by a movie on the iPad (did I mention we don’t really rough it out here?) gave me a new lease on life.

And the next day we set off, enjoying the last views of the Cuernos and the Torrres, bound for Puerto Natales and someplace indoors.

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