When It Rains, It Snows

3 07 2008

Posted by: Laura, 4.13.08-4.21.08

Everyone with a ski pass in the Bay Area knows when it rains in San Francisco, it snows in Tahoe. While this can lead to dreary days on end, at least you can get away to Tahoe for a weekend of skiing. After spending eight total days in Puerto Natales waiting for the rain to end, snow was dumping on Torres del Paine National Park. As we approached the park in the bus and saw our first view of the snow covered mountains, I was glad that I had bought a warmer jacket even though it makes me look like the Stay Puffed Marshmallow Man.

We arrived in the park with ten days of food ready to hike the Circuit, a sixty mile loop that follows the edge of the park, only to discover that it was closed. ¨How closed is it?¨ Chris asked. The park ranger informed us, ¨There is an avalance near John Gardner´s pass, and the trail is covered in six feet of snow.¨ Okay, plan B. We decided to hike the “W,” a route named for the shape of the hike on the topography map.

If the weather was clear when we entered the park, we were instructed to immediately hike to the Torres (Spanish word for towers) so we could get a clear view of these amazing mountains jutting into the air. Thirty minutes after arriving in the park, we on our way up the mountain. As we gained elevation, we reached snow covered mountains on either side and began crunching through a few inches of snow blanketing the trail.

When we reached the base camp of the Torres, we found a patch of shoveled snow and set up our tent. We were glad to take our packs off because 10 days of food weighs a lot (and I might have given Chris the heavier food).

We wanted to reach the top before night, so we scrambled over boulders as we followed the bright orange trail markers, since the trail was covered in snow.Since my family was a throw-the-kids-in- the-car-and-lets-go-camping-for-our-vacation, I have seen many national parks. But, the Torres are unlike any mountains I have seen. Four giant finger like protrusions, which turn pink when the sun rises or sets and a turquoise colored lake below. When you have a solid blue sky as a background, it’s an amazing view.

We returned to camp to cook dinner only to discover that not only did we have to worry about weather for the next few days of our camping, but we had another enemy: mice. These little scavengers ran around the sheltered area where the campers prepared their food. Other campers informed us that if we left food in our tent, they would chew through the tent to get to the food. Generally when you’re camping you put your food in a bag and throw it over a tree or you put it in a bear box or bear cannister (if you’re in Yosemite). However the park does not supply mice boxes and these crafty rodents would simply crawl down the rope and bite into your bags. Another camper showed us how to cut the bottom off a plastic water bottle and string up our line so that the mice couldn’t crawl down the plastic. Since we didn’t have an extra plastic water bottle, we tied our bags to another camper’s bags. After securing our food, we went to get warm in our tent only to discover a small hole in the side of the tent where a mouse had already chewed through. Chris did a thorough inspection, but didn’t find the intruder, so we both crawled in our sleeping bags. As I stuck my feet into the bottom of my bag, I felt the mouse scamper over them. Apparently, it had crawled in my sleeping bag to get warm as well. I quickly exited the tent and proceeded to hit my sleeping bag. Then I turned it inside out and hesitantly got back in it.

The next morning we did damage control and found that the mice had sampled almost all of our food, except for the boiled eggs and salami. They even chewed into the powdered soup packets. So we proceeded to cut off the chewed sections of chocolate, bread, and yes, cheese. After salvaging our food and cooking breakfast, we retraced our steps and headed down to the main camping area where we had started our trek.

On the third day, we hiked past Nordenskjold Lake, a beautiful turquoise lake with flat terrain. The trails in Torres are set up with Hosterias, or lodges where you can camp or sleep inside in a dorm. We camped in our tent, but sat next to the nice warm fire place that night and made use of the hot showers. One side of our campsite looked out over the lake. On the other side the Cuernos Mountains (below) towered above us.

On the fourth day of our trip, we woke up to rain. A very cold, hard, bitter, windy rain. Since we had more than enough food for the rest of our trip (even after the mouse tax), we decided to sit in the hosteria instead of hiking in the rain. As we watched miserable hikers pour into the lodge that afternoon and hang wet socks, jackets, gloves, and hats, we decided we made a good decision.

The next day, we hiked the French Valley, which was partially covered in fog. Since April is fall in the Torres, the trail led us through a valley full of bright yellow trees. We reached the last leg of the “W” on the sixth day where we camped at Peohe.

Our seventh day, we hiked up to see the Grey Glacier, a massive field of blue ice which melts to create Lago Grey. The winds are channeled between the mountains and over the frozen expanse of the glacier with such power that you have to forcefully lean into the wind to stay balanced. Chris watched his hat get carried away. Even wearing every item of clothing I pack, I was still cold and only looked at the glacier for 15 minutes before I headed back to thaw my fingers and nose.

Torres del Paine was one of the most memorable experiences of our trip thus far. The amazing dramatic landscape ranges from turquoise lakes to granite mountains to glaciers. While the location makes it difficult to get there, it is well worth the trip.

Chris: We slowly made our way through, taking 9 days counting a couple bad weather days. I couldn’t stop taking photos. It didn’t seem real. And while I almost broke my back hiking up the Torres with my undersized pack and 10 days of food(I used the rain cover to stuff the sleeping pad and extra gear in the sides since it didn’t all fit inside the pack), by the last day I was depressed to leave. My favorite experience on the trip thus far. Tommy, WalMart can survive without you for two weeks. Book a ticket.

*Click Here to check out the pictures at our new Flickr Site — Torres del Paine



One response

5 07 2008

Oh my, the photos are breathtaking! You both look great, and are obviously having an amazing year. I am now wondering if you will ever come back!! At least now you are in a place I have been before, in Cape Town, so I can viualize what you are experiencing. I love keeping up with your travels. I saw Andrew in the airport in Atlanta, while he was heading to Las Vegas on a speech and debate trip. We exchanged Indiana Chris stories.

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