Friday, 24 May 2013

Twisting up my fingers for the W

I remember the 90's and twistin' up my fingers for the West Siiiide and turning them up for "Whatever", but I've got a new W now, and it's the W Trek in Torres Del Paine National Park, Chile.

I recently embarked on a two week trekking excursion with G Adventures through Patagonia.  As part of our tour we spent 3 days in Torres Del Paine National Park.  It was enchanting, exhilarating and exhausting.  As with most days our adventure began at 8AM as we boarded our team bus in Puerto Natales and headed towards the national park, hoping to make it early enough to beat the tourist buses.  When we arrived at the park, we were dropped off at the beginning of the trail to organize our day packs before heading off.  Patagonia is NOTORIOUS for its ever-changing weather, so se were all equipped with sun screen, rain gear, thermals and extra t-shirts. Luckily, we didn't end up needing most of the extra gear as we were blessed with fantastically warm and sunny weather and didn't even have to deal with the harsh winds we had heard so much about.  A W Trek miracle!

We started up the steep trail in the hot sun trying to stay motivated, hydrated and keep our skin protected.  As you head up the trail, your legs start burning, your heart beats faster, your breath becomes quicker and you can feel the sweat dripping from your brow.  You stop for a water break and realize you've only been going for 45 minutes and you still have 7 hours ahead of you.  But you're determined to make the climb because you know that the view at the end and your own sense of accomplishment will be well worth it.  The trail begins with a steep climb, then has an area of rolling hills in the shade and then ends with some steep boulder climbing.  But you round that last boulder and the view is spectacular and you forget the throbbing in your knees and the tightness in your legs as your breath suddenly begins to slow.  You stand paralyzed, if only for a moment, by the majesty of the three towers before you.

We rested here for a while and had a little picnic at the edge of the lake.  Was that chicken or tuna in those sandwiches?  We may never know and none of us seemed to care.  We were famished and still had half a day's hike back the way we came to get energized for.  I almost always find the return trek more difficult than the initial direction.  Now we were headed downhill which I find to be harder on my knees than the way up, and my feet get crunched in the front of my hiking boots as I struggle to keep my balance on the rocks.  Also, going down is terrifying because you can see how far you have to fall if you miss a step, while being acutely aware that it would be very easy to misstep.  By the time we got to the end of the trail my knees felt like they were the size of watermelons, I was covered in dirt and I don't think I was smelling so sweet either.  

We were picked up and taken to our private G Adventures camp ground where a feast had been prepared for us.  What better way to celebrate a successful day of trekking then by watching a beautiful sunset with a pisco sour in hand.  If you've never been to Chile and had the pleasure of sipping on a pisco sour, I highly recommend that you do so if you ever get the chance.  They are so tasty! After dinner we raced for the showers and then spent a lovely evening in the "social" tent with a few bottles of wine and great conversation.  The perfect end to the first trekking day.  Just two more trekking days to go!

The next morning we were up early to catch the catamaran to the next campsite.  We left our belongings there and started our trek to the French Valley.  This is when we got really lucky.  Not only were we having another wonderful weather day we spotted a very rare dear in this area called a huemul. Our guide, who has been doing this trek for six years had only ever seen a huemul once before, so we were all really excited to see this one especially in such proximity.This was also our first up close look at the damage that was done as the result of a forest fire caused by a distracted hiker in 2011.  Remember those PSAs with Smokey the bear? Ya, well this person obviously didn't and it resulted in the burning of 40,000 acres in the national park.  Not good. Not good at all.
Most of this trail was very clearly marked and considerably less strenuous than the previous day.  We crossed a number of bridges and spent quite a bit of time in shaded areas - a nice change from the blistering hot sun of the day before.  The trail then changed to another steep rocky climb to the viewpoint.  We arrived at the first look out and then were given the choice to stay there or to continue another 45 minutes to the second one. Now normally, I'm the kind of gal who likes to push myself to the limit and don't consider myself a quitter.  But, the view from the first look-out was really beautiful and apparently the view wasn't going to be terribly different from the further point so I decided to stay behind and relish in the moment. I lay in the sun admiring the glacier and witnessing as the avalanches crashed down the side of the mountain. It was serene and wonderful.  I find that with trekking it's so easy to get caught in the challenge that I often forget to stop and appreciate the things I'm there to see.  It wasn't a race, it was a vacation in one of the most beautiful places in the world, and I was going to stop and enjoy it. 

That night we stayed on a public campground.  The showers were a little scary, but other than that, it was really nice.  Campers had the option to either prepare their own meals in the communal kitchen or purchase their meals in the cafeteria.   They celebrate happy hour in the bar above the cafeteria, which is very well deserved after a full day of hiking through the mountains.  After dinner we remembered that we still had some left over wine from the night before.  The problem was that there wasn't really anywhere to drink it.  The night air was getting cooler, the communal kitchen was full and we couldn't very well bring our own wine to the bar.  So, seven of us crammed into a two-person tent and got really up close and personal for a while.  Nothing like a couple of bottles of red wine to get everyone in a friendly mood, I'd say.  The campground wasn't much of a party site.  Everyone was too exhausted from their day's hike and trying to rest up for the next day's hike, so it was an early and quiet night under the stars. 

We were up early again the next morning and I was in no hurry to put my hiking shoes back on.  My feet were sore, bruised and swollen and the thought of my tootsies taking another hit made me cringe.  But I hadn't come this far to bow out now, so I laced up and headed out towards the Grey Glacier.    We speedily headed along the path as we had to be back at the campsite early enough to catch the one o'clock catamaran back to our pick-up point. The path took us through the burnt forest, by the lake and up and around yet another mountain.  Once again we were treated to a spectacular view.  The sky was blue, the sun was shining on the ice so that it shimmered just so and we were surrounded by glorious mountains. It was tranquil and I relished in my surroundings and my own achievement.  I survived the W!

I think I was lost in a day dream the whole way back to the campsite as I quietly said my goodbyes to Torres del Paine National Park.  Thanks to the huemul, the fox and the guanacos for coming out to welcome us to their home.  It was an exhausting and trying three days, but I wouldn't have traded them in for a day at the spa.  Not no way, not no how.