Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine from the moraine on day 1

Upon leaving Puerto Natales, Chile on the morning of December 18, we retraced part of our drive from the previous day towards the Rio Don Guillermo border crossing before turning and continuing on towards Torres del Paine National Park. As we approached the park, the distant mountains came somewhat into view, but they were fairly obscured by clouds. We stopped at a viewpoint along the eastern end of Sarmiento Lake before continuing on past large herds of guanacos to the park entrance. Las Torres hotel area, which includes campgrounds and other facilities, was the starting point for that day's hike.

Las Torres hotel area

The first bridge on day 1

Heading down towards Camp Chileno before the final climb to the Torres viewpoint

It wasn't until around 11:00 am that we started hiking, at first across flat land to the first of several footbridges with capacities of two people at a time. After the bridge, the trail turned uphill for the first of two long, steep climbs. The views to the south gradually improved and became more expansive as we climbed, but once the trail crested, we turned into a valley with a long, steep drop on one side of the trial to the river below. We had to descend a ways down to Camp Chileno before continuing the climb. From the Camp Chileno area we crossed the river a couple of times and walked through some amazing Magellanic subpolar forests as we more gradually gained elevation.

Soon enough we reached the start of the final climb that would take us to our destination: the moraine at the end of the tarn below the Torres del Paine. The tops of the Torres were still covered in clouds, but it was still great to see most of one of the most iconic images of Patagonia. After a cold, late lunch on the moraine, we began the trek back to the trailhead. It seemed like it was perpetually about to downpour for most of the trip back, but we never got more than a few drops of rain. We arrived at our campsite, showered, and had a fantastic dinner specially prepared for us by a local chef before falling asleep.

Mountains along the final climb to the Torres
The orchid Chloraea magellanica along the trail

Following breakfast the next morning, we traveled across part of the park by van through light rain, stopped at another viewpoint above Nordernskjold Lake, and arrived at the ferry on the eastern end of Pehoe Lake. Since there was still plenty of time before the boat departed, we went on a short hike to Salto Grande, a waterfall on the river between Nordernskjold Lake and Pehoe Lake. The waterfall was great, but the wind at the waterfall was horrendous and perhaps the strongest I have ever experienced. It was a struggle just to stand in place while holding the railing, so it was a short visit before walking back to the boat.

Salto Grande

It was about an hour's boat ride across Pehoe Lake to Camp Paine Grande, where we would start the next two hikes from and stay the night. We dropped off our gear at our campsite and began our day hike towards the French Valley. We didn't begin this hike until early afternoon, but it was generally an easier hike than the previous day's. There were a few short climbs, but much of the trail passed through forest (or burned forest) along the base of the mountains, past Skottsberg Lake, and to Camp Italiano. From the camp it was a short hike up to the viewpoint of the French Glacier, which is where we stopped hiking and had snacks. Clouds still lingered over some of the mountains, especially those above the glacier, but they slowly disappeared as we hiked back to Camp Paine Grande. We had a decent dinner in the cafeteria at Paine Grande, and by the time we were done most of the clouds were gone from the area.

Skottsberg Lake and the Cuernos del Paine at left
Camp Paine Grande
The hike planned for December 20th was the easiest of the three days with another out-and-back trip. This time there was one decent climb fairly early in the hike and a few shorter climbs elsewhere, but mostly there were only fairly moderate elevation changes. After the first climb we reached Laguna Los Patos with a view across the southern end of Grey Lake shortly thereafter. We continued hiking north between Grey Lake and Paine Grande (the mountain) until we reached our destination: the viewpoint of Grey Glacier. As Grey Glacier enters Grey Lake, it is split by a large hill at the end of the lake. The view was, like in so much of Patagonia, absolutely spectacular.

Laguna  Los Patos

The weather for the return hike remained great, and we arrived in time to board the mid-day boat back across Pehoe Lake. Once aboard the van on the other side of Pehoe Lake, we took a slightly different route back across to the eastern side of the park. This route was a less scenic as we couldn't see the mountains from the window, but we still saw herds of guanacos. Our last view of the park was at the same viewpoint at the eastern end of Sarmiento Lake as we stopped at the first day, but this time there were few clouds and the mountains were fully visible. It was then a ride back to Puerto Natales for the night.

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