March 15, 2013 by cleanwatt
Puerto Natales is pleasant little town situated on a tranquil bay. The gateway to Magellanic Chile, which is completely isolated from the rest of the country by the Southern Ice fields. This region is primarily supplied by the Navimag, a large ferry/supply vessel operating between Puerto Montt in the North down through the fjords to Puerto Natales. Prices reflect this intensive re-supply chain, but it seems well tamed and timed. Littered with hostels and outdoor gear shops for the influx of visitors coming here for Torres Del Paine National Park during the summer, a short walk around town yields small droves of hikers scurrying about gathering food and supplies for the trek. Bryce and I figured on taking a day before heading into the park to prepare, and I desperately needed to be aboard my bike within eye shot of the towers.
I’d long been haunted by the famous spires of Torres del Paine. It seemed as though every National Geographic or piece of adventure periodical I happened across alluded to, or displayed them teasingly. Still heralded as one of the ‘wildest’ places on earth, I always figured on taking a non-conventional means of arrival. So, I found myself at long last witnessing them impossibly erupting from the horizon, a consortium of geological oddities first hand(le-bars).
Here is a taste.
I returned to town, stashed the bike at neighboring hostel kind enough to look after it while I was in the park, then went shopping. The next morning found us teased of sleep armed with rented backpacks full of oatmeal, salami, and soups waiting for the bus, pumped.
Happy to have a familiar face to share this experience with, Bryce and I settled on the “W” circuit through the park. Named appropriately for the shape it takes through the park. I won’t embellish the details of the route, but will rather let the pictures conduct. 5 days, 4 nights.
18,000 Chilean Pesos later (36~ USD) for park entrance fees, and we hopped a catamaran across Lake Pehoe to where we’d be starting our walk. The captain would slalom the boat occasionally to give everyone a clear view of the park.
We dropped our packs, set up camp, and ran up the trail a little further to get a better view of Glacier Grey. We had a magnificent view of the sprawling Ice Fields beyond. It was amazing to think that through an elaborate network, this chunk of ice was connected to the Perito Moreno glacier 40 miles away (as the crow flies).
The next night we timed our arrival at the supposedly closed Italiano Camp for just before nightfall so that the rangers would have to allow us a campsite. Ideally situated at the mouth of Valle de Frances (French Valley), we woke early, leaving our bags with the rangers and scooted up to the Mirador. No one else had yet arrived, and we sat atop the rock quietly watching the sun pull the cover off the valley before us.
The third night I splurged on an over priced box of wine (or two?) and spent the night staring into the unadulterated night sky with some friends we’d made on the trail.
Day four found us steadily climbing towards our final camp near the Mirador for the towers the next morning. There is a posh hotel at the entrance to this particular valley, and so it ended up being quite a busy section of trail for a while as day hikers were out with thier purses and blue jeans.
Our final day we set alarms for 5:30am as we would be hiking the last hour straight up to catch the sunrise on the towers at 7. I kept my head down, trundled up and found the three lovelies.
We packed up the stove and cooking gear and made some coffee and oatmeal right as it started to brighten.
Spent enough time to brand the spectacle in my memory, and reluctantly started to head back down the valley to catch the buses back to town.
We somehow had stunning weather the whole time except for the last day having some 20 minutes of rain, a slap on the wrist all things considered. I ended up walking out of the park with a tender knee, looking back every few minutes reassuring myself of what I’d seen. The contour lines don’t lie, and that sect of land is downright amazing.
Back in Puerto Natales I promptly made for the shower, then ordered half a pizza at the ad-jointly owned pub next door. There ended up being a few fellow hikers just returned from the trip, so we gathered round the table and set our legs to rest at the expense of our mouths. We had met some amazing people on the trail, and so spent the next few days recovering/relaxing with them in the hostels. Christen, one of the girls we met was heading towards Punta Arenas next, and I had thrown out an offer to give her a ride down there on the bike. She rounded up a helmet somehow, and it was settled.
It ended up being terribly cold and mostly rainy, shit way to experience your first ride really, but I hope she enjoyed it some anyway.
I returned to Puerto Natales that evening to a lonely hostel and prepared to leave the comfort I’d known there the next morning. The plan was to bolt up to El Chalten (home of Mt. Fitzroy) meeting up again with Bryce along the way as he had left the day before.
Any sense of pride I’d about riding a motorbike all this way was dashed as we passed a French gal riding her unicycle from Ushuaia to Santiago.
We rolled into El Chlaten and found a place to throw up our tents while we explored the area.
We opted for a couple day hikes from the town in favor of renting more gear for a multi-day hike. The first night we met some American gals who had ridden bicycles down the Carretara Austral from way up North, and ended up hiking both days with them. The national park outside of town is completely free, so we just waltzed in both days. The ladies had found a little gem of a bakery, so we’d stop in on our way back to town each afternoon for fresh empanadas.
We put together a feast with the girls our last night, followed by a few beers at a neighboring bar to celebrate Bryce’s birthday at midnight. Rousing late the next morning we said our adieus, and pulled out of town with the sun in our face and Fitzroy at our backs.
Next on the docket was the Carretara Austral. Ruta 7 through the Chilean lakes district amid mountains and fjords. In order to get there though I’d have to retrace some of my previous tracks on Ruta 40, and roll through Gobernador Gregores for petrol. Part of me expected to get stranded again, but was somewhat disappointed when we pulled right in and filled up. We met an Italian riding a 1995 Harley Fat-boy from Buenos Aires around Argentina and Chile. He’s been picking off continents for some years now, and his bike was littered with stickers from Africa and Australia.
It would seem as though they grated Ruta 40 since my last encounter, because we were able to fly over the gravel most of the time making it actually quite exciting.
We crossed back into Chile South of Lago Buenos Aires and spent a day prepping for the Carretara Austral and enjoying the town of Chile Chico. Bryce adamantly prefers Chile to Argentina, whereas I take an unbiased stance on the matter. It must be said though that Chile has been by far the superior organized, orderly country I’ve come across on this trip. Indicative of a successful economy no doubt. Truthfully though, there is something attractive in the quasi bedlam countries (coming from the US, mind you) of Peru, Venezuela, or Nicaragua…
The past few weeks have been such a roller coaster ride of patiently harbored endorphins, closely followed by the ‘come down’ from such ethereal elevated elation. I have to face that from here on out, every mile I make, feels like another mile towards the truth that is: I can’t do this forever. Brother put it best when he told me “don’t let the ‘Northerly Bearing Blues’ get you down”.
Thanks to those who have taken the time to write or comment, it means loads.
Trip Mileage: 20,845 (33,547 km)
“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard