Sunrise on Day 2
We awoke on Day 2 to thick clouds covering the Towers and a few drops of rain. But thankfully once the sun rose, the clouds began to clear and the day turned out to be gorgeous. Feeling slightly stiff from the previous day`s efforts we dismantled our campsite and prepared to do our first deviation from the traditional “W”.
The advice we were given by Rodrigo`s cousin was to avoid the part of the route that links the Torres to the western side of the mountains. Thus we took a bus transfer to Lago Pehoe where we caught a catamaran to Paine Grande. In my opinion it was money well spent as it saved our poor bodies quite a few kilometers of agony and it gave us a chance to appreciate the amazing scenery from the lake, which was the brightest turquoise I have ever seen.
On the catamaran going from Pudeto to Paine Grande – Just a little windy
My first view of the famous Cuernos (Horns). A little cloudy, but still spectacular
At this point it is important to mention a very tragic event that occurred at the end of December last year. Thanks to the idiotic, thoughtless actions of a tourist, 20 000 hectares of native forest (thousands of years old) went up in smoke. The fire spread rapidly thanks to 120km/hr winds and an underprepared, and most importantly, under-resourced emergency response.
It was on Day 2 that we came to understand the full extent of the damage. Not only were thousands of hectares of pristine nature destroyed, but also a lot of the park infrastructure. It will probably only take a year or so to rebuild the infrastructure, but the forests will never be the same again and the damage is done for at least 80 years.
I have to admit that the 15kms we did from Paine Grande to Los Guardias (alongside Glaciar Grey) were tough. The main reason being the constant assault by the wind – at least 80km/hr and even stronger in small gusts. I know I seem to go on and on and on about the wind in Patagonia, but it is truly phenomenal and has to be experienced to be believed.
Just a little bit windy…
The second reason was that we had our full backpacks with us and thus full weight. The heaviness was not that bad as we learnt our lesson from Yerba Loca a few weeks before. But with the wind, our backpacks acted as sails and I felt like a ship on the Southern Ocean being blown around depending on the direction of the wind. At one point I was trying to determine which was worse – a headwind, tailwind or sidewind…
Headwind – every step is an effort and you feel like you are fighting your way through the gusts. The walking is tough, but you still have some control over your movements.
Tailwind – you have no control over your movements and many times I actually took steps involuntarily thanks to the wind behind me. This is not exactly an ideal situation when you are on a narrow mountain path and below you is a cliff leading straight into Lago Grey.
Sidewind – imagine yourself totally and utterly drunk and swerving all over the place…this is basically what the side wind does to you and is just as dangerous since your control at times can be zero.
Conclusion – all three are difficult and we experienced them all…
The third reason why the day was so difficult was of course the fire. Even two months later the smell of burnt trees etc was overwhelming. The black, charred trees and the bare brown soil were so depressing and sucked away all my energy.
Hiking through the first valley as we headed up towards Lago Grey. Barren and depressing thanks to the fire!
BUT, besides wind, fire, backpack weight or any other challenge we faced that day, the journey was incredibly beautiful. We were blessed with good weather and the storm clouds held off until we were safely tucked in our tent that night. My first view of Lago Grey, with icebergs, was an amazing reward after struggling up the valley against the wind.
But the real treat was the first view of Glaciar Grey – a 28km long glacier which is part of the Southern Patagonian Iceshelf.
I have now had the immense privilege of seeing a few glaciers in South America, including two of the largest (Glaciar Grey and Glaciar Perito Moreno in Argentina) and I can honestly say that every time I see one, it is a magical experience.
From a distance the glacier looked rather like it`s name suggests.
But as you get closer, the grey changes to bright white, and then even closer you start to see the iridescent blues and the black striations of material trapped in the ice.
After these first amazing views of the glacier, we had many steep up and downs through thick, beautiful forest (thankfully we had passed the point where the fire started). At one point we had a break and after consulting the map we thought we had about another hour to go. Somehow we found the energy to get up and continue and within ten minutes we found ourselves at the campsite. Obviously our map reading skills needed some work!!!
The Los Guardias campsite is one of the free, CONAF sites and thus is rather basic, but all we needed was a spot to pitch the tent and lay our weary bodies. The highlight of reaching the campsite, was seeing the glacier really close…
Exhausted, but happy.
Whilst cooking our staple dinner of pasta and soy, Rodrigo and I chatted to some of the other hikers, the majority of whom were from Switzerland or Germany. Now, I don`t think I am that unfit, although I am definitely not a mountaineer or anything…but whilst cooking, you could see that we were exhausted. We had been so strict with ourselves on what food we bought with us, always thinking about weight and so our dinner looked rather measily in comparison to some others. I have no idea how they managed to carry it all, but we saw some French people drinking beer, two Swedish girls cooking with vegetables, tinned tomatoes etc and another German guy drinking Captain Morgan from a large bottle. Do you have any idea how much glass bottles, beers or tins weigh??? Put them in a backpack, walk 15km and you will quickly find out. I have to admit I was gobsmacked that they were all carrying so much weight and yet had more energy and enthusiasm then we did. I will use the excuse that obviously Europeans are more used to mountains than I am…
By 9:30pm were were tucked up in our sleeping bags listening to the wind howling through the forest and the rain falling softly on the tent.
A tough, but incredible day!!!
Day 2 Statistics:
Time: 6 hours
Change in altitude: Nothing really – although there were steep up and downs, we were following the lake and side of the mountains, so pretty much at the same altitude
Wind: at least 80km/hr