Torres del Paine National Park encompasses mountains, glaciers, lakes, and rivers located in the Magallanes and Chilean Antarctica region of southern Chile. The park is named after the three iconic granite spires that rise out of the heart of the Paine Massif. Few places on Earth tell their geological story more clearly than the bare, vertical cliffs of these mountains, with a layer of pale gray granite sandwiched between dark rocks of sedimentary stratum. Typically glaciers grind away any sedimentary rocks leaving only the granite, but in this case, there is still a clear layer of sedimentary rock at the top. Please click on the link below for a good description of the geological forces that created the Paine Massif.
The most famous hiking trails in the park, the W Trek and Paine Circuit, draw more than 250,000 visitors a year from Chile and abroad. Due to time constraints, we chose to hike the Short W Trek which is a 5-day version of the typical 7-day trek.
The route for our W Trek.
Day 3: Grey Trail (9 miles)
After a moderately peaceful night sleep in Refugio Paine Grande with 5 other people, we ate breakfast and started our hike. Today we hiked along the shore of Lago Pehoe to the northern side of Lago Grey. The first part of the hike was along a dry creek bed and then we went into some charred and burnt forest. From this point it was almost entirely uphill, although never very steep. After less than 1 mile Lago Grey came into view.
After the first lookout, the hike became a steady downhill. The lake shore got closer and the mountains rose higher on the opposite side of the trail.
After slightly less than 6 miles, our first clear and unobstructed view of Grey Glacier appeared. It was typical Patagonian weather - cool, windy, and cloudy, but the clouds lifted and we began to see today's destination.
The final push to reach the shore line of Lago Grey was easy. We enjoyed a good lunch before boarding the catamaran for a cruise around the lake.
The boat ride which departed from Refugio Grey lasted about 2.5 hours and brought us incredibly close to each tongue of the the massive glacier face.
Why does the ice look so blue? Blue ice is formed from the compression of pure snow, which ultimately develops into glacial ice over hundreds of years of extreme pressure. This process eliminates the air originally caught in the ice when the snow fell, leaving very little reflective surface for the light from the sun. So, when sunlight hits an glacier or iceberg, the light is absorbed, and what little light is refracted appears blue to the eye.
For those fanatics who refuse to accept climate change, I have linked to a story in Newsweek about a giant iceberg that detached from Grey Glacier in November 2017. Click here to be directed to the website.
After disembarking on the southern shores of Lago Grey, we hiked to Hosteria Grey where a van was waiting to drive us back to EcoCamp. On the ride back we stopped at Mirador Pehoe for breathtaking views of Los Cuernos del Paine.
Time for a 'team' picture.
Day 4: Torres del Paine (planned 13 miles)
Let's get this painful statement out at the start of this post, 'We did not complete the hike to Torres del Paine towers.'
As a rule of thumb, weather in Patagonia can be unpredictable, and the winds are infamous for their strength. For the first two hiking days the weather had cooperated and the views were magnificent. However, half way through the hike to Torres del Paine, our guide recommended to the group that we return to EcoCamp due to heavy rains and possible winds. He asked us to vote and with the exception of Dave, me, and one other person the group voted 7-3 in favor of stopping the hike. Words can not describe the disappointment. The worst part was that most other groups who were hiking that day continued to the towers .... we were one of the only groups to quit!
ITINERARY MODIFICATIONS PER CASCADA EXPEDICIONES AGREEMENT
The weather in Patagonia can be difficult to deal with at times. We reserve the right to change the order of the days in any itinerary at the discretion of the trip guide and based on operational considerations. The trip guide can modify, change or eliminate part of the itinerary based on safety/weather considerations.
The hike began at the EcoCamp site and then ascended to Ascencio Valley on the Tower's eastern face. Mountain ridges, beech forests, and small rivers lined the hike toward the valley.
The rain started to become more than an annoyance around this time. The wind picked up and the clouds were darker. Finally the guide asked for a vote and the decision was made to turn back. What a long miserable hike back to camp for Dave and me. A group of hikers actually passed us and continued on as we were deciding. We should have just gone with that group (as one women in our group defected).
On a positive note, close to camp we spotted a Southern Crested Caracara.
The second largest species of falcon in the world (average 20 to 26 inches long, 2 to 3.5 pounds, with a 47 to 52 inch wingspan), this brilliant bird of prey is fairly common in Torres del Paine National Park. They’re mostly dark brown, with yellow-orange legs and bill, white throat and nape, and white/brown-barred chest, mantle and tail.
Day 5: Depart EcoCamp
Where were these blue skies yesterday! A disappointing Day 4 but hard to stay mad when you are greeted by these surrounding in the morning.
I actually think the next picture looks fake...more like a painting. I promise it was not altered. If you travel to Patagonia and you'll see I am telling the truth.