Day 4: Torres del Paine
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As noted previously, they get about eight hours of daylight in these parts during early July, so today we woke up well before sunrise to embark on our Torres del Paine base towers hike (given the hike itself was going to be ~8.5 hours). We ate a quick breakfast, grabbed our packs and headed to the lobby to gather with our trusty hiking friends Tara and Dan, as well our guide Roberto (who also led our horseback trip). We loaded the van and drove an hour northeast to the trailhead.
The hike begins at the Cerro Paine Ranch, which is closed for the season, but they allow Explora to use their parking lot and walk through their property. In the winter, the trail is closed to the public, and only those with guides are allowed through. Because the Torres (towers) are an iconic and popular destination, the trail during the summer can be incredibly crowded. There are two suspension bridges at the very beginning of the hike where only two people are allowed across at a time. Roberto said in the summer, he’s had to wait 30 minutes to cross. Uh, we did not.
Heading toward higher elevations, the trail was soon covered in snow (some fresh from yesterday, we suspect). We donned our YakTrax and continued on our way. We eventually saw one other group, but no one else. After our initial ascent, the journey continued down into a forest region with trees covered in fresh snow.
After traversing the forested winter wonderland, we headed back up to the last, and hardest part of the hike, the moraines. The towers were carved by a glacier, which deposited rocks as it retreated. Now these snow-covered boulders were all that lay between us and our view of the towers.
When we finally reached the base of the Torres del Paine, we took a break for lunch and enjoyed the view. The towers are creatively named the North Tower, the Central Tower, and the South Tower. Fun fact… Although the typical view from the lookout makes the South Tower looks the smallest, it is actually the largest.
After a tasty canister lunch and watching misty clouds begin to form and swirl above the lake, we dusted the snow from our pants and began the trek back. An epic battle between sunshine and snow clouds followed us all the way down back to the forest and windy pass.
On our way back, we fortuitously ended up with a semi-clear view of the sun just minutes before the solar eclipse (amazing considering the weather and being in a valley and all). North of Santiago, viewers would see a total solar eclipse, but in Patagonia, Roberto’s app informed us that 46 percent totality could be seen. Can’t say we saw anything near that percentage, but with the use of some Chile-themed eclipse glasses, we definitely saw a small amount of coverage before the snow clouds returned. It was cool and an unexpected bonus!
When we finally made it back to the van “€ after 8 hours, 12 miles, and 3,783 feet in elevation “€ we were treated to a cheese and fruit plate, along with cooler of Chilean beer. We drove the hour back to the hotel, and signed up for tomorrow’s exploration. Since the weather is forecasted to be nice again, we are going for another full day hike, though it won’t be quite as intense.
We made it to the educational talk tonight about glaciers. A good lecture pairs nicely with the drink of the day, the “Patagonia Eclipse.” At dinner, we ventured into authentic Patagonian food and tried the Guanaco. Turns out the pumas are right… they are pretty tasty! We also had a desert very similar to a Pot du Chocolate, but with raspberries in the center. Upon recommendation from Chef Claus, we also tried a popular Chilean dessert called cremoso de huesillo (basically ice cream made from sun-dried, sugar-intused, and refrozen peaches). We are pretty sure they have a pacojet back in the kitchen. I think these Chileans are on to something.