Day 7: Torres del Paine

July 5, 2019

Our last full day in Patagonia was pretty great. We completed our usual morning routine of eating breakfast, strapping on our our hiking gear, and meeting in the lobby for the mission briefing. Roberto was our guide again, and we were joined by just one other guest from the hotel – a friendly gentleman by the name of Ed, the owner of the travel company that organized the trip with the Oxford and Cambridge folks.

Roberto explains our route

We drove about 10 minutes south of the hotel to the starting point for the full-day Alto de Toro hike and the Lake Toro lookout. The route starts with a rise in elevation up the ridge, through a pass, and flattens out into highland terrain. The wind was strong but the sun was shining and the temperatures felt slightly warmer than the last few days.

Heading up the ridge


Wind howls over the landscape…


Creating mesmerizing patterns on the semi-frozen lakes

Other than burned trees and hearty bushes, the other main plant that thrives here is grass. First, gauchos figured out the native grass was delicious sheep food. Then they realized the grass is so tough it wears away sheep’s teeth after three years (at which point they go from wool-producing to leather and mutton). Roberto explained the unwritten social agreement that, during Christmas time or other big holidays, local Chilean families with less means can “steal” a sheep for their Christmas dinner, so long as they leave the hide behind for the gauchos.

As the wind whipped through the lakes and trees, the hike continued with a few ups and downs and some tricky stream crossings. Unlike the last two days, we actually passed another group of hikers (gasp!), who also reported not seeing any pumas. (To be honest, we don’t really care if we see one, the mountain views work just fine for us.)

Surviving a treacherous stream crossing


Viewing the massif


Slightly zoomed

We eventually made our way to a tree-covered section of the forest for refuge from the wind, and stopped for lunch — featuring the delicious soup, sandwiches, coffee, and dessert (you know, everyday hiking food).

Picnic lunch

Turing back to the west, we headed toward Mirador del Lago Toro. This area is home to numerous condor nests, and we saw a few along the way. We hiked up the lookout which provided a panoramic view of Lago Torro, and a 360-degree view of the Torres del Paine National Park. The only catch was the crazy wind which battered the exposed peak and made it hard to stand! Apparently, strong winds are less common in the winter, but typical (and stronger) in the summer. Score another point for visiting in the winter.

Sunny and snowy trail


Condor spotting


Altocumulus lenticularis (aka. UFO clouds)


Blown away


Rio Paine empties to Lago Toro with Andes in the distance

The remainder of the hike was a very steep decline down the ridge to the van. We arrived back at the hotel with plenty of daylight remaining, and time for another visit to the spa (where we totally didn’t lose a plastic champagne glass to the wind). This time, we both decided to jump in the freezing lake. The Cambridge alums watching from their jacuzzi thought we were nuts but cheered us on.

Downhill skiing on rocks


One more afternoon view from the room

As mentioned yesterday, the head of the astrophysics department at Oxford University, Robert Davies, presented his talk, “From galaxies to life” to the guides, the guests, and any of his fellow travelers who wanted to hear the talk for a second time. We thoroughly enjoyed the talk and speaking with the other attendees.

Sweet bonus lecture


Jo and Oxford mathematician Les (in Darwin’s tree of life t-shirt) enjoy lectures their own ways

After dinner, we relaxed by the fireplace before heading to sleep. We leave early tomorrow morning for our four-hour drive back to the Punta Arenas airport and our flight to Santiago. It’s hard to imagine we could have had better luck at Torres del Paine National Park than our past week. We saw everything we wanted to see, we had great weather, and we were dubbed “real Patagonians” by Roberto for jumping in the river. We will definitely miss it.

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