Drink Wild Air

Puerto Natales & Torres del Paine

Trying to leave Ushuaia to head to Puerto Natales proved to be a bit of a mission. Paul and I were both trying to head in the same direction but were told that we would have to wait 5 days for a bus to Punta Arenas where it’s easy to get to Puerto Natales. Alternatively we could get the bus the next day to Rio Grande (a tiny town 4hrs from Ushuaia) and hope we could get a bus from there. We didn’t like either of these options so decided to try to find a cheap flight to El Calafate (and then get the bus back south to Puerto Natales), or we hire a car and drive it. Lucky we were able to find a cheapish flight to El Calafate and then got the bus the next morning. We were also lucky that Ellen had flown ahead of us and was able to arrange our bus tickets as well.

The bus ride itself was uneventful as was the border crossing however it was time consuming as we weren’t the first bus in line. We were told the bus should take 5 hours which would get us in with enough time to make the 3pm briefing of Torres del Paine and the W Trek at Basecamp. Due to the hold up at the border we were late but Ellen’s bus was in front of ours so she made it from the beginning. The briefing was very detailed with lots of good tips. I would recommend anyone doing trekking in Torres del Paine to attend the briefing first.

After the briefing we set about organising the hiring of equipment, food shopping etc. Ellen, Paul and another of Paul’s friends were doing the W Trek together but I was only going to do half of it. I was asked by a few people why I wasn’t doing the W trek at Torres del Paine. Quite a few people looked at me like I would come all this way and not do it when it is “the” thing to do here. My answer very simple. I really enjoy camping. I quite like hiking. I detest the thought of having to carry all my camping gear whilst hiking. Since this is MY trip, I figure I should do what I enjoy and not what others say I should do – this is probably also a bit of my stubbornness coming out.

Lago Pehoe

Lago Pehoe

The next morning we set off early to get the bus to the Parque which takes about 2 hours. Once we arrived at the Parque we paid the entrance fee and checked in. It is at this point people split into 2 groups depending on which way they are going to do the hike (east to west, or west to east). As we were starting in the East we jumped back on the bus for another half an hour to get to Lago Pehoe where we then got the catamaran to Refugio Grande on the other side. It was at this point where I said goodbye to Paul and Ellen as I was staying at the Refugio campground.

Lago Pehoe and Refugio Grande

Lago Pehoe and Refugio Grande

I thought the campground was quite beautiful but was very open and exposed. I found what I thought was a piece of not overcrowded, slightly higher flat ground because it’s Patagonia, odds are it’s going to rain. In hindsight (what a wonderful thing that is), I should have tucked my tent into a quite crowded but more protected area. I have never experienced wind before like it is in Patagonia. I’m used to not even needing to peg my tent down as my sleeping bag creates enough weight to anchor it, not having a metal tent pole snap from the constant pressure of the winds.

The day I arrived the winds actually were not that bad. After setting up camp and having some lunch, I walked the few hours up to Campiemento Italino and back. Each way took about 3 hours along Lago Pehoe. The views are beautiful and it amazes me how fast the landscape changes and how dramatic the changes are. One minute you are walking through an area of no trees just all grasses, the next you are in a lush forested area then you are in a deadwood forest.

That night the winds picked up at 2am. The campground came to life then as a lot of people got up to check on their tents. I really didn’t get much sleep after this point – just laid there listening to the howling winds and flapping tents.

Glaciar Gray

Glaciar Gray

The next morning although I really didn’t feel like it, I got up and hiked up to Glacier Grey. While the hike the day before was relatively flat, this one had a few steep ups and downs, but was also very scenic – I just wasn’t enthused for it. I was surprised by the size of Glacier Grey, it was bigger than I expected but I definitely saw prettier ones in Antarctica. That probably sounds incredibly ungrateful but when you have seen some of the best in the world, you really can’t compare.

The walk wasn’t difficult but it was made more so by trying to walk into 80km/hr winds. It was like doing extended resistance training. Once I passed one ridge I was out of the way of the wind which made the hike much more pleasant. The scenery was as changeable as the previous day but this had some more streams where you could fill your water bottle. It wasn’t until I spotted an owl in the tree on the way back that I realised that there is a real lack of wildlife. But then again given there is so many people around it’s really not surprising.

When I was within about half an hour from camp it started to pour rain! Luckily it only lasted 15 minutes. When I got back to camp I discovered that one of the metal tent poles had snapped. The campground gave me a piece of metal tubing to place over the pole which I duct tapped into place. The whole saga was a lesson in humanity as there was plenty of people who stood around and watched but I had to ask someone to help me for a few minutes to hold the tent.

Puerto Natales

Puerto Natales

I had 2 days after the hike when I got back to Puerto Natales before I met up with Paul and Ellen again. During this time I organised some stuff for the next couple of weeks, caught up on some sleep, wandered the port and not much else. The evening that Paul and Ellen got back we went to Basecamp for pizza and to watch the Super Bowl. The game was terrible but the atmosphere was great and we had a lot of fun. Paul and I weren’t leaving for El Calafate¬†until 2pm the next day but we weren’t overly capable of much that morning!

See full gallery here.

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