In Patagonia: Tracing the W

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Torres del Paine, as most of Patagonia, invites you to walk and trek up its magnificent mountains. The most famous trek there is the W trek – which most trekkers/backpackers do over 3-4 days. At the peaks of the W are Glacier Grey, French Valley and Base of the Towers – beautiful wonders – at the base are fantastic lakes. There are refugios and camp grounds at reasonable distances where you can halt for sleep.

mapaPAINEAt Explora, we were located at one end of Lago Pehoe, which means after each leg of the W we could come back to fantastic food in Explora kitchen and sleep in our comfortable hotel beds. Which is how Explora recommends the W. In our case, we couldn’t do the base of the towers as the weather did not clear up – and it wasn’t recommended to climb up to that height soaked in rain, if you are not going to see the towers (figures!)

The first part we did was a trek to French Valley, from where we also climbed to the French plateau. The journey started with getting on the boat and crossing Lake pehoe to get to Paine grande. The waters of the lake are beautiful turquoise, and very inviting, though at the time we visited, accepting the invite would be suicidal.

We were a group of 9 travelers, led by 2 guides – a mix of Australians, Americas, Chileans and Indians. One couple had recently got married, and were relocating to Canada in a short while – this trip was their extended honeymoon as they lazily made their way to Canada via Africa, Chile, Argentina, Peru, US. Every time I saw them, I thought ‘What a remarkable way to start a life together!’. Another young woman was traveling with her two teenage nephews – the perfect young men- both of them – happy in this landscape, attentive towards their aunt, forever smiling.

After landing at Paine Grande, we started to climb – it was a gentle climb mostly – with breathtaking views of the Paine Grande, the towers and the beautiful autumn colours. I have been chasing autumn for a while now, and suddenly here, where I would have been happy just seeing the majestic towers and the peaks, I was rewarded with the brilliance of gold and orange, sometimes a deep red. If I was looking for reasons to believe that I was meant to be there then, I couldn’t have found a better one.

DSC_4461We walked through a myriad of countries that day, all located together in a dot of a place on the edge of the world. First came the Italian camp (because Italian climbers camped here in one of the first scalings of Paine grande), then the French valley (a French family lived here and owned this land once). Climbing from the French valley to the Plateau was painful – tall boulders continued to block my path, and I was breathless with fighting them. And yet, having lunch in direct view of the french glacier was fantastic. The stones broke path just then to a thundering avalanche. There was also a British camp up ahead which we didn’t get to. Or perhaps we did – my memory of the specifics is already fading.

I talked about the silver forest in my earlier post. In the French Valley trek, we walked through this mesmerising forest, which is so sad and fascinating – a memento mori. Even though I felt sad for these forests which were struggling to come up against the grip of death, it was incredibly beautiful to stare down this death.

The trek was 21 km Long and felt a bit enervating for the unfriendly boulders. The other part of the W that we did, was in my mind the most beautiful part of Torres del Paine – but then I didn’t do the base and that will stay with me as regret.

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