On an epic four month voyage around South America in 2005, one of the most awesome things had been a week-long trek in Torres del Paine. Until now that had been my one and only trip to Patagonia; after 18 months of living on the same continent as this fabled wilderness it was time to put that right.
Last time I'd hiked from the park administration to Lago Pehoé. It was a long trudge, carrying the full weight of a week's provisions, and the views weren't that spectacular. So this time, with a friend from London who was in Chile, I took a different approach and got a boat across the lake. We set off in heavy drizzle, and all of the outrageous peaks were hidden in thick cloud. I was wondering if we were in for a miserable few days in the park. But then suddenly the clouds began to part, and the Cuernos del Paine began to appear.
We got straight out onto the trails. The W is the most popular trail in the park but we only had a few days, just enough time for a V only. We hiked out to Lago Grey and the Grey Glacier.
It was windy. It was unbelievably windy. We were lucky that most of the trail was quite sheltered, but on the open bits we could easily stand at 45 degree angles and not fall over. But the views over the lake were worth getting out onto the open bits for. I was wondering why on earth I hadn't been back here since 2005.
We hiked back to Pehoé the next morning, and headed on to Campamento Italiano. The wind had dropped, the skies had cleared and we had two stunning days of sunshine and autumn colours. We hiked up the Valle Frances and watched avalanches roaring down the slopes of Paine Grande.
From the campsite, sometimes, you could hear the roar of the avalanches. They normally lasted 10 or 20 seconds On our first night there, we heard a roar but this was something different. It got louder and louder, much louder than the noisy river that we were camped by, and it just kept on going. I knew that there was no chance of any avalanche reaching the campsite. But did I really know that? As the roar kept on going, and getting louder and louder, I began to wonder. It was dark and there was no point getting up to see what was going on. So we sat in the tent, listened, and waited. Finally the roar died away.
The schedule for today was tight. We had to get to Pehoé in time for a ferry to be in time for a bus to be in time for another bus to be in time for our flight back to Santiago. Any missed step would be disastrous. So we packed up and left Campamento Italiano before dawn and headed off down the trail. It was a beautiful morning, clear and calm, and bitterly cold.
We made it back to Pehoé in plenty of time for the boat back. And all the other steps worked out as well, until we got to the airport to find that our 11pm flight was delayed by four hours. After four days of hiking we were not in the mood for this. There was another flight leaving at 1.30am, but LAN were very reluctant to let us onto it, so it looked like we would be getting home at about 8am. As I argued with the LAN people, ex-president Michelle Bachelet walked by. She was on the 1.30am flight, and eventually LAN decided that we could be, too. We trudged wearily onto the plane, brushed off some Torres del Paine twigs and dirt, collapsed into our seats and headed out of Patagonia.