Torres del Paine – I – The Backside

Intro | Part I | Part II | Part III

Day 1 – Campamento Serón

Map: (link) | Distance: 13 km | Time: 4.5 hours

Saturday morning was an early one. We had a 7 am bus ride to the park ahead of us, which meant getting up at dark o’clock and double checking our backpacks before heading out. Fortunately our hostel, the Erratic Rock, provides a warm breakfast every morning so we made our way to the bus full of homemade bread, oatmeal, and omelettes, if a little sleepy.

The pre-dawn bus ride to the park let us see some brilliant scenes as sunrise played out on distant mountains, and by the time we were dropped off at the trailhead we were pretty excited. A final taste of normal (a muffin) in the gift shop and we were off!

Starting out, our first ‘climb’

The first day of hiking was a nice ease into the routine. Our bags doesn’t hurt (yet), the hills were gradual, and the weather was fantastic. The shuttle-bus contingent quickly split up as every group found their pace, and soon enough the three of us were casually strolling through nature and sunny skies. The path to Campamento Serón is mostly hilly grassland on the Eastern periphery of the mountains, following a winding river North for much of the afternoon. It was funny at times to think we had just traveled two days  when the hike felt so similar to Ontario’s Bruce Trail. But every far-off mountain peak was a quick reminder otherwise, and we spent much of the afternoon taking breaks and doing our best Owen Wilson impressions (wow!).

Our first night in camp was pleasant, if a little windy. As it was the first time setting up our new tents, we were happy to find spacious, level spots sheltered from the worst of the elements. We ate our first camp meals and chatted a little with our new “O Circuit” family of campers before settling in for the night with plans for an early rise.

Day 2 – Refugio Dickson

Map (link) | Distance: 18 km | Time: 7 hours

Our first morning on the trail was a learning experience. Despite well meaning plans to rise early and head out after a quick bite, we didn’t actually start hiking until almost 10 am. Repacking your bag (from inside the tent) and disassembling a tent took longer than anticipated. We got much better on subsequent days.

Day two selfie

The trek to Dickson was quite similar to the previous day’s. We spent the morning following the same winding river and the weather remained promising with blue skies and puffy clouds stretching to the horizon. The biggest difference in the trail began as we turned West into the valley. The map noted that the trail would feature “Heavy Winds” at this point, and we were curious to find out what that meant. For me, it finally illustrated the expression “screaming winds” as a constant gale force wind rang in your ears and threatened to bowl you over for 2 km before we could descend into forest.

The rest of the day was much tamer. We wandered the valley’s hillsides through forest and long grass. At times I was reminded of summers spent golfing back home, searching for my ball in the wild – unkempt – long grass, just with stubbier trees and prettier horizons. I even grew frustrated throughout the day as I sweated and chafed (I had been wearing my backpack improperly), a true callback to my golfing years!

After a final climb we descended into Refugio Dickson, beautifully perched on the shores of a glacial lake (our first glacier sighting!). We set our tents up nestled within the trees (quickly learning to avoid the wind) and explored the campgrounds: rocky beaches on the lake, horses roaming freely, and communal buildings including a small store, showers, and lodge/cafeteria. This was the first night that our “O Circuit” family got to know each other, many of us stayed up chatting in the lodge until it was too dark to find our tent.

Day 3 – Campamento Los Perros

Map (link) | Distance: 11.8 km | Time: 6 hours

Our second morning on the trail started off a bit smoother: our tents got packed smoothly and breakfast was quick. We were in the first half of campers to leave. So we had high hopes for the day, even if it looked like the weather was turning.

You could feel the rain waiting to start…

Admittedly, I didn’t have large expectations for Day Three’s hike. On the map it looked like a logistical shuffle that would require covering some distance and elevation, setting up hikers for the next day’s mountain climb at the John Gardner Pass. Fortunately I was wrong. It wasn’t an easy day; it featured a steady climb through mountain forests for the first half of the day, followed by a rocky trail testing your ankles in a windy valley. But the trek had some of the best views on the trail. The first half of the day climbed high, giving us great views looking back at Dickson Glacier (and Argentina), while the second half featured steady progress towards Los Perros Glacier and it’s beautiful green lake.

Rain threatened for most of the day, but held off long enough for us to reach camp and pitch our tents. We were luckily gathered in the communal cooking room (a make shift building with three shared tables) when the rain finally hit. In the span of an hour we witnessed a downpour, hail, and snow, before it settled into a steady rain for the night. A few of our fellow campers were rained out, so we all spent some time helping move tents or dig moats to ensure everyone was safe before tucking in for a fitfull sleep (I thought every loud gust of wind would blow me away to Oz). Somehow this was one of my favourite nights, and we all awoke early the next morning ready to climb a mountain!

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