The wind was wild lastnight, I’ve never experienced wind quite like it. The sound was deafening and I could hear it swirling like a tornado high above us. I’d brace myself for impact but it seemed to take forever for the gusts to reach us and after the howling there would be a few seconds of silence before the wind slammed into our tent, the material vacuum-packing itself around our bodies….
* Los Cuernos camp to Paine Grande camp 13km
* Stop at Italiano camp to hike up Frances Valley 7km return
* Total 20km
….It went on like this all night, tormenting us while we put a lot of hope in our tent that it wouldn’t give up. Because we were camping on a wooden platform, similar to a wooden pallet, the wind would gush under our tent with such force that it felt like I was being lifted off the floor.
With that said I still felt surprisingly cozy in my sleeping bag (I usually find them very restricting but this one was perfect). It was that feeling you get on a Sunday morning when it’s awful weather outside and you spend hours snoozing, never wanting to get out of bed. But those hours weren’t between 9am and 11am they were from 2am until 7am. We looked like absolute shit when we got up. I’d literally formed wrinkles overnight and my face sagged like icing dripping down a cake.
As if the wind wasn’t enough, it had began to rain and we were dreading packing away the tent in these conditions. We had some breakfast and luckily the weather seemed to ease and a rainbow even formed beside Los Cuernos. We managed to get our tent down and pack our bags in the cooking shelter. Everyday we ate more of our supplies yet we seemed to struggle for space in our backpacks more and more. We had to prepare our bags for the rain, putting our clothes in black bags and covering our backpacks in our flimsy rain covers which needed to be tied in place so they didn’t blow away.
I normally hate hiking in the rain, but this time I didn’t mind too much, maybe because we had no choice – but I was happy we had already experienced two sunny days so the rest of the trip could be rough and I’d still be happy. But yeah, the rain was a bit of a bitch. We hiked in it for two hours until we reached the Italiano ranger station where we could leave our backpacks. From there we did a day hike up the Frances Valley. The weather was actually perking up as we made the steady climb uphill. Most people try to reach the Britanica viewpoint but it would make our day too long, at about 23km it was just a bit too much to attempt so we agreed to stop at one of the first viewpoints. We ended up hiking really quickly, and managed to overshoot one viewpoint so we thought, sod it let’s continue to another one which was marked on my app. We should of stopped and turned back, it wasn’t even a good viewpoint, we unnecessarily wore ourselves out and then it started to snow! We speed walked all the way back while mumbling how stupid it was to continue…we ended up getting just two kilometres from the final Britanica viewpoint. The way back seemed to take so much longer, but we stopped to admire the view while the clouds lifted. We could see the whole side-view of Los Cuernos, along with the rear of the towers which we’d hiked to on our first two days. We also got much closer to Glacier Frances and could see the blueness of the glaciers clinging onto the mountain-side.
It was getting late by the time we got back to Italiano and we still had 8km to hike to our campsite. Craig was really suffering as his shoulders were in agony from his bag straps and I had serious bruises on my lower back from my backpack rubbing against it. I even considered sticking sanitary towels on my back to ease the pain. The sun was now shining on us though so we eventually got some amazing views of Los Cuernos behind us. The wind however remained strong as we passed through an area that was seriously affected by the wildfire a few years back. It was a battle at times to walk against the wind and I even stood still to take a video and I got pushed right back like a ghost had knocked me back. But I also found the wind quite exciting, I didn’t really want perfect weather the entire trip, I wanted to also experience Patagonia’s wild side and we sure ticked that box today. The wind howled across the blue lakes, throwing water into the air.
We didn’t arrive at Paine Grande until 6pm, by which point our legs were barely functioning anymore. We were wiped out, but of course the day wasn’t over, we had to check in and put our tent up. The refugio wasn’t very nice, it was just like a big modern hotel and had access for people not hiking as they could catch the catamaran directly to the hotel.
Luckily the camping area had fences built around each site to protect tents from the prevailing wind. Everyone seemed to be at the back but there were some idyllic spots with views across Los Cuernos which were slightly less protected from the wind but it was worth it for the insane view from our front door. We pitched our tent up and headed straight for a hot shower which helped ease our aching bodies.
The kitchen shelter was a massive building, I can’t imagine how busy this place gets in peak season! We had our first disappointing dinner (I know some of you might think our first meal of packet mash potato and gravy sounds disappointing but it sure tasted great after a long day hiking). Tonight we had a boil in the bag biriyani rice which we put into wraps with cheese. It had such a strong flavour and then I found some rogue pieces of chicken hiding amongst the rice. We had no backup meals though so we shoved it down our gullets. This kitchen had some disgusting scourer and no washing up liquid so I just used my hand and some ice cold water – a technique which pretty much freezes your food onto your utensils. But the previous guy that washed up had a meat feast and I didn’t want to contaminate my equipment with his mince meat.
The sun went down and turned the clouds a candy pink colour across the lake and above the Los Cuernos peaks and then it was time for bed. There wasn’t a fire in the kitchen and we just didn’t really like the refugio at all so we were wrapped up in our sleeping bags by 9:30pm.
* Paine Grande camp to Grey camp 11km
* Day hike to Grey Glacier Viewpoint and Lago Grey 9km return
* Total 20km
We both actually slept well lastnight. By ‘well’ I mean I still woke up every thirty minutes to change which hip I was sleeping on by I got some rest at least. We had an 11km hike with our backpacks to Grey Camp which we thought would be an easy route but there was a hill between us. This meant we had a steep uphill section in both directions, dammit. But we made quick progress and soon had a view down to Lago Grey. There were icebergs floating in the opaque lake, some as blue as the sky. We could see the giant glacier already which wrapped itself around a mound on the lakes edge. After four tough hours we made it to Grey camp where we pitched our tent on a nice grassy patch. A Huemul which is a type of deer that live in the area came into the campground. I didn’t take a photo as it was ‘just a deer’ to me, nothings going to beat the mountain lion we witnessed – but it turns out this type of deer is an endangered species, probably should of taken a photo…
An Australian guy came over to ask for some help with his tent and I don’t know what came over us but we both replied in the most exaggerated ozzy accents. His tent was just a little one person thing that looked more like a coffin and he’d jabbed his poles into the lawn so we helped him out…mainly as a way of apologising for our impromptu impression of him. With our tent ready we grabbed our day bag and set off to the Grey Glacier viewpoint. Seeing as we were doing the W trek the opposite direction to most people we were constantly told how great grey glacier was and that we must go to the second swing-bridge. Then people kept saying “when you get to the second swing-bridge, walk a little further for the best view”. So of course we took everyone’s advice and made our way across the second swing-bridge. It stretched across quite an unexpected canyon with views of the glacier to our left. The whole bridge wobbled when we stepped on it and even on level ground afterwards my legs felt like jelly.
The rumours were true – the view just beyond the second swing-bridge was outstanding. We were standing right above the glacier and had a birds-eye view of the cracks and crumpling of this epic river of ice. There were deep blue crevasses cut through the ice and the face had cave style holes where slabs had carved away. We enjoyed a flask of peppermint tea and some snickers while enjoying the view and then we headed back down. Before we got back to camp we decided to push ourselves just a couple more kilometres to another viewpoint across the lake. We almost didn’t come here as we were exhausted but I’m so glad we did as there was a bay filled with icebergs that had all been pushed in from the wind. The weather was calm now so all of the ‘bergs were reflected in the water. Steep mountains rose all around and kayakers paddled beneath the mighty icebergs, it was pretty damn impressive.
By the time we got back to camp it was getting dark, we quickly showered and headed to the tiny cooking hut for dinner. A lovely Italian couple we met a couple weeks before happened to be there so we had a great catch up with them. The guy was a right character, they live in London and he’s really embraced a south east London twang which just made all of his stories so entertaining and humorous. He was joking about his girlfriend not carrying as much as him “I carry the tent, she carries the lettuce” and we all roared with laughter. They did genuinely pack a giant bag of lettuce.
Our final supper was delicious (such a relief). Instead of biriyani rice in wraps we had taco rice which was so much tastier and Craig melted the last of our cheese into it so it turned into this risotto magic. It was hard to get to bed as we were enjoying chatting so much but we had an early start and it was our latest night yet at 10:30pm! We only had one tent near us when we pitched up and suddenly we arrived to find ourselves encircled by neighbours. One person pitched just a meter away from us and guess what – he was a snorer. I was furious. What sort of snorer puts themselves that close to other people, but it gets better – there was a competing snorer just two tents away. I sleep with earplugs regardless but the snores penetrated into my ear drums and weirdly sounded like people talking to each other all night.
* Grey camp to Paine Grande 11km
* Catamaran from Paine Grande to Pudeto and a bus to Puerto Natales
* Total 11km
I guess I miscalculated our final day but we made it work. We had to walk the 11km from Grey to Paine Grande to catch the 11:30am catamaran. But the hike would take about 4 hours, therefore we had to wake up at 6am, quickly pack away the tent and be on our way by 6:45am. It was still dark and we were the only people awake, the snorers nearby were still enjoying their deep sleep – motherfuckers. On the way we passed a fluffy owl sat on a branch beside the trail but it was too dark to attempt a photo.
We took a few breaks and made it back to Paine Grande by 10:45am, just enough time to have some porridge and get on the boat. We could have had a much slower day and caught the later afternoon catamaran but we wouldn’t of arrived back in Puerto Natales until about 10pm which was too late for us.
The boat didn’t exactly look like a catamaran to me and it cost a whopping $25 for the thirty minute journey! We cruised over the brilliant blue lake and got a great view across Los Cuernos. Once we docked we got straight onto a bus and sunk into the seats, memories of the past days flashing through our minds until we fell to sleep from exhaustion.
We hiked a total of 85km and it was our first ever backcountry camping trip so quite a challenge for us and I feel very proud that we managed it and actually enjoyed it. Although we probably wouldn’t do it again…day hikes are just more our thing!