events

Patagonia: Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

7 January 2011: Argentina to Chile

Torres del Paine National Park

Torres del Paine National Park

Old truck at lunch stop in Esperanza

Old truck at lunch stop in Esperanza

A whole day of driving. From El Calafate we cross into Chile today and will spend the next few days in Torres del Paine National Park, arguably the highlight of this trip, but I think they are all equally awesome. We took Ruta Nacional 40 in the loop towards the border, stopping for lunch and bit of sightseeing in the small town of Esperanza, then westwards on small highway 7 and joining back to Ruta 40 again. 

At the border crossing, the Argentian side is just a few buildings in the middle of nowhere, easily a km away from the actual border. Passport control was simple enough, we just had to queue up behind a bus that was coming in from Chile. In Chile, we got onto a road called Y205 and after 3km drive, we come to the border crossing, where luggage scan and passport control was required. The border post in Chile, in fact even the road here, seems much better than the part in Argentina. This border crossing is in a small town, and when I checked on google maps after the trip, it seems to say that the town is also called Torres del Paine. There's a souvenir store next to the immigration booth, which is just swell as bus load of tourists can shop while waiting for their cohorts to finish the formalities. 

Before Lago Sarmiento, when the road goes from paved to gravel and with the Cordillera in the background. On the road up ahead is part of the group walking around looking for things to shoot.

Before Lago Sarmiento, when the road goes from paved to gravel and with the Cordillera in the background. On the road up ahead is part of the group walking around looking for things to shoot.

First stop is our stay for the night at Laguna Verde, but first I got the first glimpse of what I was about to see over the next few days, including a drive past Lago Sarmiento and onto gravel road before reaching Estancia Lazo on the banks of Laguna Verde. Its a working ranch in a really pretty (and I don't usually use that word) by the banks of Laguna Verde. Spent the rest of the day and the next morning exploring the banks and taking pictures of the laguna in the foreground and with Cordillera del Paine in the background. I can stay here forever. 

Estancia Lazo with Torres del Paine peaks in the background behind Laguna Verde. This was taken during a photographic survey, looking for the best vantage point for that evening and the next morning.

Estancia Lazo with Torres del Paine peaks in the background behind Laguna Verde. This was taken during a photographic survey, looking for the best vantage point for that evening and the next morning.

Laguna Verde at the water line. Notice the strength of the wind whipping up waves. I think I took one of my favourite shots here the next morning with the pebbles in the foreground on a wide angle lens.

Laguna Verde at the water line. Notice the strength of the wind whipping up waves. I think I took one of my favourite shots here the next morning with the pebbles in the foreground on a wide angle lens.

Trees in this part of the world grow in strange shapes, primarily caused by exposure to strong winds.

Trees in this part of the world grow in strange shapes, primarily caused by exposure to strong winds.

Evening setup from the hotel room for a whole night of star trails shooting.

Evening setup from the hotel room for a whole night of star trails shooting.

Good morning, Laguna Verde!

Good morning, Laguna Verde!

8 January 2011: Laguna Verde to Lago Grey 

Stromatolites along the shores of Lago Sarmiento. These are calcium deposits that are found all around the shore of this lake. Read up on it online. 

Stromatolites along the shores of Lago Sarmiento. These are calcium deposits that are found all around the shore of this lake. Read up on it online. 

First closeup view of the Cordilleras while driving along Lago Nordenskjol. 

First closeup view of the Cordilleras while driving along Lago Nordenskjol. 

I don't know, I think today is one of the best drive in my whole life. No joke. Today we drive around Lago Sarmiento and right by the masterpiece of the park, the Cordillera del Paine peaks while going along Lago Nordenskjol, Lago Pehoe where I think some of the best sights are to be found, and then skirting the end of Lago del Toro and ending at Lago Grey. They call the main bit, which is the one with the black top the Cuernos (the horns). Not to mention the countless stops that we made to chase guanacos, and condors. The only thing we didn't see today was the puma. 

Rickety bridge across Rio Grey, close to Lago Grey

Rickety bridge across Rio Grey, close to Lago Grey

Lago Grey is fed by Glaciar Grey, and ice from the glacier breaks off and gets sent by the strong Patagonian winds to the south bank, which is where Hosteria Lago Grey is located. The air here is decidedly cold, and the hotel has just recently been renovated, and it is probably one of the most upscale place that I'm staying in so far in this trip. 

Rooms at Lago Grey. The light from the windows were blown out, otherwise the icebergs would be visible outside.

Rooms at Lago Grey. The light from the windows were blown out, otherwise the icebergs would be visible outside.

IMG_1997.jpg

At Lago Grey, you can see icebergs on the beach, and on a good day, one could take a walk along a sand bank onto a small island. 

9 January 2011: Lago Grey

Today is a full Lago Grey day. While I tried to take the walk along the beach, the weather is not cooperating... strong winds, and light rain pounded us the whole day. The wind blew away the plastic cover that covers my backpack. Looks like I will have to come back again sometime in the future. Oh, and I did spot a rare Patagonian Huemul (deer) here on the way back to the Hosteria... call it a lucky day.

Just in case you get lost at Lago Grey. But there's not much of a path to get lost here.

Just in case you get lost at Lago Grey. But there's not much of a path to get lost here.

Icebergs of Lago Grey. Note the incoming storm.

Icebergs of Lago Grey. Note the incoming storm.

On the small island on the southern end of Lago Grey. Grey's Glacier is visible in the distance.

On the small island on the southern end of Lago Grey. Grey's Glacier is visible in the distance.

Incoming storm starting to obscure the Cordillera del Paine peaks. Can't get great weather all the time... too bad.

Incoming storm starting to obscure the Cordillera del Paine peaks. Can't get great weather all the time... too bad.

10 January 2011: Las Torres

The Cuernos in the clouds taken on the way from Lago Grey to Salto Grande. I think this is where I took one of my favourite shots of the trip.

The Cuernos in the clouds taken on the way from Lago Grey to Salto Grande. I think this is where I took one of my favourite shots of the trip.

Along Lago Pehoé. I think the views here are stunning because of the colour of the lake, and the surreal shape of the peaks in the background. It was a cloudy day but with a bit of patience, it was possible to get a nice shot.

Along Lago Pehoé. I think the views here are stunning because of the colour of the lake, and the surreal shape of the peaks in the background. It was a cloudy day but with a bit of patience, it was possible to get a nice shot.

Shooting the Cuernos from the banks of Lago Nordenskjol.

Shooting the Cuernos from the banks of Lago Nordenskjol.

Salto Grande waterfall, joining Lago Nordenskjol and Laho Pehoé.

Salto Grande waterfall, joining Lago Nordenskjol and Laho Pehoé.

From the western end of the national park, we drive today again past the central Lago Pehoe while stopping for photo opportunities whenever we could. There's time to take a walk up to Mirador Pehoé, and a short hike past Salto Grande waterfall for the view of Cordillera del Paine across Lago Nordenskjol. The best time is probably early in the morning or in the evening, and I was there during the noon sun - but the scenery here is so beautiful I don't mind. Again, the winds here are crazy strong. Don't bring anything that flaps in the wind since it will probably not stay on you for a long time.

At Mirador Pehoé. Normally a easy hike after lunch, but made extremely comfortable because of the shrub with the spiky leaves. I found a couple of the spikes in my shoe months after the trip. I call it the asshole plant. Because it is.

At Mirador Pehoé. Normally a easy hike after lunch, but made extremely comfortable because of the shrub with the spiky leaves. I found a couple of the spikes in my shoe months after the trip. I call it the asshole plant. Because it is.

And this is the result, and mind you this is a panorama from a Canon S95.

And this is the result, and mind you this is a panorama from a Canon S95.

The next few nights, and the last stop is at Hotel Las Torres, a large estancia that has been converted into a resort. This si the closest hotel you will get to the start of the trek up to Mirador Las Torres, our last strenuous climb. 

Guanacos on the way to Las Torres. Notice the sharp triple peaks in the background? That's where we're heading on tomorrow's hike.

Guanacos on the way to Las Torres. Notice the sharp triple peaks in the background? That's where we're heading on tomorrow's hike.

After the transfer into smaller cars, heres the squeeze through the narrow bridge.

After the transfer into smaller cars, heres the squeeze through the narrow bridge.

The final section of the drive to Las Torres requires that we get off the small bus and transfer to hotel SUV for the drive across a narrow bridge that barely clears the side mirror of the SUV. The hotel has a proper lobby and just about any convenience that you would expect, or not expect in the middle of the wilds of Torres del Paine. It feels that you are not in an adventure while staying here. Its just too comfortable. Maybe there's a reason for that, the trek tomorrow would be 9km and 800m elevation gain up to Mirador del Torres and back down again. 

Las Torres lobby

Las Torres lobby

IMG_2172.jpg

No need to mention about the food here. Steak... You will gain weight.

Not my usual food picture... check out the chunk of meat. Cut to measure, Patagonian style.

Not my usual food picture... check out the chunk of meat. Cut to measure, Patagonian style.

11 January 2011: Mirador Las Torres

I will not describe the trek in too much detail. Apparently most of the trek is over private land, and you walk along the valley will you get to the base when it becomes a boulder climb up hundreds of meters before you get to the mirador, which is a glacial lake on the top of the mountain - where you realise that the whole trek was well worth the view. I packed sandwich lunch and some fruits so this is a good place to take a break and enjoy a view that I probably not get to see again for some time. 

On a great day, start of the trek up to Mirador Las Torres

On a great day, start of the trek up to Mirador Las Torres

First junction

First junction

Trekking along the valley, it doesn't look as scary as this picture. But its not fun to fall, I agree.

Trekking along the valley, it doesn't look as scary as this picture. But its not fun to fall, I agree.

Plenty of camping area

Plenty of camping area

Water bottle refill zone

Water bottle refill zone

Almost at the end of the trek, now all there is left is to climb to the top of the glacial lake

Almost at the end of the trek, now all there is left is to climb to the top of the glacial lake

... looking back

... looking back

Almost there...

Almost there...

And voila!!!

And voila!!!

The large boulders makes it difficult to move around but it is possible to get close to the lake for a souvenir shot

The large boulders makes it difficult to move around but it is possible to get close to the lake for a souvenir shot

Time for a break

Time for a break

I guess the trek is not as difficult as I made it out to be. I think the trek at Cerro Torre was more difficult even though the elevation gain was not as bad, mainly because it was hotter then. On top of that, my backpack was choke full of camera gear and a mid size tripod. There was not too much water since I replenished it along the way in the stream. 

Going down, not really easier as it really kills my knee

Going down, not really easier as it really kills my knee

The GPS helps to tell how far left to get to the hotel

The GPS helps to tell how far left to get to the hotel

IMG_2301.jpg
After a long day of hiking, this bridge was the best sight as it signalled that we were close to the hotel

After a long day of hiking, this bridge was the best sight as it signalled that we were close to the hotel

Needless to say once I got back to Las Torres later in the day, dinner never tasted so good. The buffet dinner comes with a big chunk of beef that is cut to order, and I asked for a double thickness chunk of meat. Well deserved. 

And finally!

And finally!

Great end to an amazing photographic holiday. Or so I thought...