Q Circuit, Torres del Paine

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Q Circuit, Torres del Paine

Postby biggbird » Sat 02 Jun, 2018 1:11 pm

Hi again all, some time to kill and internet to use, so another trip report.

I think that seeing a picture of Parque Nacional Torres del Paine must be the inspiration for at least half of the visits to Patagonia. Well, at least it seems like it must be when you're walking the W anyway!

Our TdP experience was, overall, great. It's deservedly popular, and a beautiful place. Once again, we were pretty lucky with the weather. Sure, we had to put up with crowds of people who had never walked before, had no idea what they were doing and were sometimes rude, but hey, that's just part of the fun! You can definitely do some great people watching here. It can be a bit of a pain to organise, needing to be booked well in advance (or pleading in the office once arrived at Puerto Natales, as we did), but worth it in the end.

Instead of the W, which walks along what is called the "front" (or southern) side of the park, either from E to W or W to E and forms a wobbly W when including visits to side valleys, we elected to do the Q, which is a wobbly circle with a little tail. Unfortunately for us, the little tail (the walk from Administracion to Paine Grande, and our first day of walking) is actually one way only during season, and not the way we wanted. Unfortunately for the National Park, this was not really very well advertised, and we only realised 5 minutes before we got off the bus at Administracion... So we ended up walking it anyway! Probably not the most responsible thing to do, but I don't think it's a big deal. And it really was a very beautiful walk - 17km or so of mostly flat walking with some fantastic views of the entire TdP massif, and passing some fantastic turquoise lakes. It took us just on the recommended 5 hours, but I was quite unwell at the time - Apparently walking in South America doesn't agree with me, and I have had a few boils on my back whilst here. I promise I do shower sometimes! I promise it also hurts like buggery when you're wearing a pack with 7 nights worth of stuff in it. Thankfully it would clear up quickly under the tender ministrations of my girlfriend (read: not tender at all).

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Views across to the whole massif, with Los Cuernos most prominent.

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Beautiful turquoise Lago Pehoe with the massif behind

Our second day had us travelling from Paine Grande to Campamento Frances, with a planned sidetrip to Valle Frances (French Valley) to check out the glaciers and views. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t interested, and the valley was closed above the first mirador (lookout). We figured we might as well head up to the first mirador anyway, which from what we understood of the signage, was supposed to take us 1hr 30 mins. Through a combination of unfortunate events (personally, I mostly blame the annoying British girls who were literally sitting on the mirador sign) we managed to completely miss that we had arrived at the first mirador, and kept on wandering past it. In the driving wind and rain and cold. Until we had walked for 1.5hrs, checked the phone and realised we were waaay past the first mirador... Oops! It all seemed pretty obvious on the way back down, and we felt pretty dumb! Apart from the British girls, I think the other thing that put us off was that it only took us 45 mins to get to the mirador - unsure whether we just misread the times or were feeling particularly vigorous that day. Oh well! No photos from this day, as the weather was crap. We had a wet night on the platforms at Frances, and a rodent of some form ate a hole in my raincoat. All in all, great day!

The next day was Frances to Central via Los Cuernos. A bit of an uncomfortable start – camping at Frances is done on a moderately steep hillside on platforms, with most people using rocks to help get their tents up. Unfortunately, the German couple camped above us apparently hadn’t really thought about what might happen when they were kicking the rocks from their platform while taking down their tent. Like that they might roll straight down the hill and hit our tent… (Which they did). A welsh acquaintance we had made in Puerto Natales was very impressed that my partner actually told them off (which she did). Apparently, that’s not the British way! Not sure whether it really got through, but who knows, maybe they’ll think a little harder next time.

As bad as yesterday’s weather had been, today’s was just as good. Occasional clouds, plenty of sun, significantly less wind and a much happier pair of walkers. It’s hard with a walk like this where you have to plan everything so rigidly in advance, as well as feeling the pressure to see certain famous views, so it’s easy to resent any impediments. Like the weather. Or all the god-damn people! Seriously, so many people. We had lots of daywalkers this day, which can make for some interesting track meetings, especially when most people don’t seem to understand the idea of allowing faster walkers to pass. But, as easy as it is to resent these things, it’s just as pointless. So in the end, we just got on with the business of enjoying ourselves, made immensely easier by huge granite walls and spires, all to the echoing crashes of repeated small icefalls in Valle Frances. We pitched up at the Central campsite and wandered around for a little while, then hit the hay pretty quick, ready for an early start the following day.

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The huge rock faces of Cuerno Principal and Cuerno Este looked fantastic on a clear morning.

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Afternoon views of Las Torres from Central campsite.

A slow, reluctant emergence from the tent saw us heading off at around 0515 the following morning, headtorches on and ready for some altitude gain! We motored on up, past Campamento Chileno and its overpriced offerings, through beautiful forests, across (and sometimes in…) numerous creeks and arrived at Laguna Los Torres at around 0745, just as the alpenglow hit. Chuffed with our timing, it was time to get the camera out to make sure I didn’t miss out on that same one photo that everyone else who has ever been there has! I sound cynical, but it really was beautiful. People come here for a reason.

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The view. This is what people come here for, and we were lucky enough to get there at just the right time on a cloudless morning.

Being as steep as it was, particularly in the last 1km or so, and being as sweaty and hot as I am, I was wandering around in shorts and a t-shirt. Considering the prevailing uniform of pants, jumpers, down jackets, beanies and gloves all around, I ended up with a few strange looks! One South African couple even came over and found us to see what was wrong with me! They were happy to see that I had layered up by then, as it was breakfast time. A quick breakfast it was, and we were back down the track, passing absolute hordes of daytrippers fresh off the buses. And horses too. We were keen to get back down, as we had planned to make our way around to Campamento Seron the same day, which meant another 4-5hrs of walking. After lunch and a quick nap, we trundled around to Seron via some lovely beech forest and down into a beautiful broad valley, replete with plenty of horses running through golden grass in afternoon sunlight. Very poetic. Unfortunately, a lot of this walk followed a 4WD trail, much of which had been chewed up by the aforementioned horses, leaving it muddy and slippery in spots. A pleasant evening was to follow at Seron, making the acquaintance of a Canadian-British couple whom we kept up with for a couple of days. The campsite at Seron is probably the most open of them all, but we had no troubles with wind.

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Afternoon on the way to Seron. This is the Rio Paine, which we would meet later at its source at Lago Dickson.

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There were a lot of horses in the valley on the way to Seron. There are horseback tours throughout a lot of the park, whose effects you could certainly see on the tracks at times.

From Seron, we headed on to the Refugio Dickson the following morning. We had been hearing all throughout our time in Puerto Natales and the rest of the park about the closure (or not) of Paso John Gardner, and consequently the closing of our opportunity to complete the circuit. Before we left for the park, we had been told the pass was closed, but had figured we might as well just see how we went anyway. And so, it was a great relief to arrive at the Coiron ranger station to find out that the pass was open! Buoyed by that, we ignored the intermittent rain and made good time to Dickson. Dickson is in a great spot, with views up to the back side of all the peaks and a nearby beach on Lago Dickson giving views into Argentina of more peaks, glaciers and even a host of small icebergs floating around on the lake! We spent our meagre available funds buying a packet of butter biscuits in an effort to appease my apparently insatiable appetite. An earlier mishap with our pre-purchased park entrance tickets (we forgot to bring them…) had meant we didn’t have as much money as we thought we would if we were wanting to catch a ferry back on our final day. Oops!

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The glacier-fed Lago Dickson under cloud. We're actually looking across an international border here, as the other side of the lake is Argentine territory.

After some occasional rain overnight, we set out for the short walk to Campamento Los Perros, which takes you through a forested valley and past a glacial moraine to a small, sheltered camp set back amongst the trees. After arriving there in the early afternoon, we headed a short way back down the track to visit a small glacial lake and spent some time there reading our books, before heading back for dinner. Unfortunately, the sidetrip to nearby Glaciar El Puma has been recently relegated to “guide only” status, possibly for environmental protection reasons as apparently it was possible to walk right up to and all over the glacier. Back at camp, relatively cold temperatures and the promise of an early start made for an early night (which is a big part of the appeal of camping for me anyway… I love bed!).

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Lovely forested valley between Dickson and Los Perros. The fagus had just started to turn whilst we were in the park, adding to the enjoyment immensely.

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A view inside the forest.

The next morning, and the big day had arrived… Would we make it over the pass?! Conjecture abounded the previous night regarding when the rangers would go up, what conditions would cause them to turn us around, what had happened to previous groups etc, but it all turned out to be a bit of a non-event. Oh there was snow aplenty on the route (with some more having arrived overnight), and as usual I tended to find the deepest patches (up to mid-thigh at points), but the crossing was not particularly difficult. And the views from the other side? Pretty neat. We made good time down to Campamento Grey and the return of the W crowds.

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Looking back down the valley towards Los Perros from near to the top of Paso John Gardner. The snow got deep in places, but even with the occasional fierce winds the pass is known for, we didn't find this section too bad. Certainly slipperier on the way down!

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Impressive views of Glacier Grey once over the pass.

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Headed past the glacier and on to the campsite which shared its name. A lovely walk high on the hillside with great views down to the lake and glacier.

Following a nice sunrise over Glaciar Grey, we made good time on our return to Paine Grande, and caught the 11ish ferry back to Pudeto, in time to get the early afternoon bus back to Puerto Natales. Torres del Paine ticked!

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A nice sunrise, with a few icebergs for good measure.

In all, it was a great walk. There were some disappointing things (big crowds of non-walkers on the W, people kicking rocks at us at Frances, road-walking between Central and Seron), but they were far outweighed by the beauty and character of the place itself. It’s easy to get upset when visiting somewhere as popular as Torres del Paine, but I think one has to take a step back and appreciate just exactly why these places are so popular. I’m very glad we had the chance to see all the sights of the circuit, people or no. Writing this as I am from Machu Picchu Pueblo, let’s hope that tomorrow at Machu Picchu lives up to the same premise! As before, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to post away.
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