Chile: The Crazy weather in Torres Del Paine

 

“You are so lucky!  We’re expecting to have the best weather of the year while you’re at Torres Del Paine! (TDP)  These next five days are going to be spectacular, no clouds, blue skies and the best weather all year!”  Exclaimed the woman giving the informative speech on what is considered the best national park in South America.

This informative speech is given every day in Puerto Natales, Chile to assist trekkers and campers to the ins and outs of planning a trip to the TDP.  Every year, over 100,000 people come to southern Patagonia to embark on one of two possible treks. Some do the four to five day “W trek” as the shape of the trek is in a “W”.  Others decide to do a seven to eight day circuit, or the whole way around.  As she went on for the next hour of what to do and what not to do, all that played through my head was that opening line.  Nothing else mattered.  The TDP trek was what started this whole South America planning.  It is the one place in South America that I cared to see.  It was supposed to be the best weather of the year.

Excited, I could hardly wait to get to the park as the trip to South America I planned revolved around this trek.  Our bus left before dawn and there were a few clouds scattered throughout the sky.  The Park is only 100 miles away so I figured that the weather would be the same there. As I was up all night double checking that we had everything that we needed, where to go and everything else, I slept the entire way to the park.

“Honey, we’re here!” whispered my wife as she gently shook me awake.  We arrived at the park just past 11:00 A.M.  When the fog of sleep lifted and I opened my eyes I looked out the window of the bus and my jaw literally dropped. Unfortunately, the fog from sleeping was the only thing was the only thing that had lifted.  I just about cried at the sight that was in front of me: fog, fog and more fog.  The most spectacular sight that I had been waiting to see was right in front of me and I couldn’t see more than 300 feet off the ground.  What happened?  Where did this weather come from?  The information given the day before said that they were expecting the best weather of the season!  I had to still be dreaming I thought to myself.  Unfortunately, it was not a dream.  It was reality!

The most popular way to start the trek is by a catamaran that picks up trekkers to shuttle them from the bus stop to the beginning of the trek.  It departed as scheduled and went across Lago Pehoe at noon.  This is where the best panoramic view of the TDP is supposed to be and all I could see was the base of the mountains.  I just about cried. I just couldn’t believe that what is considered the best view in South America was right in front of me and all I could see was clouds!  Half an hour later we departed the catamaran and started our 11KM (7 mile) hike to the first night of camping.  Our first day of hiking ended uneventfully at Lago Grey, at the base of the Glacier Grey, one of the few glaciers that are advancing instead of retreating.  I couldn’t see anything though as there were nothing but clouds.  We set up camp at the campground, cooked some rice and went to sleep.  Carrying our thirty pound backpacks had taken a toll on our feet and we just wanted to sleep.

Lago Grey with Glaciar Grey in the background
Lago Grey with Glaciar Grey in the background

In the morning, my wife and I awoke to the unexpected thumping of rain drops on our tent.  We had a long 17KM (12 mile) hike today so we started early, at around 9AM.  We shook off our tent of all the water, folded up our tent the best that we could and packed it into the bag that it packs into.  I expected the rain to stop as the day progressed.  I expected the sun to burn off the clouds and the sky to show itself.  Boy was I wrong!

The second day of trekking backtracks on the first day and continues onto the second part of the trek.  Trekkers have the option to stay the second night where the catamaran drops off its passengers the day before.  There is a nice lodge there that people can hang out at.  All we had to do was set up our tent and go inside to hang out until we were ready to go to sleep.  The other option was to continue another 5.5KM (3 miles) to an abandoned campground that was closed due to sanitation issues.  I begged my wife to stay at the lodge.  The other reason I wanted to stay was because it was about 5PM and the next part of the trip was expected to take 2 and a half hours.  Our feet were killing us.  Hiking is not like walking on even terrain on a sidewalk, its climbing up near vertical ledges, jumping over streams, trudging through mud, slipping on rocks and expecting the unexpected to occur.  It was raining and I didn’t want to set up the tent in the rain.  I didn’t want to slither into a wet sleeping bag and most of all, I didn’t want to have to put on wet clothes in the morning.  The only plus to hiking to the next campsite was that it was free.  That was it.  Of course, she wanted to trek on in the hopes that the next day would bring sunshine.

The best view of the second day!  Clouds!
The best view of the second day! Clouds!

We left the lodge at 5:30PM after taking an hour break to discuss our options on what to do and to get some food in our stomachs.  We went from being warm and cozy and close to being dry to being soaking wet in about two minutes.  The more we trekked, the more upset I got as I thought about how my hands could be wrapped around a warm mug of hot chocolate, waiting for the sun to set so we could get to sleep in the dry inside of our tent.  Instead, we were out here in the middle of the forest in the rain.  Not only was it raining, the leaves were draining their drops of water on me.  It was like being in a cold shower outside while it’s raining.  As I hiked on, I got more and more furious, I walked faster and faster.  Soon, I was out of sight of my wife.  I realised this and stopped.  I waited…and waited…and waited.  Five minutes passed and I saw my wife, just merrily trudging through the mud, singing a song and smiling.  At least one of us was happy!

Finally, at about 7:30PM we reached the dilapidated, muddy, mosquito infested campsite.  i could see now why it was closed.  There was no bathroom, no facilities, no place to cook and most of all, no real place to put trash.  All that as there was mud, an open air shack the size of a truck bed to cook in, rain, and more mud.  I rushed into the shack to get out of the rain and unpack our tent.  After 10 minutes of wrestling mud, putting in the anchor stakes in soggy ground, slipping and getting mud all over me, we had our tent up.  Five minutes later, it was wet again.  Soaking wet.  The inside of the tent was drenched in mucky water, the rainfly had a layer of sludge on it.  Nothing was dry.  Our sleeping bags and sleeping mat were drenched.  After setting up camp, we had to get something in our stomachs to last us  through the night.  The only place to cook was in the shack that I had hung my backpack at.  There were no doors.  If the wind decided to pick up right there, all the water would be in our faces.  There was no finished floor, just the bare ground, covered in water.  There was no place to sit except for rocks, no table except for the tree stump in the middle of the shack.  Out of hundreds of trekkers out on the trail, there were only about ten of us at this abandoned outpost.  We boiled some water, ate some noodles and tried to sleep.

That night was the longest night that I can remember.  Before sleep, we took off our soggy socks, peeled off our sweat, rain and mud drenched shirts, slithered out of pants that had beed trudging through sludge all day and made a steaming, heaping pile of steaming clothes stew at the bottom of our feet.  By now we had hiked twenty miles and could barely walk.  We slept the best we could in the tent that we had set up which we hoped that the morning would bring sunshine and blue skies for our next days hike to the beset part of the TDP trek:  The French Valley.

The French Valley part of the trek starts at the free campsite that we decided to take our chances at. Trekkers leave their bags there and hike 8K (5 miles) up to the viewpoint with no equipment, then return to the campsite, pick up their belongings and continue their trek.  This is done as a day trip and forms the middle part of the “W” shape of the trek.

Morning came too soon and with the wrong sounds.  We were hoping for birds chirping and the sound of tents being taken down and being put away in preparation for the day ahead.  The only sounds that we heard were the thumping of rain drops hitting the top of our tent.  No birds, no trekkers, only rain.

I was about ready to cry.  I had been planning this trek for the last year and all we had was the complete opposite of what was expected.  At this point, we contemplated what to do.  We had two choices, either to continue with the trek with wet gear and wet everything or to return to the lodge where we could have set up camp the night before. From there we would return to Puerto Natales in the hopes of better weather in the upcoming days.  Since we planned our entire trip around this trek, we were happy with going back to Puerto Natales to wait out a few days while the weather got better.  We decided on the later, backtracking our steps and returning to Puerto Natales.

We had all day to get back to the lodge as the last catamaran to the bus stop departed the lodge at 6:30.  I wanted to get back to the lodge quick so I could wrap my hands around that mug of hot chocolate that I had wanted the night before.  Reluctantly, we pried ourselves from the sleeping bags that were now dry from our body heat.  The only clothes that we had were the clothes that we had been walking in for the last two days.  That uncomfortable feeling of putting on wet clothes came over us now as we had no other choice but to do so.  Slowly, we slipped on the still soaking wet clothes, arching our backs uncomfortably while trying not to touch our skin to the wet clothes.  Unfortunately the inevitable happened and we were wet.   We hadn’t even opened our tent to take down the tent…and we were wet.

We had all day to get back to the lodge as the last catamaran to the bus stop departed the lodge at 6:30.  I wanted to get back to the lodge quick so I could wrap my hands around that mug of hot chocolate that I had wanted the night before.  Reluctantly, we pried ourselves from the sleeping bags that were now dry from our body heat.  The only clothes that we had were the clothes that we had been walking in for the last two days.  That uncomfortable feeling of putting on wet clothes came over us now as we had no other choice but to do so.  Slowly, we slipped on the still soaking wet clothes, arching our backs uncomfortably while trying not to touch our skin to the wet clothes.  Unfortunately the inevitable happened and we were wet.   We hadn’t even opened our tent to take down the tent…and we were wet.

The day started out as the previous day…hiking in the rain.  As everybody had warned us though, the weather at TDP is the most unpredictable on earth.  One moment it could be 100 mile per hour winds, the next 10 minutes could be snow, after that blue skies can follow and 30 minutes after that, the dreaded rain could continue.  That fact started to show.  As we got closer and closer to the lodge, the rain ceased and the blue sky that we had been hoping for made its way through the dense fog.  By 3:00 we were back at the lodge, waiting for the catamaran back to the bus stop.  At this point, the sky was blue with a few clouds in the sky.y…hiking in the rain.  As everybody had warned us though, the weather at TDP is the most unpredictable on earth.  One moment it could be 100 mile per hour winds, the next 10 milodge, the rain ceased and the blue sky that we had been hoping for made its way through the dense fog.  By 3:00 we were back at the lodge, waiting for the catamaran back to the bus stop.  At this point, the sky was blue with a few clouds in the sky.

Hiking back from the dilapidated campsite was our view.
Hiking back from the dilapidated campsite was our view.

I couldn’t help but laugh.  We had backtracked the whole day, only to find blue skies awaiting us at the lodge. It was too late to turn back, we didn’t want to turn around and go back again.  As we had three hours to kill and the sun was shining, we laid out our tent, clothes, sleeping bags and everything else.  We got our towel out and dried off everything now that it had stopped raining.  By 6:00, everything was dry and it was like the weather wasn’t bad the last few days.

Now we had a dilemma.  We could either go back to Puerto Natales and come back later, turn around and go back to the French Valley tomorrow or we could take the catamaran back to the bus top and hitch hike to a camp ground that was rarely visited and had a great view of the TDP.  Of course with the best views of the park and clear skies we decided to take our chances and go for the hitch hiking.

The decision to hitch hike and take our chances could not be a better one.  The catamaran ride back to the bus stop proved to be the best boat ride of my life.  The towers of the TDP loomed over us, making us feel insignificant.  In front of us, the towers rose 9,000 feet straight up over the rolling plains behind us.  Below us, the turquoise lakes shined in the sunlight, casting an unbelievable water color that I had never seen before.  Picking my jaw off the floor and wiping off the few tears of joy from my face I finally got out my camera and took the pictures that I set off to take a few days before.

Torres Del Paine panorama
Torres Del Paine panorama

After departing the catamaran, we luckily, we found somebody to drop us off at the camp site that we wanted to go to.  Finally getting out of the car and setting up camp, we saw the panorama of the mountains.  The pictures that I had seen while researching were taking from the campsite that we were staying at and we had the weather to take the best photos that I could.  What was even more amazing was that there were only a few people here.  Thousands of people come from all around the world to see this magnificent national park only to see it from up close, and not to take a day or two to marvel from a distance to get the panorama view.

Torres Del Paine with the famous turquoise lakes
Torres Del Paine with the famous turquoise lakes

Waking up the next day was the best way to wake up on our trip by far.  There were no terrible thumping of rain drops on our tent, no wet clothes to get into, no soggy tent to pack up.  The only sight that we saw was the panorama that was at our finger tips.  I had forgotten all about the previous two days in the rain.  It was as if it had never happened.  We decided to start the trek over from the other side of the trek because we didn’t want to backtrack and see everything that we had seen the days before.  To get back to the start of the park, we had to wait for a shuttle that would pick us up.  I spent the morning at the lakeside mostly by myself, waiting for the shuttle to take us back to the start of the trek.

Torres Del Paine
Torres Del Paine

The rest of the trek was spent in the rain, camping in the rain, cooking in the rain and everything else was done…in the rain.  All in all, our hike was 60 miles with probably 50 of them spent hiking through the rain.  Just being able to see the TDP for one day with blue skies made the trek all worth it.  For anybody planning a trip to Patagonia, The TDP is one place that should not be missed!

Tyler Brooks

Tyler Brooks was born and raised in the small town of Bailey, near South Park in Colorado. After his first trip abroad to Japan when he was ten years old, he has had the travel bug and since then, has spent his life planning and going on trips. He recently found his talent as a photographer. His beautiful photography is available for sale at www.ttbphotography.smugmug.com

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We Said Go Travel

We Said Go Travel