The wind blows strongly all night and still is in the morning when we are packing up to leave Paine Grande. The first part today is what is known as the easiest trail in the park, but it is torture for me, my feet hobbled by blisters and other unidentified pains. I feel like I have hooves and need to walk slowly as each step is hurting. By the time we get to Campamento Italiano I know there is no point in me trying to get up into Valle Frances and that I would do better to minimise the impact on my feet today, the better to walk tomorrow, when we have to walk all the way up to Campamento Torres. The rest of them leave their packs at Italiano and head up with sandwiches and water. I have a chat with the Canadians who are in the campsite and tell me about their horror crossing of the pass and are equally horrified at the enormous distance we did to backtrack and get to the W part.
Soon I hobble on to Refugio Los Cuernos. Mauricio predicts it will take me two hours and he is spot on. It’s a pretty walk, with great views, even if the track is rough and difficult at times. When I reach Los Cuernos I am not particularly thrilled to see that all the campsites are on platforms, which makes it notoriously difficult to set up a tent. I wrestle with mine for close to an hour and even then I’m not all that impressed with the end result, but it will have to do. I treat myself to a soda and biscuits at the Refugio and relax in the sun, chatting to a lady from New Zealand who is at the end of a long trip through South America. Just after 4pm Alex hobbles in, followed shortly by Amanda, Colleen and Mauricio. They all skip the platforms and put their tents up in tiny spaces (doable as their tents are smaller) on the ground. We then pile into the cooking area for campers and start work on the vegetable wraps for dinner. More wine is bought and it turns into another happy evening. We bump into the usual suspects from earlier in the trip and share our war stories.
The night is a horror with howling winds and a tent that threatens to take off with me in it. Even the enormous rocks with which I’ve secured it move during the night. I don’t sleep much and by 7am I’ve had enough and pack up all my stuff before that tent really flies away. At breakfast everyone admits they have all had a horrible night with semi-flattened tents and no sleep. Shortly after 9am we are on our way to Campamento Torres. And my skipping the valley walk has paid off as I have no aches in my feet and can set a cracking pace, probably my best day of all. We are powering on and reach the shortcut to Refugio Chileno well before lunchtime. From there we walk uphill until we reach the point where two tracks converge and we start descending towards Chileno. The Refugio is located in a beautiful spot in a gorgeous valley. We reach it just on 1pm and have our sandwiches there, before we head off again after 2pm, climbing up to Campamento Torres where we set up our tents. I soak my feet in icy water again in the hope to keep them as good as what they were today. Dinner is a spectacular pasta with tomato sauce and chicken, nicely spiced and half of which goes to the English family who have also made it there. The kids wolf down our leftovers. Then we set our alarms once more for 4am to make it up to the mirador for the sunrise on the Torres.
When the alarm sounds I get up and ready and pull on the clothes, suspecting it will be cold high up at the glacial lake. The ascent is a torture for me, it is steep and my asthma is bothering me big time and the group easily leaves me for dust. I plod on methodically and slow and eventually make it up to the rim of the moraine below which lies the glacial lake where the rest of the group is waiting for me. We settle in with warm clothes and cameras and wait for the special light effect, but as the sky is cloudy, the effect is just not there. Still, it is a beautiful spot and the light behind the Torres is still nice. After a while we head down towards camp again where we have breakfast, pack up our stuff (last time dismantling the tent!) and by 7.45am we start heading down towards Chileno. My speed of the previous day is gone and the downhill is hard on the knees, so again I move slower than the others. After we reach the junction of tracks and take the left one towards Hotel Las Torres the descent becomes really steep and a complete torture, notwithstanding the beautiful view. Eventually the ground flattens out and by 10am we walk into the hotel for coffee, then beer and pizza to celebrate the completion of our trek. At 2pm our shuttle bus arrives and in Laguna Amarga we switch to the larger buses, which must be the rankest smelling things travelling on earth at that time, filled with stinky hikers. I was wondering how bad I was smelling compared to the smells around me for the next two and a half hours, but I think I prefer not to know. Once in Puerto Natales the shower was heaven and then we all got together for a final dinner at La Picada de Carlitos where we thanked Mauricio for looking after us so well.
The next morning we all departed on our various buses and soon I will be taking a plane to San Carlos de Bariloche for the last part of my holiday, which is meant to be the relaxing part of the holiday, with perhaps a medium walk here and there. Summing up the circuit, what I did of it, was truly spectacular and I will probably come back to do what I didn’t see this time, Glaciar Grey and Valle Frances, but probably just as the W and using refugios. I’m not sure if I want to do the pass still. Part of me wants to and part of me isn’t sure. It’s one to mull over and ponder over time.