“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” – Jawaharial Nehru
After a fitful night sleep with pelting rain against our paper-thin tent and a real fear that our tent would up and wash away in the flooding waters underneath us, we awoke to utter, damp cold. Throughout the night, I pulled on whatever pieces of extra clothing I had inside my backpack to keep warm. A wool hat, gloves, a fleece, long underwear and thick, warm socks. But I was still frozen to the bone. Worse yet, I was even more fearful about our hike ahead. Given the terrible weather, I was sure it would not be fun but there was nothing we could do. Our schedule was tight and we had to go, rain or shine.
Here is me on that cold Thursday morning, freezing in the tent and not wanting to get up to face the long day ahead of hiking in the elements. Notice my one comfort from home, my “international” pillow, that goes with me where ever I go. Given everything, I still had a smile on my face!
Paul nudged me sometime around seven am and it was time to get out of my warm, cozy sleeping bag and start the day. Since I was already dressed
(one benefit of sleeping in your clothes!), I was ready in no time. I unzipped the tent gingerly, and gazed outside. The day looked ok, perhaps even better than expected. It was overcast and there were some dark, heavy clouds. But it had stopped raining and the wind had died down. I thought maybe we’d be lucky and it would clear. Today was supposed to be the second leg of the “W” trek, which was another long hike up to the French Valley, a gorgeous flower ladden valley with supposedly spectacular views of the park.
After a quick breakfast, we set out on our hike in uncertain conditions hoping it wouldn’t turn ugly. We knew that the weather in Patagonia can be absolutely crazy and little did we know, we were about to experience it firsthand. About twenty minutes into the hike, the clouds drew darker and the wind suddenly picked up. Cristain said, “Is coming….the rain” and we quickly put on all our rain gear over our clothes. Then Cristian said more urgently, “Is coming the rain, big rain” and we leaped at high-speed under a large bush for cover. According to Cristian, no matter what kind of advanced rain gear you have, you would be completely soaked within five minutes thus it was best to take cover and wait it out. I had never seen such an intense combination of wind and rain before in my life. It was completely, utterly wild.
After fifteen minutes, the rain let up slightly and Cristian thought it was safe to continue. We really had no choice anyway. We couldn’t go back; we had a schedule to keep and had to keep pushing ahead no matter how miserable it was or became. Unfortunately the rain also meant clouds so we could not see a single thing. That is by far one of the worst disappointments possible when it comes to trekking: All that hard work and no reward with a view. Oh well. I was briefly dismayed by the weather when I remembered that the group before us had rain for the entire week and saw absolutely nothing. What a pity! So I decided to count my blessings and hope for the best.
As we approached the turnoff for the French Valley, it was still raining hard and we were starting to get very cold and wet. We took a break in the wooded area that was kind of protected by the rain and ate our soggy lunch in silence. By this point, I was really discouraged because we would not be able to hike the French Valley yet still had another two, long hours to go in the cold, hard rain until we reached the refugio at Los Cuernos.
Here is a photo taken at our cold, miserable lunch. Yes it is the middle of the day and it is black out! I’m amazed that I am still smiling…..
The last two hours of the hike were quite miserable. The wind and rain picked up and the trail was muddy and slippery. Cristian kept telling us to “use the stick” meaning our hiking poles so we could balance ourselves and not fall into the muddy mess. The rain fell down hard, in sheets and at one point even sideways! We were completely soaked and I could feel water swishing between my toes with each and every step. I couldn’t stop dwelling on the weather and the fact that I was missing out on unseen beautiful views. But there is nothing you can do about Mother Nature and here she was in all her glory.
When we finally saw the refugio off in the distance, we were extremely relieved. Fortunately we arrived just in the nick of time. As soon as we got inside, the wind blew like mad and the rain suddenly turned into sleet and snow. An unbelievable winter storm had struck outside and the refugio shook and creaked with each powerful gust of wind. Wow, we couldn’t imagine being stuck outside, hiking in that insane weather. We hung our wet clothing and gear next to a fireplace to dry and then sat in the main common room watching the storm through twenty-foot glass windows in complete amazement and fascination. It was winter in Patagonia indeed.
The rest of the afternoon and evening at the refugio was quite an experience in itself. One by one, wet, soggy trekkers would enter the refugio going through the same routine as we did; first a huge sigh of relief, followed by removing all wet items and hanging clothing to dry by the crowded fireplace, and finally sitting down at our table and telling us about their adventure getting to the refugio. By the end of the day, there were about twenty of us trapped inside the refugio from all over the world. SInce there was not much else to do, we hung out and talked for hours. I couldn’t stop thinking how crazy it was being stuck inside this place sitting at a table filled with people from all over the world in one of the most faraway places I’d ever been.
The wind howled and rocked the refugio all night long yet both Paul and I slept like a baby, warm and dry, with the fire still smoking out in the common area. Since we had no idea what the weather would be in the morning, we decided to indulge in an extra hour of sleep. When we got up, I peeked out the window and lone behold there was a blue sky! We were so happy!
Photo the next day of the Refugio los Cuernos where we spent a unforgetable night.
Photo the next day of Los Cuernos (the horns).
Unfortunately we were not able to get many photos of our day trekking but were thankful for the beautiful days we already had and hopeful that the weather would return to the better. For anything is possible in Patagonia, even four seasons in a day!
Stay tuned…next post will continue our trek along the famous “W” trail at Torres del Paine National Park.