“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.” Sir Edmund Hillary
Wednesday we woke up at our usual time of seven o’clock and were the earliest risers in the entire place. I was surprised that no one else in the jam-packed refugio was up because today’s hike was going to be a big one. We would start the park’s famous “W” trek with a 17-mile, 8 hour trek to the Grey Glacier. The “W” trek is the most popular trek in the park because it takes hikers in the form of a “W” to all the park’s major geological features including las torres (the towers), los cuernos (the horns) and the Grey Glacier.
After a filling breakfast of freshly baked breads, jams, cheese and meats, we headed out into the cool, gray day, hoping that it wouldn’t be our first experience hiking hours into the cold, wet Patagonian rain. The terrain was moderate with lots of small ups and downs, and brought us through the beautiful, lush Patagonian rainforest. The distinct smell of cinnamon, coming from the fragrant foliage, made me smile. After awhile, we experienced our first rainfall. It wasn’t too heavy but enough to require wearing our full rain gear of waterproof coats and pants: A necessity when hiking anywhere in Patagonia.
Hiking up through the temperate rainforest, dressed in layers for any possible weather.
One thing that continually amazed me about Patagonia is how often the weather changes. One moment, it is beautiful and sunny and then with a blink of an eye, the clouds roll in, the wind picks up and the rain pelts down and you are freezing cold. Sometimes you can even experience four seasons in a day. Whenever we asked Cristian about the weather, he would reply in his broken English, “Never the know“. That funny, odd sounding phrase became our most cherished remark throughout the trip. We didn’t bother correcting the grammar since that is what made his remark so special.
A picture of me along the way. The weather had become cooler and more typical of Patagonia. We realized how fortunate we were for the previous day’s amazing cloudless sky and continual warm sunshine. A rare treat in Patagonia.
Four hours later, we arrived at the mouth of the Grey glacier where it thrusts into Lago Grey. Although we had seen it from afar the day before, up close it was much more astounding and spectacular. Standing at the edge of Lago Grey, it was amazing to think that the massive glacier is thousands and thousands of years old. It is a pretty unbelievable sight.
Paul and I, frozen to the bone and braving the fierce, unprotected wind, at the first lookout of the mighty Grey glacier.
Grey Glacier is one of many glacial tongues stemming off the massive South Patagonian Ice Field, located between Argentina and Chile The Southern Patagonian Ice Field is massive. It is the second largest ice cap in the world extending for almost 350 kilometres with an area of 16,800 km². To reach Grey Glacier is considered an awe-inspiring highlight of any visit to the park.
View of the Grey Glacier in the clouds. I could only imagine what it would have looked like on a clear day. I’m certain it would have taken my breath away.
As we walked through unbelievable wind and cold, the only comfort was knowing that we were not far from the terminus of the glacier.
We were unbelievably cold yet the clouds begin to slightly lift. We wondered how many people hiked this trail, only to find the glacier completely hidden in the clouds. What a disappointment that would have been after all those hours of suffering the elements!
We have one more corner to round, said Cristian encouragingly. Just a few more steps through the deliciously fragrant Patagonian rainforest.
And then we were there, at the end of the glacier…we made it! Despite the clouds, it was an unbelievable sight. Like an enormous ocean of ice floating into the earth and water. Here I am, very very cold, but happy. What an incredible hike!
Paul and I posing for a shot next to a large boulder for support as well as to illustrate the massive size of the icebergs and glacial tongue. Incredible.
We had lunch at our spot overlooking the glacier and had the entire view to ourselves. We felt so lucky to be here and were even honored to catch a glimpse of two condors flying high above us searching for food. The whole experience felt slightly surreal, like it was all just a pleasant dream during a wonderful, deep slumber. But this was real. We could have stayed here all day, admiring the beauty of the view, despite the bone chilling wind that froze us half to death.
One last shot of Grey Glacier and the magnificent icebergs floating gently across the water.
As we headed back, the clouds began to lift giving us an even better view of the glacier off in the distance and surrounding mountains. We were too tired and cold to take pictures. All we could think about was getting to a dry, warm place and hopefully having a hot shower.
Along the way, we found plenty of fresh water to fill up our drinking water. At first I was hesitant in drinking water directly from a stream as being an American, this was completely unheard of. But Cristian lightly coaxed us, telling us it was the best water on earth, so we dove in, took a sip of heaven and sighed a happy sigh of relief. It was fresh, cold and delicious, like nothing I’d ever tasted.
When we arrived back at the refugio we noticed that our tents had not yet been set up for the night. Poor Cristian had to set them up all by himself after an exhausting 17-mile hike! He finished just in time for cocktails and another delicious dinner was shared together with our newly made friends in the international refugio. We tried to stay up as late as possible knowing that we were in for a cold, rainy night in our lonely, spartan tent. Unfortunately the refugio was booked full that night so we would have to rough it in the cold, wet Patagonian elements.
Our unfortunate accommodations that night, faced with all the wild and craziness of the ever-changing and unpredictable Patagonian weather.
Surprisingly, I slept fell asleep quickly and soundly, despite the strong gusts of wind and fierce bursts of rain hitting and shaking our tent with elevating intensity. All I could think of was “what on earth were we in for tomorrow?”. It wasn’t so sure it was going to be good.
Stay tuned…next post will cover the third day trekking in Torres del Paine National Park. What will the weather be like?