Nan & Tony Return to South America
We aim to complete the TDP O circuit. (31st Jan to 3rd Feb)
Day1 starting at Las Torres, dropping the packs of at Refugio Chileno & heading directly up to Mirador Torres.
Day 2 from Refugio Chileno to Refugio Los Cuernos.
Day 3 dropping the packs off at Campamento Italiano and a return trip up the Frances Valley.
Day 4 early departure from Campamento Italiano go catch the ferry from Paine Grande, return to Puerto Natales.
After TDP it is back to El Chalten and we intend to do the Villa O’Higgins border crossing back into Chile.
This border crossing involves multiple buses, boats our legs and a horse, taking two days to complete. Should be interesting!
We have arranged this with Robinson Crusoe, they being most helpful and also assisted with the Hertz rental car from Coihaique. Other organisations found on line were utterly hopeless with organisation and / or communications.
Heading north from Villa O’Higgins on the Carretera Austral in a 4wd Hilux, we will visit Parque Patagonia (Tom Hopkins / The North Face) ending up at Balmaceda airport. Bringing the Patagonia expedition to a close but not the adventure.
Our intentions on the Carretera Austral are: (9th to 16th Feb 2019)
1. Firstly to catch the 11:00 am ferry from Rio Bravo, vist Tortel and head towards Cochrane.
2. Head into Parque Patagonia for two nights – explore.
3. Puerto Tranquilo, Marble caves possibly from Bahia Mansa.
4. Villa Cerro Castillo for two nights – explore.
5. Overnight Carretera Austral at CONAF Laguna Chiguay.
6 Short hop to Balmaceda airport for an afternoon flight to Santiago.
Nan & I will return by air to Santiago and north into the Atacama Desert region of San Pedro on the Chilean border with Bolivia. This desert region is at altitude starting around 2000 metres and up to nearly 5000 metres. Will be munching on Coca Leaves and cookies. We will have another 4wd hilux here and be doing some free camping.
Back again to to Santiago then out west to Buenos Aires and the Iguazu Falls, located in the far eastern corner of Argentina on the border with Brazil & Paraguay.
Tracking via Spot Messenger should be operational. You may want to extend the “Show Last” and “Track Trail” ranges
We note that Campamento Torres in TDP remains closed for the 2019/2019 season and that CONAF has a new booking system where you need to apply for and pay online your park entry first so as to be able to book any of the free CONAF sites.
For this trip, wikiloc has been great for finding gpx files. I am also trialing the pro version of GPX Viewer; seeing that Garmin Base Camp is yet to work with Android devices
Our Patagonian Expedition (Stage 1 – 16th February to 23rd March 2018) is now over.
Read or scan through the blog to read the 2019 conclusion.
Places visited were Santiago, Valparaiso, Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales, El Calafate, El Chalten, San Carlos Bariloche and Puerto Varas.
National Parks Torres del Paine, Bernard O’Higgins, Nahuel Huapi, Los Glaciares, Vicente Perez Rosa, Magdalena Island and probably a few more.
The principal purpose of this trip was to hike Torres del Paine, Mont Fitzroy & Cerro Torre plus visit Pampa Linda, visiting Refugio Otto Meiling.
As you will discover, not all these objectives were met!
Torres Del Paine. Having now completed the circuit, my view is that the back section of the park is by far the most spectacular, especially once past Campamento Seron. The W section receives much more traffic (both directions).
The established camp sites (Refugios or Campamentos), are predominantly privately run and charge a fee. This fee does not necessitate service or value for your camping dollar as the compulsory facilities in many cases are requiring significant maintenance and are inadequate for the volume of use. (This is particularly true at the back of the park), facilities on the W by comparison are much improved. Visit TDP if you wish to see stunning natural beauty, avoid if you expect a wilderness experience!
With particular reference to the O circuit, if injured, you are on your own & do not expect much or any assistance en-route or even once reaching the W.
Finally, whilst most blogs concentrate on reaching the John Gardiner Pass, they neglect the difficult steep descent from once reaching the tree line to the approach into Paso.
I also feel the views of Mont Fitzroy and Cerro Torre out of El Chalten are more spectacular than that of the Torres at TDP or Cerro Castillo.
What follows is a daily blog of our trip followed by the planning process leading up to our trip.
Our expedition has begun.
Departed Melbourne Friday 16th February 2018 a little after 8:00 PM. Our seats had been upgraded to a better economy section. The first few rows with green seats (rows 12 thru to 15 plus row 16 aisle) are better with 50mm additional seat tilt. The Boeing 787-900 Dreamliner makes the A380 Airbus look very dated. Only real complaint is that the audio headset plugs into the bottom of the headrest mounted video screen and gets in the way of the meal tray.
Arrived at SCL (Santiago ) @7 pm local time. Managed to clear customs without any issue with the freeze dry meals and Clif energy bars. Unfortunately our pre arranged pickup from the airport did not turn up. Here the person who directs people to the SCL official taxi service showed his true colours, putting us in contact with some prick masquerading as an SCL official help assistant, placing us into a private car at “no cost” then demanding a shit load of money once out of the terminal. No option but to pay it! Could not find either on our return leg so here is hoping they all got their just deserves; death or cake!
WARNING: Beware of anybody offering assistance at airports, particularly Santiago. Good chance they are scammers. Never accept a ride from a car parked in the level 3 departure area. It is my view that there has to be some complicity with some members of the airport officialdom and these scammers in order for them to operate so brazenly.
Update 2019. There is now to be a well organised official taxi or fixed rate car booking system at the airport that works well and counters the scammers previously mentioned. Fixed rate to Santiago CBD close to the Sky Costanera was 22000 CLP.
Saturday 17th February, Valparaiso.
We undertake a day trip to the sea side port town of Valparaiso. Highlight was the street art. Unfortunately this was but a small part of the excursion with only one street of the many hill sites visited and none of the funicular railways. Put my feet into the eastern Pacific Ocean at Vina Del Mar – living in coastal Australia, not a big thrill! Thought it would be more interesting than what turned out. Can’t recommend the visit, nothing outstanding here; more like something to do rather than a must see! If in Melbourne Australia, visit Hosier Lane instead as it is much more accessible, no cost and as good if not better.
Being Saturday night, had dinner in town back at Santiago. Walked out of the first street side restaurant as it seemed we did not warrant any service. The second was OK but for yet another attempted scam, this time with the bill. Finally fixed up ok but leaving a sour taste. (not from the pisco sour). Note that the dinner hour usually commences at 8:00 pm.
Addendum from 2019. The district where we stayed this time close to the Sky Costanera, and also in the embassy district, had much more to offer than when staying at Hotel Panamericano which was a few kilometres to the west.
Also of note is that many public buildings, attractions and restaurants are closed on Mondays.
Sunday 18th February, Santiago.
Guided tour by Nan Middleditch through the streets of Santiago. More interesting than yesterday and worth doing if you must stay in Santiago.
Visited Cerro San Cristobal using the funicular, Visited the house of Pablo Neruda – poet, political agitator & politician during the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship – this visit was really interesting – & Cerro Santa Lucia. Definitely the first and possibly both hills are potential SOTA candidates if Chile were to join the program although finding space to operate could be an issue? A late (for us) average lunch at an average restaurant that included the wrong bill (La Cuenta).
Thoughts on Santiago, Not really impressive and suggest to go no further than the Holiday Inn hotel opposite the airport if you must stay. By far, on our return leg we received the best service here whilst in Santiago.
Back to SCL early tomorrow and south to Patagonia & Punta Arenas. Hoping for better things! This is why we are here!!
Monday 19th February, Punta Arenas.
5:30 am start to get to SCL for our flights to Punta Arenas. Pickups and flights all to plan. Arrived at Punta Arenas mid-afternoon. Town has a nice feel to it.
Punta Arenas is the furthermost town in mainland South America on the infamous Magellan Strait. On arrival at the Keoken hostel, we grabbed a late lunch at a bakery just the up the road, did a walking tour around town and booked a tour to sèe the penguins on Magdalena Island for tomorrow afternoon; much cheaper doing this locally than from home on line. Checked out the local supermarket for supplies, cup of tea back at the hostel then an early dinner (by Chilean Standards) at the Marmita restaurant (Back Packer Steve recommendation) for our finest meal away thus far. Took a night time stroll down now to the waterfront to look for any auroral activity (Space Weather alert) but unable to see anything with the clouds!
Tuesday 20th February, Magdalena Island.
Slowly getting onto Chilean time, a later start and probably our first sleep in. Back to the water front but this time in the town centre for photos before venturing back to the bakery & hostel for lunch before walking the 4 km or so down to the port to make our penguin trip. Coffee at the port facility is crap!
It is 2 hours on the boat to get to Magdalena Island. Seas were very calm. An hour is then spent completing a circuit walk over the island as far as the light house then return along the shore. Lots of both adult penguins and their chicks as well as geese and even ducks. If intending to do this trip, make sure it is not too late in the season as the penguins will have migrated north. Both Nan and I ran out of energy on the walk home. Late dinner at a local cafe; adequate but far from flash. Two choices in wine (white or red) and the glass being a sizable beaker; had a laugh. As we were opposite the supermarket, we dropped back for some fresh fruit – supermarket closes at 10:00pm, got booted out.
Wednesday 21st February, Puerto Natales.
Up early again with breakfast at the hostel before loading up our gear and walking around 1 km into town to the Buses Sur depot. Our journey to Puerto Natales was mostly uneventful but for some confused passengers who joined the wrong bus and were fortunate to catch up with this one at its airport stop. Lots of bird life along the road plus our first glimpse of the Paine Massive. The Puerto Natales bus depot is a large building on the verge of the town centre, loaded up with our gear, gps and a google map extract, we had no difficulty locating the Hostel Amerindia where we set up and had our best coffee yet before venturing into the town centre, just a short hop away.
A further excursion through the town that has a couple of supermarkets, some fruit shops, a specialty dried fruit and nut shop and numerous hostels, restaurants, cafes and outdoor equipment shops. Also found the hardware shop and picked up a two pack glue (Chilean 10 minute araldite?) to instigate a repair to my sunglasses – not so successful and a crack in the bottom of my Life Straw water bottle. No such thing as Superglue to be found and cigarette lighters also not evident.
Thursday 22nd February, Balmaceda Glacier.
Early 6:30 am breakfast then up to the 21 Mayo office to grab a bus that would take us to the Bories port and our trip up the “Last Hope fjord” to the Balmaceda and Serrano glaciers in the Bernard O’Higgins National Park (N.P). Dramatic scenery all around as we battered the head winds and accompanying swells towards the glaciers. On occasion Nan & I ventured on deck for the best views and photos. Condors were seen soaring along the cliffs abutting the fjord. First highlight is visiting the Serrano glacier that included a generous swig of Grants whiskey accompanied with”millennium ice”then by a bbq lamb lunch with soup and big glass of local red at Estancia Perales . Finally a wake up stroll before commencing the boat trip back to Bories port then a short bus journey into Puerto Natales. No dinner needed tonight.
Friday 23rd February, Puerto Natales.
Leisurely breakfast at our hostel Today we need to grab our last “fresh” supplies to take with us into Torres del Paine National Park (TDP). This is easier said than done as finding something that could last and be used for a simple lunch was (as pre-warned) more difficult than what one would expect in a town full of people intending to visit TDP. Lunch was (another recommendation) at Mestia Grande.
Our plan for TDP, to cut down on weight plus just make things more pleasant and easier, was to have full board meals at Campamento Dickson, Refugio Grande Paine (x 2), Refugio Chileno (x 2) and our own meals at Campamentos Seron, Los Perros, Paso and Italiano. Wraps were selected, a salami sausage, salami vacuum packed slices, an avocado, red capsicum, sealed pack of parmesan cheese and some mayonnaise, also in a sealable enclosure would supplement our freeze dry meals and energy bars.
Back now at the hostel, dinner, and sort out the packs; culling weight where possible in preparation for our TDP trek. Socks are more important than jocks, no spare toothpaste – get the drift?
Saturdaý 24th February, Torres del Paine.
This is it! Up at 5:45 am, showers and pick up our boxed breakfast come lunch. Our non essential luggage is stowed here at the hostel in our cabin bags. Back to the bus depot in the pre- dawn light for the Buses Sur 7:00 am service to Laguna Amarga Torres del Paine. The trip is mostly uneventful, views of the mountains are had as we get closer and part of the time can be spent completing the TDP N.P entry document. We arrived a little after 9:00 am and on arrival, everyone submits their documentation, pays 21000 cp (tourists) then completes an induction; the long and the short being no camping other than at designated sites and no naked flames (fire, cooking or burning toilet paper) except for approved locations at the designated campsites, stay on the established tracks, no littering and no rubbish disposal.
It appears that walking the approximately 7 km from Laguna Amarga to Las Torres is no longer an option. You must catch the shuttle which costs 3000 cp one way. Buy the return ticket if applicable. Buses also continue from here to Lago Pehoe.
At Las Torres there is a large toilet facility followed by some sort of administrative building you have to walk through. Nan walked straight through without being questioned but I was asked where I was going and subsequently if accomodation was booked. I replied with “Seron and yes” to whit the lady wrote something on a sticky note and I proceeded. None of our accommodation receipts nor park entry permits were checked.
Finding the start of the track to Seron was not exactly straight forward until we gained our bearings. A bit later a sign on the 4wd track confirmed we were on the correct path as did my downloaded track file.
Part way on the 4wd track, a sign posted gate is reached, the walking path to Serron continues straight ahead where the 4wd track heads off to the right. Progress is steadily up and looking back provides good views back south into the valley.
On reaching the top of our first pass, we encountered the first of the Patagonian winds. We stopped for a brief lunch (found a GoPro type camera) before continuing down to Serron with weather varying from T Shirts to rain coats and wet weather pants. Soon learnt to ignore most of the wx changes due to the frequency of rapid changes! T Shirt with or without jacket and hiking pants proved to be ok in most cases.
In general, the scenery was pretty very rather than spectacular. We both had not “dialed in” our packs and thus experienced some shoulder discomfort. Serron was pretty casual with checking in. Got in early for a hot shower. Tent, as were most, were set up alongside a wire fence from which the bush behind provided some wind protection. Camp kitchen consists of a white tarpaulin tent that struggled to cope with the wind. No lighting, very limited cooking or eating capacity (must cook in the shelter). There was also a sort of open shelter that offered two bench tables and seats which we used. So, after our freeze dried dinner with soup, an early night. 13 kms today. Arrival time 1630 hours.
The listed time (Official Map) is listed at 4 hours where our time inclusive of stops was just on 6 hours.
Sunday 25th February. Seron to Dickson, 18 kms.
After a fairly mild and breezy night and a good sleep, it was up early. The tent was all dry so easy to pack. Departed around 08:00 hours and followed the river for a short time before steadily climbing in generally a north direction towards the next pass which is also the most northerly point of the circuit. Here we were hit with our first reaĺly strong winds and the first view of real mountains and glaciers plus the Lago Paine. Looks stunning.
Following high above the river, we descended to Guardia Coiron where we checked in and had our lunch (wraps with salami, cheese, mayonnaise and smashed – read squashed avocado plus red capsicum). There is a small guard station here with some bench tables and seats, fresh river water and stinky drop toilets. Found a money belt dropped by one of a guided group that had passed us and were just preparing to depart as we arrived. The owner was very fortunate.
Seemed to be a bit of a slog from here to Dickson. Hydration tablets in the water gave a bit of a pep. Nan came down with a migraine (no choice but to keep going) plus some sore feet. Great views of Glacier Dickson. Approaching Dickson, the killer right at the end is a steep climb over a moraine then a steeper descent into the pretty campsite. The check in was quite dysfunctional, having to register that we were there and staying and then again for camping, twice pulling out passports and paperwork out of the packs after 18 kms and a full day on the trail. Listed time 6 hours, ours 7.5 hours.
Set up our tent close to the trees for some sort of wind break. Only one warm water shower was working (the other had a missing door -not a recent occurrence). I had a wander about the lake behind the trees and came upon some icebergs. Showed Nan a bit later. Tonight we had dinner in the Refugio (Pretty tough bit of beef and mashed potatoes preceded with decent vegetable soup and followed with a bit of nice tart – bottle of red same as that from Punta Arenas but 600 ARS cheaper) Accompanied by Mario from Santiago and a couple from New York state. As dinner didn’t start until 2000 hours, we were later to bed this night.
Comment. Dickson does not cater well for campers. There is no camp kitchen (looked like one has been under construction for quite a while). Cooking and eating facilities consist of a few bench tables under the short eaves of the refugio providing very limited shelter in the intermittent drizzle.
Monday 26th February. Dickson to Los Perros, 11 kms.
08:00 am breakfast (scrambled eggs, salami, cheese, peach juice, cereal tea and coffee on offer at the refugio). Filled up on carbs yet Nan seemed to have little energy and our progress was slow. A chocolate hit, hydration tablet and later lunch gave a pick up. Our take away “boxed” lunch consisted of a big tuna & potato roll, breakfast plus chocolate bar and an apple. On this section the stunning scenery becomes even better with lookouts back over where we had been, rivers, mountains and glaciers. The direction to start is roughly SSE to start then SW with the direction of travel being mostly up hill. Glacier Los Perros just before the campamento has a good viewing point on the moraine and we stopped for a while watching the occasional chunk calve off into the lake below. The campamento Los Perros first requires a check in which is close to the river then a more relaxed camping check in (set up first then come over).
The check in is in the same small building that has the two cold showers, washing sink and two toilets. Not far away is a sizeable camp kitchen area with ample space, seating plus windows that open and a door that closes.
The word from CONAF was to ensure we were on the trail by 07:00 hours tomorrow to ensure a good passage up to and over the John Gardiner Pass. Early to bed, early to rise.
Listed time for today 4.5 hours, our time 6 hours.
Tuesday 27th February. Los Perros to Paso, 12 kms.
We are up at a little after 05:00 am. As per our vehicle based camping routine, we pack up our sleeping gear and most of the baggage whilst still in the tent. Nan prepares our cereal whilst I commence to dismantle the tent. No warm cup of tea this morning.
It is still dark at 06:45 hours when we depart. Headlights on, the track immediately starts to climb through a tangle of forest and tree roots. The track is not easy to pick out, especially where it does an about turn and heads back down the hill, hard earned altitude lost – to be repeated on numerous occasions. Having a track file loaded into the GPS assisted in determining the correct path. The track is quite boggy at times.
Within 30 minutes of our departure, there was light enough to stow our head lights. Although being one of the earliest starters, we were soon being overtaken, first by the light travelling guided group and then by others. Not fussed, by far we were the oldest people in our lot of hikers. Typically, I estimate our fellow hikers to being at least 1/2 our age.
Still, we were moving pretty well and the packs by this time were dialed in well. Once clear of the forest, the trail (marked by orange poles or blobs of paint on rocks) climbs up through a moraine field, once the floor of the glaciers that surround us. We have rivers, waterfalls and Condors soaring above us.
Since clearing the tree line, with the aid now of daylight, we have been able to discern a marker representing the pass so feel all will be good wx wise. The final approach to John Gardiner Pass involves negotiating a moraine ridge before siddling off its LHS and reaching the top.
The first views of Glacier Grey are stunning but the best views are to be had just a little further on down from the pass. Here in practically calm condition, we downed packs and had a scenic lunch. As most of the crowds had already gone (destined to Refugio Grey rather than the closer Campamento Paso) we practically had it to ourselves. Glacier Grey is at least 6 km wide here but the length appears infinite as it heads from Lago Grey up into the vast Patagonian Ice Sheet into the Bernard O’Higgins NP to the NNW.
It is amazing to consider the moraine we were descending on was once the bottom of the Grey Glacier that we were looking down upon from the overlook of our lunch stop; Still, with an alleged 2.5 km further to go to reach Campamento Paso, we had to leave the stunning vista and begin our descent.
At first the descent winds steply down the moraine before reaching the treeline. Here the going gets steeper and harder. Once established steps have eroded into a myriad of tree roots, ledges and deep steps (where possibly two or more had been); eroded through use, weather conditions plus poor establishment in the first place. At times the remnants of a water pipe hand rail, replaced with rope in places can be used. The going is hard on the legs, the descent is relently steep, dropping 620 metres in 1.4 kilometres representing a gradient of approximately 30 degrees. It is on this descent where nan had a significant fall when a step gave way. A this time we were unawares of its consequences.
Now looking at the GPS plot, I make this section a total of 10.5 km with the top of the pass being at 5.3 km and 5700 metres of altitude gain from Los Perros taking us 3.75 hours plus a further 3.5 hours to cover the remaining 5.2 kms to Campamento Paso that included a 1.25 hour lunch stop.
Listed time 4.5 hours, ours 7 hours with lunch. Quite happy with that although relieved to end it at Paso. Continuing to Refugio Grey would have been beyond us. CONAF officers were present at the pass.
Campamento Paso is a free CONAF campsite. the facilities are very basic being an open sided cooking are with limited seating, a toilet consisting of a concrete hole in the ground and consistently leaking cistern. Camp sites are spread over both sides of a small stream which provides water. Just to the south of the campsite is a helipad which provides great views over the Grey Glacier
Wednesday 28th February. Paso to Paine Grande via Refugio Grey 21 kms.
Overnight winds grew to gale force, leaving everything covered in a fine dust. Had breakfast inside the tent to keep out of it. The wind direction is a cold northerly directly down the Grey Glacier. Welcome to normality.
The going was much easier than yesterday, taking just over 2.5 hours to reach the derelict Los Guarderia site, stopping some 5 hours later for lunch just south of Refugio Grey overlooking Lago Grey. So far so good although Nan was having a few issues with her leg.
Did not stop at Refugio Grey nor the overlook a short distance to the north of it. The Refugio Campsite seemed spacious and is located north of the Refugio and on the opposite side of the track. One needs to register first at the Refugio before camping. The site seemed well protected.
Also, nearer to the Guarderia site, are some viewing areas on the track that are worth a look. We started to meet day walkers from here that were staying at Refugio Grey. Also started to see the first signs of litter on the trail. Many of the day walkers seemed way under prepared for the conditions that could be encountered. Also noted that the ladders mentioned in the “Cicerone Book” had been replaced with suspension bridges (3 of them). This made the going much easier.
Following lunch (wrap, samami and mayo) we continued on, at first generally following the contours above Lago Grey before climbing sharply for a few hundred vertical metres over a short distance. Nans leg did not enjoy this and our pace plummeted just as the winds increased (so much so that it was impossible to stand straight and walking required us to lean back into the wind less we get blown over).
In the end, and after taking many pain killers, we crept into Paine Grande.
Listed time 8.5, our time 10 hours.
The guarderia just outside of the refugio was not interested in taking our details (so much for keeping a track on who was where!) so we continued a few hundred metres to the Refugio; with the camping registration office being hidden around the back. Unfortunately our arrival coincided with that of the boat so there was much congestion at the now under staffed office. The afternoons drizzle becoming solid rain did not help things. Finally booked in and I put the tent up in the rain with Nan resting in the shelter. Grabbed what wind protection that was available & fully pegged out the tent (we were in between the Refugio and Camp Kitchen).
That done , both of us grabbed a shower where Nan managed to rip out one of her toe nails when removing a toe bandage – ouch big time! (showers available 6:00 pm to 10:00 pm, hot water available when they bother to replace the gas bottles and only 3 of the 4 male showers being operational, broken doors had me thinking “this is supposed to be the biggest and best of the Refugios?”)
Full board gave us dinner inside the Refugio. Set menu with decent serves. Hot water but a charge on tea bags or coffee? Bit weird!
Back in our tent, the wind continued to grow as did the inane chatter from other campers; sounding like chat up lines and confirmed with associated noises well into the early hours of the morning. I had forgotten my ear plugs. Power goes off to the camp area at 8 minutes past midnight.
Thursday 1st March. Paine Grande
We had intended to catch the boat across Lake Pehoe to visit a waterfall (Salto Grande) and look out (Mirador Cuernos) at the other end. This was ruled out due to Nan’s leg.
Now working on plan B where we will stay an extra night here at Paine Grande instead of walking to Campamento Italiano, the Frances Valley and then to Refugio Chileno. Instead we could catch the combination of boat and buses to get us to Las Torres then walk direct to Chileno (5 kms) then a day walk to the Torres (9km return) and lastly 5 km back to Las Torres to pick up the shuttle bus?
Sun is out this morning and the wind has dropped some. I took the opportunity to alter the tent location to provide some further wind protection. Later in the afternoon, I took a 2 hour return walk towards Campamento Italiano. This gave some views up into the Frances Valley plus back over Lake Pehoe. I thought, all going well, I could do a solo day trip past Campamento Italiano for a further look / see tomorrow? More litter on this part of the track. Certainly the W hiker / day walker has a different vibe to those we met on the back part of the circuit.
Box lunch from the Refugio similar to that of Dickson. Dinner back inside the Refugio. Howling wind with sleet tonight plus the noise from other campers.
Friday 2nd March. Paine Grande, still here!
Plan B in action, staying another night tonight. We are setting a record for the number of consecutive nights stayed in this camp area. It really has little going for it.
In the morning, with the occasional clearing of cloud from the mountains, fresh snow and ice can easily be seen. Spent most of the night alternating with my chilled water bottle on Nan’s leg and kept this up with cold “Chux” complesses during a very miserable and dreary day.
During the night I had already shelved my trip past Campamento Italiano, instead would concentrate on Nan’s leg.
No improvement on Nan’s leg during the day, if anything worse. Plan B is shelved & it looks like our circuit hike is over and the rest of our planned activities in jeopardy. Our plan (C) now is to stay for tomorrow to catch the boat over Lake Pehoe then grab a bus to Laguna Amarga then to Puerto Natales.
Moved the tent again, this time a slot was available close to the camp kitchen. Taking care to avoid the runoff from the roof, we had quite a sheltered location. The wind typically comes over the hill from the north at a high velocity then circulates by bouncing off the adjacent hills. The Cicerone book suggests camping in the lee of the hills towards the back of the camping area. The best sites here are taken by tents on platforms and other more permanent set ups for those hiring tents. Other locations are available to the standard camper but looking around, there were just as many tents blown down (some destroyed) here than in other areas.
Played hang the butcher and naughts and crosses, wishing we had a pack of cards. I am amazed that the Refugio’s mini mart had nothing in the way of first aid equipment, that the staff were ignorant of their own first aid facility (There appears to be a first aid room behind the camp booking office making us wonder was this just another room with an appropriate sign on it?) I was directed to the bar to get some ice but they did not have any, neither in the morning nor at any other time of the day I am getting the feeling that they are just not interested.
Our day is spent in the camp kitchen area. Had a bottle of wine with dinner. Very cold overnight so rugged up in the tent. Neither of us bothered with a shower. Queing in the cold and rain not fun. Does Vertice consider the campers as second rate guests? Seeing how the kitchen area is left, maybe they are right? Is this why Refugio Chileno only offers full board camping at $150 USD per couple per camp site per night? (BYO everything) Or, is the whole thing just commercialism gotten out of control.
More noisy campers till 2:00 am this morning. Not stopped by the howling wind and heavy rain.
Paine Grande, in my view far from grand & very much the pain, far from a nice campsite and would be best avoided if at all possible.
Saturday 3rd March, return to Puerto Natales.
Woke up relatively early. Therain had eased to drizzle and the wind, following the typical pattern, had eased somewhat. I set Nan up in the comfort of the Refugio lobby whilst I packed up all our gear followed by the tent. Having the optional footprint enables the inner section to be taken down first followed by the outer fly. This is a little awkward but helps keep both the inner tent and me dry.
With everything now packed and breakfast had, it was back to the lobby to await the 11:35 catamaran across Lago Pehoe to Pudeto. This boat, and not the earlier 9:30 one, is timed to meet with the bus.
All good on getting on the boat. Great views onto the Paine Massif on the way. Note that it is cash only and payment can be made during the voyage, reducing delays at the end. Also, if a quick get away is to be had, be towards the end of the line in boarding as your luggage will be at the front of the pile in the bow of the boat. Pack well as the stowage of bags may not be kind to fragile baggage.
Upon reaching Pudeto, we discovered how helpful Buses Sur (our selected bus company for our trip) could be. The attitude of the driver (who spoke reasonable english), we learnt latter, reflected that of the staff at Puerto Natales. They could not give a shit!
You see, our ticket was for the 5th of March. The driver said the bus was full and nothing could be done. Did he expect us to sit there for 2 days?
Anyway, I hopped on to another bus, Buses Gomez and spoke to the driver. He did not speak any english but asked a young lady passenger to act as a translator. All good, we would pay the 8000 CHP fare in cash and head to Puerto Natales. We were also given direction to the hospital. Buses Sur pulled out prior to our departure with spare seats available.
Next stop is at Laguna Amarga to meet up with passengers on the shuttle from Las Torres. Our bus was about 60% full. Once again Buses Sur departed prior to us with spare seats.
On arrival at the Puerto Natales terminal, we had a “little chat” to Buses Sur. This did not get us anywhere, the staff were even less helpful than the driver! Won’t be using them if there is a next time. Unfortunately we are booked with then to El Calafate.
Short walk to the brand new Hospital Dr. Augusto Essmann where after a short wait, x-rays showed a contusion to the lower tibia and the diagnosis was rest, elevation and ice packs. Total cost was $112.01 AUD which was put on the credit card.
That done, return to Hostel Amerindia (1500 CHP taxi ride) which would be our home for 3 nights (was able to get an email to them concerning our situation & accomodation was confirmed). This time we had a private bathroom but the hot water really wasn’t!
Change of month, change of seasons, now significantly colder here than a week or so ago.
Sunday 4th March & Monday 5th March, Puerto Natales.
Relaxing time in the lounge in front of the wood heater. Got some washing done. Visited El-Living and El Asador Patagonico restaurants located opposite the town square. The first is Vegetarian, the second meat, the traditional Patagonian BBQ lamb is the serving of the whole lamb (well it is a huge serve) . Bothe well worth a visit. Also found a pack of playing cards.
Tuesday 6th March, El Calafate.
Early start & breakfast. Taxi back to the bus terminal before 7:00 am where we catch our least favourite bus companies service to El Calafate in Argentina. A delayed departure for no obvious reason (scheduled 7:30 am) meant we were the last bus to arrive at the Chilean customs post at Cerro Castillo (approximately 60 kms and 45 minutes from Puerto Natales). There were 4 big buses and other trafic in front of us. It took us 2.5 hours to clear customs. Only one person doing the processing with at least 3 others sitting idle at their posts – they were to process inbound traffic of which there was none.
Short hop on a now bumpy dirt road through no mans land to the Argentinian Border post. The process is much more efficient with up to three people actually working. All the prior buses had been cleared so it was just us. It has taken 4 hours to reach Argentina and we arrived at the new El Calafate bus terminal (20 minute walk to town centre) by 3:00 pm; so all up 7.5 hours
Before departing the bus terminal, Nan booked us for a trip to Perito Moreno Glacier the next day.
Fired up the GPS and navigated our way to the hostel – Guest House Las Cabanitas. Had a look around El Calafate. Lots of tourists, tourist type shops – food, travel and adventure gear and not much else. Whilst in town, we found the supermarket and picked up a few items for later on.
Our guest house is quite nice. A small steep pitch roofed cabin with an upper sleeping loft and bunks below. To maximise space, the vanity and shower were sort of all in the same space. El Calafate is principally a gateway to Perito Moreno and El Chalten.
Wednesday 7th March, Perito Merino Glacier.
A private car pick up (no charge) from our guest house at around 8:00 am to the bus terminal then the 8:30 bus to the glacier. The road trip takes about 2 hours and runs along the southern side of Lago Argentino before entering the southern section of the Los Glaciers National Park where an entry fee is paid (500 ARS). Once at the glacier, the first stop enables visitors to catch a boat and see the Brazo Rico face (east face), the second stop to another boat on the canal de los Tempanos (an arm of Lago Argentino and the southern face) or finally the main viewing area that has many kilometres of board walks and viewing platforms. This is where we got off and is all inclusive with the entry fee where as the boats are an additional service.
The platforms provide the closest look onto and also over the glacier which has a 70 metre high face. We spent may hours wandering about, had a salad lunch in the cafeteria before all the hordes descended and caught the bus back at 1:30 pm.
Back at the Guest House, due to the unexpected additional expenditures, decided to exchange some Euros into US dollars. Banks closed at 4:00 pm but found a Western Union office that was open.
The USD is the way to go when paying for accomodation followed by credit card (not always an option) – for foreigners only as otherwise a Value Added Tax (VAT) is applied. In Argentina this is 21% and 19% in Chile. Note: check first; the Hotel Tres Reyes in Bariloche would only do it with a credit card payment whilst the Pan Americano in Santiago worked with USD or card. This is because the VAT is for residents only and this is applicable just for accommodation. We will cash in any remaining Argentinian Pesos prior (ARS) to leaving Bariloche.
Not that we did, but I did enquire, don’t bother trying to use AUD here. Nobody wants them and as such, if an exchange were available, the rate will not be great.
Thursday 8th March, El Chalten.
Really looking forward to today. Early breakfast then a taxi ride back to the bud terminus (2000 ARS). Our 8:00 am departure is delayed due to a late group of passengers. I would have given them 15 minutes but 35 seemed a bit much. Looked like natives and completely dis-organised. Heading out on Ruta 40, we pass the airport turnoff then stop at La Leona, a sort of hotel come rest stop. 5 minute stop, I got out to look at the river, others, including the late group, got out as they obviously needed more chips, lollies and soft drink to survive the next hour and a bit. 20 minutes later, we are on our way. Wondering what most of the bus expect to do in El Chalten?
On arrival at El Chalten, all buses stop at the Parks Office for an induction into the park. Safety, camping, fires and a range of hikes are discussed. Registration is not required except for the most remote areas – check first bit this does not include the Cerro Torre / Mont Fitzroy Loop.
Our hostel (Condor de las Andes) is just a short hop from the bus terminus which is located on the south eastern approach to the town. We drop the unwanted luggage here, grab some lunch (Pizza, Resto Patagonicus – absolutely no shortages of Pizza places here, or for that matter in all of South America!). Other hikers here commented on our Osprey packs, they using the Aether variant. My observations from TDP and later from here, are that Osprey probably account for more than 50% of the packs being used.
Lunch had, and approaching 1:00 PM, we follow the main road out of town to the trail towards the Poincenot campsite; a water tap at the start of the trail is not functional so we proceed with what is in our Lifestraw Go bottles, knowing we can pick some up at Laguna Capri and enjoy the steady ascent with less weight. The trail head was a 20 minute / 1.5 km (level) walk from the startor town.
From here it is up, ascending 350 metres in the 3.8 kms to the Laguna Capri Campsite. This camp is just past where you first meet laguna Capri, taking the direct route and not the RHS side track to the Mont Fitz Roy view point (Zagier & Urruty map only shows the route via the view point & I did not note any track continuing south past Laguna Capri to the “LINK” track). A further 5 kms of undulating walking – now with intermittent drizzle had us in the forested canopy of Campamento Poincenot. (The final approach does become a bit vague as the trail has been moved many times where it wanders through the Chorrillo del Salto and Rio Blanco valleys. There are sign posts to Poincenot, Piedras Blancas and the “LINK” TRACK) It took us 3 hours and 15 minutes inclusive of some breaks. Nan’s leg was a bit sore towards the end.
Setting up camp amongst the trees, we noted that most sites were surrounded by long established log barricades – an attempt to subdue the wind? Signage does not permit the use of such structures (must only be guidelines!) There are two toilets at either end of the campsite and the one closest to us is probably the best of a really bad lot owing to its broken door. This is a drop toilet, no pan, just a cutout in the plywood floor indicating where a pan may once have been. Got talking to our camp neighbours (from Ottawa – Canada), there had been heavy rain here for most of the day, clearing only in the later in the afternoon which would have corresponded with our hike start.
Cold night, dinner in the tent. Card games, inflatable pillows used as tables.
Friday 9th March, Monte Fitz Roy.
Did I say it was cold overnight? Outside of our forest canopy, there was ice everywhere on the ground and over the mountains. Some more intrepid hikers had started predawn for the sunrise, we were quite happy to enjoy breakfast before starting off, meeting some of the aforementioned trekkers on their descent. Our weather was perfect, sunshine with little wind. We were soon removing layers of clothing on the steep trek up.
Laguna de los Tres is 2 hours from our campsite. The first 1/2 km is flat through the river valleys to Campamento Rio Blanco and from there it is a steep scramble through moraine fields, 450 metres ascent in 1.5 kms.
At the top of the moraine, there are great views onto Mont Fitz Roy, Cerro Poicenot and others plus Glacier de Los Tres and Glacier Rio Blanco. Lago Sucia can also be viewed with a minor detour either to the top of the nearby hill or where laguna de Los Tres falls into Laguna Sucia.
We had our salami wraps and hydrolite water for lunch by Laguna de Los Tres then, as the wind was picking up big time, decided to return to camp. The descent is not much quicker than our ascent. There is much more traffic with the arrival of day walkers from El Chalten, many of which looked way under prepared for the weather change that was soon to arrive.
Nan & I got back to camp mid afternoon, I made us a cup of tea then had a wander about the area and down to the river. I noted the strion wind was bringing a solid cloud bank towards us and a little later we not only had really strong winds but also snow which continued into the evening. Dinner and cards again in the tent. Swapped tales with our neighbours and gave them the inside of TDP.
Saturday 10th March, return to El Chalten.
Not so cold overnight due to cloud cover and quite a bit of rain, no signs of yesterdays ice or snow.
Packing up the wet tent, inner first, breakfast then away. Nan and I proceeded for a short distance to the sign posted “LINK” track. The travel is straightforward passing by Launna Madre then Laguna Hija where we had morning tea. The use of drones is prohibited in the park but once again – only guidelines……
Inclusive of our stops, the first hour & three quarters is pretty level, then begins a rapid descent (a bit over 200 metres in 1.5 kms) to the Rio Fitz Roy & the Cerro Torre trail that we reach 30 minutes later. We had the Link trail pretty much to ourselves but meet many more kikers coming and going to Cerro Torre, a further 4 or 5 kms away. Due to Nan’s leg and the distances to be travelled, we opt out of the extra travel & doubt that terribly much could be seen due to the weather, low cloud and threatening rain. We have the last of our salami wraps just past the track junction. From here it is just over 5.5 kms to the trailhead and a further kilometre to our hostel. There is a small but sharp climb onto the Cerro Torre view point (much visited, has seats & great views) then it is nearly all down hill to El Chalten. By this stage Nan’s leg is quite sore again, our pace has dropped and it seems to take forever to get to the trail head. From here, we were lucky enough to guess the correct way home and linked up with a set of stairs / ramp taking us into the second main street and direct to our hostel (just under 3 hours from the track junction including stops).
All up, this trek was 32 kms
5 star dinner tonight at La Tapera, home and bed, but not before having showered, dried out the tent & packing away all of our gear.
Sunday 11th March, to Bariloche.
Another early start. Breakfast of sorts left out for us last night. Should have opted for tea rather than coffee as it tasted horrible. A 7:00 am (& pre dawn) arrival at the bus terminus for a 7:30 am departure. Need to pay a departure tax here. We are lucky to catch the sunrise on Mont Fitzroy.
The trip back to Bariloche is uneventful but for the sunrise views that unfortunately do not last forever. We stop again at Leona then we leave the bus at the airport. Lots of time to kill here, a pleasant enough morning tea followed by lunch at the cafeteria which also offers free wifi.
I can confirm the Aerolineas baggage limits being set a 5kg for carry on and 15kg for that in the hold. Nan’s bag was a bit under and mine was a bit over and this did not cause any issue. Cabin baggage was not weighed. 1.5 hours flight time to Bariloche.
On arrival to Bariloche, it was a quick 20 minute taxi ride to our hotel (Tres Reyes), well nearly as an Ironman event was being run blocking off vehicle access. We were dropped off close by and given directions, confirmed by my GPS.
Once sorted out in the hotel, we hit the streets for a look around and also a place for dinner. Extremely windy and quite cold outside. We opted for the L’Italiano Trattoria just up the road. This was nice enough food wise but the service was average. They lost us completely when the waitress enquired about a tip – not deserved by our experience so this place gets the thumbs down from us.
Plans are made for tomorrow, namely organise visit Club Andino Bariloche and book passage for their service to Pampa Linda. I must admit at being a bit anxious about this as, thus far, none of my previous correspondence had been replied to.
Monday 12th March, Bariloche.
What a frustrating day. Breakfast at the hotel was OK but things went downhill from there. We woke to heavy rain and, due to forecast adverse weather, Club Andino Bariloche were not running a bus, unless they somehow got a group booking. There was a possibility of getting out to Pampa Linda but not return. We visited the parks office who confirmed the weather forecast and announced trails will be closed but, the conditions at Pampa Linda could be very different and trail access determined by the local park ranger.
We were given the details of three other organisations that may be able to help. Lippi Viajesy Turismo (do not run a service), Travel Light (2 young ladies in the office could not confirm anything, our contact details left) & Transitando. It would seem our only option would be to go in on the 13th and out on the 15th instead of Friday the 16th, necessitating an additional night at Bariloche. This would also mean bringing forward our 2 nights at the Hosteria Pampa Linda (deposit paid) and cancelling our stay at Refugio Otto Meiling (free). A further option was with Hosteria Pampa Linda themselves but they were neither answering the phone or answering emails.
Spent the day going to and fro travel companies. Most business closed between 2 & 4 pm (varies so could be anything between 1 pm and 5 pm) but close late. Had a late morning tea at Mamuschka then lunch at a small local cafe. Dinner was had at La Andina which was OK. This enabled a quick sprint back to the hotel to check for any messages before returning to Transitando before 9:00 pm.
In the end, Transitando came up trumps. The manager was able to contact a lady in Chile who could confirm the altered dates at Pampa Linda would not be an issue. We then paid for our return tickets to Pampa Linda. The bus being run by Travel Light would pick us up at around 8:00 am from the hotel. It is now 9:15 pm. Back at the hotel, another night for the 16th is booked and paid for (credit card and no VAT).
Tuesday 13th March, Pampa Linda here we come.
Pampas are the name given to the fertile low lands of Argentina, at least we know where half of the name comes from. We depart Bariloche on time with one other passenger picked up from CAB, another (worker) on the outskirts of town and lastly the park ranger at the park entry where we paid our 250 ARS each entry fee. We arrived at the Hosteria before 11:00 am; doors were locked and it did not appear we were expected. Still we got in and were given a room, not yet made up, room 10 offers the best views of all the rooms, being on the back corner.
We stayed for lunch and were also given a briefing by the lady from CAB who runs the camp ground. It was then off on a trek to the base of Castano Overa Glacier (9 km, 4 hrs return).
This glacier is one of many emanating from the slopes of Monte Tronador (Thunder Mountain) and where also the Refugio Otto Meiling can be found. The track is well marked and begins at the camp ground practically opposite the Hosteria. Ignoring the trail to Laguna Ilon (4.5 hrs, 12 kms) the Rio Castano Over is crossed using a pedestrian bridge or a less permanent vehicle crossing. From here the four wheel drive road proceeds through a series of switch backs, some of which have sign posted short cuts. Stick to the road if taking the Paso de las Nubes route to Glaciar Alerce (2 hrs, 9 km).
After a number of switchbacks, there is a sign post indicating the correct path and a time of 30 minutes which seems correct. At the end of the mostly level trail there is a clearing similar to an amphitheatre with waterfalls spouting from the face of the glacier. The valley floor is close enough to 1100m asl and the glacier about 1600m asl. From here I can see what looks like a hole in the top of the rock escarpment, maybe something like Hells Window? There is a moraine heap in the valley that offers a good viewing platform. Signs indicate that it is not safe to traverse to the bottom of the falls. It appears a school group is also here on an excursion.
Back to the Hosteria. it is 5:00 pm and our bus is departing back to Bariloche (the road is narrow and has restrictions in travel direction during most of the daylight hours).
Our room is still not made up, we are given the option of another but stick with this one due to the views. I have a shower – cold as there seems to be an issue with the hot water – none. Signs tell me to conserve it but I did not get any after running the basin tap for 5 minutes in conjunction with the shower. Cold shower it is. Now having changed into some more respectable clothes (the other set!) I slipped on the now flooded bedroom floor, it seamed a steady stream of cold water was leaking from a hot water stop tap (in the open position) near the basin and just above floor level. I mopped this up as best possible with my towel and used the other towel to capture the leak. I notified the staff (no english), the result being we got another room – still had hot water issues – but no leak; the room 10 leak continuing until no further towels were to be had??
It appears we need not have been concerned about bringing forward our booking. With the exception of the earlier day trip lunch trade, we were the only guests. Dinner, served at 8 pm, and an average bottle of red, we retire to the lounge and then to bed. Where are the light switches asks Nan!
Wednesday 14th March, our 31st Wedding Anniversary; Pampa Linda
The view out our bedroom window is not great. No views of Monte Tronador at the head of our valley & glad we were not at Refugio Otto Meiling, good chance there was heavy snow overnight, heavy rain here at Pampa Linda. Have a lazy morning in the lounge with the open fire going. A fair few people have come in for lunch, we beat the crowds; intending to do an easy walk to Saltillo de las Nalcas in the afternoon.
Luck is on our side today, Patricia, the manager greets us whilst ordering lunch and offers to drive us to the end of the road where we can view the Garganta del Diablo (Devils Throat) and the Ventisquero Negro (Black Glacier). This is an 8 to 9 km / 2 hour walk each way and, due to Nan’s leg, out of our range but now…, we jump at the offer and depart at 2:30 pm. The road gradually climbs from Pampa Linda at about 800m asl to the kiosk at the end at close to 1100, asl where we have light snow. It is a short climb up a walking trail to the viewing area at 1200m asl.
The snow has eased but there is spray from the waterfall. We descend and head down the road to view the Black Glacier, following with an amble that is generally down hill back to the Hosteria with its welcoming open fire. En-route, the weather becomes sunny and clear; we have great views up the valley and Monte Tronador which continue into the night.
We have two other guests tonight, dinner with a decent Mendoza red and I use my gaffa tape to repair a broken window in the main lounge & wonder when or if it will be repaired. Dinner is three courses and a combination of lunch left overs, all very yummy! On sunset, I think I can spy Refugio Tronador being backlit with the evening sunset high in the Andes.
Thursday 15th March, return to Bariloche.
5:00 pm is our departure time. This leaves us with a leisurely start and we are greeted to rapidly clearing clear morning skies once again offering great views. It is an easy morning stroll up to the Saltillo de las Nalcas and we return (4 km) for lunch. Nan spends the afternoon in the lounge with her leg up whilst I, having finished a lousy E-book, go for a wander; part way up the Mirador de Valle track then around the camping area, returning around 4:00 pm as the road for departing traffic opens.
Pampa Linda is a very restful place. The Hosteria probably offers the best accomodation here but is it worth $200 USD per night? The building seems very tired, after more than a few days the menu uninspiring. The staff are most willing to please and the views are stunning. Probably worth looking into what CAB camp ground also has to offer. CAB also a cafe here.
The bus home is just ourselves until a worker is picked up from the Tronador Hotel. We return to bariloche close to 8:00 pm to a new room – a bit longer on the way back due to traffic -, this time facing the garden and on the first floor. Dinner tonight at a place I saw on the bus and just up the road, the Bachmann Brewery. I has a small pizza and 500ml of a local brew, Nan a Ceasar Salad and wine. I am pretty sure we were the only geriatrics in the place and could remember the music when first produced; was a good day and a good night!
Friday 16th March, Bariloche.
We awoke to pouring rain which continued through most of the day. Spent some time in the guests lounge, sussing things out with the wifi, reading the Age on line and learning something of the political history of Argentina. Later we visit Rapanui for lunch and a hot chocolate.
Despite the rain, we wandered around the town, putting our Mont rain jackets to good use. With thanks to the Tourist Information Office, we found a Kiosk that sold the bus travel cards then changed a good portion of our Argentinian Pesos into American dollars.
Dinner tonight at El Nuevo Gaucho. A Patagonian mixed BBQ with a Pisco Sour on the side. Very filling.
Saturday 17th March, Bariloche.
Cloudy but no rain this morning. After our breakfast we walk to the central bus stop which is opposite the National Parks HQ and catch the local #20 bus to Puerto Panuelo and a walk to Cerro Llao Llao. All pretty easy, 6 km return. The view over Lago Moreno Oeste and down Brava Blest is grand but low cloud prevents that of much of the mountains. Lunch consisting of a hamburger with coffee back at the port. Once back at Bariloche, we change some more excess ARS to USD. Light dinner at Rapanui – note that their full menu is not available in the evening; more pizza!
Sunday 18th March, Bariloche.
The sun is shinning! Back on the #20 bus (standing room only) but this time to Cerro Campanario. This is a chairlift ride and view point not to be missed. Stunning views over the lakes and surrounding mountains. Glad it was a clear day although the wind was gusty. Walking rather than the chairlift is an option but…., we took the easy option.
Monday 19th March, Puerto Varas Chile.
Hotel pick up at 08:30 am, bus ride to Puerto Panuelo for our first boat trip to Puerto Blest. Weather starts off fine but soon becomes overcast, restricted mountain viewing today. Spent some time on deck. At Puerto Blest we had a short stop before catching our next boat, a much smaller one, across Lago Frias to Puerto Frias. Here we go through Argentinian customs prior to boarding another bus to cross the Andes and the border into Chile. On the outskirts of Puella is the Chilean customs where they wanted Nan’s pack opened and contents removed, seeing how it was packet, they soon gave up and did not bother with mine at all. A nice lunch at the hotel and stroll through the gardens prior to catching the next boat at 4:30 pm. This took us across Lago Todos Los Santos; the weather was pretty average so we could not see much of the Osorno Volcano. Yet another bus ride from Petrohue into Puerto Varas, arriving some 11 hours since leaving Bariloche. Slight navigational error (wrong coordinates set) to our guest house but got there after a short walk of about 1 km, then somewhere easy for dinner. A long day.
Tuesday 20th March, Puerto Varas.
Sounds of traffic outside, there are a couple of schools in the street and the parents “school drop off” is much the same as at home expect school starts at 7:30 am. The kids then go home for lunch meaning 4 visits during the day for drop offs and pick ups.
Wandered into town after breakfast. down by Lago Todos Los Santos we had great views of the Osorno Volcano and later of Monte Tronador. I am feeling a bit average so back to the Guest House for a rest. A late lunch at a waterfront cafe then equally late dinner (more pizza and Pisco Sours) for dinner. Heading to Santiago tomorrow so need to sort out our bags.
Wednesday 21st March, Santiago.
Our 10:00 am taxi does not show. With the assistance of our guest house staff, another is booked and we depart at 10:30 am. Still plenty of time. It takes about 30 minutes to reach the domestic airport which is midway between Puerto Varas and Puerto Mont.
Interesting that the security check were not fussed with our full water bottles.
The Sky Airlines A330 is not the most comfortable plane but it is only a short hop to Santiago. Did some Hill Climb Racing – always a good fall back when traveling!
We arrive at Santiago mid-afternoon. We had a look for the scamming scumbag and his crew to no avail. Here is hoping they received the alternative to cake! Check in at the Holiday Inn. Great service from James the Haitian Bell Hop.
Two double beds in the room, actually watched some TV for the first time. Not much else to do in the hotel, did not feel like using the gym and did not have any swimming gear.
Pisco Sours at the bar then dinner.
Thursday 22nd March, Melbourne.
Breakfast at the hotel, final shower then off to the airport.
Customs and security is all straightforward and I was lucky enough to pick up a copy of the Patagonia book I read in Puerto Natales at the airport duty free. Did not feel like much for lunch so Nan & I shared a take away salad and a lemon drink before waiting it out at the gate lounge.
Flights out of SCL
On both occasions now, our flights out of SCL to Australia have incurred a second security screen on the ramp prior to boarding. On both occasions, ANY water – even if less than 100mm – had to be discarded. We did not experience this in 2013 when visiting Peru.
So, don’t buy any water once through customs or immigration or attempt to take a water bottle with water onto the plane.
We have not experienced this with any other airline anywhere else in the world. It significantly delays the boarding process.
Avoid sitting at the very back (middle or otherwise). Noisy and limited meal choice. I also don’t think the seats recline as much as others; same said for any seat on a bulkhead?
Latam airlines service would rate as average, certainly not exceptional albeit meals are quite good.
Clearing customs and immigration was no problem. The E – passport system worked well & there was little delay with our baggage. South East Airport Shuttle phoned to enquire as to our progress and in no time we were on our way home.
Long day, effectively awake for 24 hours.
Stage one of our Patagonian Expedition has come to a close.
Tony & Nan
27th January 2019: We’re back!
Flight delayed out of Melbourne, no bother just means more time waiting at the airport. Watched the landing planes and judged their landings by the amount of tyre smoke.
I did get some sleep on the flight, only watched the one film “Last King of Scotland” which depicted Idi Amin’s presidency in Uganda in the 1970’s. Recent history that I could remember.
No problems arriving in Santiago (flight time about 14 hours) then left the bags mostly packed and after a clean up it was down to the bar for dinner and Pisco Sours.
Nothing much to report here except all went according to plan.
Nan & I navigated ourselves to the Wild Hostel via GPS, having been here before is a big help. Must say that an easier check in procedure when carrying backpacks would be nice; like first to the room, unpack the required documents etc then go down and check in, rather than trying to do all this in the restricted space at the Hostel counter that also serves as a cafe.
The weather for the next few days is surprisingly cool to cold. The outlying mountains covered in cloud that, when clear, showed the fresh snow falls. Our unintended extra day here in Puerto Natales proved very beneficial in lining us up with a great weather window.
31st January 2019:
An early start from the Hostel where we have left gear not required for the next few days. Being slack, we caught a taxi to the bus depot rather than walk.
Our bus to Torres del Paine departs on time,the display at the front of the bus running a loop video on the park regulations in Spanish and also English. It was good arriving at Laguna Amarga to find our earlier online registration meant not having to join the long entry queue nor watch the induction video. Rather, we simply paid our transfer fee and jumped onto a mini bus and headed to Las Torres.
Note that this is a quicker option than catching a larger bus. Also note there is a document check and form to fill out at Las Torres before commencing your trek.
Our trek to Chileno started off pretty easily as the first couple of kilometres is fairly flat and this gave us the opportunity to chat to a few other trekkers. After this, however, there begins a steady climb up to a point known as Windy Pass then back down again to Refugio Chileno where we arrived for an early lunch whilst waiting for the camping check in office to open.
Once done, & tent set up on the platform using the supplied hammer and nails, we headed north west over undulating terrain to the Campamento Torres site (closed 2018 & 2019) then the hard climb up to Mirador de las Torres.
On the climb up the moraine, Nan was running out of steam and I was overheating despite the cold wind and occasional sleet / drizzle. I took off my hike pants just leaving the thermal base layer which was much more comfortable. The climb, once out of the trees is generally steep and steady over loose terrain before leveling out somewhat prior to cresting the top of the moraine and dropping down into the Laguna Torres.
Although the weather was not brilliant, it was great to finally get here ( nearly 2 years of planning and 2 trips half way around the world).
Watching our footing, it was certainly faster and easier on the return to Chileno where we were able to shower and change prior to sitting down for dinner at the prescribed hour (7:00 PM – note this if you have booked full board and are travelling from further afield).
1st February 2019
Not too cold overnight plus we awake to a dry tent which is always good. Mostly packed up prior to breakfast at the Refugio before continuing our jaunt; bach up the hill towards the entry before taking the deviation southwest to Refugio Cuernos.
The deviation turn off is well marked and the track is not as well defined as that to Chileno which probably has something to do with lower traffic volumes. As we were travelling down hill, the going was not too hard. That said, I consider our plans of last year to get from Italiano to Chileno in a day would not have been achievable regardless of Nan’s leg.
Once reaching the main track, we had a break. The track then runs above Lago Nordenskjold and below the Paine Massif. Lots of ups and downs making the travelling slow. In the distance, we could see a building which we thought was our Refugio and did wonder if we would ever get there? This turned out not to be Las Cuernos but Refugio Frances which is some 2 hours further on.
Finished up the day by mid afternoon, once again setting the tent up on a platform. Hot water was allegedly available from 5:00 pm but was not available any time at all. Spent the afternoon admiring the view and watching Condors.
Dinner again at the Refugio, time spent chatting with other travellers – most of which were surprised on our trekking of the circuit rather than the shorter W. Another midl night and once again, a dry tent in the morning.
2nd February 2019
Again breakfast at the Refugio before heading west to Campamento Italiano. The map stating this should be a relatively short hop of 2.5 hours which seemed spot on, inclusive of some stops along the way; it being very pretty where the track runs along the lake shore. The weather is not hot nor cold and even an occasional drizzle which is actually quite pleasant.
Arriving at Italiano by late morning, we checkin and establish camp before heading up the Frances Valley with our lunch.
It is a steady climb up to the Mirador which is a s far as we go. The weather is relatively fine but windy. With Nan suffering from some blisters, it is decided tot to continue any further to Britanico but instead just prop here, watch the ever changing scenery and glacier avalanches.
On returning back to Italiano, we investigated the area over the river to the west and found a nice beach in the sun. Nice to wet the feet (and head) in the frigid glacier fed stream. Back to our camp site and our first camp meal for this trip, inclusive of our left over wine from Chileno!
3rd February 2019
Dry again over night and neither early nor late start. Today is a 7.5 km trek to Paine Grande that will see us complete the circuit. The walking is relatively flat and easy going but supporting some great views.
Approaching Paine Grande, we can see the early ferry approaching (it is a bit late) so we pick up the pace and make it to the ferry terminal in time. This later proved very fortuitos as our scheduled bus did not wait for the later ferry which was also running late – we had planned to be on this ferry and not the earlier one.
Splendid weather on the boat (this early ferry is not the one depicted above) which is not crowded had everyone enjoying the views and sunshine from the top deck.
4th February 2019
An early breakfast at the hostel followed by a short taxi ride to the bus terminus to catch the 7:15 am bus to El Calafate.
Last year clearing the Chilean Immigration took more than 2 hours due to congestion. This year, we were the only bus present and it only took 30 minutes. This had a flow on affect in getting us into El Calafate much earlier and enabling us to catch an earlier bus to El Chalten, arriving there in the late afternoon. A rest stop is had at Hotel La Esperanza about 1/2 way to El Calafate and another at Estancia la Leona, 1/2 way to El Chalten and has history related to Butch Cassidy and the Sun Dance Kid. We grabbed a bite to eat here, not having had time at El Calafate.
Found our way by GPS to our Hostel (Hosteria Lago Viedma which is located away from the bus terminus near the steps leading to the Laguna Torre walk. El Chalten is quite compact so even this walk with full packs was short enough.
A good find after dinner was a food outlet in the main street called “Simple” which provided a range of sandwiches using wholemeal as well as white bread. Also available in a lunch plack including a drink and snack. An order can be placed the day or evening before for a morning pick up. We utilised this for our trip to Laguna Torre & Lago del Desierto.
5th February 2019
More unfinished business today. Complete the walk to Laguna Torre. The weather is great (much better than last year) and we are blessed with great views over the lake and to the Torre. All up this is close to a 20km round trip from El Chalten and not overly difficult. We had our lunch by the lake.
Returning to the hostel, I again checked out our travel details for tomorrow that were organised through Robinson Crusoe to get us to Villa O’Higgins. I was concerned that there were no pick up details. Having spied an office in town spruiking travel to Villa O’Higgins, I walked there to discover that: This was the correct place; they had none of our details; that my concern and follow up was fortunate as, without the soon to be supplied vouchers, we would not have gotten anywhere!
6th February 2019
The 8:00 am pick up is a bit of a milk run. Luggage storage in the mini bus is very tight. Some passengers are simply being transited to an alternate and easier starting point to Mont Fitzroy. Others like us heading to Lago del Desierto and beyond.
We stop past a great view point of Mont Fitzroy; it is very windy.
Then, reaching the ferry at Punta Sur. I am surprised to see a group of 4 passengers actually traveling with suitcases.
All up, it is about 90 minutes by mini bus to reach the lake and close to the same time to reach the Argentinean immigration post at the other end (Punta Norte).
Argentinean immigration is no big deal, the only issue here being that Riccardo would not be arriving with the horse to carry our back packs until at least 3:00 pm and it was now approaching 11:00 am. Not being inclined to wait (the horses should travel quicker than us), being unsure of transportation once at the border and finally not liking all our worldly possessions lying around unattended, we decided to carry all our gear ourselves. Had the company of Meghan, a much younger Canadian lady commencing a south to north adventure of South America over 6 months.
I stripped Nan’s weight to as light as possible and I carried my pack with the tent strapped to the back, two food sacks clipped to the front, Nan’s daypack on the back and wearing my day back on my chest. This had Nan down to 15 Kg but me close to 30 Kg.
The trek to the border, according to the map, is 5.5 kilometres with an elevation gain from 525 metres to a tad over 700 metres in just over 3 kilometres, the first few hundred metres being quite steep.
The trail is easy to navigate. There are a few creek crossings, one of which is quite boggy and churned up by horse traffic. If you had a bike, I think it would need to be carried or pushed for a fair distance rather than be ridden.
Approaching the border, traffic travelling towards us increases and we even met Riccardo with a few horses. My guess is that a the travellers going in the opposite direction to us were transported to the border, a small truck we were to see later probably being the mode of transport & I guess this truck took some of our travelling group that was in front of us.
We had lunch at the Chilean / Argentina border then caught a ride in a Mahindra four-wheel drive down to Candelario Mancilla. This leg is done on a reasonable gravel road (ruta x-915) come track that undulates heading generally downwards for close to 10 kilometres then a sharp decent over 5 kilometres first down to the Chilean border then to Candelario Mancilla, our home for the night.
Candelario Mancilla is a private home that accommodates travellers as well as a separate bunk house and also camp ground. Meals are held in the kitchen / dining room which affords views over Lago O’Higgins / Lago San Martin. We are joined by the suitcase people (French & Italian – their cases arrived at around 9:00 pm) plus a lovely family group from near Santiago who we were to meet by chance in Santiago city.
Our room is a relatively small one with a king single bed – very cosy!
Our day commences with breakfast followed by a stroll around the farming property before walking across to the jetty on Lago O’Higgins.
Our transport, the L/M Quetru arrives late and we depart closer to 12:00 noon rather than the scheduled 11:30 am. Prior to boarding, many passengers disembarked, and all bikes were unloaded, even if their owners were continuing on the cruise to Glaciar O’Higgins. Note that there is also a smaller boat that runs direct from Puerto Bahamondez and return from here and it appears the schedule is twice daily. This boat also brings supplies to Candelario Mancilla.
At first, we are running with the prevailing sea but once reaching the junction of Brazo del Desagiie to the north, Brazo Poniente to the west and the arm heading down to Glacier O’Higgins, the water becomes very choppy as the wind directions conflict due to the proximity of all the glaciers and open water. The further we progress to Glacier O’Higgins, the calmer it gets atlthough the wind is quite significant, our boat at times sheltering behind icebergs.
Finally we get to the glacier and are lucky enough to see some large chunks of ice breaking off an iceberg in front of the glacier as well as the glacier itself. Scotch with glacier ice is served, and a decent sized shot too!
Our return at first is again running with the prevailing weather until again reaching the open area where all the weather was against us, waves going over the top of our boat at times; many passengers are using the toilets and sick bags. It is probably just as well we had not eaten anything since breakfast.
Returning first to Candelario Mancilla to drop off passengers plus ice for the customs people then back into the weather to Puerto Bahamondez where we arrived closer to 10:00 pm than the scheduled 8:15 pm and then grabbed the front seats of the Robinson Crusoe mini bus that took us (after first having to find the keys) to the lodge.
A very late dinner then bed for us.
8th February 2019
Today is Friday. Good rest in a full sized bed and breakfast at 8:00 am
The Robinson Crusoe Lodge is far from full, Breakfast, as are all meals, is served in the main front building that is set to maximise the views. Accomodation is in two separate wings that have a number of self contained rooms linked via a raised covered verandah.
Our rental car had in fact arrived the previous day (A red Mitsubishi Triton).
Nan & I have a wander through the town of Villa O’Higgins; it is not large.
Finding a very helpful tourist information office was great (located adjacent to the park towards the south end of town) and they provided previously hard to get maps and information on the Carretera Austral.
Had difficulty finding a gas canister for our stove as none of the super markets had the correct type. Eventually found one (the only one) back at the lodge. We picked up a few supplies, an early lunch at Le Leonides then a walk to Mirador del Valle, the return trek taking only 2 hours.
Back at the lodge, sorted out packing as many items as possible into the cabin of our car.
As it was raining and we were feeling lazy, we just had dinner at the lodge again complete with a Pisco Sour.
9th February 2019
6:30 am rise today. Shower (when would the next one be?) followed by breakfast then loading up the car.
With Meghan and friend in the back, we headed north on the Carretera Austral at 8;00 am; wanting to get to the ferry Rio Bravo around 1 hour prior to the ferry departure at 11:00 am.
The misty rain and drizzle too care of most of the views. The driving not difficult and the road surprisingly good. We arrived at Rio Bravo just after 10:00 am and joined the small queue.
If not for the vehicles arriving later that have priority (Room for 1 truck, them mini busses, CONAF and more, we would have easily made it onto the ferry. As it was less than a handful of vehicles in front of us made it on, we missed out by 3 spots. Only thing now to wait for the 1:00 pm ferry and hope that no more “priority vehicles” rocked up. The official number of vehicles is 14.
We had lunch, waited, got on the next ferry (50 minute crossing) then continued to Tortel, (note that the initial travelling once off the Barcaza Padre Ronchi, can be slow going due to congested and variety of the vehicles departing from Puerto Yungay) a side trip (23 km) off the Carretera Austral (road is fairly open and flat following the Rio Baker) Tortel is a fishing and tourist town on the confluence of the Rio Baker and the many inlets linking to the Pacific Ocean. Car parking here is rather scarce!
After Tortel, we continued onwards towards Cochrane. Roadside campsites looked a bit scarce so we pulled up a little earlier than intended at the site below, some 15.5 km from the Tortel junction. The following day we noted that there were more camping sites in the forest to the north but they diminish somewhat approaching Cochrane.
We had a hummingbird join us here for breakfast.
10th February 2019
The road continues north towards Cochrane affording splendid views. It (the Carretera Austral) is certainly better north of Tortel.
We refueled at at the first opportunity once in Cochrane (COPEC). There was a bit of a wait but fortunately we were second in line.
Fuel is also available on the north side of town. Made a navigational error leaving the COPEC. Should have gone straight ahead (north) rather than following the road that got us to here (Ruta 7). This lead us to have an unguided tour of Cochrane, showing us that there really was not much here. Glad we had our previous nights bush camp.
The sudden appearance of many hitchhikers was a good indicator that we were back on track. As we were only going as far as Parque Patagonia, we did not assist.
From our campsite it took us 2 hours to reach Cochrane and just under an hour to reach the Parque Patagonia turnoff – all up hill and it would be hard yakka on a bike!
The Cochrane area, including Parque Patagonia, is quite different to the southern sections of the Carretera Austral in that it is more Pampas (grasslands) and closer to the Steppes country found in nearby Argentina. This is due to the Chacabuco valley running east west; on a tangent to the Rio Baker and thus having a different weather pattern. It was extremely dry here and lots of bush fire smoke from an out of control fire to the west.
We first checked in at the park HQ, purchased an information booklet and booked dinner for the following night at the El Rincon Gaucho bar & restaurant. Then, headed to West Winds, the closest campsite; aptly named so we pitched our tent with this in mind.
The campsite has eight sheltered cooking / eating areas, toilet blocks with solar showers and grassed areas for a claimed 60 tents. Vehicles are restricted to the carpark. Cost 8000 CLP per person per night at the time.
With our tent set up and lunch had, we set out to explore, soon learning that the signage was not great.
WE headed east along the main road (X-83) and stopped at Laguna Cines and a detour to the north to view Laguna Flamencos (track from the car park appears closed except for mountain bikes?) Also, a number of side roads towards the south are also closed.
Lots of Guanacos plus some black necked swans spotted but not much else.
11th February 2019
Lots of bushfire smoke hanging around this morning. After breakfast we headed east along the X-83 towards the far end of the park; our intention to walk the 12km Lago Chico loop. The trail head is around 1.5 hours drive from West Winds, the last little bit stating 4WD vehicles only.
We were the only car in the car park and headed out along the well marked trail that took us up hill and down dale before circumnavigating the lake where we had lunch. Very pretty, great views and an overlook of Lago Cochrane. The return leg has some steepish up hill sections.
Returning back to our camp, time for a cup of tea then shower before dinner. Looking forward to not having a freeze dry hiking meal!
12th February 2019
Our journey northwards up the Carretera Austral continues. We picked up a hitch hiker inside the park and gave him a lift to the park entry. Then we continued, stopping at a bridge crossing of the Rio Chacabuco then morning tea by the Rio Baker.
Stopped at Puerto Bertrand for a yummy hamburger then continued towards Puerto Tranquilo. This road was a bit of a bone shaker and very dusty once past the Chile Chico intersection due to increased traffic.
Our original plan was to camp just to the south at Bahia Manza, camp there and visit the Marble caves the following morning. Plans changed as there was a bushfire at the turn off and water bombing helicopters trying to put it out. Instead continued to Puerto Tranquilo, re-fueled, met Meghan again and caught a 4:00 pm boat to view the caves (10,000 CLP each).
It is a short journey on Lago General Carrera to the Marble Cathedrals. We are fortunate that the usual afternoon winds have not arrived (most recommendations are to visit in the usually calm mornings!)
The Marble Cathedrals are exquisite in colour and formations and well worth the visit.
Puerto Tranquilo however is not a “Tranquil Village” but rather a bustling tourist town & did not find it inducing to stay the night so instead pushed on to Cerro Castillo.
Must have misread the road sign, thought it said 100 km but the map shows it at 122 km and 2.5 hours. Would have been better finding a campsite en-route excpt there seemed little offerings. With Driver and truck now in rally mode, we headed off, finally making our way to the Senderos Patagonia camp ground 2.25 hours later. This was not too easy to find, the entry requiring a hard left turn immediately on entering the town. (Not sure why I am giving directions as this place proved to be a complete dump and should be avoided – 5000 CLP per person).
That said, we were tired and it was getting late and dark – 9:00 pm.
Well the shower were putrid, no hot water, the fridge did not work, broken toilets and a filthy 4 burner domestic stove and a stuffy & stinky inside atmosphere. We set up our camp stove outside in the fresh air. Oh, the tent site, excavated into the side of the hill provided magnificent views of Cerro Castillo but was barely big enough for our 2 person hike tent!
Note to self, the whole Cerro Castillo village is a bit of a dump. Rustic camping at the park entry may be a better option.
13th February 2019.
Outside breakfast then into the Cerro Castillo national park. Our aim to walk up to the Mirador overlooking Laguna Castillo.
This is no mean feat, 7.5 kilometres and all up hill with an elevation gain of 1100 metres taking us 3 hours and 40 minutes for the ascent with plenty of stops. A hard slog! The view is great without being fantastic, it being hard to beat the stunning scenery around El Chalten!
Only 2 hours 15 minutes for the descent.
Back at the campground, we had the company of a New Zealand couple over dinner. Both them and us cooking “Back Country” meals on our own stoves outside; this being much more pleasant than the horrid conditions in the so called kitchen.
We even managed a warm shower. Looking forward to getting out of here.
14 &15th February 2019.
A short drive planned today to Camp Chiguay in the north of the Cerro Castillo national park. The drive is all on bitumen and one section involves a circuitous climb with great views back south into the valley.
We reached the campsite around an hour or so after leaving Cerro Castillo; the distance being less than 40 kilometres.
This campsite is a real gem. Each campsite has its own water, a cooking hut which could also hold a small tent, table and bench seats.
There is a central shower and toilet block (hot water available in the evening) which was kept very clean. Park HQ is on the opposite side of the Carretera Austral and there was a waste bin located here. Cost 10.000 CLP per person per night.
We stayed two nights, wandered around the walking tracks and mostly dry lake.
Also took the opportunity to wash the car, this may sound a bit anal butI was keen buff out some scratches. Watered down tooth paste makes a mild cutting compound!
We also did a run into Balmaceda to check out the airports and where to return the car.
This proved a wise move as we were required to return the car with a full fuel tank but there is no fuel in Balmaceda, resulting in a run out to Coihaique and back for fuel.
The Carretera Austral where it meets the road out to Balmaceda is a contrast to what we had previously experienced. Gone are the snow capped mountains, rivers and glaciers and instead there is more undulating fam land. At Balmaceda, the terrain is as flat as a tack and just as barren. Nothing here of note except the airport!
16th February 2019
We departed our campsie by around 9:00 am and headed into Balmaceda, less than an hours drive. Sorted out the Hertz car rental. A note with this is that we had never actually signed anything nor paid a deposit until today.
Airports mean waiting. Checked in on our SKY flight, had lunch in the restaurant and the flight departed on time, arriving in Santiago a couple of hours later. Grabbed our bags and headed straight to the Holiday Inn. Thought we may have a swim but the pool was closed. Instead it was a clean up then to the bar for some Pisco Sours and a light seafood platter meal.
17th February 2019
Early start today. Up by 5:00 AM, 5:30 breakfast thenthe airport for a 6:00 Am checkin for our SKY flight to Calama.
1. It may have been better weather wise to start the trip a couple of weeks earlier and or.
2. Not bother with Santiago and head down to Punta Arenas as quickly as possible. Noting it takes awhile to adjust to the time difference.
3. TDP, visit the Torres at the start and not the end OR, start and finish at Paine Grande.
4. A follow up on point 3, If staying a Chileno, make it the first night. No refunds if delayed. – Expensive.
5. Could have spent more time at El Chalten; to allow for vagaries in weather.
6. March is too late in the season for Refugio Otto Meiling and reliable higher altitude trekking in Bariloche.
7. Could have spent less time in Bariloche. With better weather and Nan’s leg, the allotted time may have been OK.
8. There is not much action in the town of Puerto Varas.
9. Our itinerary, in relation to hiking, was a bit ambitious.
10. Throw in some additional filling to the freeze dry meals – rice or instant potato?