Torres del Paine
Torres del Paine was supposed to be the highlight of our trip. Since you need to book the camping spots waaaay in advance (what we found out only trying to book our visit in the park for end of the year in September and saw that it was impossible), it was also the point of the trip that became a strict constraint to the timeline of our trip. In the end after some stress (what if we can't book it? It is supposed to be THE best thing!) we got all the reservations for beginning of January and were pretty happy to start the year 2020 with this amazing 8 day hike.
The closer it got to the actual date and the more we have heard of and experienced the unpredictable Patagonian summer, the more anxiety we got. The forecast just days before our trip was pretty grim - rain, rain and (for a change) a little bit more rain.
On the 1st of January we arrived in Puerto Natales still in need to do the shopping for our trip (there are strict regulations on the food you are allowed to bring into Chile, so we didn't bother to do any shopping in advance as we were in Argentina). As all bigger shops were closed, we spent the day running around mini-marts trying to get all we needed. The mission was a full success and we were now ready for the hike, though still very unsure what weather will greet us in the park.
Next day we set off with a 7a.m. bus and at 10:30 we were finally there. It quickly turned out that our fear of going foodless was not needed - as part of the park ('the "W" side) is a bit of a theme park that caters even for the most luxury oriented Instagram hikers, it would be possible to buy all the food at the park entrance - they even had dehydrated desserts in stock! Showing up without a gear wouldn't be a problem either, as there was a Patagonia brand mini store there as well.
We had our last good coffee for the next week and we were ready to go.
The first day was encouraging - there was no rain. The weather gave us some hope that maybe the rain will to turn out be just some quick showers here and there. There were nice hot showers and a cooking tent on the camping - the luxuries we have not yet encountered on our previous hikes.
As we learned the hard way how any extra weight on your back makes the journey miserable, we settled for very basic menu for the whole trip - porridge for breakfast (a bit of dulce de leche to add some taste to it), ham & cheese tortillas for lunch, rice with curry powder for dinner (terrible idea this curry powder, we dropped it on the third night).
We were very surprised how unimaginative and pragmatic we were compared to fellow hikers. In the cooking tent you could smell fresh garlic and see people cutting vegetables - the biggest surprise to everyone was a group of 6 American teenagers who came with every possible kitchen utensil and at least one kilogram of spices and seasonings (coconut milk and soy sauce included, but surprisingly they did not have any salt!).
At night the optimism was put to the test and the next day all hope shattered - it rained the from midnight and there was no sign of stopping. When we woke up one Slovak guy we met the previous night already said that he is turning back as there is no point to commiting to a 4 day hike with that kind of weather (when you do the O trek the first 4 days you walk on the back side of the mountain that has no way of exiting before the Grey refugio, so it was the last moment to decide). We spent 2 hours helplessly waiting for the rain to stop, or at least become less heavy - someone said that the weather was supposed to get better around 10a.m. However, as the rain did not stop, we (by we, I mean Tadzik) packed up our soaking wet tent and set off. We felt like crying and were asking ourselves why the universe hates us, but after crossing the pass to the other side of the mountain the rain stopped and even some sun came out. The rest of the day was pleasant and the sky was clear enough to see the Dickson glacier in the distance. At the camping we treated ourselves to a glass of wine, as we figured we have most definitely deserved it.
The fourth day was the one we were waiting four - it was supposed to be challenging (as you cross a relatively high pass to the other side of the mountain) but rewarding - after crossing the mountain you walk the whole way along the massive Grey glacier.
The day started with a feeling of anxiety or even panic - not from us, but from all people around. Rumors about the difficulty of that day balooned to extreme exaggeration - someone saying it is 28km long (it isn't) and takes 11 hours (it doesn't), so getting up at 6 we were almost the last tent standing and at 7:30 we were the last ones on the trail.
In this panic mode surprisingly few people were able to read a map or judge the distance and elevation (and many did not even look), but I guess this is what happens when all the non-hikers go to the must see attraction of Chile which happens to be a hike.
The pass was freezing cold (hmmm... does it have something to do with the glacier being on the other side?) - the wind was strong and it started to snow, so we did not even have the energy to do a stop for photos (or lunch) on the top. Once again we found ourselves frustrated as we could barely see the glacier.
Why us? Why this shit weather? But as we went down, the sky cleared (we warmed up) and once again the good mood was back. As we reached Grey refugio we had somehow a feeling that the best part is over - surrounded now by day-trippers and people who come to the park for one instagrammable shot, it will not be the same.
On the O trek, because there is much less people (restricted to about 60-80 people per day) and everyone is going in the same direction, you end up knowing everyone and having a laugh with the same people every night and along the trail. The rest of the trek the number of people makes it more anonymous, and as there are multiple overnighting options, it is a very different experiance but you always end up with your comrades from the "O' trek!
The day before last was the day when we finally got to see the famous towers - it even seemed that the luck has turned and we might be able to have a clear sky for the sunrise. The question was: were we ready to get up at 1a.m. to walk the 10km. We absolutely were - I guess the beers we had through out the evening with the friends we met helped us make the decision. And it was good we did it - the sky was clear and the occasional clouds were only there to make the views even prettier, turning pink in the morning sun. People who came only an hour later did not have as much luck - as we were walking down we saw the clouds coming and soon the towers were hidden again.
Torres del Paine might not be the most real camping experience - it does feel like a theme park at times. But in spite of that, the views are rewarded and we got really inspired to do more long distance hiking and camping.