From El Calafate, we took a 5:50 bus to the Chilean border and the W-Trek. From the comfortable coach we were shepherded into a Souvenir Shop/Bureau de Change where our hard earned Dollars were exchanged to Chilean Pesos by a calypso shirt wearing, beret sporting shopkeeper. Welcome to Chile!
From there we joined the one day tour that went from the border direct to the Torres del Paine National Park. This was lead by Stephen and Alejandro, a rag-tag duo with big smiles and even bigger personalities. While Alejandro powerslid the rattling 30 seater through gravel road chicanes, Steven bombarded us with Yerba Mate-fueled impeccably phrased Spanglish monolgues. The great bonus of this route was that we got to stop at lookouts on approach to the Park and with hindsight, these were the best view of the Torres range that we would get.
We were dropped off at the Laguna Amarga park entrance and told to wait for the Las Torres Central shuttle bus. 45 minutes later we were setting off for Refugio Chileno, halfway to the Base de las Torres lookout. The weather was breathtaking and the paths well-trodden.
It was a straight pull up to the Torres valley and we took our time in the sunshine with a few k's to cover on the first afternoon.
Dropping down to Refugio Chileno and our first night's stop. The valley was huge here and the headwind screamed at us the whole way down. Very quickly you got a feel for the scale of this place and who's boss.
All the building materials and day-to-day supplies for Chileno are brought in from Las Torres Central by trains of packhorses lead by traditional Chilean gauchos, complete with berets and spurs. It helped you appreciate every little home comfort that the Refugio could provide, bearing in mind the preparation required for each day's supplies.
Day two started with an up-down to the Base de las Torres lookout point. The forecast had been bad last night but we headed up anyway. We got sun, rain, wind, mist and snow within the first hour which confirmed what we feared. Once at the top, we didn't get the full tower view, but it was great to get up there and see the cliff slicing into the pale blue lake. Rose planned her shoe coordination impeccably.
Dropping down again past Chileno we refilled with water by the river and headed for the long traverse down to Refugio Los Cuernos, our second stop. The walk was mostly downhill with panoramic views across the Lago Nordenskjold, another pale blue lake whose banks we will trace throughout the W-Trek.
Los Cuernos (The Horn) towers above the hostel bearing its name. The main building here was built here in '95 and all the materials were brought in by packhorse, which considering the scope is an impressive feat. We didn't get any photos of the building itself, which we can only put down to the number of great people we met here.