The two nights in Refugio Los Cuernos proved to be a blessing, as some heavy weather rolled in on our first day there. We had originally planned to have a long day up from Refugio Los Cuernos to the Mirador Britanico, at the top of the French Valley and the centre of the W-Trek. Then we would take the following day to traverse across to Refugio Paine Grande further to the West.
We stuck to the plan and went up the Valley despite the bad weather. I'd like to say we were rewarded, but it was nonstop rain and wind all the way to the top where visibility was about 50 metres. The silver lining was that we completed the round-trip from Los Cuernos to Mirador Britanico and back in a shade under six hours. That night we enjoyed meeting a new set of trekkers in the Refugio, almost feeling 'local' given the transient nature of the place. Juan the manager was a gent and we had a great time there.
'Summit Attempt Two,' as historians will come to call it, started under clearer skies and we headed for the Chileno camp ground where the track turns uphill to the Vallee Frances. Retracing our steps was neither repetitive or frustrating as the visibility was so dramatically improved that it felt like a new route.
The first lookout on the climb focuses on the Frances Glacier looking west to the two-tiers of the glacier that are now clinging to the rocky mountain bowl that it no doubt had a hand in creating. We saw two small avalanches after yesterday's rain had softened the top layer.
From here we headed back into the forest for the final pull up to the Mirador Britanico.
There is one breakout point on the way up that allows for some context, but the last fiddly climb to the top is under a dense canopy, so you emerge onto a small ridge in the heart of a bowl that is panoramic and vast.
We spent a good while up there as we had been so disappointed to arrive yesterday and get no view. Well worth the second attempt!
From here a quick descent stopping off in the same spot as day one for a comparison photo!
Then the traverse across to Refugio Paine Grande for our penultimate night in TDP.
This area of the park suffered a devastating fire in 2014, which creates a stark view looking back towards Los Cuernos and the Vallee Frances.