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Torres del Paine - Day 3

Written on: Tuesday February 19th, 2008

A journal entry from: Kevin and Julie's RTW

Location: Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

Author: Julie


We left at 10 PM this morning for our 4-hour trek from the Hosteria Los Torres to the Refugios Los Cuernos, passing along the shores of the aquamarine blue lake of Lago Nordenskjol. The weather was beautiful outside, with fluffy white clouds and bright sunshine warming us up. We were quickly taking off layers within 5 minutes of starting our hike. Above one of the other lodges, a large rainbow stretched from end to end across our view. We were making good time till we got to the start of Lago Nordenskjol. On the map there was a symbol of a face with large cheeks blowing air, meaning this area was known as a high wind area and to exercise caution. The winds had picked up considerably in the past hour and it was blowing fiercely. We were walking along a small flat area between the larger lake and small lake (too small to be on the map) when we saw this amazing effect of the winds ripping down the little lake, picking up the surface water and causing these intense rainbows. We would watch them from the start to the end, where the wind would take the water high into the sky and the trees near the lake front would almost bend in half. Look here to see a video that we took of this effect.

The further we walked along the area between the lakes the more the winds were getting intense. We were laughing because it was so crazy. Kevin was in front of me, laughing because he was leaning at a 45 degree angle into the wind and it was supporting him. He turned around to show me when he noticed I wasn?t there anymore. His mouth dropped open when he found 10 feet up the trail. The same wind had hit me sideways, picked me up till I was on my tippy toes and launched me up the side of the trail where I had enough time in the air to turn my body around so I could fall on my back, letting my bag take the brunt of the fall. I was lucky to not have received more than a couple of long scratches on my forearm as I landed on a large, sharp outcropping of rocks. We were still both laughing in amazement, but it was getting serious. I got up and caught up with him and reassured him that I was alright. We continued along the trail but the wind was still as intense and quite a few times at the sound of the gusts ripping down the lake we would have just enough time to sit down, turn out backs to it and let our bags take the brunt of it. It was picking up rock shard and hitting us like machine guns. Any exposed skin we had was covered in small red pinpricks of blood where the rocks had pierced our skin. We saw quite a few people stumble and fall when hit by the gusts and Kevin had to save the sleeping and tent of one poor quy when they hot ripped out of his hands (he had packed way too much stuff but that?s another story). We finally got passed the trail section between the two bodies of water but the wind didn?t abate for a few hours. The trail took us high along the ridge of the lago Nordenskjol. We could the waves whipping up and the trees bending in half before it would hit us. We continues our little dance of walking then sitting down, walking then sitting. We finally got high enough along a pass to out of the most of the wind and were able to continue at a decent speed.

The next obstacle of the day was a high running river. Usually, the river is low enough that hoping along rocks following a lead rope is enough but it was running dangerously high. We either had the choice of turning around or trying to cross. We walked for a half hour up and down the river trying to find a safer route but the wire was the best to cross. Kevin and I took off our socks and rolled our pants up as high as we could. He went first and slowly worked his way across to a small island of rubble midway. I was quite nervous and took quite a while to convince myself to go. The same wind was funnelling down the river gully and hitting us quite hard, which made things even more difficult. When I finally went for it the glacial water took my breath away, almost instantly I lost feeling in my feet and ankles. The wire was very slack and you couldn?t put all your weight against as it would dip you right into the river, so it was there more for an emergency than to assist you against the strong current. The next step, while holding the wire, brought the water to my knees. The next step, it rushing mid-thigh, it was a pretty intense feeling. A few more carefully placed steps while holding on to the wire had me across to the island. My feet were so cold that the moment I stood on a dry rock, it felt like it was emitting heat. The current of the next section of the river crossing was stronger but the distance was shorter and the wire didn?t have any slack like the other section. We made it over and I was quite glad to have gotten that out of the way. Dry socks and warm boots never felt so good. Unfortunately, the guy I had mentioned earlier that had been hiking with too much stuff and almost lost his tent to the wind, depended on the rope slack too much, lost his footing and feel into the river up to his head. Everything, including his sleeping bag and tent were submerged. Luckily he had waterproofed everything or he would have been very cold that night.

The remainder of the trek was uneventful and we made it to the Refugio after 6 hours of trekking. The wind and high river had cost us an extra couple of hours but we arrived earlier than a lot of people, which was a good thing when we arrive to find out that they didn?t have our reservation. There was only 1 tent remaining to be rented and they didn?t have any room in the lodge. We snapped it up and put our stuff in it before someone else did. There were quite a few more people after us who arrived, without reservation, thinking there would be plenty of tents available. I?m not sure what they did that night for sleeping, hopefully they were able to sleep in the dining room or found space in a tent with someone else. We went to sleep that night in our cozy little tent, protected in a cove of trees, listening to the wind ripping by above our heads.

We later found out that the wind gusts were up to 120 km/h and quite a few people were injured that day. One woman fell on a sharp rock and had a 2cm deep gash on her buttock. Another guy was climbing the moraine of the Torres and was picked up and thrown down by the wind. He was gravely injured with a broken hip bone, a few broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder as well as the possibility of a punctured lung. They were able to evacuate him to the Chileno lodge mid-way down but he had to spend the night there, without medication, before they could continue bringing him down because the winds were too strong. The next day the winds were still howling, he had to be evacuated by car because a helicopter could not land at Hosteria Los Torres. I feel extremely lucky and grateful that all I sustained was a few scratches.