March 9 . Today's hike was up the Rio Ascencion, on the east of the Paine range. It forms the right-hand side of the “W,” which is the big hike here in the Torres del Paine National Park. Getting there was an interesting process.
We left our camp at 8:30 and drove most of an hour over undulating terrain to the east. Along the way, we saw a couple of condors and a number of guanácos. At a lot overlooking a river crossing we switched to a smaller van, as our usual bus doesn't fit across the 50-year-old, steel, suspension bridge over the river. And that's no exaggeration. There wasn't more than two inches on either side of the van, side view mirrors retracted. From there, it was another 30 minutes over bone-jarring roads, roads as bad as the Dug Bar road in northeastern Oregon.
We unloaded at a huge resort, the Torre Hotel, with rooms from $1200 a night. While El Chaltén is more of a small business-style entrepreneurial town, this place was more of an estancia-style development. It's the trailhead, though, so we unloaded and headed out.
The trail works up around the canyon protecting the entrance to the valley, climbing up to the entrance and then traversing along the slope before dropping down, crossing the river, and coming to a refugio and campground.
Did I mention the wind? It was windy all day yesterday and calm this morning (though not mountain silhouette calm), but it was windy by the time we started hiking. And entering the valley was an education in windy – walking into it, of course.
From the refugio, we climbed along the river, crossed it again, and climbed away from it into the woods. The trail continued to the base of a tall moraine, which was our route into the basin below the towers. We made the steep climb up the margin and finally out onto the big rock pile, until we topped out and were blown away.
In the basin, was a cold-looking lake. Around the lake: a smooth wall of granite, rising almost vertically to a steeply-sloping bench of more granite. And rising from that bench, from left to right: The bulk of Almirante Nieto, the three sheer towers – north, middle, and south, – and the ragged black top of the Condor's Nest. The view was absolutely amazing, thrilling, and unparalleled.
And the wind was punishing. If anything, it rose as we left, so that the exit from the valley was even most unsettling with the wind at our backs. Back at the hotel, we boarded our van, made the river crossing, reboarded our bus, and drove back to camp. The wind was so strong that it was good-sized waves were crashing onto shores with 200 meters of fetch. Swirls of spindrift were rising and running across the lakes. And, yet, tomorrow's boat was out on the lake as we returned. I don't know if that's good or bad.
Upon our return, many of us were ready for showers. And we weren't disappointed by the facilities. I, for one, am glad.
Dinner was good, accented by the stupendous view (though there are more clouds tonight). Everyone was tired and are now in bed. Time for me, too.