Torres del Paine “W Trek” Day 3: Refugio Cuernos to Lodge Paine Grande

Happy New Year to All!  Just a few more Patagonia blogs to share.  Cheers to an amazing 2014!!

On the third day of our trek we woke bright and early – mainly since the southern hemisphere sunrise was bright and early!  Desayano (breakfast) was served at 7:30 AM in the main lodge, and we had a long day of hiking ahead, so we got ready and headed to the lodge.  Breakfast was again the small bowl of cornflakes, scrambled eggs, toast and tea (or coffee, hot chocolate or juice).  We were getting used to the less-than-American sized portions by now, but it was filling enough if you ate everything. 

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For most breakfasts we had the option of cold milk in our cereal, but on this one there was only hot milk, so we had quite the soggy cornflakes – when in Rome…

We set out on the hike and I was noticing David kept wearing his hat Russian-style (left) because “his ears got hot” – I convinced told him this was not acceptable and that the full hat or no hat (right) was much better.  Please do not leave a comment that says something like ‘function over fashion’.  I don’t need him going all Dad-fashion on me just yet!

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Anyway, the hike for day 3 would take us from Refugio Cuernos (#2 on map) to Campamento Italiano where we’d drop our large packs and do an out-and-back hike the the French Valley lookout point (star on map).  We’d then return to Campamento Italiano and pick up our packs then hike to Lodge Paine Grande (#3) where we’d stay for the night.  This was 17.3 km of hiking and about ~6 hours overall.

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{ map source }

The first part of the hike is along the lake with lots of large rocks and a small beach at some point (yes, the water was cold).

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We were liking our Buff scarf/headband things that were sent to us by Swoop Patagonia after we booked our trip.  Ok, I guess this is function over fashion also.  But these were super functional, especially in windy Patagonia!  There are 10 or so ways you could wear them.

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After a couple hours you get to the Campamento Italiano, which is a small building for rangers with some outhouses also (again- always take the chance to use the restroom when there is one, there is little cover on the trails).  There were a lot of other hikers stopping at the camp to drop their large packs and pack day packs for the French Valley hike.  You can either hike ~1:00 hr into the French Valley to a lookout point and turn back, or continue on deep into the valley.  We stopped at the first lookout point since we’d heard those are the best views, and we thought 6 hours was enough hiking for one day.

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You hike in on a fairly narrow trail with some steep areas and mild scrambling.  This part could get crowded as many day hikers might do this hike from Lodge Paine Grande.  It’s rocky, but not bad.

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After and hour or more you’ll get to a more exposed area out of the trees and know you’re at the lookout point.  You’ll see the lake to the south and some really majestic mountains and glaciers to the west.  The wind picked up and the clouds were  like I’d never seen!

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We sat and watched mini-avalanches over lunch with some fellow American  hikers.  Yes, it was another brick sandwich that I was actually quite enjoying.  It quickly got cold and extremely windy, so we huddled near the rocks.

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The return to Campamento Italiano was swift; mainly downhill.

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This beautiful hawk flew right over our heads at the camp!

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We picked up our large packs and had a few more hours to get to Lodge Paine Grande.   At this point we crossed into the publicly owned land (yes, a large part of the east side of the park is private land ran by Fantastico Sur). 

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{ Bye Cuernos! }

We also crossed into an area that had been largely devastated by forest fires.  It was sad yet the regrowth was beautiful at times – hard to describe.  It made me a  little sad, but David really enjoyed the photography.

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After an hour or so, this part of the hike seemed really long.  It was becoming exposed and VERY windy around Lake Skottsberg (a smaller, dark blue lake).

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We came upon Lake Pehoe and it was a different teal hue; against the red brush it was outstanding!  And we saw the very large Lodge Paine Grande in the distance – yes!

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Forlorn is the word that comes to mind.

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A quick tour of Paine Grande which was run by Vertice: this was not my favorite lodge; it’s not bad, but it’s a bit large and impersonal and the layout almost like an old dorm or hospital.  There is a ferry that comes directly to this lodge for day hikers, etc. so there are a lot more people.  There is a small shop that mainly consists of junk food and a few supplies and the rooms hold 6 people (bunks).  There are shared showers/toilets with “sometimes” hot water.  I didn’t get the sometimes hot water – instead I had an ICE cold shower at this lodge.  Maybe that’s the reason I was not as fond of Lodge Paine Grande?

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On the bright side, many of our fellow trekkers were staying at the lodge, so we got to chat with them before dinner and enjoy some Pisco Sours during happy hour (and Austral beer for David).

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These are some of the amazing 60 & 70 (!) year old Israeli women that were hiking the same trail as us, with packs and all.  I am so impressed at their great attitudes and fitness, they were a pleasure to see along the journey.  Also in the picture is their guide and our other friend, Rustica, in the front that was a brave solo trekker and headed to Easter Island after finishing this trek!  I will be thinking of these ladies and remembering anything is possible, no matter what time it is in your life.

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Dinner was cafeteria-style here; the vegetarian option was rice with a veggie omelet, so I was pretty happy; David had a beef-stew with his rice which he seemed to like.  Bed time came early once again, we were exhausted!  Next would be the final day of the W Trek and the start of our long journey home.

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