February 4 Vancouver to Lima
February 5 Lima to Puerto Natales
February 6 Puerto Natales to Campamento Las Carretas
February 7 Campamento Las Carretas to Camping Pehoé
February 8 Camping Pehoé to Laguna Verde
February 9 Laguna Verde to Puerto Natales
We started our trek from the catamaran dock at Pudeto, on the east shore of Lago Pehoé. We had some time before the boat departed, so we took the short walk up to Salto Grande, the waterfall on the Río Paine. (The river flows down from Lago Nordenskjold into Lago Pehoé, over this falls.) From here we saw the first of many condors we would see. Our plan was to cross Lago Pehoé on the catamaran, then to walk south to the Adminstration Centre, turning around from time to time to see the views of the Cuernos del Paine. We also planned to do some hikes in the southern part of the park, although when we started our trip we had not yet decided which ones.
There was absolutely no wind at all for our catamaran ride across Lago Pehoé, which is quite unusual, and there were absolutely no clouds in the sky.
From Lago Pehoé we hiked south across grasslands, roughly following the Río Grey towards the Administration Centre. From this trail the views of the Cuernos were actually better than the views from the circuit trek we had done last year, as we didn’t have to break our necks looking straight up at them. Besides the Cuernos we could also see the Torres del Paine and the mountains behind Glaciar Grey, and to the south we hiked towards Monte Balmaceda. The wind could have been howling across the plains, but there was no wind at all and the sun was beating down.
At the Administration Centre we inquired about transportation to trailheads. There was no public transport to Lago Grey, so we decided not to try hitch-hiking there. Instead we went north to Camping Pehoé, which is a car-camping site on Lago Pehoé. By this time we had just about completed the circuit around the lake.
The weather continued hot and windless, so much so that it was just about possible to swim in Lago Pehoé; this must not happen very often. We saw condors here again, two of them. The hill on the other side of the road was one of their roosting places, and after dinner we hiked up that hill to look at the views.
Our hiking guide (Lonely Planet’s “Trekking in the Patagonian Andes”) described the trail to Laguna Verde as “an easy two-day trek”. This would have been true had it not been for the steep 300-metre climb to the Lago del Toro mirador at the beginning of the trail. After that, yes, it would have been easy for somebody who was not already totally burned out.
On the other hand Lonely Planet described the refugio at Laguna Verde as “barely suitable for habitation”. This was not true either; the refugio looked as if it had been built within the last few years and only used a few times. It was basic but perfectly clean and habitable. Since the refugio is less than 100 metres from the road leading up to the park boundary, it wouldn’t be surprising to find that we were the first people to hike the trail this year.
When we first entered the park on the bus, there were herds of guanacos near the road through the eastern part of the park. But we had never seen any since then. Now, as we left the park on the bus, there they were again. Photographs through bus windows aren’t very satisfactory, but for the record here they are.
The road through the park was narrow and twisty, with steep dropoffs in many places. So it was a good thing that our bus didn’t lose its wheel when it was on that road. Instead it waited until it was on the straight road in the flat country outside the park. It was a strange experience; suddenly we felt the bus lurch and start slowing down, and then we saw the rear set of wheels overtaking the bus on the left side. By the time we realized that there was a problem, the bus had ground to a safe stop.