The watch alarm went off at 6:30 am, waking us from a sound sleep. But we got up and went downstairs for breakfast, which was bread with jam or cheese plus tea, coffee, or cocoa. There was also yogourt available. We had organized our packs the night before, so all we had to do this morning was to eat breakfast and wait for the bus. Outside the skies were clear and the view down Ultima Esperanza Sound was spectacular.
The bus showed up promptly at 7:30, and several of us got on board. Our hostel was the first stop of many around town, so it was well after 8 by the time we got going. We headed past the shore of the sound where the black-necked swans were, and then we started seeing views of the mountains, which made the ride go by quickly.
At the park entrance at Laguna Amarga we paid our park entry fee of 8000 pesos each. (No flamingos again this year!) Our plan was to hike the flatter southern part of Torres del Paine, since we had done the grand circuit last year. But we had no specific plans yet, so as the bus continued into the park we discussed our options. We decided that we would take the catamaran trip across Lago Pehoé and then walk south along the trail that would lead us to the park administration centre.
The road to Pudeto, where the catamaran started, was narrow and winding with many flocks of guanacos on either side, and the views of the Torres, the Cuernos, and Paine Grande were absolutely fantastic! After the bus dropped us off at the dock, we decided to walk over to view the Salto Grande as we had over an hour to wait for the catamaran. The Salto Grande was a very impressive waterfall, with the Río Paine dropping about 5 metres before flowing into Lago Pehoé. This area is where all the postcard views of the Cuernos are photographed, and with today’s clear sunny weather they were definitely spectacular. On our way back we saw a condor, our first this year.
The catamaran left promptly at 12 noon and we had a nice ride down the lake to Refugio Pehoé. It was quite expensive, 10000 pesos each, but we both agreed it was worth it. The lake was surprisingly calm with the only wind being the one caused by the movement of the boat. Arriving at Pehoé we walked over to the campground to eat lunch before heading out along the trail. As there was still no wind (unlike last year!) we ate lunch at a picnic table in front of the albergue instead of in the little picnic area behind the building.
We packed up then headed back along the trail in front of the refugio. They are in the process of constructing a large building which looks to be a hotel, so we’ll have to check that out if we return. Just as we started out we met a couple from the Czech Republic who were just coming down the trail we were about to go up. They were looking for advice on hiking the “W” and described the trail quite nicely for us.
At first the trail climbed steeply, but then it levelled off as we skirted Lago Pehoé. It was easy to follow as it undulated over the bluffs formed by harder rocks by the lakeshore. After a bit over an hour we came to the end of the lake and then crossed a low pass, which was a sea of waving grasses. Before long we came to the Río Grey, a broad and silent river coming down from the great glacier of the same name and carrying an occasional iceberg.
We were planning to camp at Campamento Las Carretas, so along the trail we kept watching for signs of the campground. It was supposed to take around 3 hours to hike there from Pehoé, so when we had been going for about that long and the trail was once again crossing former ranch lands, we decided we had gone too far. We consulted the map and decided to head back to an area that sort of looked like a campsite, and which was in the right place according to the map. This didn’t take long, and we set up camp in a grove of lenga trees. The river—our water supply—wasn’t far away but it was a little difficult to get down to it. We set up our new tent and piled our stuff inside, then decided to relax for a while. The weather was very hot and we needed the rest.
While we were relaxing, the forest around us was invaded by a noisy flock of Thorn-tailed Rayaditos. They are very common in this area, but we had forgotten them from last year. At 6:20 pm we finally decided it was time to make dinner. Tonight’s dinner was Lipton’s butter and herb pasta and sauce plus green beans. Last year our stove had died on the second-last day of our trip, so when we got home Paul spent some time replacing and refurbishing all of the pump parts. The result wasn’t very reliable, even after buying a completely new pump, so in the end we bought a new stove. Tonight was its first day of work and it worked really well; before we knew it the pasta was done and we were having hot chocolate and a cookie for dessert. After dinner Paul headed down to the river to fill water bottles and Rosemary cleaned up camp.
Soon afterward we heard barking from down by the river. After some searching we found that the noise was coming from a flock of about ten Spectacled Ducks. As the bird book says, “Voice: a short sharp bark.”
The sun went down behind the hills across the Río Grey at about 8:40 pm. By this time the temperature was finally cooling down. We were the only ones in this campground, if in fact it is the campground. We will find out tomorrow when we hike out to the Administration Centre.