February 1, 2003

Chile flagThe stories about the toilet were true, and we haven’t inquired into what was in those plastic bags behind the seat. It also has the useful feature that you can latch the door from the outside but not from the inside.

But enough about that. Our plan for today was to hike up the Valle del Frances to Campamento Britannico and to get great views of the Cuernos and their neighbours. However the day was a typical Torres del Paine day, with clouds covering the mountaintops and from time to time dropping little showers of rain on us. So we hiked up the trail, grumbling about the weather. But we did get great views of the Glaciar Frances on the other side of the valley. We could hear the occasional bit falling off it, and from time to time we could see the corresponding snowslide.

On the trail we saw little piles of droppings from some animal that had been eating the chaura berries that were ripe everywhere. For a while they mystified us, because there are no mammals larger than mice in the area. But then we realized that there were fruit-eating birds in the area, namely the Austral Parakeets we could hear squawking. The piles looked about the right size to be parrot droppings.

About halfway up to Britannico there was a spot where we had a great view of the lakes and plains to the south, including the Explora Hotel where many of our fellow cruisers were scheduled to go after the cruise. But the tops of the Cuernos were still in clouds. We carried on up to the campamento, where there was only one tent. Even though it was much less crowded than Campamento Italiano, we were still glad we hadn’t carried our packs all the way up there, especially since at one point we had been pulling ourselves up the trail on fixed ropes. Above Britannico it was even colder and windier, so we gave it up after a while. The mountains were still in clouds.

On the way back down, who should we meet but the Dutch couple from the cruise, again! They were just above the point with the good views to the south, and we suggested to them that it wasn’t worth climbing much higher this morning.

Back at Italiano, we quickly packed up and set out on the trail for Refugio Los Cuernos, about two hours away. Although it was still cloudy, there was no wind and the air was warm. The trail undulated across bushy steppe, with little elevation change, roughly following the shore of Lago Nordenskjold. Surprisingly soon we came over a rise and saw the green roof of the refugio in the distance along the lakeshore, and before long we were there.

Refugio Los Cuernos is situated just above the shore of the lake, immediately below the Cuerno Principal (“Main Horn”) and the Cuerno Este (“East Horn”). Most of the flat tent spots were already taken, so we put up our tent on the least sloped bit of ground we could find. Then we went into the refugio and signed up for dinner. But dinnertime was still a couple of hours away, so we sat by the window and looked out at the Cuernos, which by this time were free of clouds. Obligingly, a couple of condors came out and soared far overhead.

Mike and Rosalie, the Australians, had done the same hike we had done, but they decided to carry on to Hosteria Las Torres. That way they could catch the bus to the Administration Centre and go to the museum there. Uira, the Brazilian, showed up later so we chatted to him for a while.

The dinner was not as good as what we had heard about the dinners at the Andescape refugios, and it cost more too. What’s worse, it was pasta, which is what we would have cooked ourselves. Still, it was hot and filling, and we didn’t have to mess with a broken stove.

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