January 27, 2003

Chile flagNo rain overnight, and it dawned clear. We got up and went straight up the trail to the Torres viewpoint. On the way up we met a couple of people photographing the bush with the red flowers that we had seen often (ciruelillo or firebush). They said that this was the second day they had been up to the viewpoint at dawn, and that today it was beautiful. And it was, although perhaps not as beautiful as it had been at 5 am. There was no cloud on top of them at all; our “mountain luck” was still working. So we photographed ourselves to prove to the doubters that we were really there.

Back down at the camp we had a cold breakfast, because we didn’t feel like eating hot food. This saved us from fighting with the stove as well. It took us a while to pack, since it was the first time we had packed after camping. So it wasn’t until about 11:30 that we were on the trail. It took us an hour and a half to get back down to El Chileno, where we bought a bottle of mineral water. There was no army here today, but we did see a condor again, perhaps the same bird as yesterday.

The trail down the hill to the hosteria was easy, and we were passing people who didn’t have packs. We arrived back at the campground we had started from the previous day at about 2:30 pm and ate lunch there. And now we were really up against the decision: were we going to hike the circuit or not? If we didn’t start until tomorrow, that would use up our single contingency day. So we agreed to go for it. This should put us at Campamento Serón, the first stop on the circuit, at about 7 pm.

The trail to Serón was a good trail. It climbed for an hour or so, and then levelled off. We were heading north into the valley of the Río Paine, which at this point has grassy fields with a fair number of coigüe trees scattered about. Higher up the slope the forest was continuous, but at our level the trees were widely spaced. And some of them were enormous, nearly a metre in diameter.

Suddenly the trail arrived at a closed gate, with two horses crowding the far side. This took us a little aback, but we were clearly on the only trail in the area. So we opened the gate, shooed the horses aside, and continued. We met nobody else on the trail, which was quite a contrast to yesterday. After another couple of hours the trail plunged back downhill into the Paine valley, where it crossed through flat country near the river. This flat country was grassy plains full of daisies, or their Patagonian look-alikes. For over an hour we walked through vast fields of daisies. And finally we were at Campamento Serón, a bit before 7 pm.

The dried cowpats we had passed in the fields meant that this area used to be cattle country, and that the building at Serón used to be an overnight refuge for cowboys. But now it was full of people, speaking a mixture of Spanish and English. We went out and cooked our dinner; today the stove was working perfectly, although it was not burning as energetically as it usually does. Perhaps the Chilean version of white gas is different than the North American version.

After dinner we went back into the refugio and had showers. We were not accustomed to having showers available on backpacking trips, but all around the circuit there will be refugios with showers and hot dinners available. We tried to dry our towel by the old wood stove and talked to the people there who could speak English. The proprietor was making mate, the Patagonian herbal drink, and shared some with us.

Outside it was nearly dark and the sky was partly clear. This was the first time on our trip we had had this combination of circumstances, so we could actually see the Southern Hemisphere stars well. The Southern Cross was there in the south, and so was Centaurus, at least Alpha and Beta. In the zenith was the bright star Canopus, and north of it the even brighter star Sirius. We recognized Canis Major, upside-down for us, and then a similarly upside-down Orion.

What will tomorrow bring? Can we overcome blisters and chafing?

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