January 31, 2003

Chile flagThe drama has gone out of our trip now. All of our days from here on are easy days, although anything would seem easy after Paso John Garner. Not that it’s going to be just one foot in front of the other, though, there are still more sights to be seen.

As we got up the sky was at least partly blue, which was a good sign. And the icebergs had rearranged themselves slightly in the bay overnight. We ate breakfast, packed, and hit the trail about 9:30.

Before long the sun had risen as we passed the south end of the Cordon Olguin, the jagged mountains just to the east. That meant that we had to find our long-forgotten bottle of sunscreen and put it to use. The trail south to Lago Pehoé was reasonably well graded, with no abrupt ups and downs. We started to meet day hikers from Pehoé, which is accessible by public transport, and within an hour we had passed more people that we had met on the whole circuit up to then.

After a couple of hours the trail led through the “Quebrada de los Vientos”, or “Windy Gulch”, which is very aptly named. From there we got our first view of Lago Pehoé, a beautiful green lake. And there was the Chilean flag flapping over the refugio and the catamaran coming in to the dock. What a pretty picture! The Quebrada de los Vientos points directly at Pehoé, which means you can hardly stand upright there. We wobbled into the tin shelter at the back of the campground office and ate our lunch in there.

The campground is quite interesting; each site has an enormous wind barrier on its north side. So the wind we were experiencing must be quite usual. We walked over to the refugio to have a look at it before leaving. It looked pretty much like the other Andescape refugios we had seen at Grey and Dickson, but then somebody popped out the front door and said “Welcome to Torres del Paine!” It was the Dutch couple who had been on the cruise with us! They had left the cruise in Ushuaia, stayed there a couple of days, flown up to El Calafate for a while, then made the short trip down to Puerto Natales, and here they were. We recommended the day trip up to Glaciar Grey to them.

From Pehoé we got our first view of the Cuernos (“Horns”) del Paine. Our “mountain luck” was working again, so this first view was spectacular. And the next section of the trail was going to Campamento Italiano, which is located near the base of the Cuernos. But apart from the continuing view of the Cuernos, the trail was rather uninteresting. And Campamento Italiano was a letdown: a packed collection of tents in a gloomy forest, with no toilet.

We recalled, though, that the couple we had discussed the circuit with at Casa Cecilia had mentioned there was a better site about ten minutes down the trail. So we went along to have a look and, sure enough, a couple of minutes took us to another collection of tents, slightly less packed, in a slightly less gloomy forest, with a toilet. But the toilet was described to us as “two boards over a pile of shit”; we may look into that later. Fortunately there were some CONAF and army guys digging for a new one, and they may be finished this year.

We brewed some soup to warm up, and it took ages to heat the water for it. This was a forerunner of what happened at dinner, which was that the stove wouldn’t start at all. The pump wasn’t producing enough pressure. So Paul got out the spare parts kit and started fixing it. First replace and oil the leather pump cup—no effect. Next disassemble the fuel jet to clean it, and the pump chose that moment to start leaking gas. That meant the O-ring was bad; oil that and put the pump back together—leak stopped but still no pressure.

The next step would be to take apart the pump, extract a spring and a little rubber ball, and wash them in clean gas. That seemed too fiddly to try in a dark windy forest, so we decided to forget it. The Australian couple, Mike and Rosalie, were camped nearby and let us use their stove to boil some water. And there’s only one more night of camping, so we will buy dinner at the refugio that night. So we can get along without the stove now.

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