January 17, 2006
We had to get up at 4:00 this morning. There's a great viewpoint of the Torres del Paine about an hour from camp, and we wanted to get to it before sunrise. We had walked part way up the trail yesterday afternoon, so we had a good idea of where we needed to go. The problem was that it wasn't really a trail; it was more of an exercise in climbing up a bunch of rocks for an hour. This was fine during daylight because the general direction was marked by red dots painted on every few rocks. However, before sunrise, the dots weren't visible. Neither was much else.
We got lost almost immediately. Tony and I also lost contact with John. Still, as long as we kept going uphill, we figured we'd be fine. Suddenly, the rocks turned into sand, which made for a tough climb. Then, then sand ended and we entered the forest. We were definitely far from the trail at that point. The brush was really thick, so every inch was a fight. At some point, I lost my lens cap when it got knocked off of my camera. I was beginning to get frustrated because the sky was getting brighter and I couldn't see the towers yet. I didn't want to come all that way just to miss the sunrise over the towers, which was supposed to be the best part of the whole trip. After all, every postcard of the national park features the towers stained blood red by the rising sun's light.
Finally, I saw the top of the tallest tower poke out above the forest. I got some new motivation and scurried up the hill, about ten minutes before the light was at its finest. Strangely, I didn't notice anyone else around, but my view was perfect, so I stayed put. The top of the towers did indeed turn red, although it wasn't nearly as good as in the postcards. After ten minutes of redness, the light suddenly faded and the moment was gone. The day had begun.
It was windy and cold, so I was ready to go back down. Tony and John found me at that point, and we went down together. We also noticed that we were far above the official mirador, so we had a much better view than everyone else. Sometimes getting lost has its benefits.
We went down to camp, ate porridge for breakfast, and took a nap for an hour before packing up and heading out. It was a three-hour walk back to Hosteria Las Torres, where we started yesterday. Until that point, we had spent our entire trek on the "W," and there were other tourists everywhere. Some were just doing a day or two; others were walking the whole five days. Next, we were going to begin our three or four day section outside of the "W." Sure enough, as soon as we started our four-hour walk to the end of the day, the people disappeared. We were practically the only ones on the trail, which became a problem almost right away.
Tony and I got a few minutes ahead of John, which normally wouldn't be a big deal, but this time, we approached a fork in the path. One part of the path went straight, the other part went left. There were two signs: one telling us to go left, and another stating not to go straight. Tony and I thought the directions were unambiguous and continued on without thinking anything of it. We stopped for a quick drink of water a few minutes later, and figured we should wait for John.
Twenty minutes passed and John still hadn't shown up. We figured that he either got hurt and needed someone to help him, or didn't see the signs stating to turn and got lost. Tony stayed behind with our backpacks while I went to look for John. I traced our route back for several minutes, but still saw no sign of him. Next, I went back to the road we weren't supposed to go down. All there was was some guy's house followed by a thick marshy area. There was no trail in sight. I figured that he'd for sure know that something was wrong and wouldn't have gone that way. Still, him being lost appeared to be the only possible explanation, given that I couldn't find him.
I walked back to where Tony was sitting. We looked at the map and decided that if John kept walking in the wrong direction, he would eventually hit another trail and would be able to continue from there. Then a couple passed us and told us that there wasn't anyone on the trail who was hurt, so the only possibility was that John was lost.
Figuring that John might already be on the other trail, we continued without him and got to the campsite a few hours later. Just when we were talking about how long we should wait before sending out a search-and-rescue squad, John showed up. He had indeed not seen either of the signs and gotten lost, but he found the trail later. I know it's not a really exciting ending to the story, but John was OK, which is the most important thing.
After hiking for nine hours, we were all thoroughly worn out at the end of the day. We set up camp at Seron and only had a few hours of daylight left to cook dinner. John made another fantastic soup. We had to pay to camp this time, so not wanting my money to go to waste, I took a shower. It was ice cold, so I wished I had been content with being dirty and smelly.
We had originally planned to go on the trek for eight days, but Tony studied the map today and figured out that it would be possible to do it in seven. It would require hiking for ten hours tomorrow, but it was our only choice because Tony had to get back to Lima soon after our trek finished. (Lima is a loooong way from Torres del Paine. It's where I started my trip four months ago.) Given how long our day was today, it was easy for me to get the rest I would need for another tough day tomorrow.
The photo album for this entry is here.