Day 3 – Campamento Italiano to Refugio Los Cuernos
Most of today will be spent climbing along the length of Valle del Frances. French Valley is the central park of the W and is a fairly rocky climb all the way to the top. The good thing about the valley is you must come back the same way meaning there’s no need to carry your pack. So with a day pack and some water we headed off up the valley. The climb is fairly strenuous, starting out by climb up through the forest alongside the glacier where every now and again a loud thunderous crack would announce another piece of ice falling from it.
The trail followed Rio del Frances up to a large tarn at the base of the glacier previously unseen. After crossing a gully with a small waterfall, the terrain grew rockier and headed further up the side of the river which was crashing down across the rocks.
Looking back, the plains below started to open up and we could see the lagos at the base of the mountains.
The trail headed into the forest again, this time steeper.
After a while, we popped out at an open rocky area and looked to to see we were surrounded by mountains. The view here was amazing in all directions. Ten minutes further on we arrived at the closed Campamento Britanico. We pushed on further for ten minutes to arrive at the mirador, a small peak set in the middle of the mountains.
Standing on the peak, it felt like we were standing on the tongue of the mountains surrounded by teeth with the molars behind us to the jagged incisors ahead of us. Unfortunately no picture could truly capture the sense of being surround by these peaks.
There was a sign telling us that we had reached the end of the mountain trail with a rather obvious trail going beyond it. My companion and I followed it for a while to another rubbly peak a little higher.
It took us about an hour to make our way back down again. Back at camp, we packed up and headed on to Refugio Cuernos. This next Refugio is the most expensive of the Parque Nacional and my companion decided to walk on to the next camp beyond it instead of paying the price – another 5 hours walk – so I walked on alone. The rest of the trail wasn’t too difficult, along the edge of Lago Nordernskjold.
I crossed a pair of hills before arriving at the Refugio Los Cuernos where they had platforms available to pitch tents upon. The wind was too strong to use my camp stove, so I opted for dinner at the refugio, but for the amount I paid it wasn’t that great. As darkness fell, I headed to bed with the hardest part of the W ahead of me.
Day 4 – Refugio Y Campamento Los Cuernos to Campamento Los Torres
Overnight the sky cleared and the full moon was bright in the sky. Camping on platforms among trees sheltered my tent from the slight wind. I’d expected rain overnight too but none came and today I’m greeted by a slightly cloudy day. The weather has been great so far, thankfully.
I headed out of camp and up a hill, looking back across the refugio and the small chalets that are part of it.
My morning was spent walking up and down slight hills as I worked my way alongside Lago Nordenskjold and under the peaks of Cuernos del Paine.
At the top of some of the hills there are good views of the lake in both directions. The trail plodded on and I had to step aside on occasion for a train of horses heading one way or the other along the trail.
We have been told of a shortcut and I came to the sign about three quarters of the way to Hotel Los Torres and followed it.
It seemed to run parallel to the other trail for a while then began climbing the hill towards Refugio Chileno. The terrain changed as I walked, from the yellow grass into flowing green grasslands. I looked back to see a small lake.
The climb isn’t steep, but it climbs steadily, which can be worse. Thankfully there is the occasional flat area giving some respite. Soon the path connects with the one coming from the Hotel Los Torres, the path changes and there are more day walkers. There’s a short steep climb before it heads down equally steeply towards Chileno, just visible where the river meets the forest.
The refugio is now closed for the season but it’s still a good place to stop for lunch. I crossed the river and dropped my pack at a picnic table, sitting in the sun. After 30 minutes I headed on for the last part of the day’s walk.
Within 5 minutes, the trail crossed back across the river and was a difficult climb for 90 minutes through the forest. I veritably crawled into Campamento Los Torres and after a rest, I set up my tent. I then decided to climb further up the mountain to see the towers in the afternoon light.
While they say it’s best at sunrise and most people will be climbing up in the morning, my walk tomorrow is long and I don’t wish to add to it. The track begins climbing steeply through the forest and is hard work, I sit and rest after 15 minutes before continuing up a rocky section of the track which meanders through the boulders for another 30 minutes before eventually coming out at the towers and the glacier lake below it. The view in the afternoon sun is still stunning. I walk down to the edge of the pristine blue green lake and drink from the water.
After enjoying the view for a while, I headed down again.
The Lone Trail Wanderer