Day 8 (18 Feb 2019):
18.8 km- Central to Bass de las Torres lookout (i.e. the towers) and back to Puerto Natales
8:48AM Today we complete the O circuit. Baby just wasn’t in the mood for sleep last night, which meant Porter wasn’t in the mood for hiking today. The weather was fantastic, perhaps the best of our trip. Sherpa bribed Porter with several cups of coffee and she miraculously wanted to hike. Today’s hike is all up hill. Until arrive of course. We trudged our way up slowly. After about an hour we spotted the elusive Puma! We tried to warn some hikers that were coming from the other direction. We shouted “Puma!” And they replied “Hola”. We tried again, same response. Apparently hola and puma sound the same to Chinese tourists. We tried! After watching the amazing creature for a couple minutes, we continued our trek. We briefly passed by a Refugio called Chileno but did not stop. The hike was hard but doable. The last section was steep and bouldery but hands were not necessary for the final scramble.
12:58PM The end was worth it. We saw the tower formation along with the high altitude lake. This is one of the most photographed areas in the park. The top was hidden a bit by low clouds that were dropping bits of snow on us for an enchanting experience. We stayed a little while to snag some photos and eat, but needed to get some place warmer to feed baby so we set off pretty quickly.
1:20PM We began the uneventful but welcome descent. The downhill offered great views of the valley we had hiked up and was much quicker. Since baby was asleep, we decided to walk all the way to the Refugio in Chileno for her lunch (and ours).
2:57PM At Chileno we splurged and bought a pizza! It was delicious for two hungry hikers, although it may not have been up to discerning epicurious standards. The rest was much needed.
3:45PM we completed our return after a nice rest fairly quickly. Pause for a gripe. If you are hiking, and someone comes from behind you, they are probably walking faster than you. Rather than trying to speed up, please allow them to pass. This is called hiker etiquette. For example, as we came up one one family, the husband encouraged his wife with these words, “hey hun, your gettin passed by an 8 month old.” Then they politely allowed us to scoot on by. Unfortunately, we had to tailgate a few people who thought they could move faster than us for an uncomfortably long period of time before we found a wide enough spot to pass. Most people, when they hear people coming from the rear, pause and allow them to go around, but not these people. Rude… They were not hikers, they were “trail hogs.” If we had a horn we would have honked it….
4:45PM We arrived back with plenty of time to both catch showers before leaving. We saw Mark and Catherina one last time and said goodbye. The park still has not dried out, but they are ferrying people with a boat. They were very kind to us with the baby and let us sit in a vehicle to stay warm while we were waiting. The boat ride itself was short and pleasant. What an adventure. Thankfully, the road back to Puerto Natales was passable again so we got on our bus and headed off.
Our rescue boat!
Finally, Baby is now the first ever to do the O circuit.If you are thinking about bringing a baby with you on the O, you should be prepared for weather extremes, a complete lack of facilities, knowing help could literally be days away, and be a very experienced hiker. Having hiked the Appalachian Trail for 6 months, we were very comfortable with the limitations of our gear, knowing when to go and when to turn back, what we needed to bring, etc.Porter is also a NICU nurse with significant knowledge of the medical needs of babies should an issue arise. If you do not have similar qualificatons, you probably shouldn’t think about hiking a trail like the O with a baby.
Day 7 (17 Feb 2019):
11 km- Los Cuernos to Central
10:00AM The rain came down. All night. The weather event which started several days ago still shows no sign of stopping. Naturally we put off starting our hike but to no avail. Everything we set out near the fire last night was dry except our quick dry towel. Go figure. None of it will be dry by the end of today. Today is an easy hike on the ring trail around the South side of the park completing the loop and bringing us back to our starting point. It follows a ridge that offered nice views of a glacial lake on one side and clouds on the other. The mountains were hidden by low clouds but would have been spectacular to see. As we left, we were warned that higher water was blocking the exit of the park and the trails would be flooded. They were concerned about us being able to reach the central area because of some rivers that were not normally there… We promised to turn back if we encountered anything unsafe to pass.
We began our hike through a drizzle of cold rain mixed with hail. Our new patch to baby’s rain fly was much improved over yesterday’s, we had tucked a sheet of plastic garbage bag in between the rain fly and the sun cover. It worked perfectly! The flooded sections of the trail offered lots of free shoe washes! Nothing dangerous though.
Hikers we ate dinner with yesterday crossing a swollen stream.
2:05PM When we arrived at central and tried to checkin, the campsites were a mess. They asked us to come back because none of the tents were usable.We headed to the Refugio for a break from the weather and to feed baby and eat lunch.
As we waited, someone from Chile said, “You know this isn’t normal, right? This has only happened twice in the last ten years.” The weather had overwhelmed the drainage of the park. The only road out of the park is flooded. The logistics of Torres del Paine is a bit complex since it is so remote. There is a bus service that runs to the park entrance from Puerto Natales, the nearest city 2 hours away. From there, a shuttle bus drives you inside the park another 30 minutes to the hiking areas. The shuttle route crosses a bridge that we learned is 6 feet under water. We had heard that there might be a temporary boat option which gave us some hope of leaving. Then we learned that the road from the entry leading back to Puerto Natales was impassable. We are officially on an island for now :).
Krystal has secretly been praying that we would not have to camp tonight since it is so cold and wet. As we were sitting in the Refugio, the person who checks people in for the camp site came to us and let us know that we had been bumped to the Refugio because all the tents left were leaking. Praise God another answer to prayer. We had a nice afternoon chatting with Mark and Tom, who were stranded in the Refugio as well. Everyone in the Refugio was stranded and trying to dry out. It had the feeling of a refugee camp, although most were in good spirits.
What adventure for our family! Bad weather makes for great stories :). Stranded during a severe weather event in one of the remotest places in a foreign country :). Even with the spectacular views shrouded in clouds, our hike today was a success.
Day 6 (16 Feb 2019):
15 km – Los Cuernos to Frances Valley back to Los Cuernos
10:30AM We waited to leave this morning because the weather was rainy, windy, and cold. Last night 140km/hr wind tore through the area destroying 10 tents and removing a part of the roof from the Refugio. Praise God we were safe in a cabin! It was clearing up, with beautiful rainbows in the sky so we decided to backtrack to the Frances Valley with the hope of seeing some pretty views. Today is an easy day. Porter doesn’t have to carry a pack since we are staying in the same room 2 nights in a row. Her Sherpa carries baby, snacks, and gear for the day. The location of our cabin was a bit inconvenient because we had to hike back 5km each way to get to the start of the trail head up the valley. It would probably have been nicer to spend the night in Paine Grande and see the valley on the way to Los Cuernos although it would have made for a pretty long day.
View of one place in the morning. Same view further down.
12:20PM After a brisk walk back, we arrived at Italiano. We stopped for a snack and to top off the baby tank before resuming our hike.
12:45PM As we hiked up the Francés valley, the weather was looking encouraging. The sun looked like it might poke through and you could almost see you shadow. We saw Ben and his tour group again. They said it was clear ahead and we might even be able to make it to Britanica. We wished them well knowing it was the last time we would see them and headed on. At one point we ran into someone who said “you’re the ones with the baby! You’re famous and don’t even know it.” The hike itself was steep and followed the ridge of an ancient lateral morraine through the glacially carved valley. As we got further up the valley, the weather began to turn on us. Weather in Patagonia is very unpredictable and can be fairly extreme.
Notice the tear in the clear plastic.
1:50PM What we expected to be a dry, sunny day was suddenly very wet and rainy and cold and windy. As we approached the summit the mountains in the distance were now whited out and sheets of rain were blowing through the valley. We snapped a picture of the glacier from the viewpoint and then quickly headed back down the mountain. We had a gear failure to compound matters. The rain cover keeping baby warm and dry had a hole torn in it sometime yesterday. We noticed it this morning and tried to conduct an emergency repair with duct tape but the temporary repair did not hold. Luckily REI has a rock solid return policy and the whole was on the side. We had a towel tucked in the area it seemed to do a decent job of keeping the weather off of baby. With our backs to the glacier, we heard the occasional avalanche as we high tailed it out out of there.
2:45PM As we arrived back at Italiano, baby was asleep, rain was coming down hard, and we decided to skip lunch and get back to our cabin as quickly as possible, not confident in the packs ability to keep baby dry. Along the way we met a younger couple hiking the opposite direction. The woman looked at her husband and said, “that could be us!!” with much excitement in her voice. The husband looked at the size and contents of the pack and quickly, succinctly, and emphatically responded “no”. We tried to encourage them. Folks, it is ok to have a baby, your life will not somehow magically come to an end.
View of same place in the afternoon.
We made good time. It helped being hailed on. Thankfully the wind was fairly calm, unlikely the previous few days.
4:20PM When we arrived, first order of business was to get out of our soaking wet clothes. Thankfully, baby was completely dry and warm!!! We on the other hand were completely drenched from head to toe. Even with the hole in the rain cover, the extra towel we had wedged in diverted all of the rain away from baby. The next order of business was to get one of the attendants to light the fire in our fireplace. we were cold. After it was good and warm, Sherpa decided to wring out his socks on the firebox. Instantly, the water evaporated, and then it hit us, the stinky socks smell filled the whole cabin! Word of wisdom, don’t ever evaporate water from dirty hiking socks into an air space you plan to occupy! Unless you really like an amplified version of the bowling alley rental shoe smell.After the stinky sock incident, Sherpa was inspired and went to wring our his soaking underwear over the fire box to see if he could replicate the gym locker room smell but Porter vetoed the idea.
Day 5 (15 Feb 2019):
25 km – Refugio Grey to Los Cuernos cabin
10:15AM The weather last night was very windy. We were glad to have slept inside after all. Porter kept praying that if it had to rain, it would happen while we were protected from the elements. Praise God! After a filling breakfast and a long goodbye to Victor and Rachel, we started our hike. There was a mountain to climb the first part of the day. It wasn’t too bad. The best views were behind us as we crept further away from the glacier and back to the otherwise terrific scenery. We looked back often and enjoyed rainbows over the lake as the sun poked through the edge of mist blowing from the mountains behind us. The lake itself had many icebergs that broke off from the glacier which added an other worldly feeling to the whole hike. The section was not difficult.
1:26PM We stopped for lunch at Paine Grande. What an incredibly nice hotel. It has catamaran service to buses that provide access to the park, has a fine view of a glacial lake with water prettier than the Caribbean, and a fantastic view of the mountains. Many people stop here for a night and then go on to do the valley. We are continuing to Cuernos instead where we will stay 2 nights in a cabin with a hike back to the valley. There are many ways to organize the hike.
2:59PM After a restful lunch, we picked back up our hike, probably a little later than we planned. You do have to take time to breast feed the baby. In the past, Porter would eat while feeding baby, but now baby gets distracted by the food and stops sucking to grab bites of human food. This has been new over the last few days and is fun but does slow our breaks down. The hike to Italiano again proved itself to be different and exciting from every other so far. One of the things that makes Torres del Paine so special is that there is so much to see. This section was fairly flat and easy to traverse. It more or less followed one perfectly turquoise blue lake for a while with great views of the entrance to the valley over to another dark blue lake where we watched gusts of wind stir up small water spouts.
5:05PM We arrived at Italiano but didn’t stop. In fairness there really wasn’t much there aside from tents. We did pause to grab our last snickers bar out of the pack for some fuel. The last leg of the hike was supposed to take 2.5 hrs. Everything in the park is based on times not distances which is odd because everyone goes at a different pace. To make matters worse, many of the signs in the park are misleading, with the distances scratched out by frustrated hikers. For example, one of the signs said the altitude at Italiano was 215 meters. We then walked to a sign that said the altitude was 240 meters. We kept walking up hill to Italiano. Another example is the park map stating that it is a 2.5 km walk from Italiano to los Cuernos when a sign showed it as 5Km. At a very fast pace it still took us over an hour and a half (not the 2.5 hrs the sign told us it would take by the way). A few days ago we heard the guides tell one of the groups, “your maps may say 9km, but trust me it’s 12, watch your gps…”. All of that to say we really don’t pay much attention to the signs, maps, times, or distances. This is one area that could definitely be improved. With the uncertainty of how long the last leg would take us and hope of getting dinner, we set off at a brisk pace along a beach on yet a different lake that was in between the shades of blue of the previous two lakes. We hiked this portion with Catherina, a waitress at Torres central who has been here since January. She works 11 days and gets 4 off. Her English was very good and we enjoyed chatting with her.
6:41PM We arrived exhausted after our longest day of hiking at los Cuernos for a two night stay in the cabins. We are supposed to do the French valley tomorrow if weather permits or take a zero day otherwise. The weather here is awesome. The wind gusts are so strong they are actually reversing the flow of water falls, blowing the water back up the mountain! Last and most importantly, we had an answer to prayer! Porter has been nursing an infection in a scratch she has on her lower leg. She had been trying various methods to fight it unsuccessfully. We had even talked about catching a boat out of the park to try to get to a pharmacy a couple hours away, which would have ended our hike early. At dinner, there was a group of nurses who we chatted with for awhile. Porter mentioned the infection and one of the nurses ran to her room and brought back a powerful hospital grade topical antibiotic. Praise God!
Day 4 (14 Feb 2019):
19 km – Campsite Perros to Refugio Grey
6:59AM We left camp! Today was the earliest we were able to get going. We were advised by everyone from tour companies to rangers to leave before 7 and we did! Our goal was to leave ahead of the tour companies so that if we ran into issues they could help. All of the guides carry radios. Today’s hike is the hardest in the entire park. It consists of a steep elevation gain across a scree field left over from a receeding glacier, followed by traversing a dangerous pass with hurricane force winds, followed by a very steep descent all with exposure to the elements. The first hour of the hike was a muddy upward march through trees. When we broke through the treeline, the winds began to hit us. Dangerous gusts that literally knocked people over. Marching upward, we would turn sideways when the gusts hit to keep the wind off of baby’s face and plant our trekking poles in and just wait. Thankfully, neither of us were blown over, but many people from the tour groups and even one of the guides and porters admitted to being blown over at least once during the climb! The higher we climbed, the more frequent the gusts became. In addition, there was a small amount of sleet that made the experience especially enjoyable. Baby never cried once, but she did scowl at us to express her annoyance at one point. We had her very protected and warm. She was wearing smart wool socks for infants, the home sewn base layer that Porter made underneath a ski suit with a down blanket surrounding her and another blanket tucked between the rain cover and the sun confer to offer additional protection.
10:00 AM We summitted the John Gardner pass 3 hours after starting the journey. We had been leap frogging the smaller tour group, operated by “Chile Nativo”, going basically the same pace but taking breaks in different spots. A few minutes before summitting, the guide, Ben, told us to fall in line as we approached the most dangerous part of the hike. Rather than gusts, the top of the pass had a sustained wall of hurricane force winds all the way across. We were told that it was 120km/hr when we crossed! We staggered head first with our trekking poles through the onslaught. You could lean forward and not fall over the wind was so strong! Baby was so excited, she was giggling and squeaking. The tour group with us all commented on how cheery she was. Thankfully! She is now the first baby ever to cross the pass. Needless to say we didnt linger at the top but we were able to sneak a snickers bar a couple minutes before the top. The hike down was steep but manageable. We took our time navigating the terrain. God is so good. It was like He was watching over us. In fact, the sky went blue right as we crossed. It didn’t seem to slow down the wind, but the brief window gave us a full view of the glacier which soon diminished as clouds rolled back in. If we had ascended even 10 minutes earlier or later it would have not been the same.
12:15PM We arrived at the paso ranger station safely! We celebrated with a long and relaxing lunch break. The porters from the larger tour had arrived before us and left after us. They were so excited to see the baby. Porter fed her some milk to honor the occasion and Sherpa pulled out some cookies. The porters started chanting “cookie, cookie, cookie” as baby reached for the cookies and let out a yelp. Needless to say, baby got a cookie too.
1:50PM we departed our lunch area and continued a steep descent, which relented into one of the most beautiful hikes in the park! We basically hiked a well defined trail on the edge of an ancient lateral morraine that followed the grey glacier for a long time. The views were amazing. There were several suspension bridges as well. What an amazing feeling of victory after conquering the pass and then getting to descend to camp. The trail seemed to go on forever and gave us false hope. One of the signs said 1 km to go. We quickly drank all of our remaining water and headed on. Later we saw another sign that show several kilometers to go. To make matters worse, we saw a day hiker taking pictures that was heading the other directionand asked how far is was. They told us 30 or 45 minutes. Our hearts sank an hour later when she jogged by us and we realized she was a trail runner and we still had a long hike ahead. The views of the glacier made it all worth while though.
5:15Pm we arrived at the refugio! We wanted to be in a tent just to avoid inconveniencing people in the bunk room with our baby, but this location did not have any tents available when we booked and is the only night we spent in a Refugio. It worked out just fine. The bunk room had four beds. We shared the room with a girl named Rachel who had just finished a 2.5 year stint with the peace core and was traveling abroad before coming back home to Georgia. Her dad joined her and they were doing most of the W hike together. At dinner we got to see many of the people we have been hiking along with, many probably for the last time. From Refugio grey onward, there are many different options for hiking. The large tour group took significantly longer to complete today’s hike than most solo hikers or smaller tours. One of the people from the larger tour confided how frustrated they were about having to go so slowly and stay so long out in the elements. We sympathized. A 15 person tour group would be frustrating to hike with.The small tour group operates by “Chile nativo” that only had 3 people on the tour plus two porters and a guide was really the way to go if you wanted to have a guided experience! Both tour groups were nice, but the smaller one offered a far better experience.
Day 3 (13 Feb 2019):
11.8 km – Campsite Dickson to Campsite Perros
9:15AM After having an early breakfast at 7AM, feeding baby, and packing up, we were off for our third day of hiking. Today was our last “easy” day for awhile. We climbed gradually through an old growth hardwood forest for most of the day. The trail reminded us of the Appalachian Trail. We were always just a few yards from the most amazing views, if only we could see through trees. The trees here are mangled looking, as if they occasionally see high winds, but not enough to cause them to grow in a certain direction, only enough to snap in two the ambition young trees that gain too much height without enough width.
We have gotten to know a lot of the hikers in our bubble because everyone is pretty much staying at the same camp grounds and we leap frog many of them through the day. This morning we passed a couple of hikers from Seattle many times. They have been hiking together for 30 years but are just that, hiking partners. There is another couple from upstate New York names Mark and Tom (see the picture). We have enjoyed hearing about their adventures over dinner and breakfast the last few days. There was also a group of about 6 that do not speak English but always smiles at baby. They passed us singing a beautiful Spanish melody one time while we were taking a break. The next time we passed them, Sherpa sang “Demos gracias al senor” much to their amusement.
The end of the hike offered a spectacular view of Los Perros glacier.We snapped a picture of baby peaking out of her little princess palace. She has been really enjoying the hike. She goes from cooing and singing to taking naps on and off throughout the day. We enjoyed another long break before going the final few hundred yards to camp. All in all, the day was short, the hike gentle, our pace relaxed, and the weather fantastic.
3:30PM We arrived at Campsite Perros, the most remote campground in the park. There were no hot cooked meals here, instead, MRE’s carried in on horse back. They didn’t give us box lunches so we had to buy snacks for tomorrow’s hike. We went to sleep early today due to the tough hike tomorrow. We have been praying for good weather and are optimistic.The rangers here again told us that she will be the youngest person to ever complete the hike!
Our tramily (Trail family) is very diverse but everyone gets along. For instance, at dinner there was a pair of arctic scientists studying the affects of climate change along with someone who works for a large international oil company, and a pair of same sex partners, along with Sherpa, currently a southern baptist worship leader. It’s amazing how a common interest like hiking can bridge huge differences. Thankfully, people with ideological differences are usually civil at the dinner table :). It is unnecessary to point out that there is a lot of hate in the world. Until Jesus returns, that will remain. He is the one who being rich in mercy broke down the wall of hostility that divides people which is spoken of in Ephesians 2:14. He is the hope for this world, hope for reconciliation and love. He is the hope for the end of hate. We look forward to that day when we He returns!
Day 2 (12 Feb 2019):
18 km – Campsite Seron to Campsite Dickinson
8AM After sleeping in, we had breakfast at the camp, packed up, and began our hike. Today’s hike is mostly flat so we were not in a big rush to get started. Porter enjoyed watching condors try to sneak treats from peoples unattenddd bags as well. They are rather large creatures.
9:30AM The trail initially continued more or less in the same direction as the previous day with nice but not spectacular views. Then came the climb. It was short, maybe 20 minutes, steep, and at the top, the trail turned into a new valley. Wow. Glaciers at every turn. Towering snow covered mountains of a variety of colors and textures. John Muir would have approved, and maybe have been a bit jealous? The backside of the park is remote and beautiful. The rest of the day we walked through that beautiful valley surrounded by a cathedral of amazing snow covered peaks. The trail now was very windy.
12:40PM We stopped for lunch at a ranger station which had toilets (gross), water, and picnic tables. The rangers told us that our baby is the youngest person ever to do the trek. She is holding up really well. We did have one parent fail and let her get too much sun on the cheeks yesterday. We were more careful today. She also let us know she was getting cold with the wind earlier so we bundled her better and she took a nice nap.
1:30PM We picked back up hiking after a restful lunch and the trail was basically flat. We were fortunate to have good weather and great views. The sun was occasionally on our backs.
4:30PM we arrived at camp Dickinson. This is supposed to be the most beautiful Campsite in the park. We agree. Glaciers, rivers, tall mountains everywhere. Gorgeous. There is a Refugio here as well. A fellow hiker we met named Emily got upgraded to one because she had reserved a tent but they were full. We were happy for her. Our dinner was not until 8PM because the earlier slot was reserved for the tour group. To hold us over we bought snacks- cheese, salami, and tortillas! It was great. While eating them in the mess hall, we chatted with fellow hikers. There were a few from Texas. One was a Dr. He had mice chew through his bag last night. We gave him our emergency duck tape and encouraged him to start some whole hiking in the future. We also shared good times with another fellow hiker named Jess who used to live very close to where we currently live in Texas. She is in the medical field like Porter. They spent a long time trying to figure out if they had mutual friends. She is just getting into hiking. We hope she enjoys the hobby and keeps up with it!
Day 1 (11 Feb 2019):
13 km – Torre Central to Campsite Seron
6:40AM Left hostel del Patagonico for a short walk to the bus station.
Bundled up little bear in her homemade sleeping bag to stay warm. Weather looks promising.
7:02AM Bus departed Puerto Natales for Torres del Paine
10:40AM started hiking. The start of the trail was not super obvious. We actually made a wrong turn and missed the start of it. The problem was that it initially followed a road and then split off but the split was not marked well. The trail itself follows an old seldom used road in many parts, horse trails, and traverses through several horse corral’s on private property. It was mostly flat the whole day, basically edging around the base of a large mountain. Views were of wide dry mountains that looked like zebras, black along the top ridge with narrow white vertical streaks of snow making their way to the trees. There was also a very beautiful turquoise stream of glacial melt that the trail followed in part. Overall it was a very leisurely day with only a few hours of mostly level walking and a light load on the shoulders.
12:30pm We stopped for lunch at a spring. Baby got a snack too. She loves the pack and hasn’t complained once during the hike. We watched a few hikers get water and then decided to do the same. The water in the park is drinkable as long as it comes from a moving source like a stream and upstream of the other hikers. While at the stream, some loose horses came for a sip as well. Porter really enjoyed watching them. A tour group came by as well. They asked what we were doing. Sherpa said “just the circuit”. One of the tour members disagreed, “it’s never just the circuit.” The circuit trek is world famous and has some tricky parts for sure. It was only a slight surprise when the tour guide told us our baby would be the youngest ever to make it!
We took a break at another stream a few kilometers from camp and enjoyed the rest of our sack lunch. Food in the park comes from 3000 kilometers away due to its extreme southern location and is quite pricey as a result. Not the baby food though. Our baby enjoyed locally sourced breast milk, saves the parents a lot of pack weight :).
3:45PM We arrived at camp after a very leisure pace. The camp is well equipped. Our tent was already setup with sleeping pads and sleeping bags. The tent is on a platform. We were able to sign up for early (7pm) dinner and late (8am) breakfast! Yes, they cook for us too. Our baby is a bit of a spectacle. Some seem encouraged (ie see you can have kids and still do fun things), others impressed. One glamper declared that we should win the parents of the century award because parent of the year would not be enough. There were a range of hikers, some carried their own gear and food, others like us rented the tents and equipment and paid for meals, some even paid for porters to carry bags for them. A tour guide offered Sherpa a job as a baby porter to offer the service of ferrying babies for people. Sherpa was quick to decline and point out that if they wanted a Porter, they should look to his wife :). Because of the full service, we only brought a handful of snacks. The most important hiking snack is a snickers bar, which we “discovered” on the Appalachian Trail. They taste better when hiking, we promise! We were fortunate enough to find a few pricey ones in town, although they are not native to Chilean cuisine. We shared one of the precious snacks while waiting for dinner.