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December 30, 2015

In doing my research and planning this trip, I read we could camp at Británico. This was old information as this campground has been closed a few years. Perhaps I should have purchased a book on the park rather than scanning the internet. The closest alternative was Campamento Italiano, so that is how we ended up there. Camping at Italiano made yesterday a few hours longer, but it made for a very short day today. According to the signs, we only had to trek 2.5 hours to Los Cuernos, operated by Fantástico Sur, where we had our next accommodations reserved. As such, we slept in (at least for our standards). David heated up some water, and we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast of oatmeal and coffee in our tent.

The trail to Los Cuernos led us around rock formations, along the river and through the woods. The wind was so still that the temperature felt warm. We had to break out the bug spray and the sunscreen as we donned T-shirts. Soon we arrived on the shores of Nordernskjöld Lake. Its glassy turquoise surface reflected the clouds in the sky. We just chilled on the rocky beach and admired the scenery.

After a two hour stroll up and down the rocky trail, we arrived at Los Cuernos. We arrived 30 minutes earlier than expected, so we had to wait a little while to check in, but in the mean time we enjoyed the deck and adjusted for a few unexpected items that reared their head. We thought we bought two packages of ravioli in the grocery store, but we only bought one, so we adjusted our dinner last night and opted to buy one more lunch at Los Cuernos or perhaps more provisions at Los Cuernos. The small store at Campamento Paine Grande sold pasta and the like, but we did not know if Los Cuernos did the same, so we thought requesting an extra lunch would be the best choice.

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We were unaware that Los Cuernos gets their food by horseback, so accommodating us was a little bit of a challenge for them, but they hooked us up. The chef prepared a hot pasta lunch topped with meat just for us. Los Cuernos did not serve a buffet style lunch as we were accustomed to at Campamento Paine Grande. Had we known this, we would have just asked for a boxed lunch like we reserved in advance for tomorrow. Our other option was to eat some of our other food and get food at the end of the W or buy some cookies and chips which were the limited options at Los Cuernos along with wine and beer! David got some wine and cookies anyway. He was insistent on carrying a bottle all the way to Torres del Paine tomorrow for New Year’s Eve!

Enough about the logistics. The staff took us up the hillside to our cabin. I planned one day of luxury during our five nights in the park, and I wanted it to be in the middle of our camping experiences. Our cabin was a treat! It was only a room, but it had a giant bed, a wood burning stove, and an incredible view through its skylights and from its porch. We were steps away from a powerful waterfall that tumbled down the cliffside and our porch looked out on Nordernskjöld Lake and Francés Glacier. If that wasn’t enough, we could look out our skylight at granite peaks and more waterfalls! And to think I suggested we could skip our reservations at the cabins to take advantage of the good weather and go straight to the Torres lookout, for which the park is named.

David thought I was crazy yesterday when I suggested to skip the cabins if the weather was good. And once he saw the hot tub, I would have been in hot water, no pun intended, if I insisted we did. Clearly, photos of the torres were more important to me than comfort, though admittedly it was really nice to enjoy the glorious weather relaxing! So it probably isn’t hard to guess that David’s first stop was the hot tub! It looked like a whiskey barrel filled with river water and a woodburning stove with a black pipe sticking up! It probably wasn’t the most sanitary hot tub with ashes and gnats on the surface of only fresh water, but at least there was a skimmer to remove any debris.

I on the other hand, do not share the same excitement as David over hot tubs. The uniqueness of this one smack dab in the middle of amazing landscape, however, called my name for a few minutes. So I joined David in the warm water (I still wasn’t in hot water). I actually liked it better than normal because it didn’t make my skin crawl like most hot tubs. I still didn’t soak long, as I wanted a hot shower! The shower house, located behind our cabins, was clean and the shower had great water pressure though the drain could have been better. Regardless, I enjoyed my first HOT shower in the park.

We lounged around for the afternoon, read, and climbed on top of the nearby waterfall. For those who have the luxury of hiking the W route at a leisurely pace, having two nights in each general area of the park is the way to go. It provides so much flexibility if the weather stinks. My limited knowledge of the park resulted in a few planning mistakes that have worked out perfectly for us so far! Though the one plan that worked out the best, is that six months ago I could not get reservations at these cabins for the prior day when I wanted them so I reversed our entire trip. In hindsight, this made getting bus transportation more difficult, but it also saved us from being in the park during the snow storm and missing everything! We were in El Calafate and on the bus during the nasty weather. LUCKY!! I imagine the cabins wouldn’t have been quite as exciting if the weather were bad except they would have been a dry and warm place to stay.

Due to the small dining space, Los Cuernos has two seating times for meals. We chose the early dinner slot at 7. We were served chicken broth, a beef burger with hot sauce and rice that I didn’t find terribly appetizing, but then again we didn’t have to cook. We sat next to a tour group at the community tables. They were hiking the opposite direction of us. They hiked up to the Torres del Paine yesterday from Hotel Torres located in the valley. They said it was steep, and when we told them we were back packing up to Campamento Torres, a free campsite operated by the park only an hour from the lookout, they suggested we were in for a long day. The Aussies we met in Puerto Natales said the same thing. This conversation left me feeling a little nervous about tomorrow. The forecast also called for clouds, so I suggested to David that we could stop at the camping in the valley not far from the Hotel Torres at the Torre Central and Torre Norte Refugios operated by Fantástico Sur if we felt bad and the weather was bad as we had the next two days to see the Torres del Paine. David thought we could handle the elevation change, but we planned to play it by ear. ETB

For David’s map and corresponding pictures, click here: map of our hike

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