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December 31, 2015

After a very good egg breakfast, we left Los Cuernos just before 8 with our box lunch in hand. The park map suggested it would take about 7.5 hours to Campamento Torres by taking the “short cut” and not hiking by the hotel in the valley. As such we prepared ourselves for a long day of backpacking.

We climbed up and down the undulating, rocky path and wondered why it wasn’t cut closer to the lake’s shore that seemed much more level than the track we were traversing. We passed through some intermittent trees, but mostly followed the shoreline of the lake for a few hours under a partly cloudy sky. Along the way we spotted a few hares and listened to chirping song birds.

As we cut across the valley of rolling hills and wild flowers, the sun became more intense. We crossed many streams and tried not to kill ourselves on the primitive bridges and in mud pits. Soon we began a steep climb. From speaking with the group we met last night at dinner, I thought we had only just begun the climb to the intersecting trail from the hotel. I planned on refueling over lunch at the trail intersection to tackle the rest of the incline. We snacked on our pork tenderloin sandwich for energy and continued.

Little did I know, though winded, we had plowed through the hardest part relatively quickly. We reached a look out over the valley and saw a Refugio below. I thought this must be Refugios Torre Norte and Torre Central. From these we would continue the steep climb. As we rounded a tight turn, a young man commented, “You are almost there”.

David quipped, “Yeah, right”.

The young Asian replied, “No really! That building down there is Chileno.”

David and I looked at each other in dismay. We couldn’t believe we had reached El Chileno Refugio, operated by Fantástic Sur, so soon. We weren’t staying at Chileno, but we knew it was only 1.5 hours from Campamento Torres, and that we had just ascended the steepest part of the trail! About a mile earlier, we were discussing Chileno’s advertisement “Feeling tired, stop in to reserve a horse ride down the mountain”. Given we met 30 years ago riding horses, we thought it might be fun. By the same token, the weather was nice and we didn’t want to waste any time in the offices. Furthermore, we wanted the freedom to chose our schedule in the morning so with a bounce in our step, we strode forward.

As we hiked past the Refugio and through the camp grounds along the powder blue river with the Torres in sight, signs displayed 1 km to Campamento Torres. I was trying so hard to contain my excitement and hike slowly, but I don’t think I was succeeding. Anytime I have ever seen a photo that made my jaw drop, and I looked to see where the photo was taken, it was always the Torres in Patagonia. I have wanted to come here for years. With each step, I just kept hoping the clouds would cooperate!

The path led us across several bridges, many only supporting two people at a time, some only one, as we climbed up and down the steep terrain through a beautiful forest. As much as we enjoyed the forest, this elevation change was slightly unexpected based on our review of the map and our conversation with the group we met at dinner last night.

Soon we reached a sign for the camp. We were amped! We had reached the camp in 5 hours instead of 7.5 hours. With smiles spread across our faces and an energized laugh, we began looking around for the check in building. It wasn’t in sight! Confused, we wondered if we should have split off the path somewhere. It wasn’t long before some fellow trekkers hiking the opposite direction came along.

We asked, “How far is it to the campgrounds.”

The European gentleman replied, “45 minutes with your luggage.”

We must have looked at him in bewilderment because he quickly pointed to his partner and exclaimed, “Her English is better!”

With the language barrier, David asked with hand gestures, “Did you see an area with tents where you can sleep?”

She confirmed that the campground was 45 minutes away and there we signs pointing down to the camp and up to the Torres.

Ugh…a few more Kilometers! We probably would have enjoyed the lush vegetation much more had we not been so demoralized! We prodded on and reached camp in six hours instead of the 7.5 hour projection. I suppose we still should have been proud of ourselves, but by this time we were ready to dump our heavy packs, set up camp, and hike the last hour to the Torres lookout.

We presented the ranger with our reservation slip that took me a little while to find given the countless bus tickets, food tickets, and reservations slips I carried in my travel purse. We immediately headed to the back of the campground, found a flat spot beneath low hanging trees, and set up our tent. We threw our packs inside, planned on laying our sleeping out later, and stashed some snacks, water, and layers in our day packs. We were ready to tackle the final kilometer.

I couldn’t contain myself as I zoomed up the path. David remarked, “You know how sometimes you say I get crazed over good meals?”

I replied, “Yes, I know. I’m crazed over this photo!”

We criss-crossed a small stream on ladder-like bridges as we maneuvered over boulders, stairs of rocks and loose scree. The terrain was slightly similar to the top of a 14er though at a much lower altitude. Coming from 5,280 feet was a blessing for us, as it made the climbs somewhat easy.

With the Torres in sight, we rounded the bend and soon found the grey lake with the granite columns towering above. It was spectacular! And much to our surprise, there were far less people there than we expected. With a limited hiking area, we were able to scramble over some boulders to an area that allowed us to snap photos without anyone else in the pictures!

Loaded with many snacks, we hung out for probably three hours as we watched the cloud formations swirl around the north torre and many times change directions. Of course, I could never decide when the sky seemed the clearest, so I just snapped one photo after the next. I had to capture the waterfalls, the surrounding peaks, the valley behind us, and of course the Torres poking through the clouds. What a way to spend New Year’s Eve! We celebrated back in the tent with ricotta and spinach ravioli drenched in red sauce with a sprinkle of cheese, a bottle of red wine that David lugged all the way from Los Cuernos, Godiva Chocolate that I got for Christmas.

We hardly made it to 9pm, much less midnight, but we planned on waking at 3:45am to go up for sunrise as long as we could see the stars when we woke up. Today was all that I could have hoped and more! We had such good weather for the whole trip, I was worried our luck might run out. Fortunately, luck was on our side, and the landscape met my high expectations (which doesn’t always happen). ETB

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

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