Still on our “Antarctica high”, we took the only road east at the bottom of Terra de Fuego to Estancia Halberton. Founded by an ex-Anglican missionary in the 1840’s, it was the first non-indigenous settlement on the island. His descendants still live in the old farm house and most of the land is preserved as a parkland. It was very remote, especially in winter, and very beautiful. We had a tour around the old farm buildings and an impromptu anatomy lesson with the whale skeletons in the museum. That night on the Estancia’s land we camped up overlooking the Beagle Channel, the trucks southernmost camping spot.
Yes, that is a Whale jawbone entrance gate, they get lots of skeletons washed up on the beach.
We crossed back into Chile the following afternoon, and after a night camped next to the Terra de Fuego ferry, we headed west to Porto Natales. I can imagine Porto Natales being a sleepy fishing port 10 months of the year but for the January and February the population explodes with goretex clad hikers heading for Torres Del Paine National Park. We got a proper taste of the famed Patagonian wind while parking on the sea front and getting stocked up for a week in the park. Even parked up with our back facing the sea, the buffeting gusts shook the truck. It felt like we were back at sea on the Drake Passage.
Of course being back in Chile we bought some of our favourite “lips” bread.
Parque Nacional Torres del Paines, is famous for its three iconic towers, surrounding it though is an equally impressive part of the Andes and some gorgeous wild scenery and lakes. Herds of wild Guanaco (from the llama family) and rheas (South America’s flightless birds) roam the short, shrubby slopes. The lakes themselves would warrant a park, even without the peaks. The first night we parked beside Laguna Azul (Blue Lake) which was a stunning aquamarine, we stopped for lunch beside the alkaline Laguna Blanca (White Lake) and each lake we passed was a different jewel like colour.
Although you can see the famous towers from lots of places in the park, the best view is overlooking the turquoise blue lake at the bottom of the towers. The lake is a 9.5km walk from the nearest road. We’d walked up through the Lenga woods and scree slopes 8 years ago with Steve carrying Alisha on his back and knew it was full of stunning views. Our question was could the girls both manage the 19km walk there and back? They were game and we knew that getting to the top wouldn’t be the problem, it was getting all the way back to the truck. The furthest they had walked before was 14km and that wasn’t up a mountain, we had altitude on our side though as this part of the Andes isn’t very high. Fortified with a big bowl of porridge we set off, as the most popular walk in the park it wasn’t a solitary tramp but the vistas were first class. The girls managed so well and hiked to the top with aplomb. The other hikers couldn’t believe that Lucy (6) had made it all the way to the top in time for lunch. The way back down was equally smooth until the last few kilometres. We’ve found both girls will usually hike for miles if they can talk about a topic of their choice, usually something about a pet they will own when (if???) we move back to England, or they are told a story. Alisha was a star and kept her sister entertained with stories when I ran out of new tales. At kilometre 16, there was a little flagging going on when Steve pulled out his secret weapon: a massive bar of chocolate. Thus fortified, we managed to make our way back to the truck, tired but happy, just 9 hours after we’d left it that morning. We couldn’t believe it when we weren’t able to have the early night we felt we deserved because the little monkeys were still playing around long after they’d gone to bed. If that didn’t tire them out properly, what would?
We awoke the next morning still in the car park of the hotel at the start of the trail, to an amazing azure blue sky. Completely clear sunny days aren’t very common here, it is more of the “four seasons in a day” sort of place: some rain, wind, burning sun and perhaps some snow before the days end. The day was glorious with such blue, blue skies and hardly any wind. We were almost tempted to go up to the towers again, just for the photos. We made the most of it though, pausing to gawp at the views as we drove through the park. Ready for another leg stretch we took a couple of hours to hike to mirador above another turquoise lake with the Cuernos del Paines mountain range behind. We could hear the glaciers high up, nestled between the peaks groaning and cracking. We saw several condors nearby circling, on the look out for dinner.
That night, tipped off by some other overlanders we met, we parked up at the top of Lago Toros. The view was stupendous, it was hard to get the more mundane tasks, like cooking tea and getting the girls to bed, done because my eyes were constantly drawn to the windows. At the moment, because of the changeable weather, the day usually ends with us all huddled inside reading or whatever, while the girls fail to go to sleep. However for once the day stayed as it had started, clear and wind free, so I could sit outside and enjoy the perfectly reflected mountains in the lake in front till it was time to go to bed.
The morning brought the more normal grey clouds, drizzle and a lot of wind. Not put off we embarked on a very windy walk to view Glacier Grey behind Largo Grey was, well as you’d expect rather grey. Even the bright blue icebergs looked grey but it was fun battling the ridiculously strong winds along the way. Is it possible to turn a small child into a kite? Quite possibly.
That evening the clouds blew away and the gorgeous evening sun came out, Steve and I took turns to brave the hurricane to walk back down to the lake and enjoy the fantastic views. That night, parked in the trailhead car park, the truck rocked and rolled all night in the gale force winds.
For our last walk in the park we decided to take a 12km jaunt up an escarpment and then through some gently sloping hills. It was a good leg stretch but didn’t give us the jaw dropping views we’ve been so spoiled with this week. We left park after a great week really impressed with how far and how well both girls hiked.