Sunday 16 April 2006

Episode 2. Torres del Paine Day 1

Up early-ish to catch the 7.30am coach to the Parque Nacional Torres del Paine (henceforth TdP).

A few TdP facts picked up from the very friendly and helpful guardaparques at Administración...TdP is located at the Southern end of the Andes on the Chilean side. On the map, have a look at where Puerto Natales is. That's pretty much where it is. The result of tectonic activity, it is part of a range of mountains starting with the Rockies in North America, stretching right down to Tierra del Fuego.

The Andes themselves are about 60 million years old. But TdP is only 12 million. At the foot of Cerro Paine Grande, there was a major depression in the ground. When a fissure in the rock caused the ground to subside, magma rose to the surface, forming, essentially, a volcano. Later, the whole area was covered by a glacier, which tore into the rock of the TdP. The top parts of the TdP are black because they were above the level of the glacier. Fossils have been found in the rock of the TdP, including ichthyosaurus, the dolphin-like, water-dwelling dinosaur.

The TdP are inhabited by puma, guanaco, european hares (introduced in C19), condors and many other animals. The trees are principally a variety of southern beech. I saw some National Geographic footage of Hugh Miles, who apparently IS the National Geographic, filming puma in the wild in TdP. He spent two years there getting to know one female puma.

Unfortunately I had to give up my plans to do the circuito grande. The northern section of the walk was closed, being close to the end of the season. So I quickly revised my plans and decided to do the 'W', which covers the same ground excluding the northern section and adds in a couple of side trips. I decided that I still wanted to spend a good length of time in the park, since I had put aside the days. So I resolved to spend 8 days in the park, which was way more than what is needed to complete the W.

I started off on a separate track, the Pingo-Zapata, overnight trip. After spending half the morning finding out about the park, I was left with just a few hours to get to the campsite before nightfall. I strapped on my pack and got moving fast, uphill. I set off without enough water and it began to make me feel tired after 4 hours hard march. To compound it, when I took the side walk to the Pingo Cascade, I was unable to get water, despite watching it rushing over the rocks.

Campamento Zapata, located at the top of the river Pingo, seems to be rarely used. I pitched my tent as the wind was picking up before it got dark. Immediately, I got cooking while there was still some light and once that was gone and I'd eaten, at about 7pm, I got into my sleeping bag.

The sound of guanaco and other animal shrieks, the howling wind shaking my tent and the desolation by the river made me panicky at first. My thoughts were... there are guanacos nearby... puma eat guanacos... I can't run as fast as a guanaco (let alone a puma), especially stuck in a tent... I'm easier prey than guanaco... I'm going to be killed by a puma.

But soon enough I realised that my tent could take a lot of blowing... I can defend myself against any pussy that tries it on... And then the sounds of the patter of the rain on the tent and of the flowing river began to put me to sleep.