You’d think a liter+ of wine would make for a difficult morning, but the sight of blue sky makes everything good in a hurry, and I’m off for Campomento Base Torres. The plan is to take the so-called “short-cut” around a small lake near the south-west corner of the W, avoiding having to connect past the main lodge. Not only does this save time but also prevents me from seeing any cars that might drive up to the main lodge parking lot and destroy the feeling of isolation. On another note, I’m also out of the burn zone – I actually have been since before Campamento Italiano, but it didn’t really register with me at the time. Between the blue sky and lack of charred trees, my mood is much better than it was the previous evening.
Today for the only time on the W trek, I’m hiking with a partner — a guy from Michigan I had met at Italiano the day before who was leaving Cuernos about the same time I was. The blue skies fade away as we hike along the lake, and by the time we’re in the grassy hillside that the shortcut crosses, it’s beginning to snow. It never becomes worse than a light snow shower, however, and soon we make it to the junction with the path coming up from the main hotel, and we keep moving up the Rio Ascencio valley towards Refugio Chilenos.
This whole time I’ve been expecting Chilenos to be closed for the season, so I’ve been carrying a tent, sleeping bag, and other outdoor gear for this last night up at Base Torres. As it turns out, Refugio Chileno is soft open, and the Base Torres camp is closed. I could camp out at Chileno, but it’s only $5 more to get a bunk instead of a campsite at the soft-open rates, so the tent ends up being just an extra piece of exercise equipment for me.
The weather has let up a little and it’s still early afternoon, so I figure it’s worth heading up the last two hours to Base Torres. I have no idea what I’m in for. Shortly after Chilenos, the path becomes snow covered – not just snow covered, but trampled down and frozen, so it’s incredibly slippery. I have trekking poles with me but my feet fly out from under me at least four times, and I take a few hard landings on my ass and hips. Nearer the top, snow covers everything, as we’re now above the tree line.
The payoff comes at the top of Base Torres. There’s nobody else up there but my hiking partner and I. In some sense it’s like walking around an abandoned cathedral, in another sense it’s like being on another planet. Three towering slabs of granite guarding a turquoise pool like petrified titans, waiting for some signal to return to life… and the whole scene covered with snow as flashes of blue sky appear and disappear with every passing second. This is the crown of the W, and it’s a moment to consider what I’ve been through to get here, which I am not limiting to the brutal preceding two hours.
The way back is mostly me squatting down and sliding on one foot while the other operates as a brake. It’s tough going but not as bad as the trip up. Back at Chilenos for the night, the sky is clear again, and I take my hand at some fairly crappy astrophotography. A Canadian dude named Bryan is doing timelapses, and doing a much better job of it than I.
My original plan was to see sunrise on the Torres, but after the beating I take getting up to the Torres, there’s no way I’m getting up at 4am to do it again, this time in darkness. Instead, the next morning I head down the valley with the thought that I might have enough time to get back around to the catamaran dropoff point, where I can maybe get the sweeping vista of the Cuernos that I was denied on the way in. The weather, of course, is now nearly bluebird sky. My plan isn’t really workable though, so I just hang out at the fancy Hotel Torres to kill time until the bus shows up.
Back in Puerto Natales, I mark the completion of the trek with a visit to the local brewpub in the town square. Tomorrow I head towards El Calafate.