Nov 09 Wednesday – Hike: Grey to Paine

Alli’s journal:

Kyu’s ponderings:

Tetsu’s jibber jabber:

Had late 8am brekkie.

We met Martin and Marna (martha) who are dutch.  They are visiting for three weeks, a short vacation.  Did “O” trek.  We ended up meeting them again at Paine Grande and they showed us pictures of climbing over the John Mar pass.  Walking on snow, and getting knocked over by heavy winds. 

We also met Vittorio again (aka victor), traveling solo.  Same guy Alli met at dinner last night.  He’s an Italian traveling all over South America.  He was planning on heading to Ushuaia after finishing the “W” trek. Ushuaia markets itself as the southern most town in the world.  Photo of him with some other folks further down below.

Continuing on from the blog for the 8th, the second person I felt lucky to meet was Gabriella. Gabriella has a smile that lights up the room, and if you’re lucky enough, she might be on staff if you ever head out that way.

With breakfast out of the way, we started our trek back down to Paine Grande. Since we were familiar with the trail now, and knew that it was mostly downhill from the halfway point, the trek felt much easier. We took our time to grab sneak peeks at the glacier, and enjoyed taking short breaks along the way.

Farewell Glacier Grey, you were magnificent!

Having heard that the glacier runoffs were amazing, and as Kyu and Alli both had water bottles with built in filters, we also took breaks to grab water from the streams whenever they were accessible. For this trip, I chose to leave my Grayl at home and brought a thermos instead, so I stayed away from the water. But both Alli and Kyu confirmed that the glacial waters tasted great.

It was awesome to break through the trees and have it open up again to a wide expanse. Walking along Lago Grey as we eased into the downhill portion of our trek.

And finally, after a fairly easy trek, we lost sight of Lago Grey. The grand Lago Pehoe loomed ahead as we saw the tops of Paine Grande buildings.

It was awesome to see the familiar picnic table just out front of the main building, and we plopped our gear down for a little break to enjoy again, the stunning views of the mountains.

Pretty quick, hunger started getting the better of us, and luckily, Paine Grande offered pizza in between meals. With spirits high from an easy hike, we enjoyed the warmth of the cafeteria. I was already melancholy from leaving the glacier and spent much of our break looking over pictures, hahaha.

We had met Migz Amperez earlier at Grey and marvelled at his gear, including a 100-400mm GM lens for his Sony A7Riv camera. A world traveler, he’s a professional photographer and showed us some of his work. Truly impressive! He was traveling with some friends, Hanna from the States and Audrey from France.

I was also able to meet Ned and Ginelle again, who we met at Refugio Grey the night before. They’re from Colorado, in a city west of Denver.  They were friendly and adventurous, having just completed the “O” trail. They were heading back on the 6:30pm catamaran and enjoying one last Austral Calafate and a quick bite before leaving.

Still hanging out out front, we also met Ryan and Liz from North Carolina. And it was fun to learn that Ryan was originally from Hollister California, my old jeep stomping grounds from the early 2000’s.  Liz is a native North Carolinian from Rawley.  They even lived in Baltimore for 6 years. 

Their method of doing Torres del Paine was so interesting! They were staying in Puerto Natales and doing key parts of the “W” trail via day trips. Great hiking, but warm comfy beds and showers each night. Not a bad way to go!

Hanging out by the benches in front of the main Paine Grande entrance, we got to meet Nico, a guide who carries a 50+ lb pack (22kilos), most of the gear his customer would need. If I knew I could hire a porter to carry most of my gear…. just kidding just kidding (^-^)

Many of the guides, even though they’re sort of “competitors”, hang out together, either passing around a mate cup, or downing beers by the pint. Here is Pablo and Nico.

After checking in, we were happy to see we got the same room of 6 bunks again. It was right at the top of the stairs, and central to other key parts of the refugio. I took a quick shower, cleaned some clothes and hung them by the stove room (wish i’d taken more pictures). I headed back to the room and discovered our three bunkmates were none other than the same group of gals who had helped us at the Punta Arenas bus stop.

What a coincidence!

We chatted with them for a bit and learned that unlike our West to East direction for the “W” trek, they had chosen to go East to West. They had climbed the three towers, but as they were unable to get camp site bookings at either Los Cuernos or Frances, they were forced to hike non stop all the way from Central to Paine Grande. We didn’t know it at the time, but Central to Paine Grande as a single hike is a solid 12+ miles, with a lot of brush, uphils, technical tidbits, and even some switchbacks. The mileage written on the signposts are wrong as often as they are right, and the distance from Frances to Los Cuernos is notoriously off. Even the staff laugh about it.

Either way, it must have been quite the full day of hiking along the giant Lago Nordenskjöld and smaller Lago Scottsberg.

From left to right: Katrin “cat”, Veronika, Saskia, and finally, Vittorio “victor” (mentioned earlier).

They are from Germany and travel together every year.  They joked that Saskia just got married 4 weeks ago, and instead of a honeymoon, she was here with friends, doing their annual international trip as they get through their bucket list.

We also met a wonderful couple from Vermont, Julie and Kyle. They were finishing their trip and had just one more night at Paine Grande before heading out the next day. We ended up bumping into them again in the morning as Julie was combing through a map looking for a last day hike before hopping the catamaran back to Pudeto.

Taking another short break outside, I met Ed from the UK.  Like us, he was doing west to east, but on a more traditional faster pace. As he owns a pizza company, his busy time of year is really the summer months as he caters a lot of local events. Winter in the UK is a slow period for him, allowing him to travel the world.

As the sun slowly began to set, and most of the guests headed of to sleep, the guides and porters gathered together in front of the the main entrance just socializing and catching up. While I’m sure that a good portion of the conversations was about laughing and telling stories about their customers (who in the service industry doesn’t do that once in a while), they genuinely seemed to enjoy the work and the people they got to meet.

I tried to make it a point to talk with many of the guides and porters during this trip, as well as refugio staff. All of these folks work for private companies or freelance, and we learned over the course of the trip that they are paid okay, but the tips are really what impacts their living wages.

While some of what I was told might have been just to try to garner more tips, none of these folks were going to benefit from me as I wasn’t a customer, so it moved me. From then on, knowing that staff share tips between each other, I made it a point to tip at least 100k pesos (about $100) at each of the camping sites.

All in all, being able to spend time with the guides and porters, without feeling like unwelcome guests to their late night social gatherings felt really special, and I’m glad everyone made us feel welcome.

And yes, of course, we enjoyed Austral Calafate all around.

Patagonia Map Routes W-Trek

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