Monday, March 26, 2012

Day 3: Up to the mirador, down to the lake

***Posting has been delayed of late because Dad was in town, and classes have been in full effect.  I'm making a conscious effort to get these up more regularly.  This series is going to take a while though***

Today started fairly early - just as the first glimmers of sunlight started to come into the camp.  For some reason, I've never been very good at sleeping in while camping.  I've narrowed it down to 3 options:  sleeping on a wildly insufficient ground pad, every light molecule that hit my tent illuminated the inside like the 7th day of Hanukkah, or the fact that I was screamed at to wake up on every camping trip between the ages of 11 and 16.  The answer lies somewhere in there.  

Regardless, I was up relatively early to try and get a good look at the mirador.  Supposedly the morning sun illuminates the towers in red, making for a spectacular sight.  I left my tent and gear back in camp, and set out on the 45 min hike up to the mirador.

The way up was steeper than the initial part of the trail the day before, but not having my 50 lb pack on made a world of difference.  I blew past a decent number of other hikers on this part of the trail, stopping only for a few photos and water breaks.
 The goal, just beyond the cloud.

A little closer to the top, still just within the treeline.

Self-timed magic.
The final part of the trail - a switchbacking section over skree that ended at the mirador.

Once I got to the mirador, I realized what all the fuss was about.  This is truly a natural wonder here on earth. These 3 stone towers rise over this serene aquamarine pool, decorated on all sides with a cavalcade of different rock formations garnishes with patches of stubborn snow.  Truly a sight to behold; my camera felt wildly insufficient for the views all around.

After spending some time at the mirador, I hopped back down the trail and broke down camp.  My legs were feeling surprisingly fresh at this point, but that all changed within about 500 yards after the pack was back on. Stupid 3 man tent.

The descent out of the Torres run was actually quite lovely.  A long stretch of the path was fairly level, so I was able to actually enjoy the magnificent view in front of me as I hiked down the hill.  My toenails were also freshly cut, so there was nothing to hold me back (those who have backpacked before know exactly what I'm talking about).

After getting out of the Torres valley, I walked through a grassy area lining the south side of the range.  Here I ran into our first batch of wild horses on the trip.
 Taking the shortcut down from the towers.  Instead of the 2 hour ascent from the day before, it was a 5+ hour slow descent, mixed with some gradual ascents over riverbeds.
 This horse was grazing right next to the trail, where a horde of Israeli trekkers were taking pics of him eating. As I walked by, he looked up and said hello to me.  It's a blonde thing.

View of the ridgeline on my right side.

One of these little birds (called ibis, I believe).  They have comically long beaks, which they were using to poke around the soil for grubs or whatever it is they eat.

Approaching the lake on which I'd spend the rest of the day walking around.  Little streams kept coming down from the mountains, and had eaten out parts down to the rock beds.  Outside of that though,  it was a pretty lush land.

Some of the paths had been worn down pretty significantly into the earth...
 ...and some of it was just climbing over boulders.

Around to the other side of the ridgeline, it started to look a little more ominous.

Right about this point, I started to run out of steam.  I originally planned to make it all the way to Campamento Italiano this night, but I had to call it about 2.5km short of the goal.  After getting to camp, I checked the map for the day's distance.  The final count was just shy of 19km total.
 Plus the camp I walked up to had this view.  I couldn't say no to a night here.

Notice 2 pairs of socks drying out.  It was a long sweaty day for the feet.

At camp, I met Alex and Kelly from California.  They were in the campsite next to me, and I watched them cook their tuna surprise while I went for my classic tuna un-surprise, with mustard and white bread.  They told me about a great backside view of the Torres del Paine from a closed trail up French Valley.  I thanked them, and mentally planned to make this run tomorrow (more on this next post).

Before the sun set, I walked down to the side of the lake to sit and think, and take a few pictures there as well.  I saw one guy doing yoga down by the beach, which looked like a really, really good idea to me at the time.  Having never done yoga though, I just opted to do some old football warm-up stretches and then find a comfortable place to sit.  From that seat, I took pictures of what I thought were some of the most beautiful views I had the entire time in the park.

I don't think these pictures really do justice to how utterly awe-inspiring the area was.  Sitting on the beach, exhausted, in the presence of this other-worldly beauty, my mind couldn't even come close to comprehending the views before me.  The worldly and extra-worldly factors that had to come together just perfectly to create this scene are practically countless - a spot on Earth that won the geological Powerball.  I would have stayed and sat on that beach forever, but it got pretty cold once the sun disappeared behind the mountains, so I went up to the refugio and played jenga with a Chilean family of 5 for a while.  After that, I sat outside my tent for a while and stared at the stars until it was time to fall asleep.

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