With an area covering 242,000 hectares of granite peaks, turquoise lakes, glaciers and steppe, the Torres del Paine National Park (TDP) offers plenty of jaw-dropping views that few in the world can match. Naturalists rave about the bountiful flora and exotic fauna while hikers have miles and miles of trails to tromp. In 1959, Torres del Paine became Chile's national park, subsequently declared by UNESCO as a World Biosphere Reserve in 1978.
However, along with TDP's sheer beauty comes a very unpredictable weather that poses a challenge to visitors. This area in the Magellanic Region almost at the end of South America gets pummeled by fierce winds, rain and snow anytime of the year. It's not uncommon for clouds to cover much of the peaks. Relentless winds can go up as high as 180 kms./hour. Luckily for us, the weather has been relatively calm this time - even for a mildly windy start during my first night at EcoCamp.
After the previous day's hike to the Towers, we embarked on another hike - or two hikes actually - to view the enormous Cuernos del Paine as well as adjacent Cerro Paine Grande up close. These natural attractions are very much a part of the Paine massif which is the very heart of TDP. Geologically, TDP as a mountain group is unrelated to the nearby Andes mountain range.
After breakfast and doing the now routine chore of preparing our own sandwiches for lunch, we were driven on a van, past a one-car bridge and headed in a westerly direction following a dirt road. The wildlife even close to road is astounding - but this definitely merits a separate post later. Our main objective this morning was to hike to the Mirador Cuernos, a viewpoint that will give us a stupendous front view of the Cuernos (or Horns).
From the car park, we walked with our day packs on a path that led us to Salto Grande, a powerful waterfall fed by Lake Nordenskjöld which empties into Lake Pehoé. It's not particularly imposing in height but the massive amount of falling water is an incredible sight. On most days, the viewing deck can be nastily windy - and there's a posted sign alerting visitors - adding that 'risk factor' of being blown down into the raging waters far below. Thank God it's a calm, sunny day instead.
From the waterfall, we hiked for about an hour through an area lush with Guanaco's bush and Antartic beech. The walk is through a gentler terrain, made even more exciting as we see the looming Cuernos with its horns piercing the sky. And as if that's not enough, the adjacent glacier-topped Cerro Paine Grande (the highest mountain in TDP at 2,750 meters above sea level) had an avalanche - twice! - and the sight and sound of a torrent of snow thundering down the steep slopes is one I'll never forget.
At the viewpoint, we ate our lunch while looking at the Cuernos from across the turquoise waters of Lake Nordenskjöld. What a view! The Cuernos have distinctly contrasting colors: crowning the top is black sedimentary rock while below it is pure exposed granite. As New Age music filled my ears via my Ipod, I wished this is what I see while eating lunch on a busy work week back home. My wishful thinking came to an end as Rafa tapped my shoulder - a sign that we're moving and on to another hike. Vamos!
|Cerro Paine Grande across Lake Nordenskjöld|
|Better than a walk on a treadmill, isn't it?|