After a spectacular first day in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park, I was looking forward to a cracking second day that would see me hike 23km from Camp Grey to Camp Frances. This section of the W Trek winds past lakes, mountains and waterfalls, but when I woke up, all I could see was rain. I felt like snuggling into my sleeping bag and wanking the day away, but I put on a brave face and strutted out into the angry wilderness.
The first half of the journey involves backtracking towards Paine Grande, where I started the trek, but it was like I was seeing everything for the first time again. A different time of day meant that the mountains and valleys shone bright with new colours, and I was amazed by Torres del Paine all over again. I get the feeling you could walk these trails a thousand times and still fail to see everything.
The second half of the day saw me climbing up headlands that provided fantastic views over the shimmering lakes, with sensational snow-capped cliffs in the background. I splashed through icy creeks, and scurried across dodgy-looking wooden bridges that looked like they could fall to bits at any minute and causing me to bust my arse. It wasn’t a tough hike, so I was able to enjoy the stunning vistas around me, as I neared the imposing mountains of the Frances Valley.
It’s autumn in Patagonia, so the park is ablaze with burning reds and simmering oranges, which stand in stark contrast to the azure water and emerald hills. However, despite being a truly wild place, it’s surprisingly quiet. There are very few birds, animals or insects, so often the only noises are far-off rivers bubbling away, or glaciers collapsing in the distance. Just ignore the whinging Americans that pop up every hour or so, and it’s like being the only person on Earth.
When I finally made it to Camp Frances, my Portiguese mate Antonio was standing at the front gate with a beautiful Korean girl under his arm.
“Hey baby,” he cooed. “A puma ate my tent this morning, can I sleep in yours?”
“Oh no, that’s so sad,” replied the lass. “You’re very brave, of course you can sleep in mine.”
“Excellent. The puma also ate my pyjamas, so I won’t be wearing any to bed.”
With that, Antonio led the Korean beauty off so that she could sample his linguiça.
Camp Frances is a cool place, with dozens of wooden camping platforms strewn about the forest, like something out of a fairy tale. It’s a magical place, but there is an evil that lurks beneath the trees – horrible, razor-toothed mice that eat anything they can find, even if they have to chew their way through tents or bags to find it. These filthy pricks get into everything, and the only way to escape their hunger-fuelled wrath is to hang your food from a high tree. It’s also a good way to keep your chocolate bars away from fat cunts.
The best way to forget about the ravenous rats is to get shitfaced, and Frances is a great place for it. The on-site minimarket sells one-litre cartons of wine for 4000 pesos – a deal I most certainly availed myself of. Clos is actually a pretty good drop, and I ended up downing two boxes with Antonio when he finally emerged from the Korean’s tent with a smirk on his face. Everyone else was in bed by nine, but we rocked on till 2:30, when the Clos was finally empty and Antonio staggered off to find a tent to pass out in.
The W Trek never fails to surprise, amaze and challenge, and as I pushed further into the hike I fell even more in love with Torres del Paine National Park. It’s a top place to hike, and all those delightful mountains and valleys look even better when you’re smashed. Torres del Paine could well be the perfect pairing of alcoholism and ascending mountains. Speaking of which, I need to shake off this hangover and keep heading through the mountains…