Today we moved into Torres del Paine National Park. This in itself took a whole day of walking through the pristine wilderness of Tierra del Fuego. Once again, we set up our base camp (after obtaining our permit) and decided to call it a night, as all of us are exhausted from our day long trek.
The landscape of the park is dominated by the Paine massif, located approximately 10 miles from our camp. These granite spires are the southeastern spur of the Andes and they rise, seemingly out of nowhere, looming over the Patagonian steppe.
Early the next morning, we set out for another day of adventure. Not far from where we were making camp, one of our group spots a bunch of Calceolaria darwinii. This plant really doesn’t have a common name, but it is amazingly beautiful, with vibrant colors and shapes. When we move from behind the bit of rock face behind which we camped (to get out of the wind), the vegetation turns back to scrub bush, moss, lichens, and other short grasses. The wind is still out in full force, rushing into our ears like a jet engine. We saw some more guanaco, a very common animal in these parts, again. And, once again, we see tell tale signs of puma, but not the animal itself. This time, we see large padded paw-prints in the mud around a water hole. Nothing else could leave such huge prints. We moved our camp closer to the mountains and decided to call it a night. as some of us had a big day coming up.
After eating a hearty breakfast, the climbers get ready. It is two in the morning. Me and a group of qualified climbers (when I can find a climbing wall near me, whoo, get ready!) are preparing to ascend the Cerro Paine Grande today and the Torre Sur, the next. We prepare our climbing gear and head out to the foot of the mountain. The climb begins. We are prepared with our climbing gear and a few days worth of food. We planned this to be a quick Alpine ascent, without any bivouacs (camps) on the mountain. I lead (hey, this is my virtual trip!) the group. Everyone is climbing very well, efficiently moving through the granite pillars and ice fields. We must have come just on the right day, as there are no clouds surrounding us, rare indeed. “Rocks!” I call out. A number of baseball size rocks come whizzing down the slope, filling our heads with a strange, eerie music. After a couple of seconds, the downpour seems to have abated, and we move on. There is not much snow, as this is summer, the only time to climb such a mountain. It reaches 3,050 m in elevation. Morning arrives. A red sun rises over the horizon. This is the most beautiful and moving sunrise I have seen in my life. Everybody in camp must be stirring and watching us through the telescope. We get to the crux of the climb: a pillar that connects us to the last ice field. Each member of our party climbs it beautifully: I drive pitons into the ice and climb up a few feet, put in a carabiner, and move. This is how we move, yard by yard, food by foot. Finally, we move to the final ice field, the ridge and make our way to the summit. We reach it at approximately 11 am. We spend around an hour at the summit, basking in our accomplishment. One doesn’t really conquer mountains, the mountain just allows you to scamper up it for a brief time, but during that time period, we can revel. All around us, the Patagonian step is laid out beautifully. A more amazing sight we have not yet seen on our trip. After taking photos of the panorama and the summit squad, we begin to downclimb, using our previously placed pitons we make good time. We make it all the way down without any injuries at all. A very successful climb (as all virtual climbs should be).
After a night and a full day of rest, we made our way to Torre Sur, the highest of the well known and widely photographed granite spurs of the Cordillera del Paine. It stands at 2,500 m., a pure granite pinnacle. Little snow can lay atop it because of its steepness. This one involves much more technical rock climbing, so we will be making a bivouac half-way up. Once again, we begin the climb. We decided to use the direct Hoth route up to the summit. Rock fall here is a huge problem and soon enough we see rocks cascading over our heads. Here we are protected by a ledge, but I shudder to think of what will happen atop the rock. We finally reach the ledge after a number of semi-difficult climbing moves. The granite here is amazing and perfect for climbing. Even the hellish wind seems to have died down for our ascent. We make it to the half way mark and after a harrowing night, we move on. Today, the rocks are back in full force. Eventually, the unfortunate event we all dreaded occurred. A falling rock drilled into the arm of one of our team. I can hear the blood pounding in my ears. He falls off the rock face, almost in slow motion. Fortunately, the next man on our rope was standing right next to one of the pitons which I put in. It held and so did our man. The injured member slowly moved to a safer position a few feet up. After moving town towards him standing on a small edge, we realize that it is not broken, but instead, just badly bruised. Not wanting to annoy us, he says that he will move on. Mountaineers have an unwritten code and here is no place to worry or bother anyone with relatively trivial injuries. We of course would be willing to go down if the pain was too bad, but he claimed that he was fine. Moving on, we finally gained the sumit at two o’clock. The view was wonderful, perhaps not quite as spectacular as atop the Cerro Paine Grande, but still magical in its own light. We finally moved down after photos and congratulations all around and arrived safely at the foot of the mountain during the evening. We radioed back to camp that we will be spending the night, as we do not want to cross the crevasse riddled glacier in the fading light. After camping at the foot of the Torre Sur, we move across the glacier slowly, not wanting to die after such a successful climb. Moulins, holes in the glacier created by flowing water, and crevasses could swallow a person up without any problem, never again to see the light of day. After a few hours moving across the labyrinth of the glacier, we make it back to camp, where a hot meal and congratulations bid us welcome. A great couple of days in the Torres del Paine without a doubt.