A new group of EcoCampers arrived late last night, and there was talk that one of them was planning to join us on our 13 mile roundtrip trek to the Tower Base. However, we learn at breakfast that we are on our own with Rafa - the mystery camper fell ill during the night. While I feel badly that this unknown man's vacation has gotten off to a rocky start, I am glad that we have one last day alone with our guide. Also, Cory and I have become obsessed with making a respectable time up to the Towers, and would prefer to make the trip at our own pace. Rafa tells us that the average journey takes about 9 or 10 hours - his longest trip with passengers was 12 hours and his shortest clocked in at just 7 hours. I'm hoping that we can make it to the Towers and back in 8 hours round trip - respectable, but not record-setting. Cory, of course, aspires to a new camp record. Ha!
The hike is long, but the first half is not tremendously difficult. There are lots of switch backs and some surprising descents, and I think to myself that these will be no fun on the way home when we are significantly more tired. At the halfway point we realize that we are on track to set a new record, and this knowledge spurs us on when things get difficult.
One of the most interesting aspects of this particular hike is the changes of clothing it necessitates. We have base layers, rain coats and pants and winter hats and gloves. The weather is the worst we've had in Torres del Paine yet, and the fog prevents us from even glimpsing the rock formations we saw so clearly yesterday. The flux in temperature also means that we're adding and subtracting layers depending on the altitude, and as we approach the final 45 minutes we have to don everything to combat the chill, wind and what appears to be impending snow.
The Towers remain murky even as we reach the base. The fog gives them an other-worldly quality that Cory and I are grateful for. . . we feel like we've experienced the full gamut of Patagonian weather during our time here. As we perch on some rocks for a quick lunch, we say a silent prayer of thanks as we reminisce with Rafa about all the magnificent nature we've witnessed over the last few days. It soon begins to snow - the winds making it seem more blizzard-like than it really is - and we all jump to life in an attempt to photograph the flurries. We get one good picture of Cory and I at the Tower base before the clouds and fog obscure them completely, and then we all head back down.
Once we've descended enough to escape the snow, Cory and I turn ourselves to the other important matter at hand: whether we are likely to set a Tower trek record. It is obvious that we are going to easily beat the reigning champ, but Rafa informs us that he thinks it's possible that we could even make it back in less than 6 hours, which is unheard of. We keep this number in mind as we head home, but the trip back to EcoCamp is challenging - those valleys have come back to haunt us! We end up being a bit slower than we would have liked, and walked into the main cabin 6 hours and 10 minutes after we left - a new record! We're thrilled because it's only mid-afternoon, so there is plenty of time for a shower, a nap and some wine before dinner. I couldn't think of a better way to end the day.