Torres del Paine - Day 5: Exploring Drive-In Areas of TdP
By the time morning finally arrived, the rain had finally stopped although the wind continued to blow and gust throughout the day. Not as hard as the night before, but still more blustery than we had experienced to date other than perhaps on our boat journey on Lago Grey. And Las Torres were also obscured from view from the low-hanging clouds that covered the valleys. It was a slow morning as we grabbed breakfast and headed out to the waiting van to take us on a drive around several other regions of the park separate from the "W" trek that we had wrapped up yesterday.
My foot was bothering me today as on the final descent of the Ascensio gorge I had a blister form on the little toe of my right foot. So I was glad we weren't going to be walking a whole bunch this particular day. We crossed the Rio Paine over the narrow one-lane bridge to the Laguna Amarga Guarderia. A bus was disembarking a fresh set of trekkers to experience the majestic sights of Torres del Paine. I felt a pang of regret that I would be leaving this beautiful location in less than 24 hours, but at the same time was excited to see the further sites across the border in Argentina.
Our first stop was a viewpoint not far from the Guarderia overlooking the Rio Paine and Lago Nordenskjold. This was another spot that we were told that condors often put in appearances. Alas, I was to be disappointed once again as none decided to grace us with their presence. But there were other sights as wildflowers were abundant in this area of the park in the southern hemisphere spring. We wandered about the overlook for a bit waiting before returning to the van to head to our next destination.
Our second and third destinations were a combined excursion. We travelled on the same road that we had used on our entrance to the park on Tuesday morning (the 20th). Instead of continuing around Lago Pehoe, we stopped at the parking lot for the catamaran to Refugio Paine Grande. But we weren't taking the catamaran shuttle either. We grabbed our lunches and took off on a short walk to a mirador overlooking Lago Nordenskjold right in front of Los Cuernos. The hike was mostly flat but my feet (or really my right little toe) was screaming. Even encased in moleskin there was no way to keep that toe from rubbing. But oh well, just had to tough it out. The end of the trail was a steep climb up to the overlook. The overlook was extremely exposed and as we were informed once we reached the top one of the windiest locations in the park. And boy was it ever. While 300 feet below the wind was probably blowing 25-30 mph up on the overlook we were probably exposed to 60+ mph winds. Everyone performed their hurricane reporting poses and we admired the view of the lakes and mountains before fairly quickly returning to the more sheltered areas.
Heading back we had lunch on a sheltered beach trying to get out of the wind somewhat for a while (easier said then done). A short walk on a side trail on the return to the van brought us to Salto Grande Rio Paine. This large waterfall of the Paine River connects Lagos Nordenskjold and Pehoe through a very short channel. An impressive sight in its own right although after the views the past several days somewhat underwhelming.
Back in the vans we were headed back to the east. We had our final close-up views of Paine Grande and Los Cuernos for the trip as we departed the area. Driving back to the east we went back through "Guanaco Central" where the animals were present all over the place. Going around one corner we very nearly ran right into one just standing out in the middle of the road. Our final sight-seeing stop was another "waterfall" on the Rio Paine. The Cascada Rio Paine was a smaller but wider cascade waterfall as opposed to Salto Grande but another interesting sight nonetheless.
And with that we followed the Rio Paine back to the one lane bridge into the park central and back to EcoCamp, our last afternoon in Torres del Paine complete. Back at the camp we had a huge feast prepared for our final dinner. Lots of wine and pisco sours were consumed and everyone enjoyed the final evening of companionship before we would go our separate ways in the morning. Gradually people headed back to their tents. I had an early morning call to head to Cerro Castillo (the Chile/Argentina border crossing) and pick up the bus going from Puerto Natales, CL to El Calafate, AR. But knowing I had nothing much planned for the morning and a long bus ride where I could get some sleep, I was among the last stragglers to head to my tent after finally saying good-byes to those that I would not see in the morning.