We woke up at 6:30 and took showers. The bathroom only had a fraction of a roll of toilet paper with no extra stashed away anywhere in the room. Even though we barely used any of it we ran out of it quickly. Fortunately we brought a roll for our backpacks because you just never know what you might encounter with four days of hiking ahead. Of course we didn't expect to need to break it out while staying in our relatively fancy and expensive hotel, a refugio maybe but the hotel? At 7:30, we were in the dining room for breakfast. It was a buffet - eggs, rolls, ham and cheese, poundcake, orange juice, and some really incredible apple juice that looked really fresh. It wasn't clear and amber-colored like we are used to at home. It was cloudy and sort of an off-whitish yellow color. It was delicious. Unfortunately, we arrived just after a large group of people, so the buffet was sparse and we didn't really have time to wait for them to restock things. At 8:10 we managed to get through the front desk area and checked out. The woman at the desk told us to go to the boat dock as they were waiting to take us across the river to meet up with Cristian. It's only a few minute boat ride but it was much smoother ride than yesterday, and Cristian was waiting for us on the other side. We got into a small bus and drove up the dirt road into the park. Within minutes I was back to my old tricks and falling sound asleep. Once again, something about being in a car or bus and driving along roads like this put me fast asleep. Cristian asked if I was very tired and did I not get a good night sleep but I had to admit that I did, I'm just like this in a moving vehicle sometimes. A few times during the ride a large hare managed to get right in front of the bus and would run and run straight up the road. It was sort of sad as the hare was running for its life but all it had to do was move toward the side of the road instead. The driver was sort of laughing at the predicament that the hare got himself into but he was also trying to slow down to avoid hitting it. He kept driving closer to the right side of the road trying to suggest to the hare that it was safer on the left. After what seemed like a painfully long chase, the hare eventually took a final bounding leap into the scrub brush on the side of the road and was safe. It was all quite melodramatic but completely futile. After about 30 minutes or so we arrived at the the catamaran dock on Lake Pehoé. As we backed down the dirt road to the dock, a Spanish version Billy Joel's "Piano Man" was playing on the radio. We got quite a kick out of it because it was instantly recognizable. Cristian told us that we should wait in the bus while we waited for the crew to arrive. This felt very awkward for us as many other folks were walking up to the boat with all their packs and gear and meanwhile we sat and waited in our coach. We weren't exactly sure why were we asked to wait in the bus but we did. This simple action made us feel as though we were somehow superior and separate from the others on the boat and we weren't comfortable with it at all. Fortunately this only lasted a few minutes and then we boarded.
The interior of the boat was very nice. They served us coffee and hot chocolate as soon as we left dock. There were tables with cut-outs the size and shape of coffee mugs (including the handles) so that the cups would not fall if we hit rough waters. At one point we could see a waterfall where Lake Skottsberg spilled into Lake Pehoé but we were traveling too quickly to get a good look. It seemed that at one time some sort of walking bridge was built across it and now it lays as a pile of twisted metal and wood on either side of the fall. The ride took about half an hour, and we were let off at the Lodge de Montaña Paine Grande. It is a brand new lodge that has only been open for three months. It has a gorgeous view of the Torres. Cristian told us that the locals are not very happy with it and preferred the older lodge (which is now closed) because the new one is too institutional, large, and impersonal. To us, at the time, it seemed fine. We had been expecting to be sleeping in tents tonight (due to our misreading of the final itinerary instead of the original trip description), so we were pleased with the dormitory-style accommodations. We checked into the Cuerno Norte (North Horn) room, which had three bunk beds and some bench seating that doubled as storage bins. We had large picture windows with a beautiful view of the Cuernos looming overhead. We stowed our big packs in the room, got what we needed for the day in our day packs, and headed downstairs to make lunch. Cristian was in a little utility room with a spread of turkey, cheese, egg salad, tuna, tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, peppers, and avacado to make sandwiches on English muffin-shaped multi-grain bread. We also each got a chewy granola bar. Craig's had chocolate chips and mine had "malvavisco". I asked Cristian what this was and he couldn't think of the English word for it. He said it wasn't a fruit, but that I would recognize it when I saw it. So it would be a surprise. This was also our first exposure to a snack that would become a favorite while hiking. It was a "Costanuss" chocolate bar with almonds. This led to many jokes about how we had to work hard to deserve the snack, hence the name costin' us.
The plan was to hike to Mirador Grey, which would have a view of the Grey Glacier and its surrounding icebergs. Then we could continue on for a closer look at the glacier itself. We started our hike at 10:45 and was supposed to take us about 4 hours or so to get to the Glacier Grey refugio and lookout. Craig wore a knee brace on his left leg. He had been very worried about his knees as they really bother him particularly when hiking downhill and when hiking for long periods of time. The hike immediately began climbing up into the nearby mountains. The lower section of my hiking pole seemed to refuse to tighten properly. It wasn't really a problem at this point as the upper section provided the necessary height, but eventually it would become an issue. We were totally surrounded by very interesting rock formations where we could see the way the rock was in layers and rolling up and down. At one point there was a layer that practically spiraled into a full circle. It was amazing to see. It started to rain a little bit but only lasted for about 5 minutes and then went away again. We soon got to a small wooden bridge that was like a ladder laying down across a small stream. Craig took a picture of me crossing it. We would later refer to the picture as "Steph in a red shirt on a bridge, #1." Throughout the next few days, Craig would take numerous shots of me on bridges, and I would consistently be wearing my red travel shirt while hiking.
It was supposed to take about two hours to Mirador Grey, and it took us just that amount of time. I was thrilled that we were "on pace", as we are usually pretty slow hikers. When I had some trouble going uphill, I thought of our New Zealand guide Stan, and how he told me to take baby steps uphill as it expends less energy. I did that, and it really helped. At the lookout we were rather exposed and it was quite windy and the clouds were enveloping us at times. It was quite surreal. Craig pulled apart my hiking pole and managed to fix the little mechanism allowing my pole to work properly. Cristian helped me with the proper grip for my hiking pole. We ate one of our sandwiches at the lookout point. At this point Cristian asked if we wanted to continue. What? Of course! We were just getting started! We decided to press on and go to the glacier itself. The climb continued up and down the rock ledges alongside Lago Grey. At times it seemd as though we were going downhill a lot more than uphill and we would be repeating this hike in the other direction later in the day. At one point on a steep decline we ran into the family from yesterday on the trail. They had taken a boat to the refugio near Grey Glacier, and were hiking the 4 hours to the Lodge de Montaña Paine Grande, where they too would be spending the night. They said that we had the right idea going this direction as the way they were going seemed to be all uphill. We explained to them that we were coming back the same day. They asked if we planned on going all the way to the glacier and when we said that we did, they thought we were crazy. This made us feel good actually as yes, we are a bit crazy but this is what we came here for. There was a lot of steep downhill for a little while but we try not to think too far ahead when hiking. Just keep pushing on one step at a time. All along the trail there were all sorts of interesting sights. Often we would have a nice view across the lake to the glacier ahead. There were all sorts of wildflowers, trees, bushes, waterfalls dropping from nearby ledges and the cloudy sky always gave us something interesting to stop and look at.
After almost 4 hours we got to the trail that led to the refugio. This was normally where people would go for a nice view of the glacier. This was also the place where the boat dropped off the family for their hike back to the refugio where we were staying tonight. Cristian didn't even hesitate at the crossroads and instead continued on through a very interesting area of old gnarled trees. After about 20 minutes along a steep area, Cristian brought us to a lookout point where he says fewer people go. The view of Grey Glacier was fantastic from this vantage point, and there were no other people around, which he said was much nicer than going to the refugio below. He also pointed out that as the glacier recedes, the view from below is a little less spectacular compared to when the refugio was originally built. We ate the rest of our sandwiches. We broke out our granola bars, and I learned that "malvavisco" means marshmallow. "Marshmallow!" Cristian exclaimed. "I told you that you'd know it!" Cristian told us that we should fill our water bottles at the little stream just off where we were sitting. He said the water is so good and we might as well fill up there for our trek home. He was sitting overlooking the glacier while Craig and I headed to a stream to fill our water bottles. Patagonia's water sources are all quite safe, and we would live on stream water for the next few days. You could really tell the difference in taste between the fresh crisp stream water and the bottled water. While we were filling the bottles, we heard the glacier calving. Craig turned and could see the results of the calving but it was too late. There was a large wave rolling away from the source and a large iceberg floating nearby but we had missed it. Although we weren't that far from the glacier, at this distance you have to be watching for it. Once you hear it, it's too late as the sound gets to you much later than the visual. Cristian was excited as he had seen it though. It was pretty exciting nevertheless and fortunately Craig and I have seen glaciers calving before as it is a spectacular sight. We sure heard it though. It sounds much like thunder with a crackling sound rippling and echoing all around us.
We started our hike back to the lodge at 3:45. The hike back always seems to go so much faster as you quickly recoginize almost every step. Your brain is always saying "wow, we're already here" and "wow, we got here quickly". Even places where it was rather steep seemed to go by quickly. Maybe the thought of a nice hot meal at the refugio kept us moving quickly. Whatever it was it was a very enjoyable hike back. The weather was getting a little better but all in all there were just enough clouds to keep the intense direct sun off of us and rain wasn't an issue at all. At one point in the hike there is a great split in the rocks with a river raging through it. It was quite spectacular looking into it and a bridge that crosses it allowed us a great view down into the gorge. Craig started having a bit of a hard time with his right knee. The left one had a brace on it and seemed to be working very well but now his right knee seemed to be bothering him. I noticed as he was hiking, particularly downhill, that he was stepping in such a way as to avoid certain actions on it. Hopefully he wouldn't hurt it too much as we have a lot of hiking to come in the next few days. At one point we decided to have an apple on the go. It's funny how amazing something like that can be while hiking. Craig was going nuts over how good it was. It's like fruit from the gods or something. It certainly hit the spot and once again we were looking forward to that dinner at the refugio. Through much of the morning hike, Cristian was teaching Craig about the different plants we were seeing along the way. We saw a few different berry bushes and even tasted a few but he said they weren't really ready and didn't taste as good as they should. The favorite tree lesson revolved around a species that had three different variants that we kept seeing over and over again. They were the Lenga, sort of a small sized tree, the Ñire, a smaller sized more bush-like tree, and the Coigüe, a larger evergreen. All the way home he would quiz Craig about what trees surrounded us. Craig got pretty good at being able to identify the different types but I think remembering the names was more of a challenge. At one point Craig wondered what a large cluster was that he noticed on many of the Lengas. He thought maybe it was a parasitic plant as it didn't seem to belong in the trees where it was seen. Cristian said it was in fact a parasite and it was called Misodendrum. It seems the parasite is killing many of the trees in this area and unfortunately we would see many more examples of it in action. After what seemed a very reasonable hike we got back to the lodge at 7:30, which means we were ahead of pace for the hike back. It had been a full 8 hours of hiking. I was really proud of myself, and realized that when I kept my mind on the present, rather than worrying about what would be coming up, I had much more energy. Craig's knee was pretty sore but he was doing ok and decided right then to wear a brace on both knees for the remainder of the hiking days.
We took nice hot showers and changed into fresh new clothes. We felt like a million bucks. After a great day of hiking we had super hot showers and soon we'd have that hot dinner we were looking forward to. I sat on the benches in front of the gorgeous view of the Torres and wrote in the journal while we waited to meet Cristian for dinner at 8:30. The cafeteria was very big, loud, and impersonal. You grabbed a tray and went through the line much like a school cafeteria. We had a huge piece of meat loaf, a big pile of freshly mashed potatoes, orange drink, a bowl of soup, cauliflower, and a dessert of strawberries in syrup. We enjoyed the meatloaf well enough and after a day of hiking it really hit the spot, but we could hear others questioning the contents. Craig and I didn't even think about the contents, it was hot, yummy and very filling. It was so big Craig barely finished his meal and I didn't finish all of mine. I did finish all the potatoes though. A nice carbohydrate heavy meal is exactly what we needed. Cristian got a bottle of red wine (Santa Emiliana Carménére) for us to share to celebrate the day's achievements. He refilled our glasses liberally. Considering we had images of staying in a tent tonight, this whole experience was welcomed. Cristian showed us a map and pointed out our routes for the next few days. He said that today and tomorrow would be harder than the final Torres del Paine hike. We were feeling pretty confident after such a great day and looking forward to it. We said goodnight to Cristian, and Craig and I stayed in the cafeteria for a little while. Craig got an Imperial beer and I had a Fanta. We were both really pumped up from the days events, but knew we had another demanding day of hiking ahead of us tomorrow. We decided we should turn in and finally went to bed at 11. It turned out that the three of us were the only ones in our room despite having room for six. Cristian went straight to bed, and I wrote in the journal with my headlamp until 11:10. We could lightly hear Cristian's music playing as we prepared for bed. He went to bed wearing his headphones and listening to music as he slept.