27 December 2003
The drive to the ferry further up the lake only takes about five minutes from the campsite. We left the Weasel in the car park a few hundred yards from the jetty, hoping it would be safe parked there for two nights (we needn't have worried).
The ferry itself costs 10,000 Pesos each (approximately £10) for a single journey or 18,000 Pesos for a return. They take local currency, dollars or travellers cheques, and you pay after you board. Backpacks are just deposited in a pile at the back (so it might be worth putting yours down as late as possible to avoid the crush at the other end! ) You can sit above deck or down below in the warm comfort of the largish cabin where they serve up free tea, coffee and hot chocolate (avoid the hot chocolate though as it tastes nothing like chocolate.) Most passengers who took the chocolate option ended up leaving theirs. Oh, and there are also toilets on board.
The journey took about 45 minutes and the views were great. The ferry then pulled up to the Refugio and Camping Lago Pehoe. As people got off the ferry, a few lingered around the refuge, sorting our their packs before heading off walking, some were obviously staying at the refuge - they had hard samsonite style cases and wheelie bags with them - whilst others rushed off, keen to get some distance between them and those following on later.
We didn't linger as we weren't sure how long the walk would take. Our walking guide (Patagonia Trail Guides & Route Maps, Torres del Paine by Latitud90) indicated that it took 4 hours to get to the Camping y Refugio Grey, where we planned on stopping that night. That seemed to be plenty of time for us (as we got off the ferry it was 11am). We had to arrive there reasonably early to sort out our planned glacier trek the next day with Big Foot. Their office was right by the campsite and they would only be there until about 6pm.
The path to take from the refuge was easy to find. It was a narrow, slightly rocky path, that climbed gently along the bottom of a U-shaped glacial valley - a welcome relief after the steep start of the walk to the Torres. It was not long before the typical lenga trees we had become used to seeing came into view and we entered a forest. After an hour or so of the so far gentle walk, we reached a lagoon on our left and continued to follow its shores from high above.
They say that you can experience all types of weather in just one day in Patagonia, and in the park in particular, and this walk certainly lived up to that reputation. As we started out it was dry, a little chilly and a bit cloudy. As we headed along the path though it soon warmed up and we were stripping off our layers and slapping on the sunscreen as the sun started beating down.
As we reached the lagoon, the weather changed again. This section was known as the "Quebrada de los Vientos" ("the windy ravine") and it certainly lived up to its name. It was as if we had just turned a corner and the wind suddenly hit us. The wind was that strong that it was almost a struggle to keep upright and although the views were fantastic - ice floes in the lagoon and eventually Glacier Grey in the distance. We could barely keep a camera steady and had to crouch down as low as we could to get any chance of a decent picture.
The path got steeper for a while and then after about an hour and a half from leaving the ferry we started to descend. We crossed some logs over a stream and the going got a little tougher as it became very muddy and slippery. One section in particular slowed us down a bit as you had to scramble over wet rocks down a fairly steep slope - it was almost like walking down a small waterfall, with water trickling down through the rocks.
True to the guidebook, almost 4 hours from the start of the walk we reached a signpost indicating the Glacier Grey viewpoint (10 minutes walk away) and the campsite and refuge, 5 minutes away. The last section of the walk had been fairly tiring, so we opted for setting up camp, sorting out the glacier trek with Big Foot and then heading off to the viewpoint after that.
This turned out to be a good call. The campsite was situated on a sandy beach on the lakeshore, backed by lenga forest. The refuge was a few steps away. As we reached the site all we could see were almost wall to wall tents. The best sheltered spots had already been taken by similar looking tents, obviously from the refuge, hired out to those without camping gear, and the beach was filling up quite quickly. We chose a spot, quickly set up the tent and then headed off to the Big Foot office a few yards away.
Before the glacier trek we had to get our kit sorted, try on crampons and harness and pack a small backpack provided by Big Foot. The only extras we needed to provide were water, gloves, hat, sunscreen and camera. Our bags ready, we headed off to the refuge to buy some wine - good old "El Gato" in a litre box - had a couple of glasses and then returned to our tent to cook up some dinner.
It was still light when we finished eating and we had yet to visit the Glacier Grey viewpoint. Ten minutes later we were scrambling over rocks to try to get the best views. It was amazingly peaceful, just sitting there, watching the ice and variously shaped ice floes that had calved off and were floating away from the main glacier. We would get a much closer look the next day when trekking across it.