Featured writer: Alexis Ward
Hopefully, you have already read about our first day of hiking in Torres Del Paine, so you are well aware of how much our princess feet were aching after just one day (and 14 miles… yeah…that makes me feel a bit better) of hiking. On our second day of hiking were headed to the infamous French Valley, a favorite location for many hikers on the W trail. Day two was another gorgeous, sunny day. I think I was hot after about 30 minutes of hiking, rolling up my pant legs to keep cool while wondering why I had to be so dang stubborn about wearing convertable pants (literally everyone… and I mean everyone…was wearing zip-off pants. I wanted to be fashionable, instead I was hot. Well hot AND fashionable.).
This was definitely my favorite day of hiking as far as scenery goes. Heading west you go through big fields that gradually turn into a lush forest, such a change from the day before! With a roaring river running through the French Valley, separating glacial mountains from forest, it reminded me a LOT of the Smokie Mountains. After a couple of hours of hiking, changing bandaids on blisters and chatting about whatever you chat about while hiking all day, we stopped for lunch in a campground, dropped our bags, and headed into the French Valley.
The French Valley is an epic hike for those on the Torres Del Paine W trail…epic meaning both awe-inspiring and beautiful as well as long and hard…our favorite combo (enter rolling of eyes here). Our feet were still throbbing from the first day of hiking, and the full hike to the end of the French Valley and back would have had us hiking into camp around 9PM again; we weren’t really up for that, so we stopped at the first lookout point instead. From there you can see the Torres on one side – three fingers that are the park’s trademark – and a HUGE mountain glacier on the other. It is gorgeous! On top of that, a couple of older gents took their shirts off to soak up the rays providing us with some chuckles. Hubba hubba!
After picking up our packs at the campsite, we were back on the trail, optimistic that we would be at camp sooner rather than later. Remember how they called most of the hikes moderate in difficulty? Riiiiight. Hiking up and down steep hills for 4 hours on giant rocks (ah yes, more rocks) is anything but moderate. The pay-off? Gorgeous scenery. Stunning. Exiting the forest you head towards the lake with its milky turquoise blue waters and pebble beaches. It was such a dramatic and beautiful change of scenery that it caught me off guard.
A little more hiking as we arrived at our campsite for the night, Refuguio Los Cuernos, which was the most quaint, inviting and cozy lodge of the trip. The tiny dining room was packed with trail-worn travelers sharing stories and pisco sours by the wood-burning stove. Cabins dotted the hillside with waterfalls in the distance and the lake below.
This refugio offered several sleeping options: fancy cabins, dorm rooms, eco-dome tents and regular old camping. We opted to save money by camping this evening so once we checked in, we were guided to our tent. Thankfully, it was already set up. The bad part? Whoever set it up didn’t remove any of the rocks from under it and didn’t seem to care that the tent was on a slight hill. Hello rolling into the corner of the tent all night! To top it off, the “ground pads” they provided were laughable. I would venture to guess that they were about a quarter of an inch thick, barely enough to feel like anything other than the hard, rocky ground beneath us. Soooo not the best night of sleep.
Despite the poor sleeping conditions, this was a great night. We served up some chicken and risotto with corn (freeze dried, of course) with a mocha cheesecake dessert (also freeze dried), then headed up to the lodge for some pisco sours and cards by the fire. A perfect end to a good day of hiking.
Alexis Ward is a graphic designer and illustrator who loves to write about her adventures in travel and cooking on her blog, VIva Good. She married a professional photographer, Jason Ward, who always documents their adventures beautifully.
All photos ©2012 Jason Ward Studios.