Friday, April 8, 2011

Patagonia Day 4: The French Valley

Day 4 was a 'day of reckoning for me'. It was the most challenging day of the hiking trip but also the most rejuvenating.

The plan for Day 4 was to travel from Paine Grande to Refugio Chileno, making a detour to visit the French Valley along the way. Day 4 would be our longest hiking day of about 10 hours of hiking. Doing this hike at a moderate pace would and getting to Chileno by dinner would require leaving Paine Grande around 8:30am. Because my group got delayed in leaving, I decided to do the hike alone.

To make matters worse, we had pouring rain and high winds most of the day. I was under-prepared for the rain. My pants weren't rain proof and I had no cover for my pack. It took me 3 hours to hike to the branch point (Campo Italiano) where hikers could continue to Chileno or take the detour into the French Valley. I dropped my pack, carried a water bottle and some Lara bars, and set off for the French Valley. The terrain was rocky and uphill and it was hard to see the path for most of the journey. The wind was also vicious - this was the windiest part of the W trail. Along the way, I stopped for shelter from the wind along with 2 Canadians. We sat and stared out at the canyon, marveling at the harsh beauty of Patagonia.

After a few more hours of hiking, I arrived at Campo Britanico, which was eerily deserted. Given the high winds and rain, all the campers at the this camp had descended to Campo Italiano. It was another 15 minutes to the lookout point, but I skipped this excursion because of the poor visibility.

I then descended to Campo Italiano and continued onto Refugio Chileno. I arrived about 1.5 hours after my friends who started towards Britanico but turned back with an hour to go. My clothes were soaked and I was in need of some hot food. Unfortunately, Chileno was our least comfortable Refugio with 8 people to a room and little heat.

At times the hike was lonely, but for the most part it was enjoyable and allowed me to reflect on Patagonia's grandeur in solitude.

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