An iconic world-class hike: to the Mirador las Torres in Torres del Paine National Park and UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, Chile

Las Torres. Photo by Matt Flaherty.

Las Torres. Photo by Matt Flaherty.

What a treat! Following the two running races, the Torres del Paine Ultra Trail (42k, 67k, and 109k ultramarathons) on Sept. 26th, 2014, and then the Patagonia International Marathon (10k, 21k, 42k and 63k) on Sept. 27th, 2014, NIGSA, the race organizers, invited runners on a hike up to the Mirador las Torres for the following day, Sept. 28th. The races took place in southern Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park, which is also a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.

Because of the steep and technical nature of this narrow hiking trail, it could not form part of any of the race routes – so it was a real treat to have the time to hike it, and view the Torres (granite towers) for which this park is named.

I had run the 42k trail race two days before. I was really pleased that I felt great – beyond merely recovered from my race, I didn’t even need to recover! My recent dietary changes (no dairy, eating less carb) have really done me well. I headed up the “hill” (net elevation gain around 700 m, so total cumulative elevation gain was probably approaching 1000 m) with some world-class racers: Matt Flaherty of USA, who had won the 63k race the day before; Tegyn Angel of Australia, who was leading the 67k the day before that but ended up officially placing 3rd because of a race course “technicality;” Ryan Scott of South Africa, who

Heading up the valley. Photo by Matt Flaherty.

Heading up the valley. Photo by Matt Flaherty.

placed 4th in the trail 42k two days earlier; Leonardo Soresi of Italy, who had placed 3rd in the 109k two days earlier, and Martin Kalverkamp of Germany, who had run the marathon the day before.

As we departed from the lovely Hotel Las Torres, I pulled out my camera to snap a pic – and realized I had left my memory card behind. So many thanks to Matt, Tegyn and Martin for sending me the pix that grace this blog post, since I couldn’t take any!

Our route was about 9 km each way – but, as I said, with substantial elevation gain. We ascended from the hotel (elevation 175 m) heading up the valley to a high point around 500 m, then back down into the valley to the Refugio Chileno at 409 m. Then we continued along a gradual ascent up the valley towards the camping spot Campamento las Torres, where we veered off the left, straight up the valley side, to the lookout or Mirador las Torres, at the edge of a frozen lake at an elevation of 886 m, with incredible views across the lake of the spectacular name-sake towers.

Elevation profile of our route. Photo by Martin Kalverkamp.

Elevation profile of our route. Photo by Martin Kalverkamp.

Close to our hotel - local cowboys or "huasos" run their horses across the river. Photo by Martin Kalverkamp.

Close to our hotel – local cowboys or “huasos” run their horses across the river. Photo by Martin Kalverkamp.

I was amazed how strong my legs felt. I hiked up with these world-class runners (who are younger than me!) and I just felt great. We went at a brisk, but not crazy pace. It was no race, or opportunity to show off – when I wanted to stop to grab a snack, the guys didn’t zoom ahead without me, they

Leonardo decides to hang out with the horses!

Leonardo decides to hang out with the horses!

stopped and waited. And we had some really nice chats on the way up. Honestly, I really love ultramarathon runners: they tend to be really amazing overachievers who still have a low-key and balanced approach to life!

The last part of the final climb was over boulder-scree, and through patches of snow (September is the end of winter here). We found a spot behind the boulders, sheltered from the wind and with great views to the towers, to eat aquick lunch and snap some pix, and then headed back down. Tegyn and Ryan went down more quickly, running sections and stopping to film. Matt hung back to go with some of the other groups who were hiking. And Martin and Leonardo and I descended together, mostly hiking but running some of the downhill sections – in total taking 5:15 to go up, have lunch, and come back down.

Yup, watch out for those Rolling Stones!

Yup, watch out for those Rolling Stones! Photo by Martin Kalverkamp.

Me, on the way up. Photo by Matt Flaherty.

Me, on the way up. Photo by Matt Flaherty.

View up the valley:Cold and snowy! Photo by Tegyn Angels/wildplans.com

View up the valley: Cold and snowy! Photo by Tegyn Angel/wildplans.com

Last climb over the boulders to get to the viewpoint - the Mirador. Photo by Martin Kalverkamp.

Last climb over the boulders to get to the viewpoint – the Mirador. Photo by Martin Kalverkamp.

Made it to the top! Me, Matt, and Tegyn. Photo: Tegyn Angel/wildplans.com

Made it to the top! Me, Matt, and Tegyn. Photo: Tegyn Angel/wildplans.com

Now heading back down. The sun has melted the ice on the trails, so it is much more slippery going down. Photo: Martin Kalverkamp.

Now heading back down. The sun has melted the ice on the trails, so it is much more slippery going down. Photo: Martin Kalverkamp.

Bridge over the river by the Refugio Chileno (that's me). Photo by Martin Kalverkamp.

Bridge over the river by the Refugio Chileno (that’s me). Photo by Martin Kalverkamp.

Martin and me, most of the way down. In the background, Lake Nordenskjold, where I ran in my race two days earlier. Photo by Leonardo Soresi.

Martin and me, most of the way down. In the background, Lake Nordenskjold, where I ran in my 42k race two days earlier. Photo by Leonardo Soresi.

What a great day! We were so lucky with the weather! It was windy, but nowhere near as windy as it had been the previous days. It was sunny, and the sky was clear and blue – as you can see from the pix, perfect for viewing the Torres. The weather here is so changeable – many people travel from all over the world to see the Torres, and end up not seeing them at all because of cloud and fog. This is my second time viewing them – I first came to Torres del Paine National Park sixteen years ago, and my friends and I camped at the Campamento below for two days before the clouds finally opened to offer us a glimpse of the fabled Torres. And here they were this time, in plain view all day! The gem of Chilean Patagonia… what a treat!

 

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