Patagucci Slum City 

English is predominant, pataguucci prevalent, craft beer on chill, here we sit in the comfort of a warm, cozy bar, playing Catan, and casually drinking seven dollar liters of vino tinto. It’s six PM, the game is unusually tense, and our view is of Lago Nordenskjöld, we are 19km into our attempt at the fabled “W” trek in Parque National Torres Del Paine. Here is the story of how we arrived.
The forecast is something we’ve taken for granted, mostly not checking it, at best, checking the weather app that’s pre loaded onto our iPhones. A month in and thus far we’ve had fair weather for the majority of our trip, perhaps this has lulled us into a laze fair attitude towards attending to it. This is atypical of me personally but I’ll attribute my laziness to the lack of wifi, the cheapness of wine and the overall casualness of our affairs. We are fair weather trekkers, we’re not on a schedule, nor pressed for time. After attending a rowdy screening of Reel Rock 10 at a Mountain Film Festival in Puerto Natales and chatting with some fellow van peeps (@thebusandus) we learned of an impending forecast of hurricane force winds. We checked the website, the almighty wifi forecaster most trusted for the Torres Del Paine region. This time around it forecasted sustained 50 mph hour winds with gusts exceeding 80 mph from Monday morning until early Tuesday. It was Saturday.
Undaunted by the forecast, we pressed on in the fading sunlight, and after two hours of gravel roads we encountered our first view of the infamous Torres Del Paine skyline, obscured of course, by heavy dark storm clouds. We awoke at seven AM on Sunday morning to the van violently rocking in the wind, sideways rain, blue sky in the distance and promise of clearing weather. Laying in our cozy sleeping bags we had a group discussion of the current wind situation, per the previous forecast the days wind was supposed to be mild, and considering the level at which the van was currently rocking, the forecast seemed a bit askew. With a considerably more favorable forecast starting Tuesday we opted out of of the Sunday start, as sleeping in a tent with 80 mph gusts is something I’ve never experienced and we all agreed it was something we could do without. Using our van as base camp while waiting out the weather sounded like a more adventurous start to the tale anywho.
A positive of the howling wind, was the speed at which the clouds and storms moved in, around, and over the peaks of the range, by 9 am the skyline had cleared and we were trekking to the nearest ridgeline to nab our first of many future 100+ like Instagram photos. Top 5 view of my life appeared as we gained the ridgeline, the Torres Del Paine skyline is something out of fantasyland, rising up 6000 ft from a glacially charged blue water, capped with hanging snowfields. If it were a puzzle it would be in the 10,000 piece range. After firing up a mean GoPro sponsored photo shoot we raced the rain back down to the van and fired up our first batch of beef, onion, eggs, cheese, and special sauce Breakfast burritos, with our newly procured flour tortillas, toasted to perfection over the stove top. A stellar morning under our belts, riding the burrito high, we moved the van to our advanced base camp in the most scenic hotel parking lot in the world, complete with kiosk selling the essentials, ice cream and beer. 
That afternoon the winds began to increases and the rain came in droves, we bunkered down in advance base camp, enjoyed games of Catan broken up by ice cream forrays and capped by runners of the Game of Thrones to fall asleep. Before we knew it, it was Tuesday morning, we’d unlocked all the secrets of advanced base camp, from free hot showers to semi-clean bathrooms and an endless supply of drinking water, we had found a camp that was hard to leave. Begrudgingly we double checked our bags and gear and set off on the first of two buses heading to the ferry terminal where we would catch a ride across the lake to the start of the trek at Refugio Paine Grande. 
Cheerfully the Singaporean trekker explained that he had completed the Paine Circuit the previous day (Monday) but was delayed in picking up his car from the ferry terminal because the bus he was riding in, (the bus we were about to board) had flipped while driving into the wind on its way to the ferry terminal. He said that thankfully no one was injured but as the bus was cresting a ridge line, it was toppled by a sudden blast of wind, power slammed into the ditch and to an abrupt halt. Proof that our weather delay and decision to wait it out in the comfort of advance base camp for fairer winds, possibly averted disaster.
After a 30 minute ferry ride we were greeted on the far side of the lake by the masses, looking beaten down, by the last two days of weather perhaps, waiting in the cool drizzle to board the ferry and the eventual salvation of returning to Puerto Natales. We immediately headed to the the nearby Refugio and debated the pros and cons of continuing on in the face of the storm, over a quick game of Catan. Two hours, another victory by Marlie (an unprecedented third in a row, securing her overall trip lead by two), a bit of lunch and the group decision was to forgo the trek to Glacier Grey and opt to make the ~10km trek to Campimento Los Frances. This was first of many fair weather variations we made to the Classic “W” trek, as we intended to drive up to El Calafate and view the largest glacier mass outside of the polar regions in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares upon completion of TDP and nobody was willing to walk into the wind and rain to see its little cousin. 
After a windy, rain smashed trudge along the lakeside, Refugio Italiano and the snow line came into view, the camping outside was limited to 24 tents (reservations only), forcing us to push on to the overflow camp, Frances. This final 2 km through now pouring rain pushed our rain gear to the point where it became rather unclear whether perspiration or rain was soaking our bones. Upon arrival we paid eleven dollars USD to camp in a glorified tent city. There were 10”x8′ elevated wooden platforms scattered up and down the forested hillside, no real trails, just muddy paths, slowly morphing into muddy tributaries of the actual creek dividing the camp. We secured the last two platforms on the far side of camp and quickly foursomed each tent, erecting them one at a time to keep as much water out as possible. Stripping off our wet layers, applying dry clothes, boiling water, morale was rising in tandem with our body temperatures and soon we were comfortably sipping hot Tang discussing dinner and Catan. 
Faux granite tiled showers complete with massive waterfall spouts coming from center ceiling, with piping hot water were the main draw for the facilities. Their contemporary design with sweeping hallways allowed for a nice wind/rain break and our dinner of grilled chicken breast with sautéed peppers and four cheese mashed potatoes may have been the highlight of the day to all. We fell asleep to a gentle rain, hoping that the temps would not drop below freezing and we awoke to a calm, crisp, cool morning with clearing skies. Andrew opted to forge ahead 3 km to Refugio Los Cuernos to nab a couple of prime tent sites, while Brian, Marlie and I hiked up to Mirador Britanico, to catch a glimpse of the glacier and the snow that was rumored to have fallen the previous two days. After an hour of brisk uphill hiking we reached the highest point allowed and learned from a ranger that indeed Campimento Britanico was closed due the half meter of snow that had fallen, also contributing was the fact that the level of the runoff stream had exceeded the height of a key bridge, thus making it impassible and in turn impossible to reach our planned night 2 camp. 
Refugio Los Cuernos sits roughly halfway through the trek in some low Nirre trees, it consists of a main lodge, casita rentals, dorm beds, a bar, a restaurant and a lovely tent city. We of course landed in tent city, along with the rest of our peasant trekker friends, happily cooking our pasta dinner and smuggling our cheap wine into the bar area by buying one box from the bar then continually refilling it with our own supply, thus saving a tremendous amount of pesos. The caste system in trekking really only come to light when the plebeian crowd is ushered out, the tables. Are set, and candles are lit. At seven pm the ritzy hiker crowd poured in for their 37 dollar a plate three course pasta dinner, this on top of the 75 dollars they paid for a bunk, on top of what they paid their porter(s). English was prevalent, pataguucci predominant, tap beer was on chill and we went to sleep only to be awaken once from a domestic disturbance in the tent directly next to us, but alas that’s what we expect when slumming it up in tent city.


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