Patagonia - Torres Del Paine - 'O' It's Closed? / by Mark Boyd

I had come to the Torres Del Paine National Park to complete a trail known as 'The O Circuit'.  This encapsulated the 'W Circuit' which I had now completed..... I was curious as to 'how closed' the O was, so that evening I decided to draw up a plan.  I put together a little day pack of snacks (not enough as usual as I was almost out of food) and I also left a note in my tent with my personal details on.  Why did I do this?  Well I was considering walking the first 10 miles (16km) of the The O Circuit, and I wouldn't be registering anywhere, so if I managed to injure myself or suffer a puma attack (pumas were the reason to walk this section for me) they discover me at some point.

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The following morning after a good breakfast I grabbed my 8kg day pack with extra clothes just in case the weather turned, and picked up the O Trail.  The sun was still yet to rise.... I made a couple of wrong turns in the first twenty minutes, but once the light improved the trail became easier to spot.  Eventually it became a fully fledged rough path.

The landscape was different here.... As always it felt 'puma-y'.... and as always I believed I was going to have my first encounter.  The path became exceptionally muddy, necessitating main trail avoidance.  I eventually came upon two well stuck ranger vehicles.  Their wheels had become buried in the soft mud which had eventually solidified around the wheels.... I wondered if this was the reason the trail was yet to officially open?  

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The bird life was exceptional on this section of the trail.  It was far quieter than the main W Trail, partly because it's more challenging, and partly because it was officially closed.  I spotted other human footprints in the soft mud which suggested there were definitely others on the trail.  There were animal prints too!

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As I entered a beautiful green glade I noticed something moving in the grass..... I edged closer and closer, moving as slowly and quietly as I possibly could.  It was a hognosed skunk.  I crouched down and began filming the snuffling creature.  I could only assume it hadn't seen me as it drew ever closer until it was almost within touching distance.  Now the last thing I wanted was to be sprayed by a skunk.  My trekking gear would be ruined.... I remained as still as a statue hoping that it wouldn't be spooked by my presence once it noticed I was there.  I held my breath.  A few seconds later it moved away a couple more metres and I took this as my opportunity to stealthily back away.  What a wonderful experience.

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I crossed a little stream and followed the trail upwards.  At the peak of the path I could see something in the distance.  It was a long way off.  Maybe it was the first camp, Seron.  I lifted my binoculars.  Sure enough, at the end of the plain there was the first camp.  It looked around 45 minutes away.... I took the steep, dusty, rocky path down on to the plain.

I had been walking around 2.5  hours when I reached a wide shallow river.  Crossing said expanse of water without totally soaking my boots was going to require a little reconnaissance combined with fast forward movement.  By now the wind was howling under the bright blue skies.  Ten minutes later I was on the other side stomping my way across the plain.  Two guys were walking in the opposite direction to me.... Would I be getting told off for being on a closed trail?  I shot them a big smile as we walked by one another asking how the other's were doing.  Perfect!  I noticed another couple of trekkers on the same trail but different path, again in the opposite direction.  It seemed I was not the only 'naughty' walker in Torres del Paine.

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A pair of Patagonian Lapwings began to shriek and dive bomb me, they had obviously chosen to build their nest within 50 metres of the walking trail and weren't happy with the unwelcome passers by. 

Fifteen minutes later I arrived at the camp... I was surprised to see a guided group packing down their tents.  Interesting!  Everyone was at it! 

It was still before 9am so I decided to continue walking for another hour.  As I did so I scoured the hillsides for pumas, but nothing.  

On reaching a pretty lake I decided to take shelter from the stiff, cool wind and just meditate in the silence.  I loved the idea that I could be the only person in a circumference of 5 miles or more..... I wished I had been camping out here.... 

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I spotted movement on the trail in the distance.... It was another big guided group.  What was going on?  I thought this trail was closed (to everyone but me!).  Then another group followed on..... Hmmmmm, closed indeed.  Apart from these groups and the porters carrying all their gear it was perfect.  It was silent.... It was amaaaaaaaaaaazing! 

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As I sat there taking it all in I could feel a slight fatigue in my legs and body not only from today's 4 hour stomp, but also yesterday's 6.5 hour steep up and down to The Towers.  I knew I was going to be much slower on the way back to camp.  At 2pm I began the return leg of the trek.

The half way point was the steep ascent having passed through the camp.  It was hard work.  My feet were hurting and my legs were tired.  The sun was strong and bright but the brisk wind kept the temperature down.  After the decent back down to 'skunk glade' I rested on an old dead tree and watched a woodpecker work it's way along the ground searching for ant's nests.  I estimated reaching camp at 7pm if I could maintain my current pace.

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....... and that's what happened.  I sat to ease my feet a couple more times whilst wishing I had more food with me before dragging my backside in to gear and continuing. 

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The light was wonderful during the final 30 minutes to the camp. 

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On reaching the tent I collapsed down on to my bum and sat.  I eased my boots off to allow my feet to breath.... ecstasy....  I disappointedly assessed what food remained.... I needed a tin of tuna to accompany the pasta and remaining tomato passata.  The thought of walking to the little tiny shop 20 minutes away was as unappealing as having nothing decent to eat for dinner following a total of 9 hours rough ground trekking..... The tiny shop was closed.... The shop keeper was on a break.... I sat on the step awaiting her return.... 'Back in 5 minutes'.  Twenty minutes later the young lady reopened the tiny retail outlet.  I grabbed tuna and three fresh eggs.  I dawdled uncomfortably back to camp.  I cooked, ate and then fell asleep before 8pm.  I was completely shattered.