Tag Archives: backpacking

Trail Fail: How NOT To Yurt Trip

28 Mar 17
Heidi Kumm
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one comments

Trail Fail: How NOT To Yurt, Cabin or Hut Trip

There are a bajillion + a half blog posts, articles + flashy insta-stories out there telling you how to properly, safely + comfortably go on a yurt trip. So, for the sake of trying something new, let’s talk about all the things you can do wrong while venturing out to a remote mountain yurt or cabin. The fact we just recently did all of the following things [over the course of four trips, the only reason we’re still alive] has nothing to do with my motivation to overshare this list. Probably. Not.

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Alone in the Mountains [Schonbielhutte]

14 Oct 15
Heidi Kumm
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3 comments
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There were only a few hours between my “I should go somewhere” thoughts and my “hop on a train” actions but I did do a little Google’ing to get a feel for the trails in the Zermatt area. The Schonbielhutte was on my radar but the hut’s website was very vague about when it closed for the season. I checked with the Zermatt Tourism Office but the woman simply read me the website…super helpful. Or not.

So, when I came upon the sign that said “Schonbielhutte 1h 25m” I decided to check out the hut for myself. Worst case scenario, the hut would be closed and I would be hiking along remote mountain trails next to the Matterhorn on an absolutely gorgeous day for another three hours. Best case scenario, the hut would be open and I’d get to spend another night in the mountains.

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Currently.

01 Oct 15
Heidi Kumm
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4 comments

A lot has changed over the past two months, but at the same time life feels very normal. Weirdly normal. I’m living in Switzerland, working for a couple I’ve only known for a few weeks, living in a hostel with a revolving door of strangers and grocery shopping with Google Translator in hand.

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Sunshine + Rain: Cabana de Plan Neve

30 Sep 15
Heidi Kumm
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2 comments

It turns out the Swiss Alps really are littered with Swiss Alpine Club huts and their privately owned lookalikes. At Chalet Martin I met Caroline, another WorkAway from the States, and after a few days of extra fridge cleaning and bed making we ran away from civilization for a night in a mountain hut. At Merlin’s suggestion we headed toward Cabana de Plan Neve, a smaller hut nestled in a mountain valley.

When we left the hostel the low hanging clouds were threatening rain but as the day progressed the sun broke through the clouds and we ditched our rain gear for tank tops as we trekked down into Les Gorges, through Les Plans and up toward Pont de Nant.

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A Night in Glecksteinhutte

23 Sep 15
Heidi Kumm
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2 comments

My first day in Grindelwald was supposed to involve a long hike up to Steckhornhutte with a relaxing night surrounded by mountain views. Instead, the city welcomed me with rain and eventually storms that drove me right off the mountainside and into a “meh” hostel on the edge of town. The hostel’s kitchen was laughable and I didn’t even bother with the shower…but I did get a 6 bed dorm room all to myself and celebrated with a full 9 hours of drool-on-my-pillow sleep. Yup, I know how to have a good time!

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Off the Beaten Path [Cabana d’Orny]

10 Sep 15
Heidi Kumm
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5 comments
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When I left Champex, Switzerland on my day hike up to Glacier d’Orny I was really just hoping for some time away from tourist feel of the city. I wasn’t quite ready to commit myself to the extra bus ride that would be required if I stayed on the Tour du Mont Blanc trail, just to bail off the next day…so I hiked up, up, up.

There is a ski lift/cable car that will take you up the mountain from the edge of Champex but when you’re day hiking that is cheating, right? I tromped on past that cable car and found the single track that zigged and zagged it’s way up the mountainside one skree field at a time. Once I arrived at the top I sat myself down and ate half my stash of jelly beans while basking in the mountain sunshine.

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Starting the Tour du Mont Blanc Trek

07 Sep 15
Heidi Kumm
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one comments

When the Columbia crew left Chamonix on Saturday afternoon I packed up my Ultimate Direction Fastpack, stowed away my big Columbia duffle and headed for the train station where I hopped on a train to Vallorcine and immediately hit the trail following the Tour du Mont Blanc trail. I spent my Saturday afternoon/evening hiking against the flow of UTMB 170km racers doling out “great job” and “keep it up” along with many claps + smiles that I hope were encouraging. I was headed to Trient, the 120km check point of the UTMB where I hoped to crash at a hostel after catching Amy [the Runner’s Roost MUT Team coordinator + a major, level-headed enabler for my first ultras] as she came through.

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Camping at White Ranch

13 Jul 15
Heidi Kumm
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6 comments

While I’m studying my eyeballs out with EMT training I have been working at Ibotta, an app startup in Denver, where I help out crazy rebate/coupon’ers and hunt down the fraud-sters. What I do isn’t exactly glamorous but it’s exactly what I need in my life right now and the entire Ibotta crew is kind of awesome. Need proof? How about a Thursday night of camping with co-workers, just because?!

That’s exactly what I was doing last Thursday night! I met a few co-workers at the White Ranch upper trailhead and we packed our camping gear + food about a mile into the hiker campsites, set up camp and created our own version of “mountain happy hour” with a bonfire, s’mores and a stormy sunset.

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Torres del Paine: The O Circuit [Part 2]

27 Mar 15
Heidi Kumm
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2 comments

For the first few days of my experience on the O Circuit of the Torres del Paine National Park check out Torres del Paine: The O Circuit [Part 1]. Those were the rainy, cloudy, cold days of the trip…the days I spent wondering “why the heck did I fly half way around the world for this?!” because I knew I could find that weather in the MidWest on any given spring day! But things started looking up half way through Day 3 as we dropped down John Gardner Pass and spent the afternoon trekking along a glacier with the sun peeking around the scattered clouds.

Chile Travel: Lessons Learned || Packing + Planning || The O Circuit Part 1

Day 4: Refugio Grey to Camp Italiano

After a night of wine + laughter the 6:30am alarm came early…really early. But we are nothing if not determined so before the sun popped over the horizon [yes! we would actually see sun today!] we had packed up our tent and were on the trail, oatmeal + hot chocolate in hand! The sky turned bright pink as we left camp on a mission to arrive at Camp Italiano early in the afternoon with plenty of time to run up/down the French Valley, a “must see” stretch of trail surrounded by mountains, waterfalls and glaciers.

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As we hiked away from Refugio Grey we kept stopping to turn around. For the first few miles the landscape behind us was far more breathtaking than the trail ahead of us. The horizon offered us a view of Lago Grey, Glacier Grey and an angular range of snow-covered mountains. Every time we turned around it looked different, thanks to the rising sun and every changing clouds. This was the morning when I realized exactly why we spent 3 days traveling just to get here…it was finally all worth it!

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The 11km/7mi trek from Refugio Grey to Refugio Paine Grande went surprisingly fast and we knew we were getting close when we started meeting day hikers on the trail. We were officially on the W Circuit of the trail where we’d be meeting an interesting mix of inexperienced day hikers, dedicated tourists and full-blown backpackers. At the very least the people were entertaining…but not quite as entertaining as the crazies Seth + Tana met on their trek during the busier season last year!

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When we arrived at Refugio Paine Grande we were blown away by the setting. It was…impressive! First off, the buildings + bathrooms + everything was so fancy, and not just in comparison with the more rugged accommodations we’d grown accustom to…it was legit fancy! But it wasn’t the buildings that had us staring and drooling during our quick lunch break, it was our surroundings! These buildings were plopped down in the perfect setting! On one side the weirdly blue-green waters of Lago Pehoe stretched out for miles with a few bright blue ice bergs from Glacier Grey floating around. On the other side of the Refugio the mountains just rose up from a stretch of green prairie grass with the jagged edges of Punta Bariloche towering over us.

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After a lunch of salami, cheese and Pringles [an impulse purchase a the Refugio store] we reluctantly headed back onto the trail en route to Camp Italiano. We didn’t want to waste this awesome weather – the sun was shining and we actually got to see the mountains on the horizon rather than just a pile of rain clouds!

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Aside from a few encounters with a few obviously hikers that definitely needed a lesson or two in general trail etiquette our trek up to Camp Italiano was rather uneventful. We played in the mud, sweat in the sunshine and splashed through crystal clear streams. Before we even arrived at Camp Italiano we could hear the raging Rio del Frances, the river we’d be hiking along on our trek up/down the French Valley. Once in camp we were quick to choose a campsite, set up our tent and repack my Ultimate Direction Fastpack 30 with a few layers + snacks before heading up the valley.

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This was one of the many moments I was insanely thankful I was using the UD Fastpack for this trek! It was so light and easy to use on a quick afternoon hike up the French Valley. Heck, we even ran a mile or so UP the valley simply because it felt so good to move quickly, freely without heavy packs on our backs!

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The first mirador/overlook was less than an hour from the campsite and offered up a panoramic view of the mountains around us, the glaciers on the backside of Punta Bariloche, the Rio del Frances below us, the valley behind us and Lago Nordenskjold off in the distance. It was beautiful…and this was only the halfway point! Regardless, this was my favorite part of the French Valley – if you can only do a short stretch of this hike get to this point!

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If you hang out for a while and watch the glaciers + waterfalls across the river you’ll be able to see the glaciers calve massive icebergs over the cliff before you hear the thundering boom. It’s amazing. Even as we hiked upward we could hear the glaciers shifting and calving. It was like a distant thunderstorm without the threat of rain.

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An hour later we arrived at the top mirador where the mountains greeted us with nearly cloud-less views. It was impressive but we didn’t stay for too long, our stomachs were calling us back to camp and warm meals! On the way down the valley we ran…and it felt amazing. You’d think our legs would be exhausted after four long days of hiking but without our heavier packs it felt like we were running on clouds. Hopping over roots, bounding from rock to rock and splashing through runoff streams has never been so refreshingly fun! My mind + body needed this!

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Once we returned to camp we made dinner with a few trail friends than crashed into our tent – there would be no fun socializing tonight. Sure, we were tired but more importantly this camping area was not set up for socializing! The lean-to for cooking was tiny, dark and wet with the surrounding area less than accommodating so we just called it a night early like the lazy loser that we are. #sorrynotsorry

The best part of Day 4 was…the sunshine! And the thundering glacier in the French Valley!

Day 5: Camp Italiano to Camp Torres

Our morning was less than eventful. Camp Italiano was a wet, cold camp so we didn’t hang around for long. Heck, we even skipped breakfast + brushing our teeth in favor of bailing out of camp and into the morning sunshine sooner! Don’t fret, we stopped by Refugio Los Cuernos once we’d warmed up and pretended to be civilized adults!

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The majority of our trek up to Camp Torres was…up. Surprising, I know. While the stretch of trail was scenic it wasn’t mind blowing and aside from a few encounters with odd hikers it was very uneventful. Around lunch time we came upon a sign that said “Shortcut to Chileno” and did a little happy dance! The main trail had us dropping down the Torres Hotel than climbing up a busy trail to Refugio Chileno while this shortcut skipped the descent and just sent up straight up the mountain. Fun.

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After a quick lunch break staring off at the mountain tops, chatting with newfound trail friends we were back on the trail, heading up some of the steepest trail we encountered on the entire O Circuit. The trail seemed to drag on and on and on as we hiked up in the hot afternoon sunshine. I wasn’t quite stupid enough to complain about the sunshine but I was wishing my leggings weren’t black! Luckily we had plenty of mud puddles + streams to cool our feet in!

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We spent very little time in Refugio Chileno before powering on up to Camp Torres which would have us staying just an hour below the Torres mirador. Hiking up into this valley took us away from the open fields and through a weirdly cold, green jungle of trees. The campsites at Camp Torres were off the trail away bit, down in a cove of trees with a thick canopy that made it feel otherworldly. Don’t judge me, but it felt like one of the Night Elf villages in World of Warcraft. Okay, fine, judge me…I deserve it!

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Once we snagged a relatively flat campsite and set up our tent Logan headed up to the Torres to scope out the area for sunrise photos the next morning. I was feeling lazy and the hours of hiking uphill were starting to aggravate my Achilles so I opted for nap time with the promise of hiking up to the mirador in the morning. Logan was lucky enough to have the clouds part and give her a view of the Torres and I got in another much needed nap [apparently I’m a small child and truly need naps?] before we cooked up our last hot meal and set our alarm for 5:45am.

The majority of Day 5 was “normal” but the final stretch of trail up to Camp Torres was the best – so green + woodsy!

Day 6: Camp Torres to Torres Mirador to Hotel Torres

It was a restless night for me – probably because I spent all my “hard sleep” on an afternoon nap – so I was ready for the alarm to go off but I wasn’t quite ready to put on wet socks and get out of the tent. It sounded like rain as the trees dropped large drops of water on our tent and rain meant clouds and clouds meant no views at the mirador… But I hadn’t been up to the overlook yet so off we went.

As soon as we left the campsite area we realized the spitting rain was quickly turning into pelting snow. Oh, goodie. No, really…I was excited. I like snow, a lot! At first the snow only dusted the trail signs but as we hiked upward snow started sticking to rocks and really covering the trail. At this point we kind of gave up on a sunrise view of the Torres but we had left the sanctuary of our tent so we kept hiking.

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By the time we reached the overlook area we could see maybe 20 feet in front of us? We were basically hiking in a snow cloud with wet snow falling around us. Yup, no sunrise views of us! We joked with the other dedicated hikers that trekked up the mountain for a bit then headed back down to our campsite.

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When we returned to the campsite area the “sign dusting” of snow had turned into 3+ inches of snow all around us! Once we ducked under the canopy of trees protecting the campsites the snow seemed like a thing of the past…until the moment we pulled our rain fly off our tent. That was the moment the trees decided to do a little shimmy and dump ALL the canopy snow down into our tent and onto the tents around us. It was so cool to watch! Sure, our tent got wet but who cared, we were done camping!

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Packing up camp this last time was quick – we had almost no food in our packs and didn’t need to worry about any strategic packing since we would be sleeping in a warm, dry hostel that night. Yup, we were excited about returning to civilization, if only because we desperately wanted a hot shower and dry socks!

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I had a blast on our trek from Camp Torres to Refugio Chileno – I was surrounded by snow, ducking in and out of the dry forest and loving every minute of it. I was in my element! Torres del Paine sure knows how to tell a girl “thanks for visiting, come again soon!”. While I didn’t exactly love the cold, wet hiking earlier in the week I’d definitely return to the area in the dead of winter!

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After a quick stop at Refugio Chileno for a hot breakfast of oatmeal [the very last of our food] we made our way down the mountain and arrived at Hotel Torres before noon. We had done it! In less than 6 full days we had hiked the full O Circuit of Torres del Paine and survived with a smile! We made a quick stop by the Kiosko for snacks + ice cream for lunch then plopped down in front of the fancy, five-star Hotel Torres…feeling and looking like homeless hippies. We were happy. Tired but happy.

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The rest of our day consisted of a bus ride to Laguna Amarga then another bus ride to Puerto Natales where we headed into town to find a hostel. Logan has a reservation at Erratic Rock and I spent about 45 minutes wandering around until I found space at another hostel – it was a busy night for backpackers in Puerto Natales! After a hot shower with real soap Logan and I inhaled pizza at Basecamp then fell face first into soft, warm, dry bunk beds in our respective hostels.

…and there you have it, the final bits of my six days trekking around Torres del Paine on the O Circuit. It was an experience to say the least! I’d definitely do things a bit different if I went back again [see “dead of winter” comment above!] but overall, I’m really glad I went and got to experience this part of Chile and South America!

Chile Travel: Lessons Learned || Packing + Planning || The O Circuit Part 1

Torres del Paine: The O Circuit [Part 1]

25 Mar 15
Heidi Kumm
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No Comments

I did it – I survived a bajillion hours on airplanes, a few naps on busses and 6 days of trekking around the Torres del Paine O Circuit! It was awesome. It was wet. It was beautiful. It was something I’ve never done before…and will probably never get to do again. I learned a few things about traveling in Chile and a lot of things about myself. And, of course, I returned to the States with a few photos + stories worth sharing!

Chile Travel: Lessons Learned || Planning + Packing || The O Circuit Part 2

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Logan and I arrived at Torres del Paine National Park on Sunday, March 8 after a little bus schedule snafu. Our original plan had us camping in Torres del Paine on Saturday night and starting our hike early on Sunday morning. Since we failed at scheduling our bus tickets far enough in advance [aka, not the day of] we arrived a day later than planned. Even though we weren’t starting our hiking until noon we decided we were going to go for it and do whatever we could to cover the full 28km/17.5mi that afternoon. We were optimistic…and successful!

Day 1: Refugio Las Torres to Refugio Dickson

When we arrived it was raining – a calm, steady rain. We pulled on our rain layers and headed up the trail dodging mud puddles with the naïve idea that we could keep our feet relatively dry. It didn’t take us long to realize we’d have to get wet…as soon as we came upon a stream we had to wade through we decided to just give in and embrace the mud!

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Our [revised] plan was to focus on getting to Camp Seron before stopping to eat lunch – we arrived at about 2pm when there was a much appreciated break in the rain clouds. After woofing down a salami + cheese tortilla roll we were off again. Camp Seron had the basics – bathrooms, a lean-to area for cooking and flat ground for tents. Little did I know this was one of the least accommodating campsites on the entire loop [rivaled only by Camp Paso]!

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The next few hours were spent learning the hard way that the signs/maps along the trails are lying turd burglars! One sign said we had 4km to go…then an hour later another sign said we had 3km to go. Yea, there is no way we were moving that slowly on flat ground! We knew Refugio Dickson was located at the base of a hill so every time we got near a hill we got excited, only to be disappointed when the trail veered away from it. The last 3km lasted approximately 243 miles! But when we got there? Holy gorgeous setting!

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We paid our camping fee, set up the tent and headed directly to the cooking area to start dinner. It was about 8pm and we were hungry! During dinner we learned that the John Gardner Pass was closed due to weather and it may stay closed for a while. After heading back to our tent we started brainstorming a Plan B should the pass be closed in the AM – we didn’t have the days available to wait for the pass to re-open! We ended up with a Plan B that had us backtracking to Refugio Las Torres [ugh!] and doing the W Circuit so we’d still get to see 90% of the park. But all that re-planning was unnecessary when the ranger told us the pass was open on Monday morning.

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My favorite part of Day 1 was when the clouds parted and we got to see the valley stretch out ahead of us – if felt very Colorado.

Day 2: Refugio Dickson to Camp Los Perros

On Monday we started the day a bit later than planned, leaving camp around 10am. I was a little nervous about this since our game plan was to cover close to 25km/15.5mi with a climb up and over John Gardner Pass. We arrived at Camp Los Perros just before 2pm and after checking in with he rangers we settled down for a hot lunch after hours of hiking in the rain. When we initially asked about the pass it was confirmed that it was open, but as our water boiled a ranger stopped by to let us know it wasn’t actually open. Rather than hiking up and over to Refugio Grey we were stuck at Camp Los Perros for the night.

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Honestly, at that point, I was happy. I didn’t think we’d be able to happily make it to Refugio Grey that day and I wasn’t quite ready to spend hours hating myself for flying half way around the world to trek in wet forests. Hands down, this was the roughest day for me and I was glad to have an excuse to set up camp really early and eat two hot meals! When I headed to the tent to dig through my pack and set up my sleeping bag I may have “accidentally” took a 3 hour nap…totally worth it, I clearly needed it!

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The rangers told us to be ready to leave camp at 8am if we wanted to go over John Gardner Pass. There was some hesitation from other trekkers about pace and being restricted by rangers. While pace was a valid concern we didn’t have any reason to fight the rangers decision and we wanted to continue forward on the O Circuit so we adjusted our game plan, again.

The best part of Day 2 was…my nap? It was a rainy, dark day and I was definitely on the struggle bus!

Day 3: Camp Los Perros to Refugio Grey

A group of maybe 40 trekkers left Camp Los Perros at 8am and headed for John Gardner Pass. The slower hikers were up front with the ranger then we spread out by pace, or that was the plan. While I thought the slower pace was kind of refreshing it didn’t take some people long to forge ahead. By the time we left the shelter of trees and the well-defined trail the group had spread out quite a bit, easily passing one another on the open scree field.

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It was chilly with wind pelting rain down on us so everyone kind of tucked into their hoods and hiked as quickly as they could to keep warm. Logan and I split up but with the open mountainside ahead of us we never lost each other. As we climbed the rain turned into snow but I managed to stay warm, even with feet soaking wet from the cold mountain streams we forged through. I gained a lot of confidence in my ability to layer during this trip – never getting too cold or too hot, even when the weather waffled around.

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The entire trek up the pass was windy but as we neared the top the wind kicked it up a notch. It wasn’t unbearable to me but I’ve survived some pretty insane wind at the top of 14ers so maybe I’m biased. Yes, you had to lean into the wind and the pelting rain/snow hurt my cheeks but the wind never felt dangerous. It was actually a lot of fun to stumble around in at the pass summit. With stronger gusts slamming into you it was impossible to stand upright – instead you’d stumble forward when the gust of wind let up and your balance was off kilter.

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As soon as we crested the pass we were greeted with cloudy skies and a massive field of white below us – Glacier Grey. Unfortunately our first view of this massive glacier wasn’t exactly breathtaking, the true beauty of the icy beast was hidden from us by clouds. I took off down the mountainside, frolicking over the scree and rocks with the wind slamming into me – I was having a blast! This was my kind of mountain life – up close and personal with the mountains and everything Mother Nature had to offer.

Shortly after dropping off the pass we left the scree behind and ducked into the woods for an extremely muddy descent to Camp Paso. Turns out this particular descent was MUCH more challenging than the climb up the pass. We saw very few switchbacks throughout Torres del Paine…and this was on stretch of trail that really needed them! After days of rain the trail was a mess of mud, slippery mud! Rather than zigzag down the mountain with control we sort of plummeted down slippery chutes between trees, trying to stay on our feet not our asses.

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We made a really quick [ie: less than 7 minutes] in Camp Paso to dig lunch out of our packs then we were off again. Camp Paso was, hands down, the least favorable camp on the entire loop – it was wet and cold [thanks to the rain + glacier] and very cramped with limited space for cooking or flat-ish campsites. I’m very glad we didn’t push over the pass on Monday as we may have been forced to stay at Camp Paso.

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The trail got a lot better after Camp Paso – it wasn’t nearly as steep or muddy and the rain was letting up! Heck, the sun was even peeking out from behind the clouds bringing out the stunningly blue crevasses on Glacier Grey. It was amazing to see how incredibly huge the glacier was! I have a new life goal – explore a glacier, on foot!

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Things were looking up and I was still having fun, hours into the day! We had initially considered pushing through to Refugio Paine Grande but called it a day when we arrived at Refugio Grey – we tired and happy, why push it when we didn’t need to?

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Stopping in Refugio Grey was the best decision we made on the entire trek, at least socially speaking. We got there pretty early, around 4pm, so we got dibs on the good campsites and then spent the rest of the evening/night socializing with other trekkers. On a trip to the camp store to buy a packaged rice meal for “second dinner” Logan discovered they took credit cards…and came back with rice, Twix and a box of wine. Needless to say it was a late night full of laughter and over sharing among our group of about 10 backpackers. Totally worth it!

My favorite part of Day 3 was the glacier – it was so much “larger than life”, so new, so undiscovered!

That’s all for now – for the sake of keeping my Torres del Paine stories short enough to actually read without taking a nap half way through I’m splitting this up into two parts. The next one will cover the three days we spent going from Refugio Grey to Refugio Las Torres with side trips up the French Valley and to the Torres.

Chile Travel: Lessons Learned || Planning + Packing || The O Circuit Part 2