Challenging "Patagonian flat" at Torres del Paine and EcoCamp

After a long bus ride from El Calafate we arrived at EcoCamp inside Torres del Paine National Park, our home for the next few nights. It was very unexpected luxury in the middle of wilderness. We were fed 3 course gourmet meals with unlimited wine, and put up in very cozy domes. It was the perfect base to explore this park, the highlight of which was the 22 kilometre hike to the base of the magnificent Paine towers that the park was named after.

Our dinner menu for the night

The EcoCamp domes themselves are very eco friendly and energy efficient, and blend in with the natural environment. The dome shape and the plastic sky window maximises heating during the day, and a wood stove is used for heating at night if required. EcoCamp generates its own electricity with a micro hydro turbine and solar panels. Each dome has its own composting device.

The EcoCamp domes

The luxury continued with a great buffet breakfast and a very delicious 'make your own' box lunch with almost every ingredient you can imagine - including smoked salmon, roast turkey, roast beef, gourmet cheeses and many different salad ingredients. Feeling a bit greedy standing in front of the spread of ingredients, I made two huge sandwiches and collected a few muesli bars, chocolate bars and a few pieces of fruit. Surprisingly, maybe it was because of the demanding hike, or the elevation of the terrain, or the cold, or the mouthwatering food, that I actually finished everything I had brought with me on the trail.

The weather was perfect as we set off early in the morning on the hike to Mirador Las Torres, the lake at the base of the Paine towers. The trek was actually 9 kilometres from Hosteria Las Torres where most people start, but starting from EcoCamp added another 2 kilometres.

Impressive view of the Ascension Valley and Ascension River

When asked about how steep the trail is, the guides answered that it's Patagonian flat. Now don't be fooled. We discovered that Patagonia is so full of sheer mountains that any terrain less steep is considered "Patagonian flat". This trail traverses up and down the Ascension Valley and has an overall elevation gain of 900 metres. We crossed the Ascension River to arrive at the Chilean camp for a short rest before continuing along the river.

Crossing the Ascension River

Passing through the forest we were faced with the moraine, our final challenge. A moraine is an accumulation of dirt and rocks that had been pushed along by the glacier as it advances. The 300 metre almost vertical climb over huge boulders was hard as we made slow progress towards the top. It was all worthwhile though, as the postcard view of the three imposing Paine towers atop the green glacial lake was reviewed to us. The towers, Torre Sur (South Tower, 2501 metres), Torre Central (2460 metres) and Torre Norte (2260m), were formed by magma and sedimentation that had been washed away by erosion and glacial activities. Even though clouds were covering the tops of the mountains, I was very happy to have made it here. There was a sense of elation, and the mood lifted even more as a couple in the group got engaged in front of the amazing backdrop.

After having hiked 11 kilometres already, the 11 kilometre return journey was hard and my legs felt like jelly at the end of it. This was definitely the biggest day hike I had ever done, but also the most satisfying. On return to camp we were rewarded with a pisco sour, a South American cocktail consisting of pisco (grape spirit) and lime juice. The potent alcohol was the perfect rescue remedy and prepared our stomachs for the well deserved gourmet dinner to follow.

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