While our 8th day in the park dawned still a bit overcast (bummer), we kept our hopes up for partly sunny. Maybe, just maybe…there’d be some clearing and sun by the time we got to the top!
The hike up to the Británico mirador/overlook was 4.2 miles from our starting point at the Frances campsite, which made for (up and back down) a total of 8.4 miles. Elevation gain up to the mirador is 2,011 feet, so not an insignificant climb! But – and this is a big BUT – this being our first round trip day hike in Torres del Paine, we got to leave the vast majority of our stuff in the tent. Which means LIGHTER PACKS! We took only extra clothing layers, lunch, water, first aid kit, and trail necessities. We left our tent pitched with the sleeping bags, air mattresses, stove and utensils, hobo rolls with all the clothes, extra books or journal, and everything else.
It was just the most thrilling thing to start our hike with backpacks that felt like they were carrying nothing but air. I remember for the first twenty minutes or so, the two of us would randomly burst out laughing at how strong we felt having removed all that weight. It was a nice treat, and put into perspective just how much stronger our bodies had grown in only 8 days. All those people that pay to have the horses or park employees carry their stuff/food and do the hike with the lightest of backpacks…well….good for them for having that kind of spending money! But believe me when I say they are missing out on the highly rewarding weight-training-style satisfaction that comes from finally doing a hike without your full pack. WORTH IT. Felt like kangaroos sometimes, with a little extra jump in our step.
We wound our way up the Valle del Frances, which extends north from Lago Nordenskiöld and keeps to the east side of the valley’s river, Rio Frances.
The Frances Valley is a special place. Not only is it awe-inspiring from every angle, but there are hanging glaciers spread all across the tops and crags of the mountains that give you daily shows: Avalanches! Now, these aren’t the kind of avalanches that hikers need to worry about, as they are too small to cause any kind of danger, and the trail is far enough off of the fall zone.
At first (and partially because everything was still shrouded in clouds throughout the morning), David and I thought the rumbling we were hearing was thunder up the valley. It sounded almost exactly like a storm in the distance. As we approached and were able to see more clearly in the presence of the mountain, we witnessed it firsthand. The warmth of the sun works on the hanging mountain glaciers up high, and then a loud crack or a loud rumble is the first sign. If you turn fast, have a clear line of sight without any tree blockage, and are lucky enough to find the movement in time…then you watch in amazement as a huge patch of snow and ice breaks off and falls down the sheer face of the mountain-side, plummeting everything in its path. And every time, without fail, a brand new stream of meltwater bursts from where that avalanche had just fallen.
We were watching waterfalls being created.
It doesn’t get old.
After a snack break at the Frances mirador, we pressed on. The paths today were up often on tree-covered ridges, which made for cool perspectives looking down on either side as you walked.
At one point, we passed an impressive and larger multi-tiered waterfall on the Rio Frances. I made sure to hold on to sturdy branches as I got up close to it! I love the tendency that large waterfalls have to take over all your senses. It’s very meditative. You have to treasure those things that help you slow down the mind when it is usually so hard to do.
While we had glaciers and avalanches to the west of us, granite spires and towers lined the sights to the east and north. And sure enough, as it got closer to midday, the clouds began to clear out and the sun came out to light the way.
By the time we reached the peak, Británico mirador, it was 360 degrees of awesome and you just can’t help but be humbled by the geologic power displayed in your surroundings.
While it was a bit crowded up there, we stuck around and enjoyed for a good long while. I saw one girl arrive, take a few selfies, and then leave to head back within 5 minutes. WTF?! I was still eating the same piece of beef jerky for the duration of it. People baffle me.
The Británico sights are worth spending the extra time. I mean, let’s be honest…the whole park is.
Another thing that’s funny was that David and I both remarked later that when we hit the mirador at the peak, both of us were a bit surprised that the upward climb was over, feeling like we could’ve kept going and done more! That is SUCH a great feeling, and I hope everyone either has experienced it or gets to experience it someday. Validation.
Our hike back down the valley was as if the wind we felt at the top had come through and whooshed all the rest of the lingering clouds out of the valley.
Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy.
There were a couple times on the way back down that we’d hear the loud crack of an avalanche and both of us would instinctively jump before remembering after a second what it was. I said earlier in this post that it doesn’t get old…additionally, you really don’t get used to it, especially when it is so close in proximity!
For dinner that night, we wanted to check out the nice view overlooking the lake down by the Frances restaurant, and refugio domes, so we brought all our dinner stuff down the hill (to hell with the steep walk back up!). We found an empty table on which to cook, some rocks on which to sit, played cards, watched the line of sun creep up the mountains across the way…and (if I were to put it simply) – found yet more solace in this place where solace is overflowing.