W Trek Day #4 – Campamento Los Cuernos to Chileno

(about 12km 5hr)

Supposed to be another long day of hiking for us, but there was a short cut midway through which bypassed the route to Hotel Las Torres. It was another beautiful day for hiking, we had the mountains on our left and open shrublands to our right.

Paine 4 walk

One of the last waterfall before the shortcut junction

Paine 4 walk hot

Flat open grasslands before Valle Ascencio

It becomes more challenging when we enter the Valle Ascencio. Narrow trail curves in & out along the scree with Rio Ascensio deep below. The winds also began to blow stronger during the hot afternoon – I was extremely thankful for my pair of walking sticks to keep my balance on this tricky section. Any slip and it will be a nasty fall downhill with not much to break the momentum.

Paine 4 valley

View of Valle del Frances

Overwhelming feeling of gladness overtook my body when I finally saw the signs of civilization again. It wasn’t long before I reach Campamento Chileno for a well deserved rest after the punishing walk. My knees were aching from having to brace on the uneven trail.

Good timing too, as I was down to my last sips of water. We have been blessed with many natural springs for the past 4 days to refill, that we took for granted there will be water points during the hike today. No refill spots after short cut, and weather was hot & dry.

We originally planned to camp further up at Campamento Torres, another 3km or 1.5hr walk uphill. The higher position will give us an earlier start to watch the sunrise at the base of the towers. However we decided to pitch camp at Campamento Chileno, because of the sign that upper camp was closed for the season and we were quite drained to climb ahead with our packs.

Paine Camping Chileno campsite

Tiered platforms for tents at Campamento Chileno.

After setting up camp, I went with just another team mate to the final viewpoint at Base de Las Torres. Alas the fine weather we had been experiencing for the past 4 days did not hold and it began to shower lightly during our final ascent. The final 1km 1 hour scramble up over rocks became more challenging because of the rain and light fog.

When we finally arrive, the iconic towers were partly hidden behind clouds. We stayed on as long as we could, with hopes that the weather would clear. No such luck and we had to turn back when it became unbearably cold.

Paine Mirador de Las Torres

Foggy view at Base de Las Torres

Mood at Campamento Chileno was sombre as many hikers were dampened from the rain and disheartened to learn that the higher Campamento Torres was actually open for its last day. Probably a sly plot by the Chileno camp managers to earn extra camping fees, since it was free camping further up. Luckily we brought just enough cash to pay for the night’s camping.

Anyway, it was welcoming to have a hot shower after the wet hike up to the base. The shared cooking area was probably the smallest amongst the four proper campsites we had. So dinner was much later than usual, but we shared our table with 3 other bubbly girls who were just doing the 2days Valle Ascencio hike.

Paine Camping Chileno dinner

Shared dining table with 2 local girls with their Japanese friend inside the cramped cooking hut

 

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W Trek Day #3 – Campamento Italiano to Los Cuernos

(14.3km 7.5hr)

I spent the morning hiking up Valle del Frances with small pack along with another team member. Despite the sharp ascent of about 500m, the climb was much easier without the heavy backpack. Almost felt like flying like a bird as we skipped through the terrain.

Paine 3 hike

Hiking up Valle del Frances

Personally I felt this was the most beautiful section of the W Trek. We saw the Glacier del Frances to our left on our way up, and walking through the valley surrounded by these granite giants was simply breathtaking.

I could have clambered on forever, but the trail ended and a wooden sign to announcing “End Mountain Path” confirms that we have reached the end. We soaked up the quiet beauty, before strong winds started and blew us back towards Campamento Italiano.

Paine Britanico top view

Vista at end of Valle del Frances hike

Lunch, de-camp and pack before our last 5km hike for the day. Nice having some downhills for a change through the forested area and scrublands before hitting the shores of Lago Nordernskjold. It was a pebbly beach, but it was still enjoyable to sit & enjoy the vista with our bare feet. Cool respite after another warm hiking day.

Paine 3 signFound the only National Park signboard before descending to Lago Nordernskjold

Paine 3 lakeside

Chilling out at shores of Lago Nordenskjold

Campamento Los Cuernos was set next to the same lake we were resting before. Uneven terrain dotted with shrubs prevented group camping, so hikers need to hunt awhile to pick out a decent spot. Some places had elevated wooden planks for the tents. We managed to secure a place with plenty of tree cover – a blessing in disguise as strong winds kept blowing throughout the night. The tent swayed ferociously, I even prayed silently it will survive through the night and rest of the trek.

Paine Camp Los Cuernos

Pitching tent at Campamento Los Cuernos

Campsite had only 2 showers & 2 toilet cubicles to be shared amongst all the campers. Quickly took a shower before proceeding with our dinner since it was also another small cooking hut. I had an uncomfortable hot evening because I didn’t bring another set of clothes besides my night thermals. Good idea to pack along a light pair of shorts & short-sleeve top.

 

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W Trek Day #2 – Campamento Grey to Italiano

(18.5km 7hr)

Day 2 was one of our longest day hike with a full load. So an early start back to where we started from yesterday at Guarderia Paine Grande. It was a clearer day, so better views of the majestic Glacier Grey on our way out.

We had lunch at the guarderia with a beautiful view of Lago Pehoe in front and mountains at the back. Amazing seeing how blue the lake waters were, as it reflected its beauty from the sunrays.

Paine 2 crossroads

Junction nearby Guarderia Paine Grande

Next 3 hours hike were across more open grounds with the view huge granite mountains beckoning us ahead. With the noon sun blazing down on us, the afternoon walk was quite a challenge despite the flatter terrain. The views of the lakes behind us and the occasional wildflowers saved us from going mad. We also passed through areas where the trees stood stark naked after the last big fire.

Paine 2 Lago Pehoe

Lago Pehoe with its amazing blue waters

Paine 2 terrain1

Terrain walking towards Campamento Italiano, after passing Lago Skottsberg

Huge sigh of relief when I arrive at Rio del Frances and saw Campamento Italiano across it. It had been a long walking day, and I was delighted to finally throw my heavy pack down.

Paine Camp Italiano river

Rio del Frances

Campsite was next to the cascading river, and dotted with trees. Icy river waters were wonderful to cool down after the hot day. No shower facilities, so an early night after a quick dinner.

Paine Camp Italiano tent1

View of Campamento Italiano – small wooden hut for cooking and toilets right at the back

Paine Camp Italiano dinner

Enjoying a well deserved dinner

 

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W Trek Day #1 – Start to Campamento Grey


Puerto Natales

Team looking fresh at Puerto Natales bus terminal

(10.8km 4hr)

We took the morning bus from Puerto Natales into Torres Del Paine National park (about 2 hours). There was a short stop for toilets before the longer stop at park entrance for registration and video briefing. The CONAF (Corporation Nacional Forestal) is stricter about the fire hazards within the national park after the last disaster end 2011.

While waiting for the many hikers to get processed through, it gave us a brief moment to catch our first glimpse of the famous granite towers. Plenty of cloud cover, which added to our fears for the worst since the weather forecast for next few days ain’t pretty.

Finally we reach our end point at Pudeto to catch the 12noon catamaran ride for our trail head. Buses are timed properly so that passengers get unloaded for the catamaran transfer. Good time to have some lunch while waiting. Also better idea to be at the back of the queue to ensure your backpacks don’t get crushed under everyone else, as all packs are piled into a designated area inside catamaran.

Pudeto catamaran

Lining up to board the catamaran

Pudetor catamaran view

View from catamaran ride

The catamaran ride was scenic as we had a nice view of the mountains behind us. After disembarking, we proceeded to the Guarderia Paine Grande where all hikers were issued a trail pass to be stamped on & park rules. And then we are off!

Our first day of hiking was pleasant. We encountered more bushes and colourful wildflowers during the first 2 hours as compared to rest of the trek. After a steep climb, we were rewarded by the sight of Lago Grey. Walking with the lake on our left, the winds picked up because of the open areas and it was indeed a struggle to move ahead with our heavy loads. When I saw the enormous Glaciar Grey in front, my spirits soared as I knew campsite was nearby.

Paine Glacier Grey

Glacier Grey

First sign of civilization was Refugio Grey, and the official Campamento Grey was still some steps ahead. Campsite was on big open grounds, with the mountains providing shelter on the east. One need to present our trail passes and pays for the camping fees, getting a sticker in return which needs to be displayed on our tent (usually guy lines in the front).

After pitching up our tents, there was still time and daylight for a short walk to the viewing point of Glacier Grey. We even managed to walk down to a little bay where the smaller ice blocks congregated. Too cloudy to view the top of the glacier, but at least we were blessed with a dry hiking day.

Paine Glacier Grey close

Icy bits from Glaciar Grey

Surprised to find out we get shower facilities, so it was refreshing to wash off the sweat and dirt from our day’s hike. As there was only 2 shower cubicles in the female toilet, it was definitely a long wait before my turn came up (luckily there was still hot water left)

Camp rules dictated that all cooking must be done in designated area. At Campamento Grey, it was a small building with 3 rows of benches and tables. Not much room to fit everybody, so again another wait before dinner gets going. If you are hungry, a better idea would be to cook your meals early and enjoy your showers thereafter.

Paine Refugio Grey morning

Campamento Grey in the early morning hours

 

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Hiking Patagonia W Trek

Torres del Paine

With just 2 weeks and a small budget, I made plans to hike the popular 5days W Trek and 3days loop around Monte Fitz Roy, El Chalten with Perito Moreno Glacier day visit thrown in as a buffer / bonus day.

Patagonia reg

ion has always enticed outdoor enthusiasts with its amazing landscapes of snow-capped mountains and glaciers. Best hiking periods are from Oct to March during the spring/summer season and longer daylight hours.

W Trek (6 to 10th Feb)

Situated inside the famous Torres del Paine National Park, hikers have several choices of going to the max with the Full Circuit at 8-9 days or easier 1-2 days hike up Valle Ascencio to view the famous granite towers. W Trek is popular for hikers who want

 

a mix of difficulty and scenery.

Then there’s the choice of luxury hiking with meals and proper beds in refugios (simple bed costs from USD46/night and meals from USD13-26). The cheapest option will be to camp and carry all the necessary cooking gear & foodstuff. For those attempting W Trek, there’s always a toss-up between hiking from West to East or vice versa.

Our group opted to hike West to East, largely because we want to carry our full load up on the easier Western sections and also hike facing Cuernos del Paine when we approach from the west.

W Trek Terrain

Elevation profile for W Trek (Source : CONAF park brochure) 

Puerto Natales is the best gateway into Torres del Paine National Park. It’s about 3 hours bus ride from Punta Arenas, where the airport is situated. There’s plenty of gear shop to source for camping provisions and rental of tent

s and sleeping bags. Plus a decent size supermarke

t to stock up on food provisions.

The Bus Terminal houses several bus companies that sell the bus shuttle tickets into the national park and also other destinations. Wise to shop around and decide on which company has the bus time schedules required. Usual price was CLP15,000 for return trip.

Erratic Rock has a daily 3pm briefing at their premises – highly recommended for those attempting W Trek or Full Circuit. Nice to hear it from people who has done it before, and also get updated for any changes in the terrain or park rules.

Finally, good idea to bring enough cash for the trek ahead as all the operators inside the national park will not accept any credit card payments. Bring little more if you crave for a cold Coke or beer along the way which costs CLP2000 – 3000.

Prices @ Feb 2014 CLP / pax
Park Fees 18000
Catamaran Pudeto to trail head 12000
Campamento Grey 4000
Campamento Italiano FREE
Campamento Los Cuernos 6000
Campamento Chileno 6000
Shuttle bus back to park entrance 2500
TOTAL = 48500

Paying for campsites = usage of proper toilets and shower facilities. Shared between many campers, so do plan your toilet and shower timings.

 

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Walking Pelister National Park

21 May 2013

One of the highlights for my Macedonian 1week trip was the day hike at Pelister National Park. As I only had 1 day to spare – chose the most popular trek within this park called “Rocky Trail”.

The trek is really memorable – medium challenging for seasoned walkers and more difficult for those unaccustomed to rock scrambling. The whole trek will take about 4 hr to reach the first peak (Peak Svit at 2,468m).

Pelister foothill

(Looking at the mountain peaks from foot – shortly after Kopanki Hut)

First half takes one through the serene pine forest, largely consisting of their local pine species called Molika. The 2nd portion is the tougher part which requires both hands to scramble across big boulders all the way to the 1st peak. May be nerve wrecking at times, as one is near the rock edges at most times. Rock scrambling came with some icy surprises – there were still pockets of snow left over from the winter even during this 3rd week May.

Pelister snow

(Patches of snow encountered during the trek up)

Gateway to Rocky Trail is nearby Hotel Molika. From Bitola town, take a cab which costs standard Eur5 one-way. Upon arrival at the hotel parking, the trail start is directly opposite the hotel entrance across the open parking space.

Pelister hotel carpark

(At Hotel Molika carpark – Start to Rocky Trail lies just beyond those 2 cars in the background)

The trail is clearly marked, but do get a simple trail map from Hotel Molika’s reception or take a picture of the huge map just outside the hotel’s entrance.

From the trail start, it is uphill all the way to the 1st checkpoint – Kopanki Hut 30min. Used to operate as a popular mountain hut, but has closed since a fire destroyed it early 2013.

Pelister hut burnt

(Kopanki Hut which unfortunately was damaged by severe fire early 2013)

From hut to Fountain (downhill flowing stream), it is an easier trail amongst the pine forest. As it was spring, encountered plenty of wild flowers along the way.

After the fountain stop, it is a steep zig-zag trail amongst more dense pine forest. It was a magical atmosphere with the smell of pine in the air and perfect weather for walking.

Pelister pine trail

(Zig zag trail through the heavily scented pine forest)

Upon reaching a bigger open field, the trail turns left and this is the start of the rocky portion. Earlier parts is still easy as the boulders are more scattered around amongst the pine trees. From the field to the wooden platform, it will take about 10 min.

Pelister platform

(Platform specially built to give walkers incredible views below & mountains beyond)

After catching your breath with the 360° view from the platform, it will be a challenging 2 hours of rock scrambling uphill. The trail is still clearly marked with the usual white circle with red in the centre. There are also metal guidelines or steps specially bolted to the rocks to aid crossing for more difficult areas. I had to stop halfway to refuel, as my legs were turning into jello from the constant hand & legwork. Anyway, it was awesome to just have a break to enjoy the beautiful scenery and warm sunshine. Would have love to sit longer, but the pesky mosquitoes were buzzing around me & trying to go up my nostrils and into mouth.

Pelister hand rail

(Scrambling up the big boulders – here are some metal guidelines)

With a final push, I reached the first peak at 11am, after 4 hours of trekking. From the top, I could see the next 2 peaks, with Pelister peak 2,601m being the furthest & highest. Looking at the walk ahead, which involves going down & up again – I contemplated about pushing forward. With the naggling thought of returning the same way with 2 hours of rock scrambling and being all alone in the mountains, I decided against trying for the official peak.

Instead enjoyed the next 30min sitting there with my lunch and savouring the breathtaking scenery and weather. Satisfied that I didn’t give up when I first look up at the mountain peak 4 hours before. This is definitely one of the best day hikes I have done todate.

Pelister peaks

(Enjoying the views from top of Peak Stiv. Looking out beyond are the other 2 peaks – Pelister being the furthest & highest with the telco tower)

Pelister map

(Pelister Trail Map)

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Pahang – State filled with Surprises

This is part 3 of the Road Trip II – East Coast

Pahang being the largest state of Peninsular Malaysia, encompasses large areas of rain forests and home to its highest peak, Gunung Tahan at 2,187m, the famous Taman Negara (National Park) and Cherating Beach.

During this trip, we visited 2 places that many people will not seek out in Pahang immediately – Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary and Sg Lembing town.

Kuala Gandah elephant sanctuary (http://www.myelephants.org) was initiated 1989 as more and more elephants encroached into human settlements because of deforestations. The elephants are moved to this safe sanctuary to heal and grow bigger before finally being released back to the wild again.

Shamefully we Malaysians have always taken our wildlife for granted. This sanctuary is a good place for one to come up close & personal to learn more about these mammals. To learn many interesting facts about elephants – they have 1 molar on each side of its jaws which gets replaced as the elephant grows older (up to 6 sets), or that they don’t have sweat glands and require water baths or swaying with ear flapping to distribute heat away.

There is the contained area where visitors can feed the younger elephants age about 4 years, and specific feeding times for the bigger adults (check website for updates)

Kuala Gandah feeding

(Feeding the younger elephants at Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary)

Sg Lembing was a delightful visit to cap off our road trip. On the way to the small town, we stopped by Sg Pandan waterfalls and were rewarded with an amazing time there. There was a huge shallow pool at the bottom of the falls, but the best experience was getting free water massage by the falling waters.

Coming back to Sg Lembing, it is now a sleepy town in comparison to its tin-mining heydays. This area was the 2nd richest tin deposit in the world after Bolivia, and also once the world’s deepest and longest underground mine.

Nowadays, the town is still frequented by visitors because of the famed Rainbow Waterfalls, where one will always see a rainbow there daily around 10am and the Panorama hill for the 360° view during sunrise. And not forgetting the delicious Sg Lembing tauhu made from the local spring waters.

We arrived at Sg Lembing after 1pm, so we missed out on all the 3 attractions for this place. But fret not, we did have a wonderful time exploring the Sg Lembing Museum housed inside a former tin-mining manager’s house on top of the hill. The displays inside was insightful to inform visitors more about tin-mining and the history around this area. The bonus was the awesome view of the town below from the museum.

Sg Pandan waterfall

(Sg Pandan waterfall with its colourful tiers and great water massages at the bottom)

Sg Lembing Museum(Looking down at Sg Lembing town from the Museum grounds)

Camping

– We only camped a night within grounds of a resort along Cherating Beach. Heard of several resorts along this long stretch of beach which will offer camping facilities, but we arrived too late into the night to survey the sites.

– According to our local Kuantan friend, it is possible to camp along Teluk Chempedak beach which is close by Kuantan itself. There are 2 other beaches, walking distance from the crowded main beach which are more quiet & suitable for camping. Most ideal is the 3rd beach which is further in about 15-20min by foot.

Part 2 – Terengganu: Miles & miles of Sandy Beaches

Part 1 – Kelantan : Waterfall Escapade

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