Day 4: Refugio Grey – Paine Grande (Est. 11km)
I can’t overstate to you how delighted I was, at this juncture in my hike, at the prospect of an abbreviated hike. For one, Refugio Grey appeared the lap of luxury thus far – running water, warm shower, hot food…I went to bed very much a literal happy camper. Alas, a good night’s rest was not meant to be: despite my best intentions to sleep in, the winds picked up tremendously that night, a function of both the location and a change in the weather. I swear the winds must have been 50-60mph, as they were strong enough to push the walls of my tent to the verge of collapsing, and I woke up multiple times thinking that my boots and hiking paraphernalia outside had blown away. The winds in TDP are no joke.
So after passing a not-at-all restful night, the prospect of a short day’s hike was a much needed mental boost to brighten what turned out to be a cloudy and rainy day. The hike down to Paine Grande was somewhat downhill, but nowhere near as difficult as the previous day. The vast expanse of a glacial flow on the right, and jagged paths around and through rocky hills made it a quite entertaining hike, in spite of the occasional drizzle and plenty of wind.
At this point, I gave up on taking panoramas, and relied on videos to better attempt capturing the entirety of the landscape. You can also hear the tremendous wind that would come and go sporadically. Another note: the lack of consistent rain had caused much of the trail to become covered with a thick layer of dust, which would get kicked up by the strong wind into my face. It is definitely worthwhile to bring a bandana, to avoid the sneezing fits that I would break into from the dust.
I very much enjoyed the hike down to Paine Grande. As I mentioned earlier, the scenery was fantastic, and the hiking not too difficult. The terrain was a mix of well-trodden paths through rocky hills, a bit of flatness in valleys between the hills, and finally a flat plain to finish out the path. This was in stark contrast to the uneven rocks and roots I had to contend with in the wooded descent on the previous day. So all in all, a great abbreviated day of hiking.
Paine Grande itself is an even larger lodge, tucked away next to a hill and a lake. Now that I was on the “W” circuit, all the refugios were well-stocked, actively-run, and honestly? far too civilized. It’s worth mentioning at this point that the number of people trekking had sharply risen, and I would rarely pass a stretch of the trail without the obligatory “Hola” or “Buenas”. I suppose that’s the price I paid for a warm meal (on top of the already steep refugio prices). After setting up camp, I passed a rather leisurely afternoon sitting by the lake and looking off into the distance – I could see the stone spires against the cloudy sky, and I knew I’d be making that climb in the next two days.