Day 5: Paine Grande – Campamento Italiano – Mirador Brittanico – Los Cuernos (est. 30km)
Well-rested and fairly-warned of the day head, I found myself awake and ready to go by 8:30AM. At this point I felt that I’d vanquished the hard hiking of the circuit – I had a little fun tracing the path I’d already covered on the park map and comparing to what was left. I won’t lie, I felt quite pleased with myself.
Whether it was the experience, having finally found a good adjustment for my bag straps, or the short hike on the previous day, I felt wholly refreshed. Although the wind had picked up and there was some residual drizzle, the rain that had been anticipated by all the hikers had thankfully passed, and even left us with a nice rainbow to start the hike. A hike bounded by a pristine lake, a clear rainbow, and picturesque mountains – what more could one ask for?
I found the path to Campamento Italiano even more amenable than the previous day’s descent. Although there were uphills and uneven rocky paths, I absolutely loved the visibility off into the distance as I climbed the amber hills alongside Lake Pehoé and Lake Sköttsberg. The entire time, I wound ever-closer to the mountains, which appeared less ominously distant and more insurmountably high.
Upon arriving at Italiano, I found many like-minded travelers dropping off their packs at the ranger cabin and heading up to the Mirador Brittanico. I unloaded with very little reluctance, stowed a quick lunch in my day-pack, and started bounding up towards the Mirador. It felt marvellous to be free of the weight on my back, and let me tell you, I felt all the nimbleness of a mountain-goat as I ran up that ascent. The climb itself is part hike, part rock-scramble. I think it helped that I wasn’t encumbered with poles, so I liberally used my arms to propel myself upwards. Most of the climb to the first viewpoint, Mirador Frances, is alongside a glacial river, very refreshing. The viewpoint itself is great, and raised my expectations for the sight to come at Mirador Brittanico.
After another 40 minutes or so of climbing, I got to Brittanico. Let me tell you right now, the pictures I took do not even nearly do the place justice. You’ll have to picture in your head, the rocky splendor of these mountains, sheer cliff faces, bounding you on all sides, as you stand on a little outcrop in the middle of a valley. Glacial debris, ice, rocks, and trees climb up around you, hemming you in, and the wind whips at you from every direction. It was exhilirating, magnificent, and I spent over an hour at the top enjoying a lunch and trying to capture the beauty.
My best attempt at a 360° collage of the view.
After having satisfied myself that I had done everything in my power with my iPhone, I descended back to Italiano, aided again by the absence of a heavy backpack. The hike to Los Cuernos was not easy, as the path was very rocky and had many steep ascents and descents. Lake Nordernskjöld provided a scenic backdrop though, and the path even had a nice rocky beach where I happily rested my aching feet. Los Cuernos is tucked away and sprawled among a wooded area, and did not have the open fields of Paine Grande or Refugio Grey. Having completed my hiking for the day, I rested early, knowing that I’d be making the Torres del Paine ascent the next day.