While Crystal got to sleep in, Justin got up at 6:30. It was pretty clear, but super windy, and fairly cold as well. Accordingly, Justin wore all his layers, dressed for cold, windy weather. It was the last full day for everyone who showed up when we did, and people were taking advantage of the good weather. There were 4 separate groups going to the Towers. Explora doesn't put more than 8 people with a single guide, so this meant 30 people or so were headed to the Towers - 1/3 of the people staying at the hotel. It was hectic in the lobby, with some screaming and crying from a big family from Colombia. Also, one of the guides, Negra, was really pushing the walking sticks, and Justin was gladly not with her.

Justin was in Chino's group, with the Gart family of 7. Tom (a triathalete) was with his wife, his two daughters, one son, and a significant other for the son and one of the daughters. Chino said we'd walk slowly but surely, and not wear ourselves out - he was the Anti-Beatrice. In 2008, we had a less than stellar time hiking the Towers, with our "guide" Beatrice. The fact we remember her name 9 years later indicates she was great or awful. She was not great. She walked so fast as to leave everyone in the dust, lost on which way to go, and didn't seem to care she was leaving her group. Also, the weather was awful that day, and after all the hiking, we couldn't even see the Towers. So today, with clear skies and a guide who talked about going slowly but surely, it was opposite day.

We left a little later than a couple of the groups, being third of the four to leave the hotel. We were right behind one of the other vans on the road, and had to keep slowing down, to avoid dust from the van in front. It was very windy everywhere, with white caps coming off the lakes. As we rounded the horns and got on the East, we could see the towers, so that was good. The parking spot, and beginning of the hike, was in a new place now. It was sadly even farther to walk, and it was because of the private owners of the property. There are actually a couple of places of private property within the National Park, left over from before there was a National Park. They have to allow people to hike through, but they don't have to necessarily make it easy for tour vans to drive all over the place. Chino kept working in subtle digs at the property owners and their tactics as we were walking towards the old parking area.

We were in the only place that wasn't windy in the whole National Park, and so it was very hot. People were dropping layers quickly, including dropping trow to take off long underwear, and taking off their shirts and just walking in a sports bra. Justin left his lower body with long underwear and windproof pants (but with the vents opened), but had just a t-shirt on top. After getting on the real trail, it was a slog uphill in the heat. The dad, mom, and eldest siblings from the NY family left their group and passed pretty much everyone, which wasn't much of a surprise given what we'd seen at Pingo, but still a little odd. Notably, however, about 30 minutes later we saw the mom walking back the other direction, towards her younger daughters.

It was slow going for Justin's group, but we were all doing fine. In the valley, we couldn't really see anything outside of the valley, but there was mostly blue sky, so we hoped for the best. Once the group got to Refugio Chileno after crossing over the river, we could see the Towers, and were psyched. We grabbed water at a small waterfall just after the Refugio, one that Chino was confident wouldn't have any contaminants because of how vertical the surrounding area is. We crossed back over the river, and ventured into the forest, with lots of ups and downs. Given the heat, it was a nice break from the elements. Justin went ahead at one point while others were taking a break, and didn't see anyone for 20-30 minutes. There were hundreds of people on the trail, so it was nice to have the forest to himself for a bit.

Once Justin got to a fork - the one where in 2008 we had to guess which way to go because Beatrice had abandoned us - Justin waited for the group to catch up. It turns out they were only a minute behind. After the fork, we started to go vertical up the glacial moraine. Going up the moraine had been totally redesigned. Apparently there were quite a few broken legs over the years on the old "trail," which Justin could appreciate given how slippery the rocks were when wet in 2008. Walking up the hill, Justin could see a storm coming from the west, but at the moment the Towers were still clear. Fearing that wouldn't last too much longer, Justin got permission, and then booked it up the moraine. He did the last part, which usually takes 45-60 minutes, in under 30, passing dozens and dozens of people along the way.

He got to the top around 12:15, with the conditions very clear, blue skies even. He saw the NY folks just as they were leaving, but no other Explora people were seemingly there yet. He walked around to different vantage points, taking pictures like crazy before the clouds rolled in. The clouds did roll in about the time the rest of the group showed up, but the Towers were still visible. The wind picked up around this time too. We had a nice lunch, with everyone very happy with the payoff for the hard work. After the Gart family headed down, Chino and Justin chatted for 5-10 minutes about climbing the Towers and what all is entailed. Chino has done quite a bit of climbing in the area, including some of the Towers, as well as Paine Grande, where he turned back just mere feet below the peak.

As Justin and Chino headed down, the wind had increased substantially. There were lots of people coming up the moraine, and it seemed even busier than earlier. Justin caught up to the Gart family right near the fork. He apologized profusely for being behind, but said he'd never seen a puma kill before and wanted to check it out. Everyone's head snapped up, and Justin could manage only a couple seconds of a straight face before he told them he was kidding about the puma. The walk back through the forest was nice, as we were out of the wind. At Refugio Chileno, could see that the Towers were totally clear, with no clouds at all. But we could also see quite a bit of mist in the area, and Chino said it was wind picking up water off the lake. On the other side of the valley, we could see huge dust storms across the river.

When we got across the river, we encountered these - no fun. Chino told everyone to choose a "gust buddy" - someone to hold on to so that no one went flying off the side of the mountain. Justin paired up with the daughter not having a significant other. While some major dust storms came through and we had to crouch several times, no one went flying off the mountain, fortunately. The walk down was a slog. Chino told Justin his head/neck looked red, so he put the hood from his wind jacket on. It wasn't actually too bad, since it was so windy. Near the end of the hike, Justin took off again, just to get out of the sun. He took a break under a tree right in front of the Estancia. In the sky there were some crazy lenticular clouds. We'd read about these, as supposedly they form near Mauna Kea every so often, but we'd never seen them.

From the Estancia, it was a short, flat walk back to the van, on the new part of trail. At the van, there were beers waiting for us. We enjoyed them for a while in the parking lot, and met up with some of the other Explora groups just getting back. After 20 minutes or so, we started the drive back to the hotel. On the drive back it was crazy windy, much more than in the morning. We passed by some more guanacos mating, this time right next to the road - exhibitionists perhaps. The wind was so fierce that water was coming off of one of the lakes in heaps, and Justin tried to take a photo of it without blowing away. He got back to the hotel around 18:15 and met Crystal. Speaking of which...

...Crystal got up while Justin was at breakfast, and unpacked the laundry we'd gotten back the night before. It turns out that some of the laundry they brought back to us wasn't ours, so Crystal turned it into the front desk. She also dropped off some new stuff, and also asked for our door to get fixed. We'd had plenty of trouble locking and unlocking the door, and at some point figured we weren't the problem. Crystal went on a 3 km hike called Mirador del Toro, leaving at 9:15. It was to the South, about halfway to Pingo and Ferrier. The hike started just past Puente Weber, and ended by the park administration offices. It was incredibly windy all along the hike. She heard (but did not see) woodpeckers along the hike. She also smelled puma scat, but didn't see a puma. So close yet so far away. At the top of the small lookout, it was so windy that everyone just leaned against the rock at the top and looked around, pacing around the rock. Most of the time people go on top of the rock and get 360 degree view, but no one was comfortable they could stay on top of the rock. The group got back to the hotel around 11:30. Lunch was a repeat of the first day's menu. After lunch, Crystal had a mini spa day with a face and hair mask. :) Following that was some reading, a nap, and the beginning of some packing for tomorrow.

Back together, Justin got cleaned up and we headed to the bar around 18:45. Tim told us we'd hear from Nicholas and Gonzalo at 19:00 about the Travesia. Shortly before 19:00, we met Rodger and Donna, the other guests for the Travesia. We'd actually been on walk with them the first day on the short walk from the lodge to the Condor Lookout. At 19:00, the four of us had a slideshow with Gonzalo and Nicholas. They told us about the plan for the next four days. The first day would be a travel day, the second and third days we'd be in the National Park, and the fourth day we'd be in the nearby Huemul reserve. But everything was dependent on the weather. This all sounded good to us.

After the talk finished, we came back upstairs for dinner. We also caught up with several of the other guests, to see how their day had gone and what they had in store tomorrow. We talked to Brian, who's group Justin somehow hadn't seen at the top. Justin also introduced Crystal to the Gart family. We counted up the mileage we'd accumulated at Torres del Paine - almost 50 miles so far. Knowing we didn't have any walks scheduled tomorrow, we stayed up way too late, despite being tired. We took our last drink back to the room, and packed 75%, give or take. We finally got to sleep around midnight.

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