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The blue ice of Grey Glacier Lake Grey’s waters actually are grey in colour, strewn with


icebergs of a striking blue — their colour is due to the density of the ice, which absorbs all the colours of light except blue. We slow to a halt at the northern end of the lake, within a few hundred yards of the cliffs of Grey Glacier, a spectacular expanse of snow and ice glinting in the sunlight like a torrent frozen in its tracks. Anchored in front of this ancient river of ice, we’re served pisco sours chilled with chunks of iceberg ice — a cocktail on the millennia-old rocks. The last day’s trip is the pièce de résistance of my Patagonia


visit: the thirteen-mile trek to the base of the three towers, the westernmost and most challenging leg of the multi-day “W” circuit. It’s sunny and cool as we set off across the pasture below the campsite. The first segment of the trek takes us up a steep, scree-strewn trail through the Ascencio Valley, then downhill towards a refuge called the Campamento Chileno and across the Ascencio River. For the next several miles the trail undulates through an atmospheric beech forest with a bare earth floor of tangled, ankle-twisting tree roots. Emerging from the forest, we get our first glimpse of the


towers and of the final stretch of the climb, a traverse across a steep moraine of massive granite boulders. It’s said to be the most challenging part of the trek, and the climbers ahead of us do look like they’re clinging Spiderman-style to the mountainside


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as they clamber across and upwards among the huge stones. At the beginning of the trip, the guides told us there’d be


a surprise awaiting us at the base of the towers, and I did not quite expect to be greeted by a lovely aquamarine lagoon as I climbed over the rim of the moraine. It almost makes up for the fact that the majestic towers themselves are shrouded in cloud, and the temperature has also dropped to the point where a pair of Canadians in the group are pulling gloves out of their packs. We eat our packed lunches, take our last glance at the towers, and hit the trail for the six and a half miles back down.


O


ver dinner on that last evening, we recount the highlights of the trek and raise glasses of Chilean wine to the glories of Torres del Paine, before we’re interrupted by a certain


puma. A couple of days later in Punta Arenas, I meet up with two of


my camp-mates for dinner. They’d left the park a day later than I, and we’re swapping stories, me about the towers trek, them about the astounding fauna they’d seen on the wildlife safari — and the puma that showed up in the camp on their last evening there. They showed me the photos on their camera, some of which


featured blobs and streaks that I had to admit were sort of wildcat-shaped. n


GEORGIA POPPLEWELL


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