|Cobbie's Selected Race Results
Raid du Massif Central - 6 days, 562 miles, 16,300m ascent, 46 hrs Report
Aug - Dee Mile, 2000m OW swim. 29:12; 60/301. Report
July - Raid Pyrenean Report
May - Chester Tri West Coast of Scotland Cycling trip ... 300 miles in 3 days. Report
Sep - Scilly Swim Challenge, 11 miles of swimming in 5 stages Report
June - Dee Mile, 2000m OW swim. 29:33; 25/275
March - Gin Pit Marathon; 3:59:26. 14/39
Became a dad
Oct 2011 - Feb 2012
Travelling the world
Nepal - Annapurna Circuit and Chitwan
S. E. Asia and trekking in New Zealand
Trekking the 'Circuito del Dientes de Navarino'; Chilean Tierra del Fuego
Sep - AXTri - Report
June - Chester to John O'Groats cycle ride with the Tri Club; 637 miles in 9 days
Sep - Ö TILL Ö; 14:19; Report
Nov - Pembrokeshire Coast Challenge; 78.6 miles. Day 1 - 5th in 4:39. Day 2 - Retired with ITB injury after 15 miles
Oct 4th - Sandstone Trail 'A' Race; 17 miles, 1750ft 2:19:15; 29/156
Aug 8th - Norseman 14:57; 81=/230 Report No1 & Report No2
June 28th - A Day in the Lakes HIM 5:55:18; 68/309 Report
June 17th - Dee Mile, 2000m OW swim. 29:12; 13/100 Report
May 31st - Pontcysyllte Aqueduct Cyclosportif 107 miles, 3000+m ascent; 7:20:26
March 28th Cheshire Cat Cyclosportif 105 miles; 7:04 Report
March 21st - Chester Tri Runners vs Kayaks; Llangollen Canal 32.4 miles; 5:22 Report
The year I was a fat bast@rd
Atlantic Coast Challenge 78miles; About 18 hrs Report
Norseman 17:05 Report
Etape du Dales 110 miles; 8:40ish with puncture
Nov 17th - Penmaenmawr Fell Race (11 miles, 1500ft); 1:35:23; 50/220
Bala Olympic Tri 2:14:00; 217/773 (AG 61/203) Report
Hathersage Hilly - 1:22:34; 19/169 and AG 4/43 ; Report
July 11th - Dee Mile, 2000m OW swim. 23:16; 15/76
Jan 29th - Tough Guy 1:25:02; 59/3800ish finishers AG 5th Vet ; Report
Jan 22nd - 4 Villages Half Marathon 86:52; 152/1570
Nov 18th - Penmaenmawr Fell Race (11 miles, 1500ft); 1:31:42; 24/237; Report
Oct 8th - Pentland Skyline (16.2 miles, 6,200ft); 3:30:54; 79/150; Report. Blisters
Oct 1st - Sandstone Trail “A” Race (17 miles, 1750ft) 2:15:14; 14/135 3rd V40; Report
Sept 24th – South Shropshire Sprint 1:23; 28/234
July 23rd - TLD Bike Relay 5:52:38; Report
June 7th - Dee Mile, 2000m OW swim. 28:47; 24/97
June 4th - Bala Middle 4:47:39
May 7th - Fred Whitton Challenge 112 miles, 4,150m of ascent, 8:18:52; Report
March 19th - Edale Skyline Fell Race 21.3 miles, 4,620ft; 3:48:25, 100/260
Jan 29th - Tough Guy 92:55; 52/3283 finishers AG 6/521; Report
Jan 22nd - 4 Villages Half Marathon 85:43; 152/1655
Oct 30th - Snowdonia Marathon 3:54:50; 265/961
Oct 2nd - Sandstone Trail “A” Race (16.8 miles, 1750ft) 2:17:41; 29/111
Sep 18th - Bala Olympic Tri 2:20:31; 83/433 (AG 17/100)
Sep 10th - Helvellyn Tri 4:17:38; 43/331
July 24th - The Longest Day 11:00:25; 40/150
June 5th - Bala Middle 4:39:54; 92/318 (AG 25/87)
Mar 15th - Wuthering Hike [31 miles 4400 ft] 5:35
Jan 29th - Tough Guy 93:49; 161/3,500
Jan 22nd - 4 Villages half marathon 90:39; 256/1504
Survival of the Shawangunks - 5:29:45 35/120
Wolverhampton Oly 2:19:50
The year of illness and poor motivation
Powerman UK 3:47
HIM Llanberis 5:09:40
HIM Llanberis 5:38
|All about Cobbie
Joined: 02 Aug 2005
Interests: Red wine and cakes
Trekking the Torres del Paine Circuit
Fri Jan 22, 2010 1:54 am Cobbie
Torres del Paine Circuit - Patagonia
The Torres del Paine is widely thought to be South America’s most beautiful national park. Situated in Chile, practically at the tip of the continent, it consists of granite spires, some capped with darker rock, and huge glaciers which calve into water at sea level. The only way to get close is on foot.
The complete circuit is quite isolated and requires crossing of the exposed Paso John Garner on a 6-8 day trek – though not high altitude at 1211m, it does get heavy snow even in summer and regularly experiences gale force winds. Infrastructure is limited to one basic hut and rustic campsites. Most trekkers stick to the south side of the Torres where there are more huts and considerably more modern infrastructure, including catamaran access across two of the lakes.
The circuit has been my dream walking trip for many years.
We flew into Buenos Aires on 30th December and then transferred to the internal airport. With 4 hours to do a 40 minute trip, this seemed a good safety margin. However, we didn’t count on the flight being over an hour late and then the Argentinean immigration being really slow (slow in South America takes on a whole new meaning which I had forgotten about ). So it was going to be a cab rather than bus as we collected our bags…at which point we found that Air France had very kindly decided to look after Lynn’s rucksack in Paris . More delays filling in forms meant we were just too late to check in but still managed to get on a flight via an alternate route and arrived at more or less our expected time in El Calafate, the gateway to Argentinean Patagonia. We were too tired to chase the bag and anyway would be moving out to Chile the next day so no hope of it catching us up.
Next morning we were on the bus to Puerto Natales in Chile; arid, scrubby landscape, big skies and more stamps in the passport at the border – the 5 hour trip at least allowed us to take stock of what we were missing: Lynn’s sleeping bag and mat, clothes and obviously rucksack - thankfully the stove, walking boots and windproof clothing were in mine.
The afternoon was a whirlwind shopping tour; hiring outdoor kit whilst buying clothing and food. We were exhausted by the time we finished and somewhat down hearted at how things had kicked off, though this eased with a great meal, our first big steak and a New Year bottle of Chilean wine, followed by a walk down to the waterfront and first views of the mountains we were heading towards, as dusk fell.
We hiked anti-clockwise, thus covering the more remote section first. I've ringed our campsites to give an idea of where we roughly were from day to day.
The bus got us to the main park entrance (Guarderia Laguna Armaga) at 10:30 and it turned out that we were the only ones starting there (most start from the Torres hotel where we finished). Having the path to ourselves was a real bonus and the tranquillity helped us to relax and adjust to carrying heavy loads – for me somewhere around 25kg, which never got any easier to lift as the days went on.
Leaving the road, right at the start of the trek
We had misty views of the Torres themselves as we set off, the tops of the granite spire chopped off but their scale apparent, walking through grassy river flats, with remains of burnt out trees providing an ethereal feel.
This part of Patagonia is famous for being very windy but today was quite still and as we walked it was incredibly peaceful until we joined the Rio Paine as the valley narrowed. As it opened out again, we were met with a profusion of white daisies, growing thickly and at times giving the impression we were approaching a white carpet. It was incredibly beautiful, especially added to views of the mountains ahead.
We joined the alternative start after about 4 hours and saw a few other people after that in the final hour before setting up our little tent at ‘Camping Seron’, ready for our first camp meal of noodles and tuna. That night a storm came in and regularly flattened the tent on top of us, though the pegs held firm and the poles bounced back once the wind dropped – it meant an interrupted night’s sleep but no damage to our kit. I have to say that our little hire tent did us proud the whole way round.
It was much windier after the storm but clear enough as we set off, still following the river before climbing up over a col next to a horse-shoe shaped lake. As we climbed the wind grew in intensity, gusting savagely so that Lynn was once blown off her feet. It’s hard to get across how windy it is here – take a windy day in the UK and double it and you get a normal day on the Torres del Paine circuit; double that and you and you get a windy day on the trek; double it again and you get what we were experiencing at the col - pretty much as windy as I've ever experienced in my life. On the climb we were regularly refreshed with water from the lake as the wind picked up spray and hurled it up the hill.
Approaching the col above the horseshoe shaped lake
We could see wet weather approaching from the west over the col so didn’t linger, gradually dropping into lusher vegetation and respite from the wind. We had almost constant rainbows here, testimony to the “4 seasons in one day” that is the norm rather than exception. The views from the col were spectacular as the Rio Paine passes through Lago Pehoe to the north, with some big mountains to the west and again we had the day to ourselves as the people who’d set off earlier stayed ahead and those setting off later didn’t catch us up. Down at river level again we had to ford many streams and it got quite warm amongst the flowers.
Not surprisingly, we tired, not used to the heavy sacs but eventually climbed a bank to see our refugio on a spit of land extending out into Lago Dickson, surrounded by mountains.
In our rush, I’d not taken out enough Chilean money in Puerto Natales but they took Argentinean pesos (no doubt at vastly inflated exchange rate) so we splashed out and hired a bunk for the night (£13 each for a matress – not cheap ). That evening was a good one as we met a Dutch couple, he being an experienced OMM entrant (How do you train? – I run up and down the dykes). Then a tough British couple who were hiking at twice our distance each day recognised my Norseman sweatshirt so it turned into a bit of a sporting discussion for the evening.
The views outside were amazing, the peninsula was surrounded by mountains and the lake, making it an idyllic spot apart from the wind which was whistling though the trees in a way we came to recognise as very particular to this part of the world. As the sun went down the views got even better – at times it was so bright that it was hard to avoid over-exposure around the skyline; many of our photos of the trip are either too dark or washed out.
Classic painted metal building with granite peak behind - shamelessly photoshopped to improve contrast
I woke to learn an important lesson - when trekking in a windy place it is sometimes difficult to realise that the sun is out. When that place has a hole in the ozone layer right on top of it and you’ve not been using enough sun tan lotion, ( ) it doesn’t take long before your face and neck are burnt. It was only this morning that we realised that a single application of factor 50 wasn’t enough and red noses and foreheads adorned many of our fellow trekkers, showing that we were not alone.
We treated ourselves to breakfast in the refugio - it would be our last proper breakfast for a while - and then had a leisurely half day walking up the wooded valley, vaguely following the Rio Perros (of all the rivers I've walked along, this is the one that has really gone to the dogs ). It was very still in the trees and the flies were taking advantage, the only downside to what was a lovely day. As we climbed up towards the pass we had great views back towards Lago Dickson and our first glacier but couldn’t stop for more than 30 seconds before having swarms of flies surrounding us. The scenery was not dissimilar to an English forest in many ways but with enough reminders of where we were, most memorably the pair of Magellanic woodpeckers we watched for a few minutes.
Lynn crossing a typical wooden bridge
Then we rose out of the trees to see the small Perros glacier right in front of us, climbing up the terminal moraine which dams a small lake for great views. We tried to take a self portrait but the wind was back and our cameras kept getting blown over.
The Perros campsite was just past the lake and we were soon there, batting flies away as we gamely got the tent up.
We wanted a half day to be well rested for our hike over the pass tomorrow but with plenty of time to kill before darkness fell at 10pm, we took advice from the campsite official and started out on a short side trip towards another small glacier. Unfortunately, soon after an exciting river crossing it started to rain quite heavily so we turned back and whiled away time chatting to a friendly group of Americans whilst heating up one of our camp meals (wayfarer chicken dopiaza – very nice).
This was the widest river crossing we had on a makeshift bridge.
Lynn hadn’t slept well after being very cold during the night – the rented sleeping bag wasn’t great but she wouldn’t swap for mine, instead wearing most of her clothes. I knew today was likely to be long and with potentially poor weather on the pass itself, we got away early. We had seen the path up the valley on our side trip the day before so once more crossed the rickety bridge and worked our way up through quite dense forest until we hit a very muddy section which the guidebook had warned about. It took forever to get through – jumping from root to grassy clump to dead log for what turned out to be well over 90 minutes to avoid calf deep mud. Finally we climbed out of the basin to cross a small gulley on another makeshift bridge and very welcome rocky terrain. From here on we were exposed to the wind whistling over the pass so it was on with the warm layers and we made steady progress upwards. There was one big snowfield near the top and I saw the Americans crossing it, not sure how they had overtaken unless there was an alternative route – they had actually gained an hour as it turned out.
The climb was a long drag, slow and steady and a mix of rocky path and snow, the latter being quite soft and hence frustrating as footholes had a tendency to collapse without warning leading to “two steps forward, one step back” a lot of the time. The views towards small peaks and ice-fields were spectacular, as was the vista back down the valley we had climbed.
Looking back down the valley - the lake created by the small glacier is in the centre of the photo
Lynn nearing the top of the largest snowfield on the climb with a small icefield looming ominously on the other side of the valley - my favorite photo from the trip
Finally, we crested out together and got our first view of glacier Grey, an almost unbelievably huge expanse of ice – so big it’s hard to show in photos. To our right (the north), it disappeared up into the clouds, in front it stretched some 4km (that’s an IM swim folks) across the valley with several side glaciers joining and about 10km away to the south was the snout, split by a large, island nunatak. We lingered only briefly before starting the descent, enough time to take photos and have a bite to eat.
At the pass
Just over the pass, this photo of Lynn's give an idea of the huge scale of the glacier. It is roughly 1km down to the ice and 10km to the snout
The first section above the tree line was fast enough but once into the trees things got quite challenging as the path became unstable and very steep. We took things cautiously, resting often from the continuous pounding on our quads - going downhill with heavy rucksacks was very tiring and Lynn’s lack of sleep the previous night meant she needed breaks to aid her concentration. As it turned out though, it was me who nearly came a cropper; stepping off the path as I turned to check on Lynn past a difficult step and almost twisting my knee very badly – thankfully it didn’t hold me up at all but was sore for a few days.
The descent seemed to go on for ever, reminding us just how big the glacier was as the distance had been foreshortened by the immense scale of the landscape. Eventually though we made it to Campamento Paso, a free, park-run campsite in the trees, just above the glacier itself. There we had a welcome brew and big pasta meal before Lynn turned in. I got chatting to a Danish woman who was doing the circuit for the 4th time in 9 months having fallen in love with it and who was about to start supporting some of the guided trips with tour operators. She clarified that we had indeed taken the “old” path and that there was now a “new” one that is a lot drier – bummer.
Lynn had taken my sleeping bag for the night and slept a lot better as a consequence – down by the glacier it was pretty chilly and all night the wind whistled through the trees. On this western section of the circuit, the trees are closely packed and grow on pretty steep slopes which means that many fall onto each other in the high winds and as they lean together, they creak and groan and whistle in a way I’ve not heard before.
We’d run out of rolls the day before so breakfast was a packet of chocolate chip cookies and hot drink. With nothing to keep us there we were soon on the move, today being our return to relative civilisation as we reached the more popular part of the park. Lynn had recovered well so our aim was to make the next refugio by lunchtime, have a meal and then walk on to the south western corner of the circuit for the night (Lago Pehoe). This would give us a chance of heading up the central Valle del Frances the next day – this wasn’t strictly part of the circuit but the views were said to be some of the best, making it a worthwhile side trip.
The going was tough initially and we felt like we were struggling as we went up and then down and across several steep gullies, two of which were unstable enough to have steel ladders in place. Lynn’s hands were too small to grip the rungs so she found the experience quite daunting.
We reached the next campsite, right at the snout of the glacier bang on schedule so our feeling of being slow was off the mark – it was just difficult terrain. From there we had several great photo viewpoints before reaching refugio Grey in time for a slap up feast.
When I saw the size of the pizza I suggested that we share one but Lynn’s eyes were out on stalks by this time so one each it was. I have to say that mine didn’t touch the sides after our exertions and never has pizza tasted better. We also got a starter of bread and salsa and a fruit salad dessert in what was our best meal on the trek.
Then it was time to return to the task at hand and boy was it a culture shock. At one point we saw more people in 5 minutes than we had seen in total over the previous 5 days. The weather closed in as the afternoon drew on and it was chill, drizzly and very windy as we approached our destination. The path wound up and over a number of shoulders as we moved away from the Lago Grey valley and into the Lago Pehoe valley. As the weather deteriorated further we started to descend into a narrow valley with some fantastic sedimentary layers showing in a variety of anticlines and synclines, before reaching the valley floor and a short stroll through low, twisted bushes and trees to the impressively large refugio at Lago Pehoe. As we arrived somebody’s tent blew away, with the owners doing a good Benny hill impression heading after it – it was a windy spot and the campsite was situated amongst the bushes to provide natural windbreaks. Our little tent had no problems at all.
Lynn was still burping pizza so didn’t eat that evening but we did have our first beer since we started trekking – thankfully we were so short of Chilean pesos so couldn’t afford to have any more or it might have been a very late finish! We had caught up the American group and shared an enjoyable evening with them (3 doctors, a lawyer and a vet – I’m sure there’s a sitcom in there somewhere).
Our little tent beneath Paine Grande
After doing so well yesterday, Lynn was very tired. Still, we knew that it was only 3 hours to the next campsite where we could pitch camp and leave our sacs for the side trip up into the Valle del Frances. We had our first view in the morning of the famous ‘Cuernos’ or horns that are the main feature of this section of the trek – dark caps on the granite spires.
It was cold and very windy but the views made up for that. We were slow however so it was 2pm by the time we’d pitched camp and eaten our lunch.
Soon after we set off it was clear that Lynn was struggling and since we knew that the round trip to the head of the valley was going to take 4-5 hours she turned back at the first viewpoint where there are fine views of a big hanging glacier. I raced on up to where the valley flattened out and then on up to the viewpoint on a huge boulder to see the Cuernos at close quarters. I took some video on the camera but you can’t hear my commentary as it was so windy.
Lynn before she turned back, looking down the valley - it really reminded me of the view from the finish of Norseman, with the sun shining off the rocks
The Cuernos from close up, fantastically sheer
Back down and it was time for tea, a very nice foil packed chilli that we had brought out from the UK.
Setting out on our last day on the circuit we dropped down to lakeside level for the first couple of hours and this turned out to be the most disappointing part of the trek. We were out of the wind and it was very hot, the vegetation was lusher and the path between bushes narrow so it felt quite oppressive and there were not really any views. We stopped for a coffee at the refugio and had a decent break. I think we both realised we were getting somewhat footsore and weary and that this was now more obvious as we weren’t being distracted by great views.
The final section was more open again, now with our last good views back to the Cuernos.
The path took us up and over a final ridge before a number of stream and river crossings brought us out at a small lake where there was a short cut up into the valley we were going to walk up the next day (to the Torres del Paine lookout).
Lynn ponders the final river crossing on the circit
It was here that my old walking shoes gave up the ghost when the sole and upper parted company – just one day before their official retirement. These were my first pair of Salomon fell shoes – veterans of many a good trip round the hills and after being retired from running in 2006, still in good enough shape to use for walking trips – no doubt the best pair of running shoes I’ve ever owned…if only I could get the same pair again I would; it was a sad moment to cast them into a bin at camp that night.
Round the lake there was a fair bit of wildlife, Lynn snapped a guanaco and there were a lot of wading birds. After that it was a matter of passing through a couple of banks of ancient moraine and across a couple of bridges before reaching the refugio Torres and a lush campsite. We dined in the refugio that night and had fine views of the three towers themselves – our first since the very start of the trek.
Having had pretty good weather for the whole circuit, it rained on our last day and we had low visibility the whole time for our trip up to the viewpoint for the 3 towers – granite spires, one of which was first climbed by Chris Bonnington in the 1960s. We walked up into the valley (me in sandals) and had our sandwiches in a shelter at the highest campsite – it was somewhat underwhelming and Lynn decided to head back down. I pushed on up to the viewpoint just to say I’d been there really – it was unconsolidated rocks and sand so no doubt that Lynn made the right decision. Just a quick snap at the top and I did a bit of scree running on the way down to catch up with Lynn just before the final descent down to our camp.
The viewpoint - listening to the Waterboys was more memorable than the view
We invested in a bottle of wine for the evening – paid for on the credit card as we had only enough cash for the bus back to the park entrance the next day – and basked in the glow of having finished.
I’ve done a fair few treks over the years and there’s no doubt that this was the best. It’s been a long-lasting ambition to complete it and it absolutely lived up to all my expectations…and it’s not often you can say that.
Replies next time
Almost back to being an athlete in 2016
Fri Jan 22, 2010 4:39 am Polish Special Forces
Absolutely fantastic!! You lucky b@stard!!
Follow me doing nothing on twitter @thegrom71
Spent more time than any other Tri Talker on the Enduroman Double Course 2014. Which means I have the best endurance. Which means I'm the best.
Fri Jan 22, 2010 8:37 am savaloy
That deserves to be on the epic "race" report thread - truly awesome photos and account - the landscape was nothing like i'd imagined, i think i had visions of mexico in my head when i think of chile, or any other south american country i guess.
Swim smart, Bike strong, Run tough
Fri Jan 22, 2010 8:56 am Poet
That is one of the best ways to spend a New Year I've ever seen and is a damned sight better than the tourist Inca Trail/Machu Picchu
Fri Jan 22, 2010 9:00 am dr dre
FAB pics! - looks like you had a great time
Racing triathlons with both direction and magnitude
Fri Jan 22, 2010 9:02 am Bluepoolshark
That looked like the most fantastic way to spend a new year!! Your pictures are amazing as usual, that landscape is truly inspiring!
Hope 2010 is a good one for you!
Enjoy the little things, cos one day you will look back and realise they were the big things
Mud, Mud, Mud, gotta love Mud