After not feeling too well throughout the night, I'm woken by a knock on the door, reach for my watch and realise it's 7am ... Fiddlesticks! We were going to leave at 6am but the alarm.. well, I could say that it didn't go off, but I obviously didn't set it right. We rush around to get ready and are out on the road by 07:30. It's still very dark and quite icy. The roads are neither surfaced nor gritted and it's fairly slow going. To make matters worse, the radio channels seem only to play an endless stream of adverts rather than any musical accompaniment.
We hardly pass any cars on the way and, when we arrive at our turn off, there are a couple of barriers across the road. Undeterred, Fran determines that there's just enough space for us to squeeze between them and continue. I'm expecting us to fall over a cliff edge or something like a cartoon strip. However, we're just rewarded with a stunning view of the Torres reflected in a Lago.
It turns out that there are workmen resurfacing the road - stopping to chat to them, they expect the walk that we want to do to be open and tell us that we can pass through to the start easily by road. At the National Park entrance, the ranger agrees that the path will be open, if covered by a bit of snow. As an added bonus, we don't get charged the Park entry because, officially, the road is closed. 1 brownie point to Fran!
There's a narrow bridge to navigate, but soon the Hostal de los Torres appears in front of us and is our official starting point. It's already 10am and the walk is estimated at 4hrs there and 3 hrs back, so we've just enough time to do it before it turns dark. My Girl Guide training means I'm armed with a torch and a good chocolate and water supply just in case. Strictly speaking, I should also be carrying 10p to phone my mum, but I've got my mobile on me in case I get a signal.
Fran sets a challenging pace, especially as the first section is largely a steep uphill ridge, and we make it to the first checkpoint in half the allotted time - at this rate, it should be easy (famous last words!). The sky is blue and, although the path is covered in snow, it's not too cold. Tracks in the snow show us that there's a group ahead of us and we reassuringly follow them forward. From the campground, the walk proceeds along the edge of the river on the icy embankment and past frozen waterfalls. It's slippery and sometimes we can feel the ice breaking beneath our feet but, as long as we keep moving quickly enough...
We deduce that the other group must have a guide with them as they seem to diverge from the trail at just the right points to avoid unsafe areas. Often the ground is covered with a thick layer of ice underneath a few inches of snow and it's not apparent until you step and slip. Both of us take several tumbles, tough on the hard surface. Uphill was often a case of dragging our bodies up by holding onto branches and trees! After crossing some makeshift bridges, we continue forward, desperately seeking a sign that we'll soon have to head upwards to the Torres. The tracks from the other group and red marks on the trees are leading us, but we suddenly doubt ourselves - we seem to have come a long way and maybe we have missed the turn off. This other group could be heading for the Camp Japones, further down the valley. The map shows 2 river crossings before heading up and we've crossed 2 bridges so we become convinced that we're going the wrong way. Back at the bridges, some 30mins walk the way we have come and the sign is clearly pointing in the direction we have just followed an there doesn't seem any other obvious route. Disillusioned, we head back again on the path, determined to get to the Torres.
Finally, we meet the group coming the other way. The guide tells us they have turned back because the pass to the Torres is too icy and snowy. We decide to press on ... at least we know we are heading in the right direction now but we've lost a lot of time! The woods soon open out and we're on a plain with a view of the top of the Torres and further along the valley. There are no tracks in the snow apart from one animal - a large cat, possibly a puma. We follow the tracks up the path and along the river . In places, the snow is thigh deep and it's like wading. It's a little risky because we don't know how deep any step in the snow will take us. Being the perfect gentleman, Fran goes first and I follow in his footsteps.
It's not too cold up here and I have waterproof trousers on so things are not too bad for me (they must be cold for Francis, but he's putting a brave face on). The rivers gets steeper though, and the boulders bigger. Fran pushes on ahead and I am sinking behind. All the time, I am conscious of the time. It's now nearly 3pm and our original 'turn back time'(we've both been reading too many Everest books) was 2pm. Fran makes it to the viewpoint and I'm overjoyed, but he's back to push me up the final straight (almost literally).