| 10 min read
From Puerto Natales, we set out to hike and camp in the National Park Torres del Paine, one of Chile's greatest assets. It's said that the park is the mekka for hikers with its well known W-circuit hike. Our expectations were very high...
Warning: this will be a looooong post - but there's also plenty of pictures :)
Day 1: Paine Grande to Grey
We got up around 5:30am (much to my dismay) and left Puerto Natales by bus at 7:30am. When we got to the park, we were kindly asked to get out of the bus, buy our entrance tickets, and to assemble for an obligatory 'educational video session' - to make sure you know and follow the rules.
Any sensible hiker/camper already knows and respects this kind of stuff, but they're extra careful here because in the past 10 years, there have been multiple forest fires caused by tourists. In 2005 for example, a tourist accidentally burned down nearly 10% of the entire park... You don't want to be that guy. There's traces of fires all around...
Our original plan was to hike the full circuit, which would take about 8 days. What's the full circuit, you ask? There's 2 well-known routes to hike in this park: the W-circuit -named after its shape on the map- which takes about 4 to 5 days to complete, and the full circuit, which consists of the W-circuit and 3 extra days of hiking to close the loop...
The full circuit is longer, more challenging, offers viewpoints you don't get when you do the 5-day hike, and is much less crowded. What's not to like? Unfortunately, the full circuit was closed because there had been a few land/rockslides which caused some paths to be blocked. Oh, and in most places there was still a bit too much snow - about chest height. So we just settled for the W-circuit...
Back to the actual hike: after the bus dropped us off, we took the Catamaran -some kind of ferry, you can see it in the picture above- to the other side of the park and began our great adventure.
The Catamaran dropped us at Refugio Paine Grande, so we had about 11km to hike to our next camp and Glaciar Grey - a huge 270km² glacier. The weather wasn't great; it was clouded, quite cold and really windy - but at least it was dry. The hike itself was nice: not too though and great views. We passed a few lakes, and saw the first signs of the glacier we were approaching: big pieces of ice floating in the lakes.
After a few hours, our target came into sight. We dropped off our heavy backpacks at the campsite -which was a great relief- and headed closer to Glaciar Grey to enjoy the magnificent view and shoot some pictures.
Running total: 11km.
Day 2: Grey to Britanico
After a cold and not very comfortable night in our small tent, we cooked some breakfast, packed up and did some backtracking because we were at the end of the trail (the upper left part of the W). We headed back to our starting point and continued from there. The day started out gray and incredibly windy, but luckily it cleared out by noon and we got a clear blue sky and lots of sunshine.
Our plan was to hike to the Campamento Italiano, set up camp, spend the night there and hike the middle leg of the W the day after. This was great, because this allowed us to hike the next part without our heavy packs; we'd have to backtrack and come back to the camp anyway. However, the hike would take 6 hours and we were afraid we wouldn't have enough time to complete the circuit in 5 days - so instead of camping at Italiano, we decided to push on and head for Campamento Britanico to save some time...
Top tip: only stay at the Campamento Britanico if you absolutely have to. Otherwise, leave your pack at Campamento Italiano, do the 6 hour hike (round trip), pick up your pack at the camp and be on your way. Your legs will be grateful :)
Unfortunately, that was a very foolish thing to do: we had already hiked 18km, so we were quite tired. The climb to the next camp was 'only' 6km, but it was hard to get there: very steep, though, slippery terrain... and the backpacks didn't make it any easier. Did I already mention we were really tired and our packs were really heavy? We kind of went into zombie-mode for the last few kilometers (24km in total today), and just dragged ourselves along for 2 and a half hours until we stumbled upon a lonely, orange tent in the middle of nowhere.
If it hadn't been for that tent, we would've walked straight past the "camp" which consisted of... well, nothing. No facilities, no check-in, nothing. Just one single tent belonging to 2 girls who were just as foolish as us, and really surprised to see more people showing up.
Now, why was this such a dumb plan? In the end, it cost us more than we gained from it. The climb up was 10 times as hard. We were exhausted, so we overslept the next morning, completely eliminating our advantage. And it was the final nudge which really messed up my knees; they were a bit sensitive before, but now they were starting to get seriously inflamed - with 3 more days to go...
Running total: 35km.
Day 3: Britanico to Los Cuernos
After involuntarily sleeping in until 10:30am, I loaded up on Ibuprofen to kill the pain and the inflammation in my knees, and we completed the hike to the top. Rewarded with a great view, we felt rejuvenated.
Wondering how we managed to get up there the day before, we backtracked to the lowest camp and pushed for the next one: Los Cuernos. Today's hike was a bit easier; mostly flat. A welcome change after the previous, exhausting day... But in the end, we still had to hike 15km... The scenery was nice, the weather even nicer. Warm and sunny, yay! When we came to a cosy, small beach, we couldn't resist and spent half an hour just sitting in the sun, enjoying the view.
Our day ended with one more reward: there were hot showers at the camp site! It's a real luxury to take a warm shower after 3 days of intense hiking...
Running total: 50km.
Day 4: the horse-shit trail from Los Cuernos to Torres
The fourth day was -yet again- an intense one. We hiked along a huge lake, with lots of climbing and descending - not so much fun when your knees are hurting. Going slow wasn't an option, unfortunately. We had to go as far as possible today, so we would be back in time for the bus the next day.
So we pushed on along the path which I aptly named the horse-shit trail. Seriously, this path is literally covered in shit. You can't go 50m without encountering one or multiple presents from one of our four-legged friends. Not only was the hike hard, we also had to pay attention everywhere so we didn't misplace our feet. The view was great, but the hike wasn't very enjoyable for me.
Around one of the camp sites along the way, we spotted a red fox - the first and only (big) animal we encountered during our entire hike. The fox wasn't very shy; we could easily approach him up to a few meters away while he lay down and took a nap.
21km later, we finally reached the furthest camp site (upper right part of the W), so we put up our tent, cooked some dinner and spent an enjoyable evening talking to a bunch of French guys/girls we frequently encountered along the trail.
We went to bed around 10pm, because we'd have to wake up early the next morning: we were going to climb up before sunrise (+/-6am) so we could witness the sun coming up over the Tres Torres (Three Towers, 3 high peaks) the park was named after.
Running total: 71km.
Day 5: Campamento Torres to Hotel Las Torres
The evening before, just after we got into our tent, I glanced outside and noticed a very slight drizzle resembling melting snow. Thinking nothing of it (it is Patagonia, after all) we went to sleep and woke up at 5am to find out that the drizzle had turned into snow.
Thinking it was a bad idea to go up there in this kind of weather, we still didn't want to miss out so we went up anyway. At the camp site it wasn't snowing very hard, but the higher we climbed, the worse it got. When we reached the top, we were in the middle of a full-blown snowstorm... which kind of ruined our view and made everything slippery as hell.
All that hard work and waking up early for nothing, what a shame... Our only option was to climb back down, pack up and head for our last stop, where the bus would pick us up and take us back to Puerto Natales. Just before we left, we heard from another couple -who climbed up 45 minutes later than we did and had just returned- that the sky cleared up a bit while they were there, and that is was great. Needless to say, we were bummed out even more. But at least we got the full Patagonian weather experience...
The descent was really painful for me; even the Ibuprofen didn't kill the pain in my knees any more. So even though it was a great experience, I was quite glad the trip was over so we could rest.
GRAND TOTAL: 86km in 96 hours (4 days).
Everything you've heard about Patagonia is probably true, and if you ever get the chance, you should definitely go there. We really loved it and it was very beautiful - but be careful not to get your hopes up too high, like we did... We felt a very tiny bit disappointed because we expected too much.
Also: we want our money back because we didn't see a puma! ;)
Useful info for travellers
- From Puerto Natales, you can book a round trip ticket with the bus company Gomez for CLP15.000. The bus leaves every day at 7:30am, and returns from Laguna Amarga (in the park) around 2:30pm. The trip takes about 2,5 hours.
- The entrance fee for the Torres del Paine park is CLP18.000 per person.
- The Catamaran will cost you CLP12.000 pp.
- Some of the camp sites are free, for some you have to pay. The free sites are run by Conaf, the others are privately owned and run.
The free sites we stayed at were Campamento Britanico (facilities: none) and Campamento Torres (facilities: toilets).
Refugio Grey cost us CLP4.000 pp. and Refugio Los Cuernos charged CLP6.000 pp. Both of them have bathrooms and showers.
- You can get food at the refugio's, but it's very expensive - so if you're going low budget: pack food and snacks for 5 days. Also take tea, coffee and/or chocolate milk (powder); hot beverages are very nice to get a break from the cold.
- Don't pack water; you can just fill up your bottle in one of the many streams in the park. You don't even need a water purifier or tablets; the ice water is clean enough to drink as is. Avoid still water; that's where bacteria and viruses thrive.
Do you have questions? Did you experience something similar? Did you notice a mistake? Please share!