Situated way down at the southern end of South America and shared by Argentina and Chile, the Patagonia is a region of unbelievable natural beauty that plays home to snow-capped mountains, beautiful lakes and blue-iced glaciers. It’s one of the most beautiful parts of the world I’ve travelled to and while I was there a few years ago now, back when I unfortunately wasn’t blogging, the memories come flooding back as I wrote this.
After spending a wonderful few days trekking in the Argentinian side of the Patagonia, I made my way to Chile to explore the Torres Del Paine National Park. Unlike on the Argentinian side where I did a number of single day hikes, here I was looking forward to a multi-day trek. It’s an easy bus ride from El Calafate to Puerto Natales, the closest town to the park border, and from the central bus station I walked over to the Erratic Rock Hostel.
The hostel runs a daily information session on trekking in the park and provides all the information you need to trek independently, including how to get to the park, routes and accommodation options. They also rent gear, with discounts offered to those staying next door, and if you’re a single traveller like myself, it’s a brilliant way to meet fellow hikers. I would definitely recommend staying at the hostel, not just for the discount but the super comfy beds, enormous breakfasts (including home-baked bread) and general awesome atmosphere of the place. The movie room, with its huge DVD collection, is also the perfect place to spend a few relaxing days post your trek!
I met Rodrigo and Marco at the information session, both from southern Brazil, and we decided to do the W trek, so named because of the rough shape of the route that navigates up and down out of the mountain valleys. The W trek is the most trekked route in the National Park and we planned on a five-day trek. It’s possible to trek in both directions and we chose to head West to East to save the actual Torres (the three Towers) for last.
Accommodation wise there are a number of options depending on budget and preference for carrying your own supplies. We chose to camp at the park-administered campsites, which have a cooking shelter and basic bathroom facilities, as these were free. This meant we had to carry our own gear as well supplies for the whole trek, which was no problem but certainly made for a tough first few days with VERY full backpacks!
If you’re looking for more facilities at the campsites, you could camp on the ground of the Refugios though this is of course not free. Should you not wish to camp, you could stay at the Refugios themselves though this is even more expensive. All Refugios do have restaurants so if you’re not keen to carry your own food, that’s an option too.
There are four park campgrounds along the route:
- Guardas – on the corner of Lago Grey and Glacier Grey
- Italiano – bottom of the French Valley
- Britanico – top of the French Valley
- Torres – base of the Towers
The week in Torres Del Paine was certainly an incredible adventure – I had done a fair bit of hiking before this trip, and heaps since, but this was my first multi-day trek carrying all my own gear and supplies. As expected, the weather was at its unpredictable best and we enjoyed the full spectrum from bright sunshine to torrential rains and snow.
The weather played ball to begin with and we enjoyed the sun on our backs as we trekked to Glacier Grey on the first day, staying at Los Guardas. (Snow on the pass further north meant we weren’t able to walk the circular O route, hence our decision to trek the W). The sun continued until lunchtime on the second day when things very quickly went pear-shaped and we trekked for over two hours in driving rain … no waterproof gear remains completely dry so I was soaked head to toe y the time we arrived at the campsite though thankfully my sleeping gear was dry and I guarded that with my life.
We awoke to a snow storm on the third morning and decided to wait it out at camp. Thankfully there was a ranger station at camp so I was able to dry my boots and I spent the morning in my tent reading, listening to music etc. before deciding to do some trekking in the afternoon as the weather cleared up. I had been walking for no more than an hour when the snow arrived again and I made a hasty retreat to my tent. That evening some friends I had met a few weeks back arrived at camp, while Rodrigo and Marco also knew some people who arrived that evening, and we trekked together for the rest of the week.
Awaking to sunshine on day four was such a relief and we spent the day exploring the beautiful French Valley. While the afternoon’s snow couldn’t dampen our spirits, and the avalanches were awesome to see and hear, by late afternoon we were once again cold and so we decided to camp along the shores of Lago Nordenskjold on the grounds of Refugio Cuernos as this allowed us to spend the evening inside a warm hut.
Days 5 and 6 were gorgeous with few clouds and bright sunshine and it felt so good to be warm again after a few cold days and super cold nights having slept in every dry item in my backpack for the previous few evenings.
We made our way to the campsite at the base of the Towers, a long day’s trekking that saw us climb an elevation of 1,250m, before continuing a further 45 minutes uphill to the lookout point for our first front-on sight of the Towers. It was simply stunning and a wonderful reward for a long day.
We were then up bright and breezy on the final morning, leaving camp before dawn at 4.45 and arriving in time to watch night turn to day. There wasn’t a cloud in sight and we admired the beautiful view huddled in our sleeping bags before heading back to camp and down the mountain back home.
Returning to town, I felt physically knackered, sore and dirty but on the top of the world and over a steak and a few glasses of local wine later that evening, the ‘trekking crew’ shared so many laughs looking back on an unforgettable experience.