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Posts Tagged ‘Torres del Paine Tips’

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Torres del Paine. Although pronounced Tor-ez del Pie-nay, the fact that the name of the park is strikingly similar to “Tour of Pain” was not lost on me. We’ve already posted a description of the trek by the numbers, but have been sitting on the photos for weeks. (And for anyone who is wondering, the toenail count currently stands at 2 gone, 4 on life support, and two intact. Yes, this five day trek is going to cost me 60% of my toenails. ew.)

I found that when we were preparing for our trip into Torres del Paine, there was a fair amount of information online about the park and lots of different options on ways to hike the park, but not much in the way of personal accounts of how people did it. So that’s what you’re going to see here. It may be a little dry for people who aren’t planning on heading to southern Chile anytime soon. If you’re one of those people, feel free to skip ahead to the pictures. Go on, it’s ok, you won’t hurt my feelings. I’ll even close my eyes. 🙂

As background, there are two main ways that hikers tackle Torres del Paine–the full circuit and the “W” (so named because the trail is shaped like a W). You can also do day hikes, but that option makes it impossible to see the interior portion of the park. We decided on the W because we wanted to make the most of our time in the park, but we know our limits–the circuit is a 7-10 hike. We did the W in five days, but it can be done in 3 or 4 if you are more ambitious than we were.

The main trails of Torres del Paine, with the W highlighted in yellow

The main trails of Torres del Paine, with the W highlighted in yellow

One of the great aspects, but also one of the aspects that increases the difficulty of trekking in Torres del Paine, is that it is completely independent. The previous overnight treks we have done have been with tours (Inca Trail and Colca Canyon), so all the hard work was done for us. With the W, you can do the trek completely on your own. There are, of course, expensive guided tours, but you are free to (and encouraged to) get out in the park and hike on your own.

Once you’ve decided to go it on your own, you need to decide whether you want to camp or stay in the refugios. The refugios are dorm-style accomodations located along the W which also serve food and drinks. They are expensive–like US$40 for a dorm bed (and you still have to provide or rent your own sleeping bag, pillow, etc.). However, they allow you to hike the trail without needing to carry a tent, sleeping bag, food or cooking equipment.

After considering our options, we decided that we wanted to do some camping but didn’t want to have to shlep a tent on a five-day hike. We settled on sleeping in the refugios two nights, renting tents from the refugios two nights and carrying our own sleeping bags, cooking equipment and food. This ended up being a good compromise for us. We booked in advance through Fantastico Sur and Vertice (the refugios are run by two different companies). As an aside–for anyone thinking of hiking it, if you are up to the task of carrying your own tent, I would recommend doing that because that gives you the freedom to camp in any of the free campsites, not just those that are attached to refugios.

Once you make your decision on accomodations, you’re still not done planning–you need to decide in which direction you are going to hike. There’s no right or wrong way to do it, but there are benefits to each option. The traditional way is east to west, starting at the main lodge, Refugio Las Torres. You take the bus from Puerto Natales (it leaves at ~7 am, picking you up at your accomodations), then take a minibus up to the lodge from the park entrance. The opposite route is becoming more popular, however, hiking from west to east. On this route, you take the same bus from Puerto Natales, but take it further into the park, all the way to the catamaran launch across Lago Pehoe. Then you load onto the Catamaran and arrive at Campamento Pehoe/Lodge Paine Grande in the early afternoon.

We chose the west to east route with our primary reason being that we wanted to flexibility to stay at the actual Torres del Paine for another night if the views were obscured by clouds. While we ended up being happy with our route, it is important to note our opinion that the towers are by no means the most spectacular part of the park. As such, it’s not really necessary to schedule extra time for them or to plan your hike to culminate with a visit to them. As always, your mileage may vary.

We arrived at Lodge Paine Grande at mid-day on the first day, dropped some of our gear at the luggage storage at the lodge (soo nice not to have to carry all of our food on those first two days), and headed off to Campamento Grey. It was about a half day’s hike with views of lakes, mountains, icebergs and finally, Glacier Grey.

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Patagonian clouds, looking ominous...

This intensely blue iceberg was the size of a schoolbus!

This intensely blue iceberg was the size of a schoolbus!

Glacier Grey

Glacier Grey

Yup, Puma tracks.

Yup, Puma tracks.

Lago Pehoe

Lago Pehoe

Los Cuernos at dusk

Los Cuernos at dusk

The following day we doubled back to Lodge Paine Grande and spent the night in the refugio. This refugio is pretty posh, and although you are in dorm-style bedrooms, it reminded me more of a ski lodge than of the “rustic accomodations” we were warned it would be. We were also pleased to discover that our chosen route allowed us to start out with two relatively easy days and to ease into the trek.

The third day was the longest and, in our opinion, the most spectacular. Regardless of which direction you are heading, the Valle del Frances is a beautiful hike, taking you through forests, along glacial rivers and providing breathtaking views of the Torres del Paine, the Cuernos mountains and the major lakes of that area of the park. Well worth the fourteen hours we spent hiking that day.

Lago Nordenskjold (say that ten times fast!)

Lago Nordenskjold

View from Valle del Frances

View from Valle del Frances

Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine

Cerro Paine Grande

Cerro Paine Grande

Beach of Lago Nordenskjold

Beach of Lago Nordenskjold

Rio del Frances

Rio del Frances

Torres del Paine and Los Cuernos

Torres del Paine and Los Cuernos

Hikers in Valle del Frances

Hikers in Valle del Frances

More beach

More beach

After sleeping in Refugio Cuernos on night three, we were off to Refugio Chileno, where we camped for our final night. It took us about six hours to get to Chileno, and it was another beautiful hike, along still lakes reflecting the clouds and the surrounding rolling green hills.

Reflecting lake

Reflecting lake

The lakes were perfectly still that day--none of the typical patagonian wind

The small lakes were perfectly still that day--none of the typical patagonian wind

Loved these views

Loved these views

The shadows of the clouds on the foothills were just gorgeous

The shadows of the clouds on the foothills were just gorgeous

The soft morning light took my breath away

The soft morning light took my breath away

More landscapes (sorry, it's so hard to choose!)

More landscapes (sorry, it's so hard to choose!)

From Refugio Chileno, it is about a 1 hour hike to the base camp for the Torres, and then another hour or so on loose rocks up to the Torres (although my rockstar husband did the whole thing in an hour and five minutes).

The famous Torres del Paine

The famous Torres del Paine

More Torres!

More Torres!

Close up of the Torres

Close up of the Torres

The final day was simply a few hours’ walk from Chileno back down to Refugio Las Torres where you catch a minibus back to the entrance of the park where the bus back to Puerto Natales is waiting for you. That last day was not a technically challenging hike in any way, but it was oh-so-painful for me. My feet were so wrecked; I was thrilled to only have a couple of hours walk down to catch the bus.

I nearly wept for joy when the final lodge came in to view.  Instead, I hopped one of those horses in the foreground and galloped off into the sunset.  Perfect ending for a perfect hike :-)

I nearly wept for joy when the final lodge came in to view. Instead, I hopped one of those horses and galloped off into the sunset. Yeah, that's just how I roll.

After completing the trek, we came up with a handful of things that we wish we’d known beforehand or had done differently, so I present to you the Torres del Paine Hindsight is 20/20 Short List

1. As I mentioned, if you can handle hiking with all of your own gear, I would recommend it. If we could have done that, we would have (a) camped at Campamento Italiano (at the entrance to the Valle del Frances) rather than going on to Refugio Cuernos, cutting two or three hours off of our 14 hour day and allowing us to enjoy the lovely Valled del Frances more; and (b) camped at the base camp for the Torres del Paine rather than Refugio Chileno. Our initial plan was to pick up a tent at Chileno and head up to camp at the base camp for the Torres so we could hike up to the Torres pre-dawn to see the sunrise. Since we were stuck camping three hours from the Torres, there was no way we were making it up there by sunrise.

2. Don’t stress about being able to get perfect views of the Torres del Paine. Unlike some other treks, you are not building up to the ultimate view by hiking toward the Torres. They are dramatic and beautiful, but certainly don’t overshadow the rest of the park. The Valle del Frances was much nicer, overall, in my opinion.

3. Keep your food lightweight!!! This is such an obvious tip, but we ended up bringing a boatload of trail mix, intending to eat it thoughout the day, every day, in place of lunch. It weighed a TON and we were so sick of it by the end that I swore I’d never eat another peanut or piece of dried fruit as long as I lived. A corollary of this is to be sure to vary your food. It can be hard to keep your energy up if you can hardly force yourself to eat the food you’ve brought.

4. Finally, and most importantly, for real expert information, check out the websites of the Erratic Rock, a trekker-centric hostel in Puerto Natales, and the Black Sheep, an english-language newspaper on Patagonia. Better yet, stop by the daily (free!) talk at the Erratic Rock to get the scoop directly from experienced guides.

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