Torres Del Paine 5-day/4-night W-Trek (61.6 Total Km)
Let’s put this out in the open. The W-Trek in Patagonia was our first ever “trek.”
Matt and I had never been on a full-fledged “trek” before. Yes, we had been on several hikes in our home of the Pacific Northwest of the United States, but no, we had never been on a multiple day trek that involved camping as our means of accommodation and walking as our means of transportation. And we somehow decided to start our journey around the globe in such a challenging (but beautiful!) trek in Patagonia – go big or go home, right? Really, we wanted to start at the bottom of South America, and this seemed like probably the coolest thing to do down there.
Matt breaks down our first ever trek below (although in the editing process I’ve thrown in my two cents… probably $100 worth – blame the journalism background).
Day 1 – Transport to Torres del Paine National Park, accommodation in Camp Las Torres (Torre Central)
The first day of our trek mostly consisted of transportation from Puerto Natales to Camp Las Torres (Camping Central) and butterflies in our stomachs as we prepared for some of the most stunning landscapes in the world. We had been in Puerto Natales the day before, and the weather did not look enjoyable, to say the least (40-60km wind and cold, pouring rain). At this moment in time, we did not realize that the weather in southern Patagonia can change completely within ten minutes.
The afternoon bus ride (2.5 hours) was one of the coolest we have ever been on. We were surrounded by mountains and surprised that the Torres were already visible in the distance from the road. The landscape was filled with sheep, horses, cows, and our first view of a family of Guanacos (most people call them Alpacas, but they are in fact a relative to the Alpaca). Already the views of snow-capped mountains and glaciers of Torres del Paine National Park were breathtaking.Once we arrived at Laguna Amarga (one of the park entrances), we acquired our entrance tickets to the park, watched the safety video, and caught our next shuttle (10-15 minutes) to the Las Torres Sector where the refugio and campsite are located.We unpacked in our gigantic tent (haha) and took a trip up to explore the eco-domes camp, followed by dinner at the refugio. We were anxious for the following day and got into our tent shortly before the sunset around 10PM.
Day 2 – Trekking to Base Torres, accommodation in Torre Central, and post-trek yoga at the Eco Camp (10-11 hours; 18Km)
While rain poured throughout the night, we were thankfully greeted by the sun as we emerged from our tent bright and early. On our second day, we ventured to arguably the most popular mirador of the entire National Park, Mirador Base Las Torres. This hike would prove to be as challenging as we were warned, but the views all the way up were worth every ounce of effort it took to get to the top.After about an hour and a half mostly uphill, we reached El Chileno where most people drop their gear off and continue with a day pack for the remainder of the hike. We, however, ran into a completely booked campground (while booking our trip in late November), so were unable to stay at El Chileno. The downside was at the end of our trek we had an additional couple of hours back to Torre Central to stay our second night. On the upside, we were grateful to not have to pack up our entire campsite that morning and to only have to carry a daypack the throughout the trek to and from Las Torres.From El Chileno, we continued through forests, over bridges, and eventually got to the most difficult part of the day (the moraine) which was a 45-minute ascent that is more like rock climbing than hiking (thank God for trekking poles!).After seeing all four seasons in one day, and an incredibly difficult last 45 minutes, we finally made it to what we came all the way from Seattle to see, Base Las Torres!!Snow flurries danced in the wind through sunny skies. We took advantage of the blue sky and took picture after picture, fearing the towers would be covered by clouds at any minute, but ended up having a nice lunch with a view that felt like it was green screened into a movie.The towers alone are astounding, but if the surrounding views were anywhere else they’d be the star of the show.Once we refueled our energy, we started our descent back to the campgrounds. Going down was not quite as difficult, but after sitting down in the cold for awhile your calves don’t seem to work quite the same!We arrived back at camp at about 6PM, and decided to go to the free restorative yoga class in the Eco-Dome (fantastic decision!). It was just the two of us with an instructor from Northern Chile. The class completely rejuvenated us after our first hard day of trekking. Read all about our yoga dome experience here.
Day 3 – Trekking to Los Cuernos, accommodation in Los Cuernos (4-5 hours; 11Km)
Our third day prove was much easier than our previous day, although we traveled under the weight of all our gear, as we moved from our base campsite to the campsite at Los Cuernos. The distance we covered was shorter with much less elevation change. With this being said, it didn’t mean it was any less beautiful. The majority of the day was spent alongside Lake Nordenskjold, a huge lake boasting bright and deep shades of both green and blue depending on the time of the day and position of the sun.
This day surprised us with the craziest wind we have ever experienced. At one point we were at the top of a lookout when a gust came by that blew Krista’s sunglasses completely off her face! The entire week was very windy, but the wind this day was on a different level. There were multiple times we bunkered down with our poles behind a rock to try and avoid strong gusts. When you are carrying 70-liter backpacks and a big gust of wind comes, you pretty much turn into a sail and the last thing we wanted to happen was to slip and fall.With less distance to travel, we got to the Los Cuernos earlier in the day and relaxed. This is by far the most magnificent site we visited, settled right on Lake Nordenskjold along a rocky beach and nestled into the mountains. It definitely gets bonus points for having a bar with a spectacular view. We bought some boxed wine, as it was the cheapest beverage option (travel life), and were delighted to find it tasted nothing like box wine in the U.S. (no slap the bag here!). The only option for booking Los Cuernos is “full board” (all meals included) and this was our only prepaid dinner at one of the refugios. We enjoyed every bite of our prepaid three-course dinner in the company of new friends. We met two German couples, who were doing the W-trek in the opposite direction we were, and we shared stories with them for the remainder of the night until we were so tired we couldn’t sit up anymore.The wind, which upon arrival to the site was so strong that our tent was nearly airborne (we witnessed another tent nearby take flight), kept up throughout the night. I (Matt) will say this was the craziest weather I have ever been inside of a tent for (although I, Krista, can’t recall much wind during the night – must have been a result of exhaustion and wine). When we woke up the next morning the lake, which was churning the night before, was as smooth as glass to set up for the nicest weather day of the hike. Good thing, as this was our longest day of trekking.
Day 4 – Trekking to Mirador Britanico through the French Valley, accommodation in Camp Frances (10-11 hours; 22Km)
Our fourth day started out with the best weather we had the entire week. As our new friends described, it appeared that the Britanico lookout had been completely covered by clouds the two days prior. This was not the case for us. We were treated to another long and difficult day, but worth every bit of it!After about the first hour, we arrived at Camp Frances where we dropped off our big backpacks and continued with our daypacks. This was a small campground but would end up being the biggest tent we slept in during the trip with the nicest (new!) bathrooms.We also got the chance to find the best rock-skipping beach on the planet close by with perfectly calm water. Every single rock here was exactly what you look for in a skipping rock, too bad I (Matt) didn’t have more time to enjoy it!From here, we continued for a couple hours through the French Valley. We hiked along beaches and then gained elevation as we left Lake Nordenskjold behind. We made our way up to a luscious green waterfall, that looks like it could be straight out of Jurassic Park. To our amazement, as we reached the waterfall, a giant glacier came into view at its side. Both were incredibly beautiful and made even more beautiful by the fact that they were juxtaposed side by side.Shortly after, we made to the first mirador of the day, Frances Glacier! Hearing the cracks in the ice and seeing the avalanches here truly made this lookout special. We spent some time at the lookout enjoying our packed lunches, as well as a spectacular view of Lake Nordenskjold from above. Seeing these unique views, and also the amount of ground we covered on foot was truly amazing.Many people decide to call this look out their final destination for the day and turn around, but with the nice weather and our motivation to finish, there was no way we were going to turn back after getting this close.We continued another two hours through different types of forests and landscapes. What is amazing about Torres del Paine is how you can be going through a forest filled with moss and flowers, and thirty minutes later you can be in a completely different ecosystem.When we started to slow down a bit due to exhaustion, especially after a short patch of near rock climbing, we finally saw another group coming down. They proceeded to tell us we were only five minutes away, so with a newfound burst of energy, we made it to our destination at Mirador Britanico.We spent a lot of time soaking up the 360-degree views of some of the most awe-inspiring geography we have ever seen and captured all of the good angles.We spent some time goofing around trying to achieve a good handstand photo (which was incredibly difficult because the rock was at a steep downward angle!).Krista also had some fun with her yoga poses!The trek back to Camp Frances seemed long, but with incredible views everywhere you look, it made it go by quickly (as quick as a difficult 5-hour hike can go!). Once we arrived back at Frances, there was a sudden feeling of achievement that cannot be described. There is no better feeling than being able to conquer something that seems impossible.
Day 5 – Trekking to Paine Grande Lodge and catching the Pehoe Lake Catamaran (6 hours; 10.6Km)
Our last day was a bit different than we expected due to some issues with the catamarans. We came in thinking we would be hiking to the Grey Glacier, but upon arrival at Torres del Paine National Park, we were told that the main catamaran broke down. They then proceeded to tell us that if it did not get fixed in time that we would have to hike the entire way back in order to catch a bus back to Puerto Natales, adding at least five hours of hiking to our final day. Luckily, this was not the case as they got two smaller boats running. The only issue was they left at specific times, and they only allowed 20 passengers each in which you had to hold your spot in line. With the new boat times, we would not have time to make it to Grey Glacier and back.This became the easiest and shortest day of our trip. The trek was flat most of the way, but there was one fallback. The mountains decided to open up a bit about two hours into the trek which made it much colder and muddy. But we did get to finally test out all of our rain gear! In Torres Del Paine, sometimes the path crosses a river, sometimes the path is a river (literally). This day it was the latter, as we trekked through a river, thankful for our waterproof hiking boots.After a couple more hours of wet weather, we finally got a glimpse of Lake Pehoe! I will say we were both incredibly happy at this point in time. We were definitely feeling the last four days of trekking and we wanted to get to get back to an actual bed and a warm shower. Once we arrived at the Paine Grande Lodge we found the line for the Catamaran and began to wait.Lucky for us, we got a spot in line and only had to wait about 45 minutes. The weather also began to clear up a bit (of course when we finally were inside!) so that we could see some of the best views of the entire week. The catamaran takes you from one side of Lake Pehoe to the other where you catch a bus back to Puerto Natales. The best part is that the water is crystal clear and the entire ride gives you unbelievable views of the national park.All in all, we cannot recommend this trek enough to people. Yes, you will experience crazy weather (even in the high season of January). Yes, there will be very challenging days in which you second guess your decision to come in the first place. But the things that you see and the feeling of accomplishment you get when you finish are second to none. Torres del Paine is one of the most beautiful places we have been to and is worth every penny!Sounds great, right? If you want to find out how to go yourself, and save money in the process, stay tuned for our upcoming blog post.