6 day trek through torres del paine

  • every hostel needs a "special" dog - lucas
  • had to get out the bus to cross this bridge
  • the alpaca lady
  • high spirits before the trek
  • loaded backpack
  • is it snowing outside?
  • the tent and the stream
  • the towers and lake
  • pure admiration
  • my footsteps in the snow
  • lake looking foggy
  • stream leading from the lake
  • i don't like this place anymore - snow and wind
  • winter wonderland
  • camping under the mountain at the companento torres
  • this bird ate raw rice that anna dropped - i presume it died shortly after
  • morning view at the base
  • dark lake before the "tornado"
  • green lagoon
  • this place could be in the tropics - lush forrest meets green water
  • waves on the lake
  • we sat at this lake watching the water
  • filling coffe mug from the stream
  • pensive
  • tired
  • great photo - compliments of anna
  • pensive too
  • tired and pensive
  • trying to get arty
  • walking with a purpose
  • cloud that looked like a spaceship
  • glacier grey
  • icebergs
  • closeup of iceberg
  • the last tuna crunch

At 8am on the 27th of October we boarded our bus to Puerto Natales in the Chilean Patagonian region and about 6 hours later we rolled into Puerto Natales, a small village on the banks of the Seno Ultima Esperanza. We had planned on staying in a hostel pointed out in the guide book, but fortunately it was full and we were directed to another hostel - Hostel Pauletta. It was one of those really cosy hostels that almost become a home away from home - heating that made it warm and toasty, and owners who were just superb hosts.

 

We toyed with the idea of starting a 7 day trek of the national park the next day, but with so much to plan for and so many supplies to think about, we agreed it'd be best to start the day after so that we could use the next day to get everything in order and also relax for what would be some pretty strenuous days to follow. Having gotten a bargain on the accommodation at Hostel Pauletta, we decided to splash out on dinner that evening and headed to Afrigonia, a restaurant owned by a Zambian dude, and his Patagonian wife. Prices were high but the food and wine was superb. For dessert Anna ordered the home made ice-cream, which, that day, happened to be a Ginger and Lemon ice cream - probably the best tasting ice cream I have ever tasted. A quick attempt at finding out how it was made did not result in any useful information. Bellies full and with nothing to do in a village that is mostly used as a base for trekking, we headed to a hotel bar and knocked back a few pisco sours `at astronomical prices - any saving we made on accommodation was cancelled out several times that evening.

The next day we discussed our trek with Gladys, the hostel owner and she said we could rent a tent and camping cooking utensils from her. We then headed into the town centre and supermarket to get our supplies. Our plan was to do the full circuit around the national park (92kms over 7 days) as opposed to just the "W" circuit (because of how it is shaped), so we would need enough food for 7 days, water would not be a problem as the water in the streams all comes from the snow-capped mountains and is potable. We picked up a big bag of brown rice, 5 cans of tuna, tube of Kryzpo crisps, a pack of smoked sausages, a block of cheese, 4 cans of the "meal in a can" variety, a bag of various fruits, a big bag of oats (for a hearty breakfast), a bag of Milo and nuts.

 

We also picked up some of the less essential things, which during the trek became the best things in the world: a huge slab of chocolate, a tub of dulce de leche (a sort of caramelised condensed milk), cranberry sweets and a (cheap) bottle of Sandy McDonald whiskey for those cold nights. We needn't worry about things like cheese and fruit going off because the temperatures in the park would be very low. We also packed 3 gas canisters for the small camping stove. We were also told that we would be able to find supplies in some of the more "civilised" camping areas of the park. That evening we went for a hearty meal at Pica de Carlito, a great, cheap little restaurant then headed back to the hostel and packed our bags. I think our bags probably averaged 12kgs or more each because of all the supplies and tent, which would be hard work to trek with but we were upbeat about the days to come....

 

backpack ready to goDay 1 - Puerto Natales to camp entrance, up to camping Torres

The bus picked us up from the hostel at 7:30am. Arriving at the park entrance we got our first change of plans. The backend of the park which completes "the circuit" was closed due to avalanches and they did not know when it would reopen - probably not while we were there. So, immediately we knew we would only be able to do the "W" circuit, which also meant we would probably be carrying unnecessary supplies. We were also told that because visibility of the Torres Del Paine (one of the main attractions in the park) was particularly good that morning so it would be best to start the circuit there. That said, the weather in this place is so changeable that within an hour the situation could easily, and did change.

 

We headed off up the mountain in the direction of Camping Chileno, the first stop before reaching the Torres Del Paine, a 2 to 2.5 hour trek across gravel and rocks. Along the way I played on Anna's "Mother nature does some weird shit" comment by constantly uttering phrases like "Man, this is proper trekking shit" or "Man, that is some proper snow shit up there" - the things you do when walking for hours on end with a full backpack. The scenery on the way was pretty spectacular with some sides of the mountain being completely desolate, other sides being covered in alpine like vegetation and then the mountain tops being covered in snow.

 

We reached Chileno after just under 2 hours, and sat down next to a spring to have what would become our staple lunch diet for the next few days - a can of tuna with a few crisps crunched up into it, aptly named Tuna-Crunch by Anna and her friend Karren on a previous trek in Bolivia. Good work girls, it does the job and doesn't taste too bad either. We decided not to stay at Chileno as we hadn't walked much that day yet. After lunch we headed on to Camping Torres and as we climbed the area become significantly cloudier. This part took us slightly longer than we thought.

 

When we arrived at Camping Torres, the view up to Torres Del Paine was covered in clouds to the point that you couldn't see the towers. We were hungry and tired and decided rather than carrying on to the towers with our full backpacks we'd set up camp at the free campsite, have dinner and then see what the weather was like. The campsite was great, very basic with no showers and our water supply was a mountain stream that ran right next to the tent. For dinner we boiled some rice and heated up a tin of beans and pork. Pretty scrumptious dinner. We also did what became a bit of an end of day activity for the next few days - we smoked some cherry tobacco out of my Inca pipe and had a swig of whiskey. After dinner the clouds had not cleared so we figured it'd be best to get an early night (or day for that matter as it was only about 6pm and the sun sets at about 8:30pm here) and headed to our sleeping bags. We had only walked about 4 hours that day, but the heavy backpacks had worn us down a bit.

 

Day 2 - The Torres Del Paine and back down to Hosteria las Torres camp site

After nearly 12 hours sleep (a little less for me as I absolutely froze that night in the rental sleeping bag) we peaked our heads out the tent and saw the campsite covered in snow. An amazing feeling crawling out of a tent and the whole area around you has been transformed into a fairytale land. The only problem was that the snow was still coming down and the clouds bringing in the snow were covering the whole area including the towers, so it seemed our plan to hike up to the towers after breakfast would not materialise. Worse still, after eating our big batch of hot oats with almonds and dulce de leche and a few cups of Milo for breakfast, a Chilean solo trekker told us that the afternoon before (when we were already sleeping) he had hiked up there and gotten some spectacular views of the towers because the clouds had cleared.

 

I was gutted because we couldn't leave this area until we had seen the towers so it could mean we'd have to spend another day and night here just to see them, or abandon that plan and just head on with the trek. I spoke to an older Swiss guy (a very cool dude who was big into his trekking) who suggested we head back to the tent and sit out the snow for an hour or so because the weather was likely to change. We followed his suggestion.

 

An hour or so later we looked out the tent and the clouds had cleared. The time to go up there was now. We hiked the 45 minute trail quite quickly and when we arrived it was spectacular! The towers were completely clear. I didn't realise anybody was around and when I saw them I exclaimed something like "Muthaf*cka, that is an awesome sight!” There was a German couple there who were also quite blown away by the sight and shouted back "It's awesome, ya!” They left shortly after and for about half an hour we had the area to ourselves. We sat on a rock just looking out at this work of art, and the surrounding beauty of black rock mountains capped with snow. At the base of the towers is a greenish -turquoise lake very common in this area.

 

After a while I walked down to the lake and sat on a rock at the water's edge looking up at the towers, while Anna sat in the sun on the rock we had been on. It was one of those moments where you are totally humbled by what nature has created. I don't really know what I thought about down there, I just sat staring at it, appreciating everything and feeling extremely lucky to be where I was.

Shortly after that the clouds started coming in again. It felt as if things had cleared up just so we could look at it. We headed back to the campsite and took down the tent. By this time it had started snowing quite heavily again and we wanted to get to the camp at the bottom of the mountain quickly in case the weather became harsh. The day before I had complained that the one drawback of doing a "W" trek is that you have to go back on trails you've already been on. Anna said she thought it'd look totally different on the way back. It was. The snow had covered the little forests we had walked through and what before were green mountain slopes were slowly becoming blankets of white powder.

 

The day before I thought the up hills were killers, but 3 hours of walking downhill absolutely kills your thighs. By the time we arrived at Hosteria Torres at the base, again we were exhausted. We had some Milo with a bit of whiskey in it and started dinner - rice and a tin of veg. After dinner we had some cherry tobacco, a couple of swigs of whiskey and a couple of pieces of some awesome chocolate.

 

Day 3 - the most adverse weather conditions I have been in

That night, the wind howled all night to the point that I was worried our tent would blow away. When we woke up it continued, and I was worried what it would be like higher up, although we were supposed to hike through a valley that day. We boiled a pot of tea - Anna joked that English girls are recruited by Tetley's to convert foreigners into tea drinkers because at this point I was starting to have a few cups of tea before starting the day. Sleeping in sub zero temperatures will turn any dude into a tea drinker.

 

After breakfast we started making our way to Campamento Italiano at the start of Valle Frances, on what would be the toughest day of trekking we would have. The trek on a good day would be 4 hours to Campamento Los Cuernos from where you view Los Cuernos de Paine, a group of towers similar to the Torres Del Paine, followed by a 2 hour trek to Campamento Italiano. Those hours are for a good day, but this day, Halloween, was one of those days you get warned about entering the park. The wind was blowing at up to 32 miles per hour. At one point we reached this viewpoint of one of the huge green lakes in the distance and stood there admiring it. Next to us was a much smaller dark lake, quite beautiful in its own right and reminded me of the Scottish highlands or Wales. The wind was still blowing but it was manageable. Suddenly, over the dark lake we saw a big whirlwind of water building, and heading in our direction, fast. It then turned into a wave of mist, and when it hit us, it pretty much toppled us both. Scary as it was, it's an awesome sight witnessing that force heading straight towards you.  Anna said she had never actually "seen" wind.

 

We carried on through to Los Cuernos, all the way fighting this head-on wind, being battered by rain, sleet and occasionally snow. At one point the wind was so strong, I found myself walking, leaning forward at about 45 degrees on flat ground just being held up by the wind. Still, the scenery was spectacular and on occasion when the gusts stopped, we had time to just relax and take it all in.

 

On approaching Los Cuernos we started seeing the lake from up-close. The wind was so powerful that it had generated waves of a good 2 feet in height - possible on a long board maybe? We reached Los Cuernos after over 5 hours of walking - much longer than we expected. Still we decided to stick to the initial plan and make it to the free Campamento Italiano. There was a sign saying 1.5 hours to Italiano, so we figured we had enough time and sat at one of the lake beaches sheltered from the wind.

 

The walk to Italiano also took longer than the sign said (we had already noticed and heard about the inconsistencies in the times on these signs), and by the time we had walked for an hour and a half and still saw no signs for the camp, I think the day started catching up to us. I hadn't drank much water the whole day, and we hadn't passed a potable stream in a while - when you're tired and just want to get to a place your head exaggerates things and all I could think about was drinking a big huge glass of orange juice. We were both pretty quiet, just concentrating on getting to the camp I think.

 

When we eventually got there we were both completely knackered. It had been a hard day. Dinner took ages to cook because of the wind and the cold. While sitting there waiting for it I was shaking with cold. We cooked up our biggest can of food, with a huge batch of rice and didn't think much about rationing the chocolate for dessert that night. I slept like a baby that night and was weirdly enough was warm for the first time - Anna had the opposite experience.

 

Day 4 - Italiano up Valle Frances and on to Campamento Pehoe.

The wind persisted that night, but when morning came it was much calmer. The campsite had a huge stream flowing next to it. I walked down to get water for breakfast and looked up at the surrounding snow-capped mountains feeding the stream and felt awesome. It made the previous day's suffering totally worth it. Anna said down at the stream looking at the mountains, was the best place she had ever brushed her teeth in.

 

That morning I had a bit of a dumbass moment. After putting way too many oats into the pot, I said, "Ooooh, I think I need to start making less oats in the morning if this is going to last us for a few more days." after which, I bumped the pot off the camping stove, spilling half the nearly cooked oats. I felt like a complete knob.

 

The campsite was nice and as we were in no rush to get out of the wilderness, we decided we'd stay another night. That way we could make the roughly 6 hour return trek up to Campamento Britanico and the mirador nearby and then have a pitched tent to come back to and relax in. The trek to Britanico, although being a bit of an ankle twister with loads of loose rocks, was much more manageable now that we didn't have backpacks on. It was also fairly flat. Along the way we passed areas that had definitely seen heavy snowfall over the past few days as there were still massive patches of the stuff all over the place. The area was a lot greener than what we had been used to too. On reaching the mirador, we had spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and the green valleys. The clouds that day were extremely weird, they looked like something out of Independence Day, like they were covering up some massive object behind them. After the usual tuna-crunch and fruit lunch we headed back to the camp.

 

With a lot of time to spare before dark and feeling quite good, we decided to take the tent down and hike to the next and final camp site – Campameanto Pehoe. The trek was long and mountainous but equally as spectacular as the days before. Still, the wind continued to howl and made the up hills in particular quite difficult. When we arrived in Pehoe, we saw no signs of a camping area and it was starting to get extremely cold, windier and dark. The map seemed to indicate that the campsite was right next to the “refugio” but we couldn’t see anything. The only sign we saw seemed to point up and over a steep pass, and the thought of tackling that was hard to swallow. Anna started climbing but as I walked up I noticed tents pitched behind the “refugio”, thankfully, because I think neither of us had the desire or energy to walk another hour. At that point, my knee was also killing me and I could feel my ankle was starting to act up. This camp site turned out to be the plushest one we had been to. We had hot showers, and even bought another big block of chocolate from the shop on site.

 

That evening we made a huge batch of rice with a tin of veg. At dinner we watched a huge full moon rising behind the mountains and hit the sleeping bags pretty early after a good few pieces of chocolate and a couple of whiskeys.

 

Day 5 – up to Glacier Grey and back to Pehoe

After another one of those nights where it felt like the wind was going to blow the tent away, I woke up relatively early and took a walk down to the lake with the trail map in hand. I realised that rather than hiking to refugio Grey at the glacier with our backpacks, it would make more sense to leave our bags behind and the tent set as it was only a 3.5 hour trek to the glacier. We could easily do this and back in a day, especially without the heavy bags.

 

After a huge breakfast where we finished off the last of our oats we headed up to Glacier Grey. The hike up, although cold, was quite pleasant. We started off wrong though because I figured we had to go over the mountain we had seen the evening before and after a wrong turn and about 45 minutes later Anna realised we were heading in the wrong direction and we had to back track. Once on the right trail, we pretty much followed a lake all the way. Occasionally the lake had icebergs in it. We eventually reached the glacier and whilst it was quite spectacular, it was no comparison to Perito Moreno. We had our last tuna-crunch and then headed to a small “refugio” for a hot drink before heading back on the same trail.

 

That night after a few Milos (with a bit of whiskey in them) we finished up the rice, cooked up some sausages and after a few more swigs of whiskey (for a guaranteed good night’s sleep in the now gale force winds, we hit the tent. I slept like a baby that night (job well done Mr Sandy McDonald).

 

Day 6 – back to Puerto Natales

Thankfully we had decided to do the remainder of the trek the day before because by that evening, my ankle (or rather my Achilles tendon) was taking serious strain, and at the time of writing this nearly a week later is still painful.

 

We woke to a pleasant day, had scrambled eggs and the remainder of the sausages for breakfast and at noon caught the ferry back to the park entrance and hopped onto a bus back to Puerto Natales where Gladys at the Hostel Pauletta was just as good a host as before.

 

We hung out for another day, doing not much more than sleeping and eating, before boarding an early morning bus to Ushuaia – El Fin Del Mundo (the end of the world).