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Activities Chile Eco Tourism Patagonia South America

The Base of the Towers – The Jewel in Torres Del Paine’s Crown

October 1, 2017

Torres del Paine in Chilean Patagonia offers a number of world-class hikes to travellers keen to brave the elements. The most famous (and challenging) walk in the national park, the Base de las Torres (Base of the Towers) offers spectacular views amongst some of the most incredible natural scenery in the world. We took up the challenge and were rewarded a hundred times over for our efforts.

Setting off bright and early from EcoCamp, we were literally the first group on the trail, allowing us to set a comfortable pace and really soak up the morning air.  Thanks to its handy location at the start of the hike, visitors can maximise their time cuddled up in bed whilst still getting a big headstart on those coming from Puerto Natales for the day – a double bonus for our glamping crew.

“Red sky at night, sailors’ delight. Red sky at morning, sailors take warning” – Proverb

I must admit, in the days leading up to this hike I was incredibly nervous and the pink-tinged sunrise didn’t do much to set our minds at ease. Though I try my best, I’m not the fittest wahine around and even on a fair-weather day, the Towers were to present a massive challenge – both in body and mind.

Summoning a positive attitude, we began putting the kilometres behind us – something that was easily done on the flat but not so much so on the first major incline of the day.

The hike to the Towers can be divided into a few key sections, each unique from the other.

What Can You Expect on the Base of the Towers Hike?

The First Climb

After an easy warm-up on the flat, hikers are greeted with their first big climb and though there are small breaks where it evens out, for the most part it’s all uphill for a solid hour or so.  We took our time and made it up surprisingly easily but it was hard work, without doubt!

Solace

At the crest of the first incline, hikers are treated to a (gratefully received) rest. The track heads downhill towards the El Chileno campsite where, during the season, toilets are available (as is accommodation should you wish to break the hike into two days).

Not Your Average Walk in the Park

For the next two hours, the trails weaves through the forest. After the initial climb, this is an easy hike over undulating land. You’ll continue to gain elevation (so don’t get too excited about taking it easy), but in the big scheme of things, it’s a pretty cruisey part of the track; even if you’ve never hiked before, you’ll manage this section fine.

The Final Push

Just after the forest clears, you’ll be greeted with the final climb to the Base of the Towers.  This hike will certainly make you earn that amazing view you’ve come for – saving the best (or worst) ’till last.

Starting with a 30-minute climb through the last of the forest, hikers approach the moraine, where the scramble begins.  On the day of our hike, there was significant snowfall in the area which meant the path that would normally be made up of rocks and boulders was practically unrecognisable.  Instead, we tentatively made up way along the line of the moraine, skirting our way over to the Towers.  Though the snow resulted in a few minor slips, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was actually easier on our knees as we didn’t have to pick our way up and over rocks (but we’d love to hear from anyone who’s completed the hike without snow).

Though the snow resulted in a few minor slips, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was actually easier on our knees as we didn’t have to pick our way up and over rocks.

Have you completed the hike without snow?  If so, we’d love to hear your thoughts on tackling the last of the moraine!

With aching muscles but an unmistakable electricity in the air, we rounded the last bend and finally caught sight of the three towers right in front of us.  Peeking out through a veil of cloud, we couldn’t believe our luck – we’d been warned that on days like ours, hikers sometimes miss out altogether on seeing these granite monsters!

Honestly, we could not have asked for more.

Not only were we treated to the most amazing Winter-Wonderland scenery all the way up, but with a touch of blue sky, we stood marvelling at the infamous icons of Torres del Paine.

Though we were very fortunate to have the towers practically to ourselves (a privilege that would be absolutely unheard of during peak season), we had followed a set of little footprints all the way to the top.  Crossing our fingers, we’d hoped that it was a sign that we might get a glimpse of the resident fox and continuing on our lucky streak, that’s exactly what happened.

Standing under the towers, it was hard to believe that with all of our planning, dreaming and hoping, we were finally there in person.

We’d made it!

Do You Need a Guide to Climb the Towers?

Though it is physically possible to make it to the summit of the hike without the assistance of a guide, we would certainly recommend one.

Just days earlier, we’d been told about a pair of hikers who had made it almost to the end of the moraine just to have to turn back – with heavy snowfall they couldn’t find the track to continue safely through the maze of snow and under-cover boulders.  I couldn’t imagine the disappointment in getting that far only to turn away at the last hurdle.

Throughout the day our guides coaxed us along, sharing encouragement when it was needed and leading the celebrations when we’d pushed ourselves that little further than we thought possible.  They each shared a great deal of knowledge with us and knew exactly when we each needed that extra little boost.

Without our guides, I am absolutely certain that I wouldn’t have made it to the top.

They encouraged us to walk at our own pace and step by step, we slowly chipped away at the challenge ahead of us.  We certainly didn’t break any speed records for our ascent but their patience, persistence and belief in us was invaluable.

In the middle of summer, when the path is well-worn and the snow we experienced is nowhere to be found, it would be possible to complete the hike successfully without the assistance of a guide but even then, I’d suggest booking one in.

This hike is anything but easy so why trust it to anyone but a pro?

We decided to spend our evenings relaxing in luxury at EcoCamp so booked into their ‘Patagonia Wildlife Tour‘ – this allowed us to choose our own activities each day which included their own amazing guides.

If there’s one hike you do in Torres del Paine, make it this one!

Though the hike was difficult, with the mantra ‘slow and steady’ our whole group managed to make it up to the summit together.

Without doubt, the hike to the Towers was difficult but it was also one of the most rewarding experiences of our lives.

If you have the opportunity, absolutely go!


Thinking about hiking to Base de las Torres?  Pin this post for future reference!

The Base of the Towers in Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile is one of the most iconic hikes in the world. Find out how challenging it really is, whether you need a guide and exactly what to expect on this incredible trek. The Base of the Towers in Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile is one of the most iconic hikes in the world. Find out how challenging it really is, whether you need a guide and exactly what to expect on this incredible trek.

Thank you to EcoCamp for hosting us on this hike.  Without doubt, we’ll never forget our experience!  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Activities Chile Eco Tourism Patagonia South America

Day Two of the W Trek – Conquering the French Valley

September 23, 2017

With our first full day hike in Torres del Paine behind us we slowly rolled out of ‘bed’ (if you can call a sleeping bag, ground mat and a lumpy jumper-come-pillow a bed) and psyched ourselves up for day two out on the trails.

Being our first experience of multi-day hikes, the need to pour tired bodies back into dirty thermals and to squeeze aching feet back into muddy boots was a new one for us.  I know I’m not making the experience sound glamourous because I suppose with the lack of showers, running water and electricity, it was anything but – but without doubt, it was an adventure and one we were very excited to be on.  Even in our sleepless, dirty, aching state!

Because we’d walked further than most the day before (to Campt Italiano), we were able to leave our proper pack-up until after we returned from the French Valley – what was to be the second most challenging hike on the W-Trek.

For those hiking through from an earlier part of the W Trek, it’s safe to leave your bags at the rangers station for the climb itself and something we’d definitely recommend you do.

With our trusty hiking poles in hand, we began the 2.5km hike to the French Glacier Lookout.  The path up was often uneven, at times resembling a rock scramble more than a traditional hiking track, so our poles really proved their worth.  The climb up to the first mirador was relentless but absolutely worth it when we were rewarded with incredible views back over Lago Nordenskjöld and up to the French Glacier and Los Cuernos.

The night before, we’d heard parts of the hanging glacier above break off, the thunderous sound echoing throughout the valley but to stand so close to it was unreal.  Periodically we’d see chunks of ice and snow tumble down from the glacier, setting off little avalanches that devoured everything in their path.  Where else can you find yourself so wrapped up in the power of Mother Nature?

When we finished our descent, we were pleased to have our tents still out for a little lie down before heading off again.  With 7.5km of ‘Patagonian flat’ ground in front of us, the remainder of the day was manageable, if a little slow at times (sorry Thomas and Javier for slowing you both down!) with a fair few drinks breaks and photo stops dotted in for good measure.

This part of the park has an interesting history, having been badly affected by fires in the not too distant past.  What has resulted is a massive section of dead forest; ghostly fingers reaching towards the sky.  It’s a surreal feeling walking through the park, knowing just how long it took to grow in the first place and then considering how long it will take to establish itself after suffering at our hands.

Distance covered:  Camp Italiano to Mirador Francés (5km round-trip) andCamp Italiano to Paine Grande (7.6km)  Total 12.6km (but boy did it feel like more than that after the day before!)

Accommodation:  Paine Grande.  Our first stay in a refugio was a welcome respite from camping on the ground the night before.  We slept in a four-person dorm and were provided with breakfast, lunch and dinner, all of which far surpassed our expectations.  Our rooms were nice and warm, as were the hot-water showers (even if you did have to press the button a few times to keep the water flowing).  It’s worth noting that the dining area wasn’t heated up so we’d recommend you wear your winter woolies downstairs where you head down there.  All in all though, a great option if you’re staying in the park and what an incredible spot to wake up to!

How Difficult is the Hike up the French Valley?

I can’t lie, by the time we got to the first lookout (after an hour and 10 minutes), we were breathing pretty heavily!  Though some choose to climb even higher to Mirador Británico, it simply wasn’t possible when we visited – the snow-cover wouldn’t have allowed us time to make it to our accommodation with certainty.

With that said though, within 5 minutes at the mirador, our breathing was back to normal and any memory of the climb was a distant memory so although I wouldn’t describe the hike as ‘easy’, it’s definitely do-able!


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Find out what it's like to hike to French Valley in Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile. What to expect and the truth about your required fitness. Find out what it's like to hike to French Valley in Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile. What to expect and the truth about your required level of fitness. Is this a holiday to suit every traveller? Find out!

Thank you to ChileTour Patagonia for hosting us on this section of the W Trek.  All thoughts are our own.

Activities Chile Eco Tourism Patagonia South America

Patagonia by Horseback – The Perfect Alternative to Hiking

September 20, 2017

Patagonia is a popular destination for nature-lovers to explore by foot but not all are up to hiking over challenging terrain – there’s a reason the term ‘Patagonian flat’ was coined after all!

For travellers looking to enjoy the local scenery without having to clamber up and down mountains themselves, horseback riding is a great alternative.

You’ll enjoy stunning scenery, experience the infamous Patagonian weather first-hand, make friends with the most gorgeous horses and best of all, your feet will thank you for giving them a break when all is said and done!

Where Can I Ride in Patagonia?

We rode with Pingo Salvaje on the outskirts of the Torres del Paine national park, enjoying the views that the region is known for, without the additional cost of park entrance (which is always a bonus when you’re trying to stick to a budget).  The horses were amongst the calmest that I’ve ever ridden whilst still having the ‘up and go’ that so many commercial trekking horses seem to lack; these beauties were a pleasure.

There is also riding available within the boundaries of the national park, both for pleasure and to assist tired trekkers coming down from the Base of the Towers, but remember, you’ll need to account for the additional cost of entering the park (which is well worth doing at some stage).

Plan Your Visit Well

The winds in Patagonia can be brutal so I would suggest trying to book your horseback adventure for a day when the winds are at their lowest.  Because we had a tight window of opportunity, we rode in crazy winds regardless and though the horses handled it well (they’re incredibly used to it), at times it wasn’t the most comfortable of experiences.

We were pleased we chose to go ahead with the ride regardless but had we the option, it would have been even better on a slightly less windy day.

As always (at least in Patagonia), ensure you’ve got a wind-proof jacket to help keep you toasty warm and some comfortable gloves.  With those two things, we were warm even with the wind whipping up around us.

After hiking the majority of the W Trek, our legs were well and truly ready for a break and riding ended up being the perfect way to get out and make the most of the incredible scenery whilst giving our aching bodies a chance to recover.

If you’re travelling through Puerto Natales in Chile and either aren’t up for hiking or are just looking for a day off the trails, we’d certainly suggest saddling up and seeing this part of the word from a slightly higher vantage point.


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Torres del Paine by horseback in the way to go! The park is a favourite amongst hikers but nature-lovers can get outside and be more comfortable in the process. Explore Patagonia on horseback for an exciting ride through the most amazing scenery in Chile. Torres del Paine is a favourite amongst hikers but nature-lovers can get outside and be more comfortable in the process. Explore Patagonia on horseback for an exciting ride through the most amazing scenery in Chile.Thanks to Pingo Salvaje for so kindly hosting our ride.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Activities Adventure Chile Eco Tourism Patagonia

Day One of the W Trek – Rain, Wind Gusts, Sub-Zero Camping & Lots of Smiles!

September 14, 2017

Stretching across two countries, Patagonia is as massive as it is impressive; it’s almost overwhelmingly so, covering almost half of Chile and a third of Argentina.  For an area with such vast landmass though, the lack of people is incredibly obvious and to be frank, refreshing.

Though Patagonia envelops such a large area, there’s one in particular that nature-lovers make a bee-line to – Torres del Paine in Chile.  With its uniquely-Patagonian peaks towering over the park, expansive glaciers, cascading waterfalls, moody weather and interesting wildlife, it’s a dream destination for many.

They’d be right too – Torres del Paine is the stuff of dreams.

Having arrived into Punta Arenas and catching a bus to Puerto Natales, we hunkered down at the ChileTour Patagonia guest house, preparing for the coming days.  We were about to face what was to be one of our biggest physical challenges to date, the infamous W trek. (well officially almost the full W), but first it was time to meet our new friends, prep for the hike and enjoy a delicious homecooked meal.

Equally apprehensive as we were excited, we enjoyed a final night sleeping cosily inside before heading into the wilderness.

After months of planning, it was hard to believe that our first major South American bucket-list activity was just over the horizon.

Did it live up to our expectations?

Did it ever!

The next few posts will outline what you can expect from each of the hikes and will share with you all of the helpful hints we picked up along the way, so let’s jump right into it…

Hint #1:  If there’s a trip you book this year, make sure it’s to Patagonia!

Day One on the W Trek:  Refugio Las Torres to Camp Italiano

After our transfer into the Torres del Paine National Park, Javier, our guide, purchased our park tickets we headed for the main entrance where we loaded up ready for our first day of hiking and what an introduction to hiking in Torres del Paine it was to be!

Though most start with the hike to the most famous peaks in the park, we opted to save the most challenging hike to the end (a decision which proved to be a real savior).  Instead, we broke in our feet on what for most people is day two of the W trek – Refugio Las Torres to Refugio Los Cuernos, only we continued walking to Campamento Italiano (an additional 4.5km) because the refugio was closed for reservations.  Though it meant a night of camping and a longer day on our feet, it also meant we had an easier day following which was greatly appreciated.

The hike itself as the definition of ‘Patagonian flat’ – a term that we were to become very familiar with.  The terrain in Torres del Paine switches between undulating hills and rugged mountains, very seldom flattening out, hence this term was coined – it’s never really flat but it’s about as flat as you could hope for in this area.  Though the hills were at times challenging, they always resulted in the most gorgeous viewpoints out over Lago Nordenskiöld, many of which left us stuck in our tracks.

Though there were a number of unrelenting hills, the hike itself was absolutely manageable, even for myself (and I’m a bit of a couch potato).  It was long and by the 15th kilometre there was no doubt both Nathan and I were dragging our feet but without doubt, it was worth every step.

With water glowing turquoise, a surprisingly still morning treating us to the best Patagonian weather we could ever hope for and not a soul to be seen, it was clear that we’d made the right decision in visiting the area during shoulder season.  At the season’s peak, we’ve been told that hikers dot the landscape like ants, at times following one another practically shoulder to shoulder.  By comparision, at times it literally felt like we had the park to ourselves, literally crossing paths with only two other sets of people on the way to our next stop for the night.

When you’re visiting paradise, it’s an amazing feeling to have it to yourselves.

Distance covered:  From Refugio Las Torres to Refugio Los Cuernos (12km) and Refugio Los Cuernos to Camp Italiano (4.5km).  Total 16.5km (or 17km allowing for photo ops).

Accommodation:  Camp Italiano.  This site is available free of charge (but reservations are required in advance) and guests are only able to stay for one night.  Services are limited but there is a small shelter that can be used to cook meals and long-drop toilets (that were surprisingly tidy).  To stay at Camp Italiano, you’ll need to carry your own gear in (tent, sleeping mats, sleeping bags, food, cooker etc) but if you can handle carrying your gear (or, if you’re more organised than us, ChileTour  Patagonia can organise a porter to help carry to load), it’s an adventure worth having.

Running water isn’t available at the campsite but there’s a gorgeous river running right past so there’s no shortage of agua for guests, you’ll just need to clamber down to get it!

Camping in the shoulder season was much more comfortable than we had expected.  With sub-zero temperatures and no ability to take a hot shower, we half expected to freeze but with quality sleeping bags from ChileTour, we were pleasantly surprised.  I wouldn’t go as far as to describe our sleep as a comfortable one but our newfound hiking friend, Thomas, slept like a baby so it’s definitely possible.

Hint #2:  Minimise what you carry wherever possible – every extra ounce will feel like much more after 15km+ of hiking!  Use a fleece or your bag as a pillow and be prepared to wear clothes again and again – your back will thank you for it as the hike goes on.

Whilst in Torres del Paine, expect to encounter a wide range of weather – from glorious sunshine to massive wind and snow, we experienced it all.  It’s an incredible place though and well worth putting the time into exploring; just ensure you’re prepared.

With day one under our belts, we mentally prepared ourselves for the French Valley (and what is known as being the second most challenging hike on the circuit).

How’d we find it?  Stay tuned for our next post!


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Torres del Paine's W Trek is a popular hiking route around Chile's best national park. Don't start at the 'Base of the Towers' though - we've figured out a better way to plan your active holiday. Camping guide, route info and pro tips included too!Is camping in Torres del Paine, Patagonia a good idea in the off season? Find out what we thought of our experience camping on the tail-end of winter. Itinerary guide and our first thoughts are included too.

Thank you to ChileTour Patagonia for hosting us on the first leg of our W adventure; as always, all thoughts are our own.  

Map credit:  Fantasticosur

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