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!
Off to Patagonia? Pin this post!
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