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