Trekking the W

Trip Start Sep 30, 2011
Trip End Dec 13, 2011

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Where I stayed
Refugio Grey
Refugio Torres Torres del Paine
Read my review - 4/5 stars
Refugio Pudeto
What I did
Torres del Paine W trek

Flag of Chile  , Patagonia,
Saturday, October 1, 2011

Jessie and I ventured deeper into Patagonia to one of the most beautiful areas I have ever visited. Parque Nacional Torres del Paine is in Chile centered between Puerto Natales (Chile) and El Calafate (Argentina).  The park is 242,242 hectares and is dominated by the granite towers forming the Paine Massif mountain range.   There are many hiking trails in the park including the popular route known as the "W" which we spent four days hiking. 

                We took a 5:00 am bus from Calafate through the Patagonian Steppe country to the Torres.  It was a spectacular trip with the soft morning light glazing off the perfect blue lakes and rolling hills dotted with sheep, guanaco, rheas and flamingos.  It was one of those trips where you would give anything to stop and take a photo, but our shuttle was on a schedule so we drove on leaving me with nothing but the memories.   

                We crossed into Chile at a tiny border post literally planted in the middle of a sheep pasture.   Due to border regulations we were only able to bring dried food across to Chile.  Not to worry though, we were told that we could purchase groceries for our hike at the first town on the Chilean side.  They were wrong.  We bought chocolate and cookies.  This misunderstanding lent heavily to our current inability to stomach sweets.

                It was a quick trip from the border to the entrance of the park.  We spent that first afternoon driving through the park by bus.  Normally we are hesitant in joining these types of tours, but the views from the bus were breathtaking.  We drove along Lago Nordenskjold and Lago Pehoe stopping constantly to photograph the rugged peaks as they played hide and seek from behind the clouds.  At the end of the tour the bus dropped us off at park headquarters promising to be back to pick us up in four days.  

We walked the 7.5 km to the campground at Refugio Las Torres.  As promised the refugios provided clean camp spots, meals (very expensive) and hot showers.  We were most excited about the hot showers because we had been camping for some time without any water.   As the sun went down it glistened on the torres high above us.  That night we eat at the refugio and were treated to a spectacular three course meal with water chilled in wine glasses.  Due to our early arrival (tourist season is just starting in Chile and Argentina) we were the only guests for dinner.   Although it was a little awkward Jessie and I felt pretty spoiled and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Early the next morning we took off for the Torres.  The hike was unbelievable.  The last hour of the hike is straight up the icy face of a mountain.   It was here that Jessie and I decided the park should not be called Torres del Paine, but instead Tour of Pain.  Once we arrived at the top the view was incredible.  The torres were partially hidden by fog, but it gave them a mystical appeal.  At the base of the torres was a frozen lake fed by Glaciar Torres.   From here we hiked back down to our first camp site and made some dried soup using our handy little pop-can stove. 

The second day was a little rainy and overcast and we ended up hiking about 30 kilometers.  From Refugio Las Torres we hiked to Refugio Paine Grande with a quick little hike up Valle del Frances.  Next we hiked up to Refugio Grey where we were greeted with free hot chocolate and spectacular views of Glaciar Grey.  We were told that this glacier is part of the Patagonian Ice Field, one of three ice fields remaining in the world.  From the refugio we hiked a few hours along Lago Grey to check out the glacier.  It was huge, extending as far as we could see.  Although we couldn't get down to the glacier because of cliffs along the base I am sure that it was several stories thick.  That night we ate at Refugio Grey and were treated to another excellent meal and the company of a fantastic Chilean family visiting from Santiago. 

Our last day was a down pour we hiked back down to Refugio Paine Grande (with much pain?) and arrived dripping wet.  Unfortunately the staff there were not very friendly and Jessie and I were not treated to any steaming hot Chocolate and instead waited in the cold kitchen for a boat to take us back across Lago Pehoe to a transfer bus to the park headquarters. 

At the park headquarters we boiled some water in the parking lot and cooked up the last of our dried provisions.  While we were eating a condor flew into a rock outcropping in an attempt to escape the rain.  Although I had seen condors soaring high above me throughout the trip, this was my best view.  I was ecstatic!  Poor Jessie had to deal with me… 

Late afternoon the bus returned as promised and drove us back to El Calafate.  We arrived at about midnight and put up our tent.  The next morning we bought bus tickets to head north….  Off to warmer weather!
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