Nobody really knows. Either way, I was going there no matter what the cost as I had heard so much about it from fellow travellers and it is something of a Mecca for hardcore trekkers and Bear Grylls types, such as myself, the world over.
The national park centres around a small mountain range that is separate from the Andes and which has formed some truly spectacular mountains and strange rock formations due to the granite being pushed up from the earth over millions of years. Although the mountains and the sheer granite walls are the superstars of the park, the whole place is simply beautiful with countless streams, rivers, waterfalls and lakes scattered everywhere and plenty of glaciers, both on the mountains and one enormous monstrosity blocking off one of the larger lakes which was very impressive.
So even when walking between the main sights of the park, the paths were always great and went though forests and moorland and up hills and all sorts. The trek that I did was quite a popular one, called the ´W´after the shape it takes through the park. As the paths were well marked and there were plenty of people around I was able to trek alone, although by the end I was pretty familiar with everyone on the same route as me as you see all the same people each night at the campsites and on the paths during the day.
I was trekking for 5 days and camping for 4 nights and I had to carry everything on my back: tent, sleeping bag, clothes, jacket, food for 5 days, all of my cooking gear and gas as well so it added up to a lot of weight (around 18kg). In total I walked for just under 90km over the 5 days which isn't so much in that period of time but the sheer weight of everything was very difficult to cope with and it became very hard at points. Fortunately I could do something about this by eating a lot, and fast! It was pretty good to actually need to eat a lot of sugar all throughout and I was only too happy to oblige!
The first night I camped about the huge Glacier Grey which stretches in an enormous ice field as far as the eye can see and has a huge sheer wall of ice as its face, from which you could watch pieces of ice breaking off into the lake. The second day was the longest, having to walk for about 8 hours around Paine Grande, the largest mountain in the park, and up to the bottom of the central valley of the Rio Frances. The third day was the best since I didn´t have to carry all of my stuff up the valley since I was coming back past my campsite. I walked right the way up to the top of the central valley from where you have amazing views of the whole range of strange mountains surrounding you in a crescent shape and all the while walking alongside the raging river that flows from all of the glaciers.
The wonderful thing about the place was that all of the streams come directly from the glaciers meaning that not only is the water all drinkable but that it comes very nicely chilled and is some of the best you can find anywhere in the world. Having returned to camp I walked around the ´Cuernos´ which are the famous peaks of the park with turret-like shapes on top and sheer walls of rock below. On the fourth day I had to walk around to the far side of the park to see the famous ´Torres´, three vertical towers of granite standing tall over a colourful lake. Slightly obscured by the cloud but they were still quite impressive. I was told that the thing to do is to get up at 4am to see them on the final morning but I could just hear rain on my tent at that time so I decided a much better idea was to go back to sleep.
Having finally reached the park entrance on day 5 I wearily climbed back on the bus to puerto Natales and got back to my hostel there just in time for some caipirinhas and guitar playing from a cheery Brazilian guy in my hostel which was very welcome! No time for a rest unfortunately (and rather stupidly) as I headed on the following day.
Having rushed through Puerto Natales (a fairly nondescript town that´s used as a jumping-off point for the nearby national park) and rented lots of camping gear and enough porridge and pasta to feed me for a week, I jumped on the bus to head to Torres del Paine, the crown jewel of the Chilean tourism industry. The exact meaning of ´Torres del Paine´was lost many centuries ago and even now scholars debate fiercely over its origins, some saying it is so called for the tests of endurance it puts its visitors through and the unstable weather conditions that exist there, others believing that it is actually just the spanish for ´Granite Towers´.