As it turned out, the weather did not prove a problem at all. We had glorious sunshine most days with a terrifying insight into the “real” Patagonia weather on the 5th day - aforementioned horizontal rain and winds – although luckily we had finished the trek by that stage
. But even with the weather on our side, the trek was much
tougher than I had imagined. The scale and difficulty of the walk was bad enough – the W trek winds in a 'W’ shape around the mountain range of the national park, covering grassy plains at the base, craggy peaks at the top and finishing at Glacier Grey. But in a moment of economising madness, we had also decided to self-cater – so both James and I were carrying our big rucksacks laden with supplies, cooking equipment, sleeping bags etc... The first day we were dropped off by the bus at the park entrance with the promise of around 2.5h walk until our first refugio – wooden lodges where we had booked a bunk bed each. That first day we covered 9km – all uphill and often without proper trails. As I hawled myself up yet another rock the size of a small elephant, I repeated the mantra “Wine tasting. Wine tasting in Mendoza”!
There were some incredible moments: climbing up the Valle del Francés to catch sight of the glacier surrounded by snow-capped peaks accompanied by the rumbling of avalanches that sounded and felt on top of us; eating dinner from our little camping stove sat next to the milky turquoise glacial lake as huge icebergs floated by. And the feeling once we had completed the trek was incredible (with a palpable sense of relief as well as achievement!)
To do the hike, we based ourselves in a little town called Puerto Natales on the Chilean side of the border
. While both Puerto Natales and el Calafate are major bases for hiking, there are marked differences between the two. While Calafate has set itself up as a perfect tourist mecca, complete with organic cafés and all kinds of outdoor wear shops, Puerto Natales still has a feel of a little fishing village that has been surprised by sudden tourist interest. James and I actually preferred it to Calafate – quieter and more interesting. And also Puerto Natales has the best city mascot either of us have ever seen – the Milodón, a prehistoric giant sloth whose remains were found nearby. Have a look at the pictures – it looks like a cross between a bear and a brontosaurus.
Next we’re off to El Chalten. As gluttons for punishment, it’s another hiking mecca. But James has assured me this time I will only be wearing a small daypack and there will be no bed-bug-riddled bunk beds in sight! Oh, and then we’re off to Bariloche and Mendoza for some much more civilised tourism!
Tip of the day: How to spot a “Serious” Hiker
Wears Gore-Tex, regardless of the weather or occasion.
Gains enjoyment from experiences most of us would shy away from: 5am starts, eating tasteless rice from a rusty saucepan, being battered by violent rain (cf paragraph 1)
Is not to be trusted - hikers will regularly try and trick you: “oh, it’s about 20 minutes in that direction” when it’s at least 2 hours. Probably uphill.
Are disdainful about any creature comforts, however essential. I needed my moisturiser, ok???
James asked me to add that he usually responds to “Graham Miller” – as yet unconfirmed!
I should have known something was afoot when James and I spoke to a couple who had just returned from doing the W trek in Torres del Paine national park – a trek we were due to start the following day. When I asked – with a worried look – how the weather had been (we'd heard stories of 100km/h winds and vertical sheeting rain) they replied "oh, you have to have a bit of extreme weather. Otherwise why do it?" Battling monstrous weather was not on my mind when we decided to complete the trek - I was thinking more of breath-taking views and incredible wildlife – and given the trek covers 75km of mountainous terrain over five days, I was already slightly nervous about the challenge we had taken on!