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Torres Del Paine - Our five day trek through Patagonia

CHILE | Sunday, 9 January 2011 | Views [3608] | Comments [2]

After El Chalten we headed to El Calafate to see Perito Moreno, the famous glacier in the area. We’d already gotten a recommendation from the couple we met in El Chalten who said that the best way to enjoy the glacier was with a bottle of wine and some snacks. The buses that run to the glacier drop you off and leave you there for 5 hours so you have plenty of time to hang out. You can move around to the different viewing platforms to watch the huge chunks of ice fall of the glacier. Every time a new piece of ice falls it sounds like thunder because the pieces are so massive and fall from so high. The size of the wave created when the ice falls in the water gives you an idea of how big the piece of ice is.

We spent one day in El Calafate just hanging out at the hostel so I could finish up some work for my TEFL-C certification. During the day we met 4 French girls who were also just hanging out at the hostel and cooking. Later in the evening they told us that they were street performers and they make money by dressing up like clowns and putting on shows! Next thing we knew, they were all in full costume and playing instruments. We had to get a picture with them…

For those of you who keep up with the blog, you know that we were planning to celebrate the New Year out on our 5 day trek through Torres del Paine. As usual we were running a few days behind schedule, so we didn’t make it out to the park in time. Instead we had our celebration in the little town right outside of Torres called Puerto Natales. The bars in this town don’t open until around 12:30/1, making it hard to have a traditional celebration right at midnight. We found a little restaurant where we had some salmon and Austral beers and got to watch the countdown on their flat screen TV. Once it was the New Year, the waiter came around with champagne and another traditional cocktail for everyone at the restaurant. It was not quite as impressive as last year’s celebration in LA’s Bonaventure Hotel, but it was nice. After the restaurant a few of the bars had finally opened up, so we stopped off at one dive bar playing 80’s music for a few more drinks and some dancing. It’s incredible how late people do simple things like dinner and going out, especially in Argentina. Dinner happens around 10/11 and then the party starts around 12/1.

We had saved New Year’s day to finish all of our little errands before our trek. Neither Brett nor I thought about the fact that most places are closed on holidays, so we were scrambling to find open shops to get groceries, propane and clean laundry. We still didn’t have anything that we could take with us for lunch and we didn’t want to have to buy groceries at refugios inside the park, because we knew how expensive it would be. As we walked through the city we came across about 15 little markets that were all closed and we were so happy when we finally came across a carniceria that was open. We got some bread and chorizo sausage to make sandwiches with. We bought 10 sausages for $3. A really good deal, but not the best sausage. I was so disappointed when we made sandwiches on the first day and realized how terrible the chorizo was, but on the second day they tasted much better! It’s amazing how hiking for 7 hours a day can change your appetite!

To get out to the trail, we had to take a 4 hour bus and a 30 minute catamaran ride to get to Refugio Grey. We chose to complete the W circuit going from West to East, so at about 1pm that afternoon we set out on the first stem of the W, up toward Glacier Grey. I want to clarify some details about this trek just so that everyone is clear about what this hike is all about. We carried our tent, entire food supply, stove, clothes, Brett’s water bottle full of Rum and my giant novel (the one that I never even got the chance to read) for 5 days. The whole hike is about 80 km in total. Needless to say, I wasn’t sure that I was going to make it all the way through day 5 without showering and just living in the wild. Being the good girlfriend that I am and a small bribe from Brett convinced me to take on the challenge. ;)

The first day we walked from 1pm to 7pm. We took a lot of breaks along the way because carrying a huge pack and walking all day gets tiring! A few kilometers in, the huge glacier and the lake that it created came into view. It was incredible! The lakes created by glaciers are the most unusual milky, light blue color. They get the white tint from the minerals from the glacier that are still suspended by the particles of water. Really, all over Patagonia we have seen the most incredibly colored bodies of water.

There is a refugio at the top of stem 1, but we’d decided to go a little further to the free campsite, Las Guardas, that sits on a cliff right above the glacier. As the day went on and I got tired of walking, I attempted to convince Brett that we should just stay at the refugio. He assured me that it would be worth it, so we kept on walking. The last stretch of trail between the refugio and our camp was the most difficult of the day. There was a lot of steep climbing and one small glacial stream to cross. We made it there just in time to be greeted by swarms of little flies, so we cooked dinner very carefully under the cover of our tent. After dinner we walked up to the mirador where we got a stretching view of the massive glacier. The up-close view of the glacier was worth the extra walking we had to do to get there!

On this hike we slept so much at night and woke up to stiff bodies. I’m used to exercise, but aside from this trip I’ve never walked so much in my entire life so my body felt it at the end of the day. Plus, it changes everything when you’re carrying weight on your back. My body was feeling much older than it is with all the aches and pains.

We set out the next day and ready to make it to the free campamento, Italiano, right at the start of stem 2. Day two went by much easier. We were walking faster and taking fewer breaks. If Brett would have been hiking on his own, he certainly could have made much better time. I take a lot more breaks and since I walk slower, he lets me walk in front just to be nice. We settled into a good rhythm and made it to Italiano pretty easily within 7 ½ hours. By the time we arrived, there were already a lot of tents set up but we found a nice, slightly secluded area to set up our tent. Our dinner menu on the hike was slightly limited as we only had pasta, but this too was delicious after a day of walking!

We attended an information session about the trek at Erratic Rock, one of the hostels in Puerto Natales. The talk was helpful and it was here that we were told that the 2nd stem of the hike, Valle de Frances, is the jewel of the entire park. Because of this, we were extra excited as we stepped out on our third day. The first site that we came to was a glacier hanging from one of the mountains. This glacier, like Perito Moreno, had ice breaking off of it causing huge, thundering echoes throughout the entire valley. We chose a place for lunch with a good view of the glacier so we could see all the avalanche-like ice breaking off. As we went further, the famous granite towers came into view and we were surrounded on all sides by beauty.

The walk back down the Valley was downhill and quick. When we got back we pack up our stuff and headed to our next destination, Refugio Los Cuernos. The trail went right along the huge Lake Nordenskjöld. As we were about an 1 ½ out, the wind picked up and made it hard to walk straight without being blown to the side. This is when we plugged in our Ipods and powered through the last bit of trail.

The refugio was packed with tents! We walked and walked and couldn’t find anywhere to put our tent. After searching we were forced to lower our standards and found a plot of uneven ground right by the lake where the wind was the strongest. It was a struggle, but we got the tent set up and cooked up another delicious pasta dinner in the comfort of our tent.

Somehow Brett and I got on the schedule of starting our hikes relatively late in the morning. We usually got started by 11am and it was no different on the morning of the fourth day. Because we were camping in a refugio, there were showers so I decided to take advantage of it and shower off a little. It was nice, but we didn’t have shampoo so I had to save the hair washing for when we got back.

On the fourth day there were rivers to cross, but no bridges. Some people took off their boots and put on water shoes and some (like us) just went for it and jumped from rock to rock until we were on the other side. Along the way was a shortcut onto the 3rd stem that we’d decided to take to prevent us from having to hike into the crowds of people near Hotel Las Torres.  From the shortcut on, we were doing pretty steady climbing uphill for the rest of the day. By the end, my legs were shaky and Brett’s boots had rubbed pretty serious blisters into his feet. We were relieved when we showed up to the free Campamento Torres. This was definitely the nicest place we camped during the entire trek and only about an hour from the mirador of the granite towers.

People come to this site because it’s so close to the towers and if you get up at 4am then you can hike up in time for sunrise. On special days the sky and the towers both take on a pink color right when the sun hits them. We’d been planning for this the entire time, so we got up bright and early the following morning and packed up our stove and sleeping bags so we could relax once we got there and make breakfast. It was pitch black when we crept out of our tents and began the rock scramble up to the lookout. As it got lighter outside, we could see that the sky was full of clouds and there was a lot of wind. Despite this, we decided to continue on. There was a crowd when we arrived and most of nice places to sit were already taken, but the view of the granite towers and the lake below was incredible! I think the clouds that had settled on top of the towers made the whole scene look even more beautiful. We didn’t end up getting the clear day and the pink towers but it was definitely worth the climb and the battle against the wind to make it to the top. Brett and I found a boulder to sit on and boiled water for our coffee with difficulty. It took about 20 minutes to get hot water with all the wind, but we made it happen. Just as we’d mixed up our coffee, a big gust of wind picked up and knocked Brett’s coffee onto his pants. Shortly after, our bag of instant milk got blown down into the boulders and we decided that it would be best to wait until we got back to camp to cook up our oatmeal and another pot of coffee.

Knowing that it was our last day of hiking, I was encouraged to hike a little bit faster than usual. This and the fact that most of the last day was downhill, we got down to the bottom in only 3 hours. It felt so good to have finished this five day adventure! When we got back, we had two hours to kill before our bus came to pick us up, so Brett and I and the rest of the people who had just completed the trek sat around outside Hotel Las Torres relaxing and enjoying the feeling of sitting. Eventually we made it back to Puerto Natales and I don’t think I remember a time that I was so excited to take a shower. We celebrated our completion with lomitos (the delicious Chilean sandwich) and a couple of Austral beers. There at the diner, we took in the amazing feeling of accomplishing our 5 day trek.

Day 3

Day 3

Tags: chile, cuernos, hiking, hotel las torres, italiano, los guardos, patagonia, torres del paine, trekking, w circuit




This is like religion except the church is this incredible piece of nature you have discovered....A Freakin MEN!

  Philippe Jan 17, 2011 4:02 AM


What a trek! and Sophia you are a wonderful girlfriend! Brett I know, is very proud of you, there are not many women that want to go 5 days hiking, no shower, sleeping on the ground, sore muscles and limited food..you are a Rockstar Sophia! What fabulous pictures! Makes me happy : )
Love, Gay

  Gay Jan 17, 2011 4:35 AM

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