Trekking the W+ in Torres del Paine (Days 1-3)

Posted by  Daniël Cronk   in  ,      9 years ago     1556 Views     Comments Off on Trekking the W+ in Torres del Paine (Days 1-3)  

Located at the far reaches of the earth lies Patagonia. An intense, windswept region teeming with gorgeously dramatic mountains, enormous glaciers, vibrant lakes, glacial rivers and of course, strong Patagonian winds. Patagonian winds that are so strong that often leave living fauna bent into submission. The region of Patagonia, shared by both Chile & Argentina, covers an area of approximately 648,137 mi2 (1,043,076 km2). Within this grand region, lies one of Chile’s star attractions – Torres del Paine National Park.

Torres del Paine centers around an offshoot of the Andes Mountains, known as the Cordillera del Paine, which arguably is the star attraction of the park. The park lies some 70 miles (112 km) from the town of Puerto Natales. Established as one of Chile’s first major national parks in 1959, as Parque Nacional de Turismo Lago Grey. Later in 1970, was renamed Parque Nacional Torres del Paine and became a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in 1978. The park encompasses some 598,553 acres and is one of the most popular hiking destinations in Chile and the world.

Torres del Paine offers the visitor clearly marked paths following two major routes. The first, shorter trek, known as the “W” or the complete “circuit” which forms a circle around the park and includes the “W” trek.  Both treks offer the visitor stunningly beautiful scenery filled with the mountains, horns & towers of Paine.  Choosing the right path for the trekker is never easy and neither should be taken lightly. Both treks follow clearly marked paths (if you don’t see a marker within 50 meters or so, you have gone off the path; turn around and try again). The best time to visit the park is during the months of late December to late February; though, there is less wind in November and March (or so I’ve been told).

The following is my account of my trek through the park from December 23rd thru December 27th, 2011. I will affectionately refer to this as the W+ Trek.

The W-trek+ in Torres del Paine National Park, 2011

Preparations: I had read numerous accounts from people who had done the trek. There was always a common theme; prepare for extreme weather. Take note, bring gear that is suited for multiple types of weather – rain, heat, wind, snow.  In my preparations, I researched the proper type of tent and gear to take with me. I finally settled on the Marmot Grid Plus, as it provided nice aerodynamics for surviving fierce winds.  I bought a 3-layered coat from the North Face, trekking pants, trekking poles, I had bought & broken in my hiking boots. I was “prepared.” I even worked out which path I thought I would take – the W starting from West to East.

Arriving in Puerto Natales, I made my way to the 15:00 talk that is hosted by Erratic Rock.  Here they talked of the paths, the gear, the food, the lack of wind (an unusually windless summer for Patagonia). I also decided upon altering my path a little bit. Instead of doing just the “W”, I would add on what should have been an extra day; a 5-hour hike from the main Sendero Administration base.

Walking through Puerto Natales, there were numerous shops where you could either buy or rent gear should you need it. I made my way to one of the large grocery stores and bought my food, to last me for my 6 day hike. Bought my open ended bus ticket (CL$15000) to the Park entrance (my guesthouse arranged the transport the day before).

Day 1 23-December-2011
Distance: 17,5 km (10,9 miles)
Time: 5-hours
Route: Administration to Paine Grande Camping

The day began really early with waking up at 6 am. The bus was scheduled to pick up at the guesthouse around 7:30. After a quick breakfast, I loaded up my gear and put the remains of what I did not want to carry with me into storage at my guesthouse. At 7:45 the bus stopped and picked myself as well as about 6 or 7 other people up. Then we were on our way to the park. A gorgeous bus ride, provided you with mountains all around. Lupine in various colors dotted the road side. The weather – clear and sunny. The sun – hot & hot.  After about 1,5 hours on the bus we arrived at the entrance to the park, near the Laguna Amarga sector. Here we paid the entrance fee (CL$15,000). From here hikers can either disembark and take a shuttle to starting point at Hosteria Las Torres or continue on to Lago Pehoe where you can take a ferry to Paine Grande or continue all the way to the Administration. The ride through the park provided a number of awesome views of both Las Torres and Los Cuernos. Guanacos and ñandus dotted the landscape in the areas just outside of the parks boundary’s. Although I did not plan to take the ferry, the cost was _______. After 2-hours the bus arrived at the Administration and the remaining (5, including myself) got off the bus. After a quick adjustment I proceeded to begin my hike. There was a light wind and the skies were clear; excellent conditions for both a hike and sunburn. “It puts the lotion on or it gets the hose again!”

Las Torres as seen from the bus while heading back to Laguna Amarga

Los Cuernos - Torres del Paine

High on a hill was a lonely guanaco, Lay ee odl lay ee odl lay hee hoo

Side Note: To get to the beginning of the trail (while looking at the administration building), walk to the right, along the white fence to you get to the “road”. Take a left and then immediate right. Walk about 5-10 minutes and soon you will see the beginning of the Sendero (trail). For the first couple of hours, you are provided with gorgeous views of the Cuernos (horns) of Paine. Though there is a giant hill obscuring the best views, with the lake. The path is mostly flat and follows the river for much of the way. After 3 or 4 hours you enter the “rolling” zone. Here you go up a bit, come down a bit and walk alongside the hills. At this point, the clouds started to move in and the wind picked up. At one point, while I was walking about 30 minutes from the “mirador”, it got so windy that I was nearly blown over; this while carrying my 55 lb (25 kg) pack. The views of the Cuernos across the emerald/saphine blue/green lake were just gorgeous! Though I was a little disappointed that much of the hike today had been clear and sunny; and of course, now was cloudy and grey. Still very memorable. Soon it was time to do the first hike up, up. Though not a big uphill battle, carry the pack proved a little challenging. At last the Paine Grande Camping site came into view. The challenge at this point was getting down. The path had changed to a dramatically narrow path down what looked like slate rock. One bad step and I knew I would be in big trouble. On the ground I was elated. My feet hurt a little, but I was in good spirits. I setup my tent, paid my fee (CL$4500) and made dinner. After dinner I had a quick hot shower and then laid down. It was going to be an early rise tomorrow for sure. The winds at this point were howling, and around 22:00 it began to rain. Not just rain, but poured. I had survived my first day in Patagonia. What would tomorrow bring?

Patagonian bird

Los Cuernos - Torres del Paine

Day 2 24-December-2011
Distance: 11 km (6,8 miles)
Time: 4,5-hours
Route: Paine Grande to Refugio Lago Gray

As an early riser, I was up by 4:45 am. I was greeted with a somewhat mixed cloudy/sunny sunrise. I took the opportunity to scale back up the ledge and over the hill towards the Mirador. At this point the wind was very strong and there were scattered moments of light rain. As the sun rose a light ray of pinkish orange shone down upon the Cuernos. Gorgeous. After an hour or so I headed back, packed up and was on the trail by 6:00 am. The day was beginning to clear some and was set to be a “nice” day. So early in the morning I was the only person on the trail. It was a nice semi-easy trail. Not too many really big up and down climbs; though there were a couple of very interesting points where you had to climb down rock faces that had almost carved steps in them.  The views of the Gray Glacier were stupendous and I was a little bit sad that there wasn’t more sun out. I made a number of stops along the way for photographing things. Though, truth be told, along Lago Gray the wind was extremely intense and I was almost blown over a number of times.  Right around the point of the mirador I began to feel the blisters on my feet. I could literally feel the toenails expanding as the blisters underneath wanted to break through. I had thought I had broken in my hiking boots well, but, there’s only so much one can break them in on when you live in a flat area. 

Sunrise over lago Pehoe

Flora of Patagonia

I arrived at the Refugio, with full plans to go all the way to the camping point an hour further upstream, but just couldn’t get my feet to move any more. I took this as a sign and setup my camp in the camping area. I layer down in my tent for an hour and when I woke up the sun was out. I took the short trail down to see the glacier, which was awesome. Although this was not my first glacier, it was still a sight to behold. Simply amazing.

Panorama Glacier Grey

Glacier Grey

I spent much of the afternoon contemplating my location. Was I really here? It was something I had been planning for so long that I had to pinch myself (as if the blisters weren’t enough to tell me I was).

Day 3 25-December-2011 - Christmas Day
Distance: 33,6 km (20,9 miles)
Time: approximately 7 hours
Route: Refugio Lago Gray to Campamento Italiano and through the Valle Francés

I had taken a number of NSAIDs the night before to help with any muscle soreness, so I awoke with renewed vigor.  I packed up and was on the trail by 6:00 am. As I had done this trail the previous day in the opposite direction, I knew what to expect. The weather was much nicer today, full sun; though the glacier was still in shadow because of the Paine Massif blocking the rays from striking the full glacier. There was very little wind this today. I could feel my toenails once again blistering and releasing the stress from underneath.

A hanging glacier on the Paine Massif

I arrived at the Paine Grande Refugio after just 3 hours of hiking. Much quicker than yesterday for sure (it helps when you don’t stop every 20 feet to take pictures ;-))  I refreshed myself for a couple of minutes, refilled my water bottle and headed out for the “short” hike to Campamento Italiano. This part of the trek is rated as “easy;” and it was, it was a nice easy hike. It took about 2,3 hours, though the last part was a bit of a challenge as it was quite hot out (I estimated it to be about 75°F/24°C). Though not “hot” in the true sense, when you’re carrying a pack it sure feels much hotter.  I arrived at Campamento Italiano around 11:30 am and set up my tent. I marveled at how few “flat” places there were. Since my feet ached, I found the first open place and setup shop. Of course, it did not look as inclined as it turned out to be. But I was too tired too care. I had a quick lunch (tuna fish sandwhich and crackers) and took a nap, which lasted about 2 hours. When I woke up, it was about 2:00 pm and since the days are quite long, I took this as a sign to hike through the French (Frances) Valley. It was a nice hike, though arduous at times. It was mostly up. Though not just up, it was up climbing over large boulders at times. I was amazed. But once I reached Campamento Britanico I was amazed at the views of the hanging glacier on the Paine Massif and the stupendous, closeup views of the Cuernos. Probably one of the best parts of the trek, thus far.

Walking away from the Paine Massif

Closeup of the Cuernos from the Valle de Francés

Closeup of the Cuernos from the Valle de Francés


I am very passionate about traveling. My goal is to visit as many places and experience as many things as I can during my short journey on this earth.