Look at any lists for best multi day treks in the world and Torres del Paine is pretty much a certainty to appear. It is single handily responsible for bringing me this far south and indeed convincing me to come to South America in the first place. Expectations were high.
I arrived in Puerto Natales the base town with which to gather together the gear required and make any last minute plans. It’s a nice town, which unlike El Calafate is not a tourist town but rather a town with some tourists. I met Nicholas at the hostel, who was also looking to do the same route as me and as can only happen when you are traveling, we agreed to share a tent after a couple of minutes talking.
The following day we boarded an early morning bus and headed to the national park. After a couple of hours and a brief stop at the park headquarters, the bus dropped us off at a glorious lake. From here we would take a boat to the start of the hike, but there was just about enough time to drop the bags, race up the hill, take a photo of a waterfall and run back down again. The wind was strong and holding the camera steady was tough. It was a sign of things to come. We then boarded the boat and after an hour arrived at Paine Grande.
From Paine Grande it was a three hour hike up to our campsite at Refugio Grey. It was pretty cloudy and the wind was very strong. So strong in fact that at exposed points it was tough to stay in one spot. The views though were great. The hike took us right up to glacier Grey, which backs onto the Patagonian ice field. It’s so big that Puerto Moreno, which I’d been at a few days earlier in Argentina is also a part of it.
The glacier was impressive and upon dumping our bags we made our way five minutes down hill to get a closer look. There we found a kind of beach area with all number of sizes of icebergs. It wasn’t a place for skimming stones, but instead a place for seeing how many icebergs you could jump a stone off before hitting water.
We then returned to the campsite and set up. We were cheating a little. We rented the tents from the refugios, rather than carrying one ourselves. For a couple of pounds more, it was an excellent decision. We did, however, carry the sleeping bag, roll mat and food for breakfast and lunch. Nicholas also carried dinner, but I couldn’t help but be tempted by a more substantial meal in the evenings, so bought into dinner at the refugios. Again it was a great choice. Three course meals everyday and on the first night I would meet Jono, Matilda and Benjamin and we formed a little group, passing each other along the trail and meeting up in the evenings.
The next day, we went a little higher for some more great views of glacier Grey, before heading back down towards Paine Grande.
The sky was clearer and gave excellent views. so good in fact that I actually carried on a little further along the trail past Paine Grande so that I could see some more of the views, fearing that the weather might turn not be as agreeable in the morning.
Paine Grande was another nice lodge, but far more exposed and the wind was strong. So strong, that it would pick up the water from the lake some hundred meters away and throw it over our tent. That didn’t make for a great night sleep.
Day three was a big day. we hit the trail nice and early and made it to camp Italiano in good time. There, quite a bit ahead of Nicholas who had picked up an injury on day one and had become noticeably slower, I dropped my bag and walked up the Valle del Frances. Often stated as the highlight of the trek, I was a little concerned as the weather was not in a great place. Visibility was low. As I continued to climb, it started to snow and the forrest’s path was soon lost.
A last big effort and I got there. The wind was unbelievably strong and standing was nigh on impossible, however the view was magical. Being the only one up there in a gale, with snow falling was incredible and a moment I will not forget anytime soon. Unfortunately, I could only stay up there so long until I began to freeze, so I had to return earlier than I would have liked.
That said the descent was nice as the clouds continued to clear, great views emerged down the valley.
From there I picked up my bag and continued along to Refugio Los Cuernos. The landcape began to change completely here as the path ran alongside the lake. If it was not for the wind, it would have felt more like the the Mediterranean than Patagonia! That evening we met Alex and Louise as well as Matt and Erin who again would be frequent faces on the trail.
Los Cuernos should have been great, however, it was here that the winds were at their absolute worse. Going up to 80km an hour, it was impossible to sleep. The wind sounded like a train racing towards the tent and then when it hit – well it just ploughed through. It was an awful night.
From Los Curernos, we then walked a fairly boring leg up to Refugio Chileno. By the lake part in particular, there was a number of times, where I would have to crouch down on the ground and still I would be moved half a meter to the left. The sprray coming off the water was insane and created continuous rainbows.
There were blue skies though and that meant that upon arrival a few of us decided to carry on up another hour and a half to Los Torres rather than risk not seeing them the following day. It was worth it. There was barely anyone up there and the views were superb.
After a slightly better night sleep, we all awoke at 4am in the morning and began a night ascent back up to Los Torres. It went fairly quickly and we arrived far to early. If everyone goes to plan, the towers at Los Torres turn red, which is supposed to be one of the highlights of the trip. With sunrise well underway not a lot was happening.
A wonderful end to a fantastic trip. From there we picked up our bags and had a gentle downhill, where we flaked out on the grass waiting for the bus back to Puerto Natales. It had been an incredible five days and I was quite sad to be leaving the park. The walking was excellent and the views so varied and never a disappointment. For all of the anticipation, this did not disappoint and in many ways exceeded expectations