Trekking The “W” In Torres Del Paine
To celebrate the end of my study abroad experience in Valparaíso, Chile, my best friend and I decided to head to the end of the world and try our luck in El Parque Nacional Torres del Paine. We allotted a week and a half to get down there, do the trek and have some wiggle room should anything go wrong.
I spent a lot of time reading about the park, the trek, and asking people about their experience down there and if they had any tips. However, I got down there feeling like I still didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into, and to be honest, after all our travel mishaps I was getting a little nervous.
Fortunately, the people of Puerto Natales (the town where we got the bus to Torres del Paine, and where I recommend you spend a night and a day to prepare) are extremely kind, helpful and used to unprepared idiots like myself coming through. This is why, at least I assume, Erratic Rock, a hostel run by a man from Oregon, has a “3 pm talk” in the rental shop, Base Camp. This young, American guy gave our talk and cleared up any doubts I had about our impending journey.
Such as, your rain cover for your pack will NOT work because the winds can get up to 180km/hr in the park. Nobody had told me that before, go figure. The solution to this problem is to line your pack with a garbage bag, put all of your food in garbage bags, and your clothes inside ziplock bags, inside of the lined pack. We were fortunate enough to not encounter any rain, but we used all of these anti-water measures just in case.
There are many routes you can take, and the one we decided upon eliminates the 11,000 peso catamaran ride across Lago Pehoé but does add an extra day of hiking.
I also picked up other great tips like, have one set of dry clothes and one set of wet clothes in order to always have something dry to put on at the end of the day under your Gortex rain gear (which you shouldn’t wear while hiking because it prevents sweat from evaporating).
We stayed at a hostel called Kewskar, “the backpackers shall inherit the earth” run by this ultra hippie Omar, who was just the sassiest but greatest person. I highly recommend this hostel. It was filled with people who were also gearing up to hike the W, or the longer circuit that goes around the park, and it was nice to compare tips and gear, and to share food. Omar also knows everyone in town so he will be sure to give you really vague, Chilean directions, but with the best of intentions. He totally hooked us up when we got back after our trek and didn’t have any room for us by calling around town until he found space for us in a local hostel. We ended up at Erratic Rock, another great find.
We decided to do the W the “un-traditional” route and go from West to East, starting at Administration, instead of the other way round that most guide books recommend. There are many routes you can take, and the one we decided upon eliminates the 11,000 peso catamaran ride across Lago Pehoé but does add an extra day of hiking.
I do recommend trying this route because it takes you into the park across a flat plain with an amazing view of the mountains that you get to see up close later. Friends of mine left the park this way, and it was really hard because all they wanted was a hot shower and all they could see was an endless flat, grassy plain. This part is often referred to as the “tail” of the Circuit, or the Q.
As it turns out CONAF, the environmental agency here more or less, has devious little planners and put all of the free camping sites really far apart. It is possible to get to all of them, but not worth the pain you will put yourself through. As such Allyson and I stayed at a refugio next to Lago Pehoé our first night, which was not too expensive (4,500 pesos per person), but not free either. As we start setting up our tent we realized we had no stakes to keep the tent from flying off into the distance.
Trekking the “W” in Torres del Paine.
So as we put on what I’m sure was a very entertaining show for all of our neighbors trying to hold down the tent and tie it to twigs and shrubs, we realized that we were totally screwed. Allyson finally asked if they had stakes we could use, and all of the workers were sitting around and laughing at us and told us yes, they had stakes but we needed to move the tent closer to the mountain where it was less windy. Gringa point number one. We borrowed the stakes for the rest of the trek, eliminating further circus antics.
I have heard mixed reviews about every part of the park. Some people say go up to Los Guardas when you hike to Glacier Grey, others say it’s not worth it. I mostly recommend doing everything that you have the energy to do, while keeping in mind you have more hiking to do the next day. Instead of hiking up to Los Guardas we stayed at Refugio Grey (another paid site, 3,500 pesos) and hiked around the mirador there for about an hour, which, of course, was breathtaking.
Same thing goes for Valle Francés. I’ve heard it’s the most beautiful hike in the park to go all the way to the last mirador past Campamento Britanico, and while gorgeous, if you don’t have time to do the whole thing you aren’t missing out on the best thing in the park. My recommendation at this part of the trek would be to spend your second night (if going West to East) at Refugio Los Cuernos, which makes the next day up to Campamento Torres a lot shorter (we had an 11 hour day even with the “shortcut”).
This part of the trek is also difficult. Not because it’s a lot of up and down, but rather because it’s in the open part of the park where there was a fire a few years ago.
This part of the trek is also difficult. Not because it’s a lot of up and down, but rather because it’s in the open part of the park where there was a fire a few years ago. This means you are very exposed to the winds coming down off the mountain and up off of the lake (a girl behind us face planted with her backpack on).
My last piece of advice would be to hike up to the mirador at Torres twice if you have the energy. That way you’re guaranteed to see them cleared off at least once. Allyson and I didn’t make it up for the sunrise viewing, but went around 8 am, and that was perfect for us. We missed the sunrise rush, and the post sunrise rush. We had the Torres all to ourselves and it was the perfect way, in my opinion, to end our adventure in the park.
I hope that this information was helpful for you in your planning, or that it encourages you to go and check out the park. It was one of the most beautiful and breathtaking places I have ever been in my life, and I sincerely hope that you all get as much enjoyment out of it as I did. Happy trekking!
Photo credits for Trekking the ‘W’ in Torres del Paine by AMiller.