Patagonia II — Torres del Paine and Santiago
We travel to Patagonia for three weeks of backpacking and climbing.
After trekking around Fitz Roy for several days (Part I) we headed back to Puerto Natales to tackle the W trek at Torres del Paine National Park.
The W Trek — Day 1
We boarded the bus from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine National Park at 8 am. There were wild animals all along the highway. We saw hares, foxes, Chilean flamingos, guanacos and lesser rheas from the bus window.
The weather was excellent when we arrived. We decided to tackle the W from right to left so we could see the Torres del Paine first. We setup camp at Los Torres Campground and hit the trail at around 2 pm.
Our guide book described the trail as an easy to moderate 3 and a half hour hike. Whoever wrote that description must have been thinking of a different trail.
We spent the first two-thirds of the hike fending off aggressive horse flies and trying not to step in horse poop.
The rest of the hike was steep and sustained. We were both having a very difficult time. My left knee was shot from El Chalten and Tomomi’s cardio was being pushed to the limit. Somewhere around the middle we stopped and chatted with a local. Apparently it’s common knowledge that this particular trail is misadvertised as being easy.
The last mile to the summit was by far the hardest. We had to scramble up loose gravel and navigate a sketchy boulder field to get there. I arrived at the summit by myself. In my single minded focus to summit I had left Tomomi behind.
I regret doing that and I should have waited for her. It was really scary sitting there at the summit wondering if she was okay or not. Tomomi arrived about 20–3o minutes later and she was really mad. Rightfully so.
The weather was perfect at the top and we got a clear view of the Torres del Paine. Magnificent granite everywhere. We spent about 30 minutes soaking it all up before we headed back down.
The down hike was the opposite of magnificent. Every step was painful and our pace was glacial. The sun was setting when we arrived back at camp.
The W Trek — Day 2
The next day we walked 12 km (7.5 mi) to Camp Cuernos. It was mostly flat with a few small hills. There were less people and horse flies on the trail that day which was a welcome change.
What these pictures do not show is that I completely lost my composure that day. My knee hadn’t recovered and we still had a lot of distance to cover. I was walking like a snail and cursing at the trail the whole day. I even kicked a few rocks out of anger.
The W Trek — Day 3
We left Camp Cuernos at around 10 am. After several hours of walking we arrived at Camp Italiano. We were told we couldn’t camp without a reservation so we decided to leave our packs at Camp Italiano and checkout Frances Lookout before moving on to Camp Paine Grande.
As we hiked towards Frances Lookout the weather started changing for the worse and we could see some gnarly looking clouds forming in the distance. We didn’t have our rain gear and we didn’t want to get caught so we bailed on Frances Lookout. We hiked back down to Camp Italiano, picked up our packs and got back on the trail.
It was raining gently when we left Camp Italiano. But within a few miles it turned into a blistering hail storm. We were legitimately worried that we might go hypothermic before reaching camp. Our rain gear was soaked and we both felt our core temperature dropping. We tried to look for a tree to hide under but there weren’t any so we just soldiered on.
The storm eventually stopped and we were able to dry out. But as soon we got dry another storm kicked in. This cycle repeated several times throughout the hike. We definitely gained a newfound respect for nature.
Once we got far enough away from Mount Punta Bariloche we were able to see what was causing the storms. The picture below shows clouds crashing into the mountain on one side and causing storms on the other side.
After a few more hours of hiking we finally arrived at Camp Paine Grande. We were ecstatic to have made it in one piece after weathering several storms.
Camp Paine Grande is a robust campground with a dining hall, store, restrooms and showers. There is also a lodge with a restaurant.
We were told to set up our tent close to the mountain because the winds are strong enough to blow away a tent. I’m really glad we listened to them because that night someone’s tent blew away.
The W Trek — Day 4
We took a day trip to see the Grey Glacier. The hike was nice and easy but the wind was even stronger than before. At Grey Glacier lookout you could lean back into the wind and not fall over.
That evening we had a long conversation with a couple from Australia in the middle of a 2-year trip. We were astounded and asked them all sorts of questions. As an American or Japanese the idea of taking a 2-year vacation is unheard of. They told us that they had been saving up for the past 6 years to make this trip happen.
The W Trek — Day 5
On our final day we woke up early and caught the 10 am boat back to Puerto Natales. All we could think about was sleeping somewhere that was impervious to wind.
Before heading back to the states we decided to spend 2 full days in Santiago, Chile because it’s an awesome place. I wanted to get rid of my hair so I had it all cut off at Peluqueria Francesa, the oldest barbershop in Santiago.
Another thing we had to do was to eat a Lomito sandwich. We headed over to Fuente Mardoqueo because we already tried the famous Fuente Alemana on our last trip. These sandwiches are massive and stuffed with avocados, grilled vegetables, pork, cheese and jalapenos.
Lastly we wanted to checkout a local climbing gym. There were quite a few gyms to pick from but we eventually settled on Casa Boulder.
- Base Camp Bar in Puerto Natales hosts a free information session to help you plan your W or O trek. It’s run by Erratic Rock which is next door.
- Popular hostels in Puerto Natales, such as Erratic Rock and Yaganhouse, will fill up quickly in high season.
- Our 2 favorite restaurants in Puerto Natales were Pizzeria Mesita Grande
and El Maritimo.
- The Argentinean and Chilean sides are different. The Argentinean side is more rugged and wild compared to the Chilean side.