The famous ‘W’ trek in Torres del Paine certainly lived up to expectations. The scenery was amazing – Glaciers, lakes and tall mountain peaks, and carrying all our gear on our back while trekking was still surprisingly easier than carrying it on the bike into the wind!
After meeting Dad in Punta Arenas we decided it would be a good option to head straight up to Puerto Natales by bus so that we’d have a little more time to do some of the trekking in the park. I guess its cheating on the ride a bit but we thought it was worth it. Kinda lucky really since the weather on the bus ride up was terrible – really windy (surprise surprise) and we drove through a blizzard for an hour as well. Dad also got a good introduction to the south american way of doing things – since the windscreen wipers on the bus didn’t work the ‘conductor’ guy had to get out into the snow every 5 minutes to clean the windscreen off by hand. It was quite a slow trip.
We stayed a couple of days in Puerto Natales, a nice little backpacker-oriented town, settled on the 5 day, 4 night ‘W’ trek and hired some backpacks before heading up to the park by bus, leaving the bikes in Puerto Natales. After crossing an incredibly blue lake by catamaran we started off for a 4 hour or so hike up to a beautiful little campsite right next to the enormous grey glacier. It was so close you could hear the ice chunks periodically calving from the glacier into the lake.
Salto Grande (The Big Falls)
View of the park from the ferry across Lago Pehoe
The Grey Glacier from just near our campsite
The Grey Glacier from the trail
Dad loving it.
The second day we hiked back along Lago Grey the way we had come before heading on to Campamento Italiano. The views just kept getting better and better as we rounded the edge of the Valle Frances until we came face to face with the spectacular and huge Cerro Frances guarding the entrance to the valley. We were treated to another fantastic vista at the campsite as the sun finally broke through for the first time and the clouds disappeared. An enormous glacier wound its way down from the peak almost to the campsite and the snow whipping off the top of the mountain silhouetted against the sunset was magic.
A cool view to the Cuernos del Paine on the second day of the hike.
Dad and I on the bridge leading top Campamento Italiano
Mick soaking up a bit of sunshine at the campsite with Cerro Frances in the background.
The third day of the hike the weather gods smiled on us and we had a whole day to explore the unbelievable Valle Frances with no wind under a blue sky. It was amazing, possibly a one per month kind of day in Patagonia at that time of year (from our experience anyway) and we took full advantage of it by spending hours in the valley. The day was so fantastic that it was almost impossible to take it in – it was all a bit too big! The Valle Frances is almost completely ringed by high jagged mountains and steep spires on 3 sides and with a view out to impossibly aqua-blue glacial lakes out of the other. We followed the Rio Frances up as it tumbled down the valley over rapids and waterfalls with the high mountains on all sides and stopping to watch the almost continual avalanches from the faces and cornices of the glacier on Cerro Frances. It was mesmerising. We even had enough energy (since we had left our packs at the campsite) to climb up higher than the trail to a saddle between 2 huge peaks for the best views and had fun boot-skiing on the snow slopes all the way back down. Anyway, the photos speak for themselves….
Mick hiking beneath Cerro Frances under blue skies.
The view south down the valley.
View to the north of the valley
View to the west of the valley
View down the valley from the saddle we climbed to.
View to the east from the saddle. Mick sitting in front.
Dad having fun coming down the snow slope.
Unfortunately we had to keep on going to the next campsite that day or we would have spent more time there at Campamento Italiano, it was defintely the most spectacular part of the park. We had to walk another 3 hours or so to the next camp though which was quite exhausting after all the time in the valley and made for a long day. It was still so warm that on the way to Camp Los Cuernos Mick just had to have a dip in the glacial lake, crazy bastard!
Mick feeling quite cool coming out of the lake.
Beers at the albergue went down a treat when we finally arrived at Campamento Los Cuernos. They were pricey but it was worth it…. a very good way to finish a spectacular day.
We rounded the last U of the W the next day as the weather turned awful again – the wind coming out of the deep valley we walked up towards the ‘torres’ of the Torres del Paine was hammerring and bringing some not-so-refreshing small stinging pellets of rainy snowy stuff. We decided to call it a day at the Camp Chileno where we set up the tent as best we could in the gale and took shelter in the Albergue. Turns out they had some of our favourite boxed chilean wine too so it wasn’t such a bad afternoon! We decided to leave the trek up to the Torres until the next day and settled back with a couple of boxes. Best decision we ever made since the next morning dawned clear and warm and there was hardly anyone around on the trail since it was too early for day-trippers. After a short steep hike we were greeted with the awesome sight of the Torres del Paine.
Warming the legs in the morning sun in front of that view.
The awesome Torres del Paine.
On the way back down out of the valley we had a very ‘Lord of the Rings’ moment as this huge shodow swooped over us on the trail. Looked up and saw an enormous condor only about 5m away, it must have had at least 4m wingspan. Quite an ugly bird up close really but sooo big!
We finished off the hike with an easy walk out of the valley although the weather started to come in again. In all we were really lucky with the weather. I think though if we had the chance we would have spent 6 day in the park (5 nights) rather that 5 since we would have had more time to explore and not had to push the trek for 15-25kms per day. Well worth every effort though.
Tags: Chile, hiking, Patagonia, South America, The Big Bike Trip, Torres del Paine, Travel Destinations, Trek