Monthly Archives: September 2012

Torres del Paine National Park, Day 5

Day 5 was the final day of our hike, completing the right/east side of the W by viewing the park’s namesake, the Torres del Paine. Torres means “towers” in Spanish, and Paine means “blue” in the Tehuelche Indian language. We began our day about 3:30 AM to arrive at the towers in time for sunrise. It was quite chilly up there, but it was well worth our time!

We were glad we took a sleeping bag up there.

Here are a few phases of the sunrise:

After the sun was up, we headed down to pack up our camp and leave the park. On the way out, we passed a group on horseback.

At then end, we collapsed on the grass to wait for the bus with our new friends from Baltimore, with whom we had been with on and off for all 5 days.

I don’t really need to do that long of a backpacking trip again, but I am so glad we did this. We would recommend it to anyone…after you save up your frequent flyer miles of course! Next up: A couple of days in Punta Arenas before heading to Peru.

Torres del Paine National Park, Day 4

We departed Los Cuernos on Christmas morning, hiking along the beautiful Lago Nordenskjöld.

Then came the most I’ve ever sweated on Christmas Day! Our hike took us from Los Cuernos to Campamento Las Torres (the right/east tip of the W), and much of the day’s hike was through very open areas with no shade. Each day involved more mileage than I am used to, especially with a pack, but this day made me the weakest because of the heat.

We were heading to Campamento Las Torres, but we passed through the Chileno refugio area on the way. I was glad we weren’t camping there, as it was quite dirty and smelly…

Certain portions of the trail can be done on horseback, and this is apparently a popular area to stop with a horse. We finally made it up to Campamento Las Torres, which for a free camping area, was thankfully not as dirty or crowded as Campamento Italiano.

Torres del Paine National Park, Day 3

Day 3 was a big day – we hiked up the “middle” of the W, back down it, and over to Los Cuernos refugio area. A big blessing for this day:  since you backtrack a large part of the day’s hike, you don’t have to take your big pack! The day’s hike is a lot of UP, so it was wonderful to just carry the basics.

The area we hiked up through is called the Valle de Frances, or the French Valley. Also, this was Christmas Eve! Here are a few pictures of our views on the way and from the high point of the valley.


We headed down the Valle de Frances and picked up our bags at Campamento Italiano. It turned out to be quite hot by this time in the day, which was all the more noticeable because of the beautiful lake we could see so far below us. It seemed so much lower that we figured there was no way we’d ever drop that much. We were wrong! To our surprise, the trail all of a sudden spit us out on to a beautiful rocky beach. Joel couldn’t help but run into the frigid waters.

Shortly after leaving the beach, we arrived at the Cuernos refugio area. This was one that we heard had bed bugs, so we were happy to stay in our cozy tent. Here are pics of our tent location and view out of the top!

Before we left for the park, the entire town of Puerto Natales lost its internet connection, which means no ATMs. We were pretty sad about this, as we knew it would leave us without enough money to buy our hoped-for Christmas Eve dinner at the Cuernos refugio. When we arrived, we couldn’t believe it–this refugio in the middle of nowhere, which has its supplies brought in by horse, somehow had a credit card terminal! Thus, we got our wonderful, pricey Christmas dinner! (Duly noted that our standards are pretty low when backpacking)


Torres del Paine National Park, Day 2

Day 2 took us down the left/west side of the W and part way up the middle section.

We left Glacier Grey in the morning (it really looks never-ending)

and hiked back to where we started the day before at Paine Grande/Lago Pehoe. It is really beautiful there, but our plan did not allow us to stay there for the night. They have a little store at the refugio where we bought some not great bread to eat with the Nutella we brought. Having a treat like Nutella is a great motivator!

Note to future hikers: Bringing something to put over your hair is essential because it’s pretty windy there (not to mention inevitable dirty hair).

We moved on from Lago Pehoe toward the middle of the W and stopped at busy Campamento Italiano for the night (free with a rudimentary restroom that was locked until 6pm or so). We had heard rumors of rats there, but thankfully we didn’t see any! It was a very crowded camping area, and we got to hear some interesting singing from one of the larger groups of Israelis on the trail, as it was the beginning of Shabbat (TDP is extremely popular for Israelis traveling after completing their compulsory post-high school military service).

The camping area is all dirt:


Torres del Paine National Park, Day 1

Confession: I had great intentions to finish my South America trip series and wrote the first post about TDP a long time ago. When I hit “save,” wordpress made an error and lost my post! I was super frustrated and just couldn’t bear to try again until now. Here goes…

There are two main backpacking trips in Torres del Paine: The “W” and the “Circuit.” The W is shaped like a W, naturally, and the Circuit basically closes the loop from both tops of the W, around the back side of the park. We went with the W, which is much more popular because it’s shorter (46.5 miles vs 93 miles). We chose to take the W from west to east, over 5 days/4 nights.

The bus picked us up at our hostel around 7AM to head to Torres del Paine. When we arrived, we were so floored at how beautiful it was and so excited to be there, that we thought we’d still be satisfied if something happened and we had to leave immediately. Here was our first view of the tips of the Cuernos when we exited the bus:

We had a little time to kill before our catamaran left for Paine Grande, so we hustled up the hill to see Salto Grande (it was windy, not cold!):

We had a beautiful view of the Cuernos from Salto Grande:

We headed back down just in time to board the catamaran, where we saw the best/most iconic view of the Cuernos we’d have:

When we landed at Paine Grande on Lago Pehoe, we began our first leg of the trip, the left/west side of the W, traveling to Glacier Grey. This was the shortest day I believe, but my feet were still feeling pretty bad!

The places you can stay along the way are either refugios (bunk houses $$ and paid camping $), or campamentos (free camping but not nice). Some people stay and/or eat at refugios the whole time to avoid camping and carrying all of their gear. We chose to carry our gear and camp, which is cheaper and also avoids questionable conditions we heard of at some of the refugios.

When we arrived at the refugio at Glacier Grey, we were really surprised at how fancy it was. It had just opened up a few days earlier, and we were a little jealous of the folks staying inside! Since it was paid camping for us, it included the use of a decent bath house. We figured we should take advantage of the hot showers while we had a chance, even though it was funny to shower on our first night of backpacking! Here is our camping spot:

You can’t actually see the glacier from the refugio area, so we ended our evening with a short walk to view the seemingly never-ending glacier. We didn’t realize we’d be so far from the glacier, and we wished we had time to go all the way to it.