Torres del Paine

The grand finale! Hiking the grand circuit of Torres del Paine, also known as the “O”, was more or less the last real goal of our trip. We managed to arrange the hike so we would start in the end of March, just before the circuit would be closed for winter. In doing so we hoped to avoid the big summer crowds. Torres del Paine is one the most visited parks in Patagonia. We heard some rumors that about 4000 persons enter the park every day during high season, the same source informed us that, at the time we arrived, this amount was decreased to “only” 400 visitors a day. Luckily most of these visitors are day tourists or hiking the “W”, a shorter and more popular hike.

However, first things first! In Calafate we decided not to visit the Perito Moreno glacier, it was a bit too expensive for our budget. So we only stayed for a few days and had some nice evenings with Melanie. Finally, we also said our goodbyes to her and left for Puerto Natales in Chile, it was strange to be with the three of us again.

In Puerto Natales we booked a nice hostel so we could prepare for our trip. The whole trip was already planned for some weeks. It is not allowed to camp in the wild in the park so you have to book the campsites some weeks in advance (if you plan to go in summer season you better book the campsites even several months in advance). All this meant we only needed to worry about the food we would need for the 6,5 days of hiking we had ahead of us. We left as much of our stuff as we could in the lockers of the hostel and hopped on the bus to Parque Torres del Paine!

We planned the hike so we would first hike at the Northern side of the park which is much more remote and end with the Southern part of the trail, where the “O” and the “W” hikes follow the same route. The first day was a pretty easy and short hike to the Serón campsite. Luckily the weather was amazing and we enjoyed our afternoon at Serón in the sun. A bit later we became pretty jealous though. Marcin, a polish guy whom we met off and on for several weeks (starting at the border crossing to Argentina) was also hiking the “O” and started the same day. While we were enjoying the sun at the campsite he was wandering around and exploring the surroundings. He was only about 100m from the campsite when he witnessed a puma chasing a hare from close by, the hare could escape through a fence and the puma wandered off again! When he told us about his crazy encounter we wished we would have gone for the same walk instead of being lazy in the sun.

Next morning we were welcomed by frozen fields and a beautiful morning mist. The first extremely beautiful morning of our hike, several more would follow. The second part of the hike was quite a bit longer than the first, but still on easy terrain. Mainly plains and some hills. The views were amazing though, and again we could enjoy some beautiful weather.

What’s all this talk about the beautiful weather you might wonder? Well, Torres del Paine is famous for it’s unpredictable weather. Heavy winds and lot’s of rain are very common, even in summer. Once again we were blessed by the weather gods (or lucky). Throughout the whole hike the weather would be pretty good. Every time we asked a park ranger about the weather forecast for the next day they told us the same: “We don’t know, it will probably be bad because it has been nice weather for several days, it is very unlikely it will be nice for another day!”. Of course we had some rain, cloudy moments and once even a bit of snow. But it was much better than we expected considering the fact we were hiking in southern Patagonia, in autumn.

From Dickson campsite we hiked in one day to campamento Paso. This is a long and tough hike and generally considered a two day hike with a stopover at Los Perros. It’s a tough hike because the trail climbs up to the John Garner pass and goes down again on the other side to a campsite above the huge glacier Grey. If you’re lucky with the weather you have amazing views over the glacier once you are at the pass. As you already know, we were very lucky with the weather! And since we hiked a two day hike in one day it meant that when we arrived at the pass we were there all on our own! It was a truly amazing moment! Later, Nina referred often to this moment and place when other people asked about the nicest spot we visited during our trip.

After this long day we treated ourselves with a short hike to camping Grey. The trail follows glacier Grey until it drops into lake Grey. Another beautiful trail with several new wire bridges. Camping Grey is the starting or end point of the “W” trail, depending on the direction you are walking it. This meant more people started to appear as we got closer to it. Besides a camping there is also a fancy refugio, including a bar. Since the weather was a bit colder and grey that afternoon, we made good use of the bar.

From Grey we had a long hike all the way to Campamento Italiano. During the first part of the hike we met Sofia and Theo once more. We knew they would hike the “W” and that our paths would most likely cross, we just did not know when that exactly would be. It was very nice to see them again and we had a short chat before we parted again and continued in opposite directions.

The trail was more busy now, which was sometimes a bit annoying, but the views remained as beautiful as before. During this part of the trip we passed through huge pieces of burnt land. Torres del Paine has a history of forest fires caused by tourists. Because of this there are very strict rules about making fire in the park. Open fire is forbidden everywhere, and cooking with a stove is only allowed at special locations at the camp sites. When you enter the park it is made sure everybody knows about these rules. All tourists have to watch a safety movie and rangers also explain the rules several times. Strangely enough we still encountered some tourists cooking a meal near a refugio, at a spot where it was not allowed. Until someone from the refugio came out and ordered them to put the fire out, explaining them they were lucky the ranger didn’t catch them, if he/she had, they would have been removed from the park.

On our last full day in Torres del Paine we did another long hike from Campamento Italiano up to Las Torres. The campsite right below the famous Torres after whom the park is named. We left early and once more witnessed extremely beautiful morning skies. This long day also came to an end and so was our trip in Torres del Paine. Next morning we had one more experience waiting for us before we would descend from the mountain and take a bus back to Puerto Natales.

If you ever go to Torres del Paine, don’t miss out on the sunrise at the “Torres”. If (!) you have a clear sky it is an amazing experience, even though you will not be there alone. So, next morning, we got up very early and started the steep climb in the dark. It snowed a little bit during the night and it was freezing cold. Together with several others we waited for the sunrise while our hands and feet were freezing. But all the suffering was completely worth it. It is truly amazing to see the peaks change from grey into bright yellow.

The descend only took us some hours. We still enjoyed the scenery and once we were down we were very happy we completed the trail. We celebrated with some chocolate and soft drinks we bought in the shop where we were waiting for the bus.

Once back in Puerto Natales we went for dinner at a nice pizzeria, of course I ate too much in my enthusiasm and got a bit sick for the following days. However, it was also time to say goodbye to Jonas. He would continue his trip further North while we decided to go even further South. We shared each other’s company for almost 2 months, and it was a bit strange to see him leave.

However we liked the fact we would be finishing our Southbound trip with the two of us. As already mentioned, we decided to go as far south as we could possibly go. Because Antarctica was a bit expensive to visit, we went for the next best thing, if not the best, Isla Navarino!