Over the last 5 days, Chase and I have been off the grid, backpacking through Torres Del Paine on the “W” route. During this trip, we packed everything in and everything out. With our tents, sleeping bags, cooking gear, and the remainder of our cold weather gear, we backpacked 60 miles in 5 days, 4 nights. Because we decided to do this as the offseason started, the buses stopped, and all of the optional hostels shut down for the remainder of the winter and we had the park to ourselves among very few other travelers. We also had to pre-book private transportation back from the park due to everything shutting down. Pictures are soon to come, so for now a description will have to do…
We were very fortunate to have amazing weather for 80% of our trip. On day 4 it rained a lot, and in the nights it got blustery, but our day hiking were filled with sunlight and sometimes clouds. We also started our trek a day later than anticipated, due to most of the park being closed for the three days prior due to rainstorms and landslides. While I am thankful the park opened up, the 5 days of hiking were through trails that had turned into streams, mudslide areas filled with rocks, and crossing broken bridges that had collapsed. I was surprised that it wasn’t still closed, but leaping around and climbing through the mud was right up my alley, and Chase’s as well. 😉 To say the least, we came back covered in mud with smiles on our faces.
We started our trek at Conaf Administracion. This is the furthest south to start the “W”, and Chase and I were the only ones that started here. The larger group that was hiking started at Paine Grande, the camp that we hiked all day to get to. There is an optional catamaran that carries people across Lago Pehoe for a starting point further along. Day one, we hiked 12 miles along the Las Carretas trail to Refugio Paine Grande. The extra days worth of hiking was absolutely incredible and certainly worth it. Pictures cannot do this journey justice, and the best word to describe it is incomparable. We wandered through towering mountains, gushing waterfalls, streams flowed everywhere, and the fall colors were out in full force. As we walked, the scenery was slightly different and unique over each hillside we came over. Birds of all sizes and colors flew around, and the condors were especially massive. I wanted to stop every three feet to photograph more, and Chase had to drag me along at some points just so we could make up some time hiking! Since we didn’t get to start our hike until about 1 PM, we arrived at our camp around 6 the first night. As we came to the top of the final mountain before our descent in to camp, the view took my breath away. The lake was a deep aquamarine blue, perhaps the bluest I have ever seen! In the backdrop the backside of the towers were jagged against the sky with glaciers nestled in the tops and crevices. This was only the first “mirador” of many along the trip, but my favorite by far. The mountains were so tall around me that it was dizzying, and beyond them, a vast, untouched wilderness that was truly uncivilized and wild. It reflected every reason that I hike, camp, and spend so much time outdoors. The park is beautiful today, but I wish I could have seen it before the fire took out 1/3 of the park in 2010. The first night camping was gorgeous. We were lakeside, at the entrance of the valley that allowed for the hike to Glaciar Grey. The sunsets and sunrises were stunning! However, the wind blew so hard that it broke our tent the very first night. It bent the poles, snapped the connector, and left us with a floppy little cover that we squeezed in to every night thereafter. However, even broken, it provided great wind protection and shelter throughout our trip.
The second day, we stayed at the same campsite, but hiked 14 miles round trip to Glaciar Grey. We packed in a couple of beers and went to the mirador right on the lake, about a quarter mile from the glaciar. There was a beach to walk down to, where we could touch some of the floating ice that had broken off. Chase was ecstatic to finally touch glaciar ice. We then hiked up to the top of the nearby hillside, and looked over the frozen glacier and tundra with a Patagonia beer. It was a relaxing, unique moment to experience and see. This was the part that Chase had been looking forward to the most, and I saw why as soon as we arrived. Glaciars are HUGE. We were lucky enough to see them on a day they were brilliantly blue. Every crevice and curve was outlined, and looking across the froze tundra was fascinating. Someday, we are going to do an ice trek across glaciars.
Day three was a good one. We finally trekked in to an area of the park that wasn’t affect by the fire, and it was dense, colorful, and (of course) muddy. We trekked along Lago Nordenskjöld for most of the day, and at one point, got to hike along the beach. That is an interesting thing to become accustomed to here. The lakes are enormous. Most of the time, they are vast, and curve, so you can never see where they end. As with the first lake we saw, the water was crystal blue and very clear. Even the rivers take on a color that is bluer than I though rushing rivers could take on. Day 3 was also our short day, as we only had to hike about 8.5 miles. The rest was nice despite the fact that the 8.5 miles were hills and sketchy rockslide areas. That night, we camped in a place called Refugio Cuernos. It was in the trees next to the river, and well protected from the wind. The mice made it through and got our tortillas, but that was the only casualty of the night, so we considered it to be a success. We had a nice little waterfall on our way out in the morning as well, giving us yet again, an unforgettable campsite backdrop.
Day four was incredibly long. In total, we hiked 11.5 grueling miles almost entirely uphill. This was not the longest, but certainly the most difficult of our long hikes, as it was to the base of the final hike to see the towers for the sunrise. We started very early in the morning and managed to arrive at our camp by about 3:30. Along the way, we got to see the expansive valley we had hiked through, the canyon we were hiking above, and a raging river framed by fall colors. Our elevation gain that day was huge, and because we have been living in Park City for that past few months, turned out not to be a problem at all. The only thing to worry about as we hiked were the raging winds. I am pretty positive that I would have blown away if my pack wasn’t so heavy!
Day five was my favorite by far! We got up hours before sunrise, refilled our waters, and over the span of a half mile, we gained 2000 vertical feet in elevation! Hiking in the dark was the steepest, scariest climb of the trip. The trail wasn’t well marked, so we often took steep “shortcuts” that were not originally intended to be a trail, but was the only path to the next visible route marker. It only took 45 minutes to get there, thankfully, and then we hunkered down next to some big rocks to wait for the sunrise. During our hike up, it was snowing, and at our mirador, there was a small blanket of snow on the ground. We were faster than we anticipated, so that led to a longer wait for the sun to rise. This was the highest point of which to hike in the park, and it was bone-chilling cold! It was absolutely beautiful though! Unfortunately, as the sun came up, clouds wrapped around the towers and blocked any good view for photographs. However, we could see them looming in the background and it provided a perfect backdrop for the morning. While cold, it is an experience neither of us would trade for anything, and the perfect way to finish out the trip. The three and a half hour hike home only took us two hours and fifteen minutes because of all of it being downhill and our anticipation for a cold beer. 60 miles later, it was a 3 hour bus ride to Puerto Natales, and we finished out the trip with a kilo of bacon cheesy fries and a pitcher of the local Baguales beer. It was cold, windy, long, grueling, heavy, rewarding, beautiful, and sweaty. This is a memory and an experience that money can’t buy and pictures can’t do justice. To anyone who travels through and is debating on going, just do it. It’s something you will never regret doing and you will regret not doing.
Until the next adventure…