24th till 29th of October 2019.
Time and emotion.
Tears running down my cheeks when we see the first peaks of Torres Del Paine. Is it because the overwhelming rawness of this area? Is it because we have been talking so long of visiting this area, dreamed of visiting when Frank would be retired? Is it because now being here means that this new phase of our life has started?
Most people hiking Torres Del Paine will organize it way in advance, when they are booking their trip to Patagonia or as part of the Chile tour they arranged. We decided to wait until we were in Puerto Natales before booking any campsites as we did not know when we would arrive there.
Important extra info for people who want to organize their hike on the bottom of this blog.
After a lot of discussion, looking at several possibilities, including if we should take the bikes to the park, hike and bike back, we decide to take the bus for the 75 km to the park. Hike the W-trek from left to right and take the bus back to Puerto Natales from the right end-point. Keep our bikes and excess luggage at the cabana in Puerto Natales and return here when finished with the trek (bus returns around 21:30).
We have arranged that we can take the bus from their bus garage in the center of town close to our cabana and not at the official terminal. We are the only people arriving at 6:15 and we can even take a bus earlier. Arriving plenty on time for the ferry, giving us the opportunity to hike to the first waterfall. Wind, clouds, mountains with only a few other people.
Ferry leaves on time 11:00 and is full. Racing against the wind over choppy emerald blue water. Milky green due to the sediment of the glacier. Our 1 euro per minute crossing is over way too quick. The 30 minute ride is amazing. You could even take the bus here, do the hike to the waterfall and boat ride and return home in the evening.
We ensure to eat before we start with the hike up to Glacier Grey. Amazing.The fierce headwind and backpack makes it a bit challenging https://www.instagram.com/p/B4NbtRjFtaa/ .
Its amazing how nature can cope with these extreme winds.
Arriving at 17:00 at the campsite. Still enough space between the pre-installed tents to pitch ours. Look how photo’s from different view points can change an impression.
We can’t resist to try a whiskey on glacier ice at the lodge. Imaging when this water was converted to ice, how many million years ago? What a magical moment. Wondering. Appreciating. Being together.
Whatever you want.
Torres del Paine caters for everybody. You can choose for a bed in a lodge (depending on the location it can be in a private room or a dorm), where your bed is made-up or where you bring your own sleeping bag. You can choose for camping, where the tent is installed with provided sleeping mattress and bag. Or you can bring everything by yourselves. Just depending on what you want to spend and how easy you want to make it for yourself. For lodging we decided to carry our own tent and sleeping gear, we are Dutch after all.
Concerning food: you can bring your own or get catered even for lunch and breakfast. Same here depending on how much you want to spend or carry. For food we chosen to bring our electrical heater spiral, breakfast for 5 days and lunch for 2-3 days and food for the first night. We should be able to find healthy supplies at the different refugios, won’t we?
We hike to the mirador of Glacier Grey. Admiring an immense ice field with icebergs drifting in the bay, larger than a 10 story building makes us quiet.
What makes us even quieter is the immense impact of global warming.
The campsite at Glacier Grey is the best of the whole trek. Clean toilets, possibility to shower. Dedicated, sheltered space to cook. Small shop, where if needed you even can buy everything to cook your own meal (more than in most small shops in Peru) and electricity for our water cooker.
We again meet Kevin and Ruby from USA, Frank recognizes them from our boat trip at the marble caves. What an amazing memory for faces he has!
Next day we leave early, in hindsight we should have hiked at least to the first hanging bridge but this would have added an other 1 ½ hour. Check-out what we would do differently next time, at the bottom.
Huemul spotting, female!
Hike to camp Frances follows lago Skottsberg. How different it is now as there is almost no wind. How magical it is that we only see a few people today, only around noon when the boat has arrived and people are hiking towards Glacier Grey.
What is dreadful is the impact of the wildfires which have raged here 8 years ago. There have been 3 big wild fires all caused by visitors, wild camping or burning their toilet paper. Outrageous that the person who caused the last wildfire blamed the park for not receiving enough information.
We pass campground Italiano, CONAF, for free but no facilities. We have chosen for campground Frances as we could pre-order dinner (so we had to carry less). It is easy but it is not perfect. Dining room is located next to the lodge which is 15 min walk from the campground (they did not say anything about this when we ordered). Only opens at 19:00 when also the dinner starts. When it is bad weather they even let you wait outside as they clean just before they serve dinner. Dinner is good if you take into consideration that everything needs to be shipped here. At the campground there is no sheltered cooking space and we have to eat breakfast in our tent with the rain ticking on our tent. We will sleep again here tonight as we will now hike the second leg of the W. Luxury to only carry lunch and water. Nice to not have to set-up our tent tonight. As we have seen a zorro (fox) yesterday we hang our food in a tree between two camp platforms. Camp platforms are needed as the ground is super steep. I was first grumpy that there was no view and the campground was tucked between trees but they at least protected us against some very bad weather.
Hiking up to Britanico, passing the very active glacier Frances.
Cold rain & snow.
Magical hike through forests and over white boulder fields. Struggling through a snow storm. Wondering if we should turn around. Pushing on as we don’t have any other plans today. Arriving at Britanico and when the sky clears I am crying again. One of our most epic hikes during this whole travel. Only a few people at this amphitheater.
When we are eating lunch Arjan and Kim peek around the corner. Hiking back together and sharing stories at their campground (Italiano) ends a beautiful hike.
Less fun is to discover that our bag with all our lunch and breakfast food is gone. Not seeing any animal tracks makes us think somebody must have thought it was left behind and took it with him. Bummer, we can only buy cookies and a bread against ridiculous pricing. But this should not spoil the fun and we enjoy bread with cookies as breakfast before we leave for a sunny hike to the Central campground.
Campground where you can chose platforms protect against the humidity. Facilities are run down. They too easily earn their money here. Refugio/lodge offers pizza & we can again buy a bread so we can make our own lunch tomorrow.
Early start to ensure we have plenty of time to hike and admire the iconic Torres Lake. The sight of Torres del Paine. The view that comes to mind when people talk about Patagonia. With very high expectations we hike with a brisk step following an eroded walkway to the refugio and campground Chileno, located midway. This would be the perfect location to start from if you want to see the sunrise but as the campground was fully booked we had to start from a bit further away. Warmed by a strong coffee we are ready for the next stretch.
Trees make way to only rocks. While the sun was still peeking through the clouds during the morning, it is getting colder now. More clouds gather around the mountains. Last part is quite a steep climb. When reaching the mirador we can see the whole lake but no towers of Torres. It is cold. Hardly any people. We wait and wait and wait for the sky to clear. Watch new people arrive and leave. Vague outline of 2 of the towers trying to show their face. When at one moment a group with a guide has waited for more than 30 minutes and decides to leave we know we will not see the Torres. As we have to hike back the whole stretch we also decide to leave.
Only when we are back at the campsite, 16:30 we see a glimpse bit of the Torres. It would have been way to late to wait. Packing our tent and get the bus to Puerto Natales.
We are happy we did this amazing W hike. We were a bit concerned that Torres del Paine would have a high Wall Disney feeling, and it is a pity you need to pre-book your camping spots, preferable even your food.
It is a pity that you can’t adjust your itinerary and adjust according to the weather. It is a pity that some sites are swept with busloads of people but the total park is so immense you only see some crowds at certain spots. Most of the time we did not see anybody in front of us or behind us. You still feel tiny between those giants and it is still amazing nature. And the hiking is soo much different than the biking! 5 days of no cars! Only 3 boats on the water. No other sounds than nature!
And with all the wildfires they have had you understand why all those rules have to be implemented.
Our main source of information from https://www.worldlyadventurer.com/camping-in-torres-del-paine/
- For day hikes you don’t need to preregister, there is not yet a number limitation on hikes. So if arriving by bike you could camp outside the park or at Central Sur.
- Limited is the amount of available campsites/refugios inside the park and that wild camping is NOT permitted, this is why they ask for your plan and if you have arranged your campsites.
- You can camp outside the park and still do dayhikes.
- Campsites at the left site of the W still have supplies and electricity
- Campsites from Fantastic Sur have only sweets and chips. You can buy bread for 5.000 (you have to ask for it). They mainly want you to buy a prepared lunch or pre-arranged dinner. You can order dinner on the spot but most of the time they will only serve you when the other guests (lodge and pre-ordered guests) have eaten.
- No use to take the electrical cooker (spiral) with you as only a few campsites have electricity.
What we would change knowing what we know now.
- Take more food and our cooking stove
- Change program a bit and have it look like this:
- Day 1 Camp Grey
- Day 2 Hike first the two hanging bridges (further North) then camp at Paine Grande. Beautiful view!
- Day 3 camp Italiano or Frances
- Day 4 Hike Britanico, camp Italiano or Frances
- Day 5 Camp Central Sur (perfect would be Chileno)
- Day 6 Early morning hike to Torres. Camp Central Sur, this gives you the opportunity to hike a second time to Torres if the weather is bad.