It was decision time. Were we going to do the notorious 9 day trek in Torres Del Paine (TDP) National Park; or not? This had always been on our ‘to-do’ list and I would go as far as saying that it sat comfortably on Max’s bucket list of things to do before he died! However, we had spoken to a lot of travellers on this trip and although no one had regrets about doing TDP, they warned us that it had become overcrowded to the point where you had to queue to ascend the remaining steps that enable you to get up close with the notorious spiky peaks that make up Torres Del Paine. Did we really want to travel 5 hours back into Chile? To add to this, my knee was still giving me a lot of grief, Maxs walking boots had given in and the buses were full for 3 days. Unbelievable really considering this was the beginning of March, which is very much the shoulder season. Patagonia was well and truly testing us. Not to mention the cost of everything. Patagonia is one of the most expensive places to travel in South America, El Calafate particularly . I think we just wanted to ‘sit still’ for a moment, to stop hemoraging money and live the Patagonian dream whilst not racing through our savings; this is exactly what we would do at the Estancia and we could have been picked up on that day and started work at the farm.
However, fate came into play. The next day whilst still debating what we should do, we bumped into some french cyclists who we had met on the Carretera Austral. They had just booked their bus tickets for TDP and told us that one company had added a bus for that day at 4pm. So that was it, a sign.
That night we were in Puerto Natalas, the gateway town to TDP. Everyone there had either just been to the park, or they were preparing to go, so it really had a buzz about it. We stayed in ‘Nancy’s’ hostel and treated ourselves to a double bedroom with an en-suite knowing that we had 9 days camping ahead of us in unpredictable weather. I was literally bouncing off the ceiling. To have a bed after a month of camping, not to mention an en-suite felt like totally luxury. I will never ever take a hot shower forgranted again.
Max spent half the following day choosing some shoes to buy, I looked frantically for some waterproof gloves and we raided Unimarc, the chaotic supermarket to buy all our food for the next 10 days. In between these errands we went to the various companies to book our place at the campsites.
The following morning at 7am we took the 1.5 hour bus to the park seeing guanacos and flamingos on the way. There are a number of options upon arriving at the park. You can just go up to the mirador , you can do the ‘W-Trek’ which is 4 nights and 5 days walking, or you can do the ‘O-Circuit’ which encompasses the back side of the park. This was our hike of choice. 8 nights, 9 days, 120km camp-to-camp trekking.
Both the ‘O’ and ‘W’ can be done more quickly if you decide to skip camp-sites and have long walking days.
The ‘Torres Camp Site’ where everyone stays to watch the sunrise the following morning was all booked up so we pitched our tent at the campsite next to the Torres Hotel and started walking the same day. The added bonus of missing the sunset was that we didn’t have to hike with our packs on, just a small day pack with supplies.
The walk up to the peaks is nothing special. It was enjoyable but as we had been warned, there was a motorway of people, not like the peace and tranquility of the Villa O’Higgins hike.
I saw day-trippers doing it in jeans and I even saw one guy carrying a pizza up there! That said, after the last hour, which is very steep, you are certainly rewarded with an incredible view.
The next morning we packed up and headed to Serron Campsite, an easy 12km walk. We are now very quick and efficient at packing everything away. ‘Stuff bags’ save us tonnes of time, as does our very simple tent.
Mosquitos were out in force at this campsite, I put leggings on after my shower. Error. They bite through leggings and took a particular liking to my butt.
The next morning we woke up relatively early as we had 18km of hiking ahead of us. Unfortunately we missed a puma sighting by about 15minutes! Livid.
However, the wind was brutal. Whilst climbing over a style, I nearly got blown backwards.
Watch this video and you’ll see what I mean!
At 12km, we stopped at the ‘Ranger Station’ for lunch. No prizes for guessing what we had. A girl at the ranger station was making Dulce De Leche filled pancakes, 2 for £1. Couldn’t say no!
We arrived just as the rain began. Luckily this campsite has a very comfortable Refugio so everyone huddled in the communal area. I hadn’t realised there would be a real social element to this trek. Everyday you set off at different times to your fellow campers, but you’ll either see them along the way or you’ll meet them at the next campsite and catch up over cooking supper, normally lentils or pasta!
We realised we had really under packed food wise so treated ourselves to the Refugio supper at £12.50 a head for 3 courses. It went down very well and was actually pretty delicious.
Thankfully, the weather we woke up to was utterly beautiful and we got to fully appreciate the campsite in the morning.
Dickson to Los Perros was one of the easiest day. We took our time and enjoyed the scenery.
Day 5 of walking was the ‘BIG DAY’. The ‘John Gardener Pass’, a steep ascent followed by a steeper descent. We were 5 days through our food and we kept our water to the minimum to keep our packs light (as light as they could).
The first few kilometres were pretty straightforward. Then the tough work started. A rocky ascent that felt like it went on forever and ever.
But wow, was it worth it. Even shed a little tear at the top… and my friends will tell you, thats not my style.
It was utterly breathtaking. To think people come all the way here and don’t complete the backside of the park is unbelievable. It was truly incredible. An enormous ice field, I have no idea how big because you have no sense of proportion at all.
We were incredibly lucky to have such a beautiful day. It would have been on another level of challenging had the wind and rain been present.
With no sandwiches left, it was squeezey cheese and crackers for lunch whilst looking over Glacier Grey. What a treat.
The next part of the walk was actually probably as hard if not harder. The steep descent to Paso Campsite was exhausting. Our legs felt like jelly and the muddy track needed a lot of concentration and focus. We walked down with two american girls and just took our time enjoying the view of the ice field to our right.
We eventually got there and everyone agreed, the descent was worse.
A few hours after we arrived some British and Australian guys got to camp. They had skipped Paso because the weather was so beautiful and the forecast for the following day wasn’t good. This means they walked around 23km that day, including the pass! Quite a feet! Once everyone had made their supper, we all went and sat on the cliff edge and watched the sunset. Everyone silent, in ore of what we were looking at.
The next day was Paso to Grey, a 10km walk through the woodland keeping Glacier Grey on your right. There was an exciting river crossing where some people got very wet. We managed to stay dry thankfully. We walked this 10km in just 2:45 minutes despite us both having painful knees induced from the previous days steep descent (we think).
We were set up by 1pm and enjoyed the rest of the day inside the very chic chalet style Grey Refugio. We had made many friends along the way but we made particularly good friends with Coralee and Zach, two travellers who had joined together to tackle Torres. We met them at the border crossing back in Chile and bonded with them when Max gave Zach a block of cheese which we thought was pretty gross. But Zach explained he had been eating dry food for 3 weeks and ate the whole thing within a few minutes. Since then we had been with them in some way every day.
From Grey we embarked on a long day of walking. We were aiming to reach Italiano from Grey.
Italiano is a free camp site and we were told we couldn’t book it when we were in town (although we met people who did book it). We were advised to go to Paine Grande Ranger station and book it from there. When arriving at Paine Grande after being battered by awful winds on the walk from Grey, the station was closed. We pushed on to Italiano, again facing the worst winds we had experienced. I was knocked over and twisted my ankle and felt both physically and mentally very tired by this point. To make matters worse, when we arrived at Italiano, it was ‘completo’. In order to do the day hike up the French Valley we would have to walk to Las Frances, a new campsite 3km away and then walk back on ourselves 3km the following day. We walked to Las Frances and made the decision to keep walking to Los Cuernos. Las Frances was packed full of people and with our knees the way they were, walking back 3km to then do the french valley wasn’t something we were keen on. We stayed at Los Cuernos and ate our last supper of the trail with our good friends, the Mexicans.
Our last day of walking had finally arrived. So close yet still 13km from the ‘finish line’. I couldn’t wait for a good meal and a proper shower.
The weather was glorious and this part of the park was actually one of the most beautiful bits.
The first few km of this walk seemed to go on for hours. We were walking so slowly. At every peak we were hoping to see Refugio Las Torres in the distance and when it finally came we celebrated with a rest stop to share our last snickers.
It felt so good to sit on the coach back to Puerto Natalas. We went back to Nancys and I had the bath of a lifetime and we finished the evening in ‘Mestita Grande’, eating delicious pizza and reminiscing.
Completing Torres Del Paine was a challenge for me. I had no idea how I would respond to day-after-day trekking with a heavy pack, camping each night, but I absolutely loved it. Yes, there were tough points but the satisfaction of reaching camp and enjoying the afternoon with fellow campers, made up for those tough moments. We are so pleased with did the ‘O-circuit’, it wouldn’t have been the same if we hadn’t seen the back half of the park, thats the part that still feels really wild and open.
It was also very educational and we learn a lot from other people. See list (mostly food related I think)!
- Takes wraps, don’t try to take bread.
- You need more than 100grams of pasta per person on a trip like this.
- Buying food along the way is expensive but there is a small kiosk at most of the campsites. £2 for a pack of crackers, £4 for a chocolate bar, £3 for a beer. There is often people giving away food by Refugio Grey, so check the cooking area before buying extra.
- Buy a warm enough sleeping bag, I suggest a 4 season. My bag is comfort level minus 5 and I was one of the only people in our group that didn’t get cold at night. Other people slept with every item of clothing they had, even waterproofs, to stay warm.
- M&Ms or Rocklets as they are called out here make porridge in the morning much more interesting.
- Don’t book more than the first few campsites unless you’re going in high season. This gives you more flexibility, if you’re feeling fresh, to continue walking to the next campsite. Some people completed the ‘O-circuit’ in 6 days.