Oh Patagonia……before coming here we knew it was common to experience 4 seasons in a day and that you are windy as hell. Well, we are here to report both are completely accurate. On the 4th day of our trek we got “Patagonia-ed”, as we coined it, one too many times and decided to cut our trek short. This choice ended with much happiness instead of regret as the scenery lived up to the hype.
From El Calafate, Argentina we took a 5-hour bus through a border crossing to Puerto Natales, Chile, which is gateway to Torres Del Paine National Park. This park is one of the most famous areas to hit in Patagonia with the “W” trek making the ‘Best 7 Treks in the World’ list. The park consists of the “W” trek (3-4 days/4-5 nights) and the “O” trek (7-8 days/8-9 nights), which incudes the “W” trek within it. In the park you have your choice of camping, staying at simple Refugios (50 USD per night/per person) or staying a couple of high-end hotels at the base of the park.
Our plan was to set out on the “O” trek for 7 nights of camping and 8 days of trekking. We were nervous about possible weather situations and camping this many nights as we have never camped this long before. Well, maybe not Zane but Katie was nervous about this.
There are 2 buses per day into the National Park, one in the morning and one in the evening. We bought our tickets the evening before at the bus station for 10,000 CHP/20 USD, as it is cheaper then purchasing it in town and is round trip. Erratic Rock, a hostel and rental store in town hosts an informative meeting about the trekking options in the park each day at 3pm. This was a great place to ask any questions and meet other trekkers. We also rented our tent and sleeping pads from them. Katie purchased a trekking pole as it was more cost effective then renting.
Cori and Zane then circled the city for hours to find us the best food for the trip. There is one large grocery store in town but then many little ones that have great bulk items. Surprisingly no one sells freeze-dried food like back home, as it is expensive to get imported in. We still ate in style with the creative combinations of spices and cheese in our meals and of course a kilo of chocolate and liter of wine! As you can imagine, 8 days of food for 3 people is not light. One stove, one pot, 3 canisters of isobutene gas, bowls and cups added into the mix made the first day hard on the shoulders.
Once the bus enters the park you have to pay an 18,000 CHP/32 USD entrance fee and watch a video on the rules of the park. Since there was a huge fire in the park in the 80’s caused by a camp stove there are no fires allowed and you can only cook in designated areas. Then we took a 30-min catamaran ride for 12,000 CHP/24 USD to get to the point of where we wanted to begin the trek. Thankfully, we only had a 3-hour hike to our first camping spot at Camp Italiano at the base of the French Valley. There are only a handful of free campsites left in the park and this is one of them.
We quickly set up camp and then hiked up the French Valley with no weight on our backs. This valley is the highlight of the “W” trek. At the lookout point it was so windy with 90k/50mile per hour winds but the views were breathtaking. One direction was a turquoise lake with a rainbow, the next direction was hanging glaciers with waterfalls and the next was huge granite mountains with 2 tones of colors. We sat there for an hour with our jaws to the ground in amazement. To give you an idea of the wind we actually saw waterfalls flowing up into the air! The wind was winning the fight on gravity. This valley ended up being closed the next day due to wind and snow so we were very fortunate to get in the views.
It rained all night and we woke up to a soggy tent and wet sleeping bags. Not a great feeling on the first morning. The tent we rented was worse quality then we expected and wished for our tent back home. Luckily at lunch we were able to hang the tent and bags in the crazy wind and they dried in 15 minutes. This afternoon was again filled amazing mountains, lakes, forests, and trying to not get blown off the mountain. Up the next canyon was Camp Chileno where we stopped for a quick warm up and continued up to Camp Torres, which is another free camp. This is the closest camp to The Torres, which are the famous mountains that look like Towers.
Alarms going off at 6AM to get us up to see the sunrise at The Torres was not the ideal way to wake up in a sopping wet tent again but as a team we motivated. This short 45-min hike was through the snow-covered rocks and required some scrambling. The sunrise was amazing the Torres reflected orange as the sun came up but for only a brief window. The clouds then took over but were again fortunate for what we saw as this trail was closed the next morning. The next hours were a hike downhill to Camp Los Torres which was 6,000 CHP/12 USD per person to camp at but had hot showers and a Refugio to hang out in. We took advantage and splurged on some beers next to the fire to get us mentally ready for the 2nd half of the trek.
Not as much rain on the 3rd night but the wind was still there sending a constant chill through our bodies at night. Katie re-evaluated every morning after horrible sleep why they were doing this and always had her exit plan in place. Soon, this plan became everyone’s plan. This camp was the end of the “W” trek on the east side and from here we started up the “O” trek to Camp Seron. It was a magical hike through a different type of trail in covered forest along a huge river with the Andes in the backdrop. Each day was filled with sprinkling rain, heavy winds, hot sun deciding every 15 minutes hood up or hood down, hat on or hat off and peeling of layers. Then we came upon a true rainstorm and we were instantly soaked to the bone. Luckily the camp was only about a half hour away and to our surprise they had a brand new yurt-style dome with 8 beds for 10,000CHP/20USD per person and we were sold! A team decision was made that this would be our last night. Each night as we got rained on the mountains got more and more snow and the next camps were going to get colder and colder. Our safety over the John Gardner pass was our concern as we didn’t have the proper gear for bad weather conditions. Emotions in Patagonia change as often as the weather and we were all flying high that night knowing we were on our way out.
Instead of sleeping separately in our bunk beds in the dome we sleep together in a single bed for warmth and it was amazing after 3 nights of freezing in a tent. Our hike out was bittersweet as the sun was out most of the day making us wonder why we turned around. But in the distance we could see the clouds swirling above the mountains stirring up its next storm. Later in the day we learned the pass closed for 2 days with 1-meter/3-feet of snow on it and were happy with our decision.
Patagonia is harsh and vast, extreme and beautiful all rolled together. All in all our trek was awesome and luck was on our side for the sites we were able to see. The reputation of this trek is there for good reason and the conditions that are possible to come across in Patagonia make it that much more special when they can be seen. We rewarded ourselves with hamburgers as big as Zane’s face and express laundering all of our clothes. Oh the simple joys!
Here are the pics with the disclaimer of ‘we hope you like mountains because we have so many pics of them!’