Torres Del Paine Mini Write Up
Struggling to find time to write a true article about my 9 days in Torres Del Paine. A beautiful story presented itself to me in the form of a tiny, determined Asian American lady and I plan on putting a real effort into writing it at some point. Until then here’s a brief story of what I did and some photos. When I originally planned my trip to patagonia it was entirely centered around rock climbing in El Chalten, Bariloche, and Cochamo. By a crazy turn of events and flight troubles I had to fly into Punta Arenas, Chile instead of Ushuaia, Argentina. When I realized I would have to pass right by Torres Del Paine on my way north I casually though, ah, what the hell why not do a little hiking there. I started researching different day hikes while sitting in the Miami airport for what I’m certain was nearly forever. Multiple day hikes exist throughout the park but no matter how long you stay in the park you pay the same entrance fees and bus fees. I hate fees. Fees are not for mee…s? Anyways, there are also three substantial multi day trips that allow you access to parts of, or the whole park. Soon, my little day trip turned into a full fledged solo trek of every square inch of trail in the park, the alpha, the “Q” Trek. The majority of park visitors doing multi day treks find themselves on the “W” which hits each main highlight of the park in a 4-6 day timeframe, offers Refugio’s and easy camping areas and not a ton of commitment. 2% of park visitors, however, find themselves hoofing 8 days of food on the “O” Trek. The “O” trek typically starts and ends in the exact same spot, catches all the same views and destinations as the W but adds an extra three days circumnavigating the entire Paine Massif and conquering Paso John Gardner which gives spectacular views of Glacier Grey from above. Half of those 2% leaves you where I began. The 1%ers. Starting at the administration building on the way south of the park, the “Q” Trek adds a day and a half to the “O” Trek with spectacular views walking north towards the massif. The “Tail” as it’s known to visitors is best done walking north because you get the entire vista of the Paine Massif for the entirety of the beginning portion. On day 2 you cut into the circuit at the beginning of the W and continue through the main sights and then circumnavigate the massif same as the O making for 9-10 days of everything Torres Del Paine has to offer. On my first day in Chile, relaxing at the hostel in Punta Arenas, I met two Montanans who needed another tent to make their Torres Del Paine trek dreams come true and I had the remedy. We met up in Puerto Natales that evening and acquired another Cronie from London, we were now 4. Paul (25) and Holly (20) from Montana and Anna (29) of London, England; and of course myself. Here is a short write up of our experience on the Q and some photos for your optometric pleasure. The park is centered around the Paine Massif (Paine Range) which is made up of glaciers, and incredible granite peaks, rivers, and stunning vistas. All the water is glacial fed and rushes downhill to large Lagos (lakes) that are insanely blue, sometimes turquoise in color. The turquoise contrasts sharply against the yellow/brown plains of the piedmont. Anna had a 2 person tent as did I, which Paul and I shared for 9 stinky days of no showering. We bought communal food (pastas, rice, oatmeal and seasonings) and split the cost which was nice, as well as splitting the load between packs.
Day 1- 730 am bus takes us through multiple stops for 4.5 hours before we arrive to the southern end of the park, the administration building. From there, around 1230 we hiked north towards the massif with grandeur views of the entire range for 2 hours before reaching our first camp, Campamento Las Carretas. We pitched an early camp, enjoyed the easy day by wading in the glacial rivers and enjoying the hot sun in the cool grass. I also went for a short trail run. We packed 2 liters of wine in and sipped on that while watching the sun slowly fall over the 17 hour daytime hours.
Day 2- The following day was a 7.5 hour day that included stopping at a phenomenal mirador (overlook) over turquoise lakes in the foreground of some of the most amazing mountains I’ve ever seen. We ended the hike at Campamento Italiano, a forested campsite full of people from all over the world. Here we met a guy from Rhode Island named Dillon and adopted him into our little trail family. Paul befriended some Israelis who invited me to their camp tea time which was interesting.
Day 3- Woke up early to what sounded lke thunder, but it was actually the sound of the glacier calving in the morning sun and the huge chunks of ice crashing into the valley above us. After a quick breakfast we carried small day packs up into the canyon to watch the glacial calving. After the glacier, the trail continues to the top of the canyon to one of the most amazing valleys I’ve ever seen. Nearly 360 degrees around were tall, vertical granite faces either basking in the hot sun contrasted hard against the deep blue sky, or silhouetted, their features a mystery. We enjoyed the view for an hour or so before I trail ran down back to camp where we packed up and continued on another 3.5 hours to the next camp. On the way to the next camp it was incredibly hot and we came up on a rocky glacial lake beach and went for a very cold swim. The next camp was known as a “refugio” and had running water and a little restaurant, the park caters to the rich who also want to the see the park but don’t want to camp. We had to pay for a campsite but had some drinks on the beach where I watched a phenomenal sunset while listening to ukulele music.
Day 5- We woke up at 430am to climb for 45 minutes to the base of the huge granite towers that make the park so famous. We watched the sunrise light the towers up in an orange glow which was amazing. Super impressive geological anomalies and got me very excited to start climbing down here. From here we continued all the way down hill to the entrance of the park where Holly decided to call her quits from fatigue and also where Dillon finished his leg of the trek. Anna and Paul and I continued on to Campamento Ceron another 4 hours away, Day 5 was the longest day of all at 23km. Ceron had a lot of mosquitoes but the weather was still holding up amazingly for us which is absolutely unheard of in this region of the world. Two americans wandered into camp in the evening and turns out Paul knew one of them! Theyre both down here to study spanish for the next year and semi coincidentally met up in the park. They are Caelen and Erik, Caelen is from Montana, and Erik from Washington state.
Day 6- Woke up with some intense shoulder pain which translated over to carrying the pack and made for an excruciating day of backpacking. I had to shift the pack around continuously to be comfortable. Along a steep section of the trail we ran into a tiny asian lady carrying a small school backpack and two reusable shopping bags and wearing aerobics shoes. She told us she was from San Jose California and was doing the Circuit trek, a hard 8 day trek. We were all pretty shocked and she said she was at the point in her life where she would only have one chance so she was doing it. We left her in the dust and headed to Campamento Dickson which was my favorite camp of all. Nestled on a flat peninsula extending into a glacial lake below Glacier Dickson. The small asian lady wandered into camp 6 hours after us and I began to question her sanity. She started telling me how cold she had been the night before so I asked her about her equipment and found out she was 52 and had never done overnight camping. She didn’t have a sleeping bag and her tent cost her $20 at a supermarket and was branded “In The Woods.” I was instantly alarmed and began to plead with her to turn back that she wasn’t prepared for the mountain conditions she would surely face but she insisted she had a strong will. I convinced her to rent a sleeping bag and we took the majority of her equipment for her the next day and split it up between the 5 of us so she just had some water and clothes to carry. Day 7- She moved quickly to the next camp the next day and I set up her tent for her and questioned her about her life. Her name is Winnse, she is a 52 year old MIT Professor of Research that researches energy consumption and isolation through walking. She took a year sabbatical to travel to antarctica by cruise and ended up in Puerto Natales by accident so she googled “things to do” and decided this sounded easy. She was drastically ill prepared and I realized we had become babysitters. We coerced her into renting a sleeping bag for yet another night.
Day 8- Pass day, hardest day in the park. Once again we volunteered to carry Winnse´s stuff to the next camp. The climb to the pass was incredibly easy by North American standards and we cruised to the top no issues. The view was absolutely breathtaking. The southern patagonian ice fields (3rd largest in the world after north and south poles) were sprawled out in front of us with black mountains and a huge glacier (glacier grey) spilling through the canyon below. I spent a lot of time on the pass and descending from the pass taking in the views. We made it to the next camp at 1230pm and we set up Winnse´s tent again. However the group decision was to make it to the next camp since it was such an early day. We relinquished our Winnse responsibilities to a Canadian who had also been remotely part of the saga. I regrettably never got a photo with her or got to say goodbye but hopefully others continue to help her through the park without issue. That night we cheersed beers to our last night and feasted on our remaining pasta over a game of cards and caught the amazing stars before bed.
Day 9- My stomach was wrenching so hard from the unusually large meal of carbs the night before so I had a rough time on the trail and had to make an extended off trail pit stop halfway down the mountain. Made it to our last camp without too much incident though. At 1230 we were picked up on the banks of a glacial lake by a huge white tourist catamaran and dirty, unshowered, grungy but full of pride and a sense of accomplishment we joined loud noisy selfie taking tourists atop the boat and watched the Paine Grande Massif disappear behind us. It was the most incredible backpacking trip I’ve ever had and I’m absolutely infatuated with the travel lifestyle and the people I’m meeting. We made blue cheese steaks, potato wedges and a huge salad to break away from the all carb diet of the trail and drank cheap wine, all smiles, all night.
Paul and I have decided to continue traveling together. His spanish is great and I have a lot of gear, good symbiotic relationship. Yesterday we departed Puerto Natales and hitch hiked to El Calafate, Argentina to visit the Perito Merino Glacier and watch the super bowl. On Monday we will walk north of El Calafate to begin hitch hiking to the ultimate destination on my trip, El Chalten, Argentina and the Fitz Roy Massif where I will climb for 2-3 weeks.