Torres del Paine
The Iconic Towers, Glaciers & Blue Lakes Of South America’s Most Popular Hiking Destination Deep In Chilean Patagonia
@ Laguna Torres, Torres del Paine National Park, Chile. November 23, 2015
Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
Located near the extreme south of Chilean Patagonia in the southern tiers of the Andes, Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine is a 2,400 km² protected wilderness of mountains, lakes, rivers and glaciers. South America’s most popular national park, Torres del Paine is a magnet for the outdoorsy type & the undisputed highlight of South America’s Southern Cone for many – the park can & does appease those coming here looking for good hiking/trekking, climbing, horseback riding, sailing and kayaking. Declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1978 (it’s not one of Chile’s 6 UNESCO sites), the park’s undoubted draw is the majestic sight, if you can see them, of the park’s Paine Massif, specifically the three iconic sheer granite towers that give the park its name, the 12 million-year-old Torres del Paine, Spanish for ‘Towers of Paine’, ‘Paine’ being the old indigenous name for the colour blue.
I got/needed two bites at the Torres del Paine National Park cherry, getting reacquainted with the park while killing time waiting to embark on a trip to Antarctica from further south in Ushuaia, Argentina, a full day’s bus journey from Puerto Natales, the Chilean town used as an access point for the park. On my first visit I spent only a day in the park. The weather didn’t cooperate on that initial visit and I left without laying eyes on the park’s fabled granite towers (you can read my posting for that initial visit here). However, things were different on that second visit some 2 weeks later when I did Torres del Paine properly, spending 3 nights/4 days walking its classic ‘W’ Trek. This time the weather was great and the views unhindered (although the limbs sore) meaning I did get to see the elusive towers among many other natural Torres del Paine delights, not all of which are God-given.
W Trek || What Goes Up Must Come Down
The most highly trekked route in Torres del Paine National Park is the ‘W’, so called because its 70 kilometre-long trail system navigates up and down out of three mountain valleys tracing out a ‘W’. Probably the most popular hike in Patagonia, or maybe even on the whole of the South American continent, this undertaking is considered by many to be the trekking experience of a lifetime. The trek is advertised at taking five to seven days to complete with upwards of eight hours of hiking per day. I didn’t have five to seven days at my disposal, thus I crammed the trek into 2 full days & 2 half days of brisk, sometimes arduous walking, taking 22 hours over parts of 4 days to clock some 75 kilometres – the W is eminently doable in this time frame assuming, like me, you 1) (really) like to push yourself & 2) are physically capable. Overall the W is a taxing walk but not a difficult one, although the remote nature of the park, the sometimes rough trails and strong winds can humble even a seasoned trekker, something I am not.
What follows is a day-by-day look at my ‘W’ trek exploits, 4 days during which I’m sure I saw Torres del Paine at its breathtakingly beautiful best.
Day 1 || November 21, 2015
Kilometres/ Hours Walked || 22 / 5
Day 1 Overview
07:00 – Bus from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine National Park. || 10:00 – Registered at the park administration at Laguna Amarga & transferred to disembarkation point for ferry. || Noon – Ferry across Lago Pehoe to Refugio y Campamento Paine Grande. Registered for overnight stay & pitched tent. || 14:30 – Walked to the Glacier Grey lookout & back (22 km). ||
Day 2 || November 22, 2015
Kilometres/Hours Walked || 22.5 / 7 hours 15 minutes
Day 2 Overview
10:00 – Set out from Refugio y Campamento Paine Grande for Campamento Italiano (7.5 km). || 11:45 – Arrived at Campamento Italiano. || 12:30 – Set out from Campamento Italiano up Valle del Frances for Britanico (5 km). || 14:30 – Arrived at Britanico. || 15:20 – Left Britanico for return down Valle del Frances to Campamento Italiano. || 17:00 – Left Campamento Italiano for Refugio y Campamento Los Cuernos (5 km). ||
Day 3 || November 23, 2015
Kilometres/Hours Walked || 19 / 7 hours 15 minutes
Day 3 Overview
09:30 – Set out from Refugio y Campamento Los Cuernos for Campamento Torres (14 km). || 13:50 – Arrived at Campamento Torres. || 16:00 – Set out from Campamento Torres for Laguna Torres at Base de las Torres (1 km). || 17:30 – Returned to Campamento Torres & walked to Refugio y Campamento Chileno (4 km). ||
Day 4 || November 24, 2015
Kilometres/Hours Walked || 12 / 2 hours 30 minutes
Day 4 Overview
10:20 – Set out from Refugio y Campamento Chileno for the park administration office/bus stop at Laguna Amarga (12 km). || 12:40 – Arrived at Laguna Amarga. || 14:30 – Bus back to Puerto Natales. ||