Torres Del Paine National Park was incredible! It is difficult to sum up the experience within one short blog post and I know that we will not be able to do it justice – especially not its beauty or the harshness of its weather. We spent seven days and six nights within the park and completed the W trek which is over 70km in length however, I am sure that we hiked further than that based on our fitness app. Our plan before going to Chile was to complete the longer O circuit however, on arriving here we learnt that it is closed due to the weather. In a way we are both quite glad after hearing too many horror stories of Trekkers falling down hidden ravines! Our revised plan was to instead hike an extended W, going further up the side of Glacier Grey however, every campsite not on the W (and even some on the W) was closed until summer. This gives some insight into the harshness of the climate in Torres del Paine – even in spring it’s not safe!
Day one was surprisingly hard, I thought the hiking would get worse as the week progressed and we got more tired. It did get a lot harder, but it was still pretty hard especially for our backs. It was incredible though how after just one day our bodies adjusted to carrying the weight of our bags. We had about 14kg each at the start and this did go down as we ate our food and used some gas however, day one was significantly more painful that any other for our shoulders and backs before we strengthened up. We were hiking a beautiful trail from Lago Pehoe to Glacier Grey and was a perfect first day – only 4 hours hiking all the while taking in the view of the Glacier. It was incredible and scary how powerful the Glacier is, it looks frozen in time but you know that nothing (except global warming) will get in its way.
Day Two was spent hiking back to Lago Pehoe after a great nights sleep. Our sleeping bags are so warm and comfy, we can’t believe we didn’t buy them before! Their rating goes down to -28c so we were pretty toasty even though the temperatures were dropping to -4c outside. The campsite are all fairly basic and rustic, they had toilets, all but one had showers (not always with hot water though) and then they all have an area for cooking. Lighting any type of fire within the park is illegal with a £2m fine and prison time, it is because there have been several really devastating fires over the last 50 years. Each fire has completely wiped out the flora and fauna for miles and is still so obvious when you are hiking which areas were affected. So, most campsites have an indoor cooking hut, it’s great that they have areas for cooking and I totally understand why but sometimes it made planning and cooking lunch a little difficult if you were hiking all day.
On day three we woke up to find a wild fox right outside our tent! It was chasing its breakfast of wild Patagonian hares around our campsite. It was great being so close to all this nature – the camping culture is very basic and aimed at conservation, resulting in so many wild animals and birds around your tent. Oscar even heard something outside our tent one night checking us out – maybe a puma?! The hike on this day is the reason that we went the unconventional direction of East to West which is opposite to most. All day we had a beautiful view of the Torres in front of us and encouraging us to continue with our 5 hour hike! We finally arrived at Camp Italiano (a free camp) at around 14:00 and after a spot of lunch we headed off up the centre of the W. It didn’t take us long to realise what we thought would be a couple of hours was more like an epic adventure up a really steep and long mountain pass! With a race against the setting sun we couldn’t afford to let up on our pace – much to my dismay at times – but eventually after several hours we reached the top and it was quite the view we were rewarded with. We were in a bowl in the middle of all the peaks with the Torres on one side, the lake on another and a beautiful snow capped peak in front of us. The best bit of this hike and also staying in camp Italiano was the constant avalanches taking place on the snow capped mountain. You could hear the snow and ice cracking and then dropping with the rubble echoing around the mountains all night long which was amazing.
Day four was really tough. It was supposed to be a rest day, we were going to walk three hours to another campsite, set up our tent, watch a film I had downloaded and write our journals etc. Instead we walked for nine hours barely setting up camp in sunlight and all on just one bowl of porridge all day. It was a bit of a disaster! We arrived at the campsite three hours away in great spirits and asked to check in and pitch our tent. During the course of our hike we had crossed over into a different section of the park which is managed by a different company however, we hadn’t thought much of it. They wanted to charge us around £100 each to pitch our tent! This is compared to it being free the night before and about £5/6 each other night! And so we had no choice but to keep hiking onto the next campsite, unfortunately this was six hours away. Needless to say morale dropped a little at this point especially as it was 14:30 and the sun sets at 20:00 ish and so again we had a race against the setting sun! Luckily we made it before the sun had fully set and were able to pitch our tent (we were in such a hurry it was on a wonk though so I kept rolling into Oscar all night!).
Our rest day finally came on day five as we stayed in the same campsite, chilled in the tent watching films, ate our body weight in food and went to see the local estancia and their horses. That night we treated ourselves to a huge three course dinner and then coffee and cake at the refuge next to our campsite. The refuge was beautiful and so warm – before going into the park I was under the impression the refuge’s were small shacks which served some hot food. In reality they are like 5* hotels with a lovely dinner every night. We had a salmon salad to start and eating fresh(ish) vegetables was like heaven, next we had a traditional Chilean stew which was lovely however, the desert was a bit odd. It was some sort of corn and orange stewed thing which neither of us could eat despite how hungry we were! Instead we opted for a HUGE piece of cake and played some cards next to their log burner.
Day six was our final hiking day, the bad weather was setting in and we were determined to get to see the Torres peaks! We set off at around 10:00 with the aim of reaching the campsite just at the base of the peaks, we could then wake up in the dark, hike the 45 minutes to the top and watch a spectacular sunrise. After about three hours of hiking though we were completely drenched through, Oscars waterproofs had failed him and he was soaked to the bone (this is in near freezing temperatures) and so we stopped at the refuge half way up. We wanted to camp here and walk up in the day to see the Torres having given up on being able to see a sunrise through all the torrential rain. However, it was not possible to camp unless we wanted to pay a small fortune and so instead we decided to leave our bags there for several hours, hike up to the Torres then and make it back down to the very bottom of the mountain where we had been camped before all before sunset. And so we set off – now in a blizzard which we definitely preferred to the rain as it was so beautiful – on a roughly four hour hike. It felt like we were going vertically up almost the whole time but luckily I found a big burst of energy after eating a large chicken sandwich and we made it up in excellent time. We had to negotiate some sketchy terrain to get there with sheer sides on the mountain and paths just big enough for one person. Adding to that how wet the ground was and all the rocks we had to climb it definitely felt like an adventure. The view we were rewarded with at the top was spectacular though and even more so as we were incredibly lucky that the rain stopped and the clouds cleared for about twenty minuets whilst we were up there! Whilst we were hiking up lots of people were turning back because of the weather thinking that they’d never see the peaks and so we were so lucky! With no chance of making the last bus home that day we spent some time at the peaks and then started our five hour hike back to make camp.
On the seventh day we packed up all our belongings and headed home in the afternoon however, we still hadn’t had enough of the national park and so we decided to come back horse riding! After two days of relaxing and eating we travelled back out of Puerto Natales to a local Estancia where the Guacho, David, took us out for an afternoon. My horse Doki was, I think, the pony all the children learnt to ride on as when we went past them they were all calling for him. He was a proper little cheeky grey who was always keen to go faster and hated being behind Oscar and ‘I’. We never quite understood what Oscar’s horse was called but it began with an ‘I’ we think! She was a beautiful bay mare who despite her long legs was such a plodder! Because of all the snow we had had over the last three days the park was thick with it and the horses had a tough task getting through it all. I had never ridden in snow before but the horses were amazing, even when it was reaching their flanks. The scenery was beautiful and we went up to a view point to look out over the water and we could see Argentina just 9km away. After riding in the freezing cold we were glad to be invited into David’s home for some coffee and fresh cake made by his wife.
I think Oscar has the riding bug now as he has been researching where else we can go horse riding in South America. I think we might also get to go in Tupiza, Boliva, which is where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid supposedly did their last robbery and were killed.