Ellie Švrlanská: Park Torres del Paine
24. 04. 2023
I'm finally going for a 5 day trek on the W route in one of the most popular and beautiful parts of Patagonia: the Torres del Paine National Park.
BEFORE THE TREK
What is an absolute must before trekking in Torres del Paine is the fee to the national park and reservations at all the campsites where you plan to stay overnight. The booking process is not at all simple, in fact the most complicated I have ever encountered. Different parts of the park are under different rangers and different booking systems. It took me several hours to get to the correct links through the official website. There are also many alternative or third party providers, but bookings are a lot more expensive with them. The surest way is to find the official national park website, which should have links and everything you need to know before you arrive.
I also recommend booking your campsite a few weeks or months in advance. I've already had a problem 3 weeks before the start because quite a few campsites were fully booked.
ALONE OR WITH A GUIDE?
There are many ways to visit the national park. There are places where a day trip is enough or then the O (6 to 10 days) and W (4 to 5 days) routes. Even in terms of accommodation and meals, there are many options, it all depends on how much comfort you want and how much you are willing to pay for it, because Torres del Paine is definitely not a cheap destination. The cheapest option is to go it alone, bringing your own food, cooking stuff and camping equipment. Of course, this option will mean a rather large backpack. Prices for one night at the campsites (assuming you have your own tent) range between $12 and $35. All campsites have bathrooms and places to cook (gas and stove with you though!) All food can be bought in the town of Puerto Natales, which is the starting destination for the national park.
Assuming you don't have your own tent, there is the option of sleeping in pre-erected tents or even hostels and mountain huts, but this can run upwards of $100 per night (depending on the campsite.) The campsites and huts also offer breakfast, lunch boxes and dinners.
Treks can also be hiked with a guide, so you'll be all set up ahead of time and wouldn’t have to worry about anything. However, the trail is well marked, so if you don't want to, there's no need for a guide at all (except in winter when you hike on snow and ice).
There are several buses leaving daily from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine, which I recommend booking at least a day in advance as they fill up quickly.
The trek can be done in either direction, I chose to go from the west (Paine Grande camp) to the east (Central camp), so I have to take the bus and then the ferry. You can either go as early as possible in the morning and start trekking that day, or go a bit later and do a small hike to the waterfalls and mirador Cuernos before boarding the ferry.
I get to Paine Grande, which is a campsite and mountain lodge, around 6pm and try to set up my tent in the horrible wind and rain. At night I don't sleep at all, the wind is so strong that it's whipping and roaring through the whole tent and I'm starting to worry that the tent won't make it.
DAY TWO to the glacier and back (22 km)
Fortunately the tent survived both wind and rain. But in the morning, tired and
sleep-deprived, it was hard to get out of my sleeping bag, so I ate a yogurt and a banana in bed (meaning on my camping matt).
Today I have a trek to Grey Glacier. But the weather is really terrible. That's one of the drawbacks I've run into with other trekkers. Since everything has to be planned and booked weeks or months in advance, one cannot, for example, extend the trek due to weather and stay somewhere for a day longer and continue in better conditions.
I wear my warmest clothes along with a waterproof layer as it is supposed to rain a lot all day.
From the glacier the way back is the same way. So after a couple of hours I returned to the campsite freezing cold and wet as the weather was really not in my favor. However, perhaps less than an hour after I arrived back at the campsite, the sun suddenly shone. Couldn't it just have come out a few hours earlier? But at least I took some nice pictures by the lagoon, which is right next to the campsite.
DAY THREE to the Britanico viewpoint and Frances campsite (24 km)
Continuing the journey of me and my gigantic backpack across the beautiful Patagonian countryside. What do I have in my backpack?
- Camping gear
- Tent, Camping matt, Sleeping bag
- Cooking, Cooker, Gas
- Pot , bowl, cup and cutlery
- Water bottle and Food for 4 days
Whenever you go to Torres del Paine, be prepared for all possible conditions. My clothing included both shorts and winter gloves:
- LIGANO-W leggings
- BELVELA-W outdoor trousers
- OLINE-W thermal underwear
- shorts LAPINA-W
- LISMAIN-W short sleeve functional shirt
- functional long sleeve T-shirt WILLIE-W
- sweatshirt JUNIE-W
- PAPILON-W jacket
- waterproof jacket MAMBA-W
- socks and underwear
- and then of course a neck warmer, headband, winter gloves, hat and sunglasses
- mini shampoo, shower gel and hair brush
- towel, toothbrush and toothpaste
- mosquito spray and travel first aid kit
I've also brought my cameras and lenses with me. But the photography was terrible. With the wind so strong, I was never able to stand still and with each photo I hoped they wouldn't be blurry. On the third day, I went to the Glacier Frances and the Britanico lookout. Suddenly the weather has completely changed and I can only wear a t-shirt. At the Italiano campsite, which is before the glacier and the viewpoint, there is an opportunity to put the backpacks down, as you go back the same way. Most people put their packs down, have a snack and then walk to the glacier.
At the Italiano campsite I take my pack again and continue on. It is only two kilometers to Camp Frances (same name as the glacier). After a shower and dinner, even though it may be only 7 pm, I go straight to bed. The first two nights in Paine Grande I didn't sleep at all because of the strong wind and rain. Fortunately, Camp Frances is tucked away more in the woods, so at least it doesn't blow so much.
DAY FOUR Around the lake to Camp Central (15 km)
I woke up much later than I planned. Somehow I managed to ignore all the alarms on my phone. I have a quick breakfast and continue on again. The weather is absolutely beautiful again, everyone is walking in shorts and t-shirts. Surprisingly, it's not even windy, which hasn't happened to me in Patagonia yet. The road goes past a mountain lake and
snow-capped mountains visible in the distance. There is still plenty to see and photograph.
In the afternoon I reach Camp Central, where I will camp for my last night in Torres del Paine. They have a small cafeteria at the front desk, so after four hard days I reward myself with coffee and a small chocolate chip cookie.
The area around the campsite is similar to the beginning of Paine Grande, again hotel, resort, cabins and hostels. This area is completely crowded with tourists as from here you walk to probably the most famous view in Patagonia: Las Torres. Many tourists come here for a day trip, so it is clear that I will have to make tomorrow's hike as soon as possible so that I don't have to squeeze with the crowds of tourists at Las Torres.
The guys at the reception warn me that tomorrow the weather is supposed to suck all day. Rain and fog almost all day. Well there's nothing I can do, I'll still try to get up as early as possible and hope it doesn't rain too much.
DAY FIVE sunrise attempt at Las Torres (20 km)
Around 4am I wake up to find it's not raining and the sky is clear. Should I take a chance and try to walk in the dark and hope for a beautiful sunrise? For a long time I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to walk the route and terrain I don't know alone in the dark, but finally I gathered my courage and off I go!
The trail is well marked with reflectors (Las Torres is quite popular for sunrise), so it's easy to navigate even in the dark. Unfortunately for me, after an hour of clear sky, the clouds and rain arrive. Luckily, between Camp Central and Las Torres there is Camp Chileno, where I planned to take a break if the weather was bad. So I go straight there.
It's 6am and they have started serving breakfast at the campsite. I ask one of the ladies if I can have a coffee and join the breakfast for a while. Now I and the other travelers are drinking coffee and waiting for the situation outside to calm down a bit so we can see something of Las Torres.
Around 7 I continue on. The rain has stopped for a while. Unfortunately it didn't last long. On the last climb before Las Torres, not only did it start to blow, rain and freeze terribly, it also started to snow. It got so cold that my camera froze and stopped working.
Considering that yesterday we hiked in shorts, I'm quite surprised by this weather. Of course, Las Torres is hidden under a thick fog and all we can see is the lagoon and snow. For a while, we considered whether to stay a while and hope it would clear up, but everyone is so cold that we prefer to go back to the campsite for a warm shower.
Buses run directly from the campsite to the town. It's barely noon and the lady at the counter tells me that the only ticket I can buy is for 6:30 pm, all other buses are already sold out.
Eventually, though, she advises me to try hitchhiking. We hitchhike with one more mountain guide and maybe 10 minutes later a guy who works in the park stops by. We drive through the park and what don't we see? A cougar! All the cars and buses suddenly stop and everyone runs out and takes pictures. Cougars are pretty common in Patagonia, but you don't always run into them. Which is probably a good thing, because I don't know what I would do if a cougar appeared out of nowhere on the trek next to me.
WHEN TO VISIT TORRES DEL PAINE?
The high season is from December to February, which is considered summer in Patagonia (but that doesn't mean it will be warm and sunny all the time). However, it is during this period that hundreds of tourists visit the park every day and both the campsites and the viewpoints are crowded.
So many people try to trek either O trek or W trek just before or after the season. March and April are apparently great months for photographers as it is the autumn season and nature plays with orange and yellow tones. At the same time, it doesn't blow as much, but it's much more colder. It is possible to do the treks in winter but as it is much more dangerous, it is
mandatory to have a mountain guide with you.