We took the first bus from Puerto Natales at 7am to the national park. Upon arrival, you must pay for park entry at the ranger station. Then, to begin the W trek, you must take the bus for another half hour to the other side of the park. Here there is a ferry to the start of the trek. It may have been the fact that it was New Year's Day when we arrived at the park, but we waited for the ferry for 2 hours! A massive line of hikers waited patiently huddling together for warmth and making guesses at when the ferry drivers would show up. According to the schedule, the ferry should leave at 9 and 11, but we departed at noon. It was such a relief to drop our things off at refugio Paine Grande where we had a room to ourselves with one bunk bed and begin hiking. We even saw a zorro that brightened our day on our way towards refugio Grey.
After about three hours of hiking, we arrived at the refugio. John wanted to see the suspended bridge, but it was another 2km out so we elected to go a little further to the view point the signs indicated was half a kilometer away. The view of Glacier Grey was incredible and we watched boat sized glacier chunks float around below us. I couldn't believe we had considered heading back before seeing this view, and we spent about 20 minutes just admire the natural beauty before heading back.
The second day held just as incredible, if not better views than the first. Starting off we left the refugio and headed towards campsite Italiano. Although we had to carry our packs for this section, the interesting mountain peaks made up for it. We joked that the mountain tops looked like ice cream scoops with sharp changes in color striping the landscape horizontally.
After we set up our tent and ate lunch, we headed up towards Lookouts Frances and Britannica. The crowded hike up was rather steep, but without packs we had no problem hustling up to Frances. We loved the foreboding mountain which towered over the lookout with its snowy peak. A lot of people turned around at this point, but we headed up another steep two hours to Lookout Britannica. There were only a few other hikers at the viewpoint when we arrived, a stark difference from the crowd at Frances. We couldn't capture the entire 360 view in one picture and stayed for about 15 minutes when I started to shiver from the wind against my sweat. We're both hard pressed to pick a top view from this hike, but Britannica is definitely a front runner.
The third day involved the longest backpack carrying stretch of the hike. We left campsite Frances and headed to Chileno. There weren't any spectacular viewpoints on this day, but the grey mountain sides against the green fields made for a pleasant walk. We arrived at Chileno in the early afternoon and enjoyed some down time before dinner. This is the only campsite where we were not allowed to use our stove, a precaution against forest fires. Fortunately, the kitchen provides hot water for campers during its open hours.
We woke up at 5am to hike up to the Torres. After a breakfast of energy bars and peanut butter, we packed up the tent and stored our packs inside the refugio, looking forward to having real food once we got back. The moderately steep trail towards the Torres was pretty much empty, and we hiked quickly. For about an hour we made our way through the wooded terrain until we hit the rocky section up to the view. The last 30 mins was steep and tough with gravel slipping under our feet. However, this was all forgotten when we reached the Torres, the pinnacle view on the W.
We enjoyed the view with about five other hikers and felt lucky to have such a clear day. It is no wonder the Torres are one of the most famous views in all of Patagonia.
|Torres del Paine|
The hike down went quickly, although we ran into several large groups heading up. We got back to camp by 9:00 and headed out after a second breakfast of freeze dried meals. Although we had a clear sunny day, we had quite a bit of wind. At some points we had to stop and shield our faces as the wind kicked up a tornado of dust off the trail. By lunch time we arrived at the bus station where we waited for about an hour, enjoying some time off of our feet.