Torres del Paine national park and the infamous W trek with our own little twist. (31 January – 3 February)

  1. Day

We woke up at six o’clock in the morning to catch the first bus to the national park. By 7 o’clock we were already on the bus and sleeping again since it was a 2-hour ride. When we arrived at the entrance of the national park we were very happy that we bought the ticket in advance because the queue there was huge. We smoothly passed this and went to the next bus which took us to our campsite. Everything went well apart from that Kaija forgot her hat, which we bought from Peru, on the bus

In our campsite, Camping Central, we had to do some paperwork and to show our reservation to the park ranger. Like we wrote in our previous post, you need to pre-book your campsites in advance otherwise you will not be let in the park.Finally, we got to our campsite and we started to put up our tent. It is wise to put up the tent before going for the hike because you can leave the rest of the stuff inside the tent and after the hike, you are probably too tired anyway. Also, there will be many day hikes on that route so letting them first to the track means there will be fewer people by the time you start. We also had a quick lunch – salami and cheese wraps.

On about 11 o’clock we started our hike – 9 km to the base of the Torres towers and the same way back. We knew that the first day will probably be the most difficult because it is mostly uphill. But we were mentally prepared for that. Luckily the weather was great. Sun was shining all the way. We admired the bright blue colored lakes and high mountains with white snow tops.

After two hours of mountain racing, we got a little rest and the land became flatter. At the same time, we were surprised by the enormous wind. We walked along the slope of the mountain with a deep valley alongside it. It was the perfect way for the wind to get anywhere. Smaller would need to load their pockets full of stones because the wind was really so big that it threatened to take someone with it.

Soon we arrived in the forest and we could walk quite a long way without having to worry about the wind. The weather had become colder and our stomachs were empty. It was quite a long time ago, we had our last meal and we did not bring a lot of snacks with. It turns out that it is quite difficult to spend five to six hours without a proper meal because racing up the mountain spends quite a lot of our energy. The lifesaver for us though was finally candy and snickers.

We needed to survive another few kilometers of steep up the mountain route to get to the point of view. Slowly and steady we’ve been dragging ourselves up the hill somehow.

A view that was opened was, of course, powerful and we dropped a few tears after such a great effort. There was also a huge wind on the scene, and it was extremely cold. Weather was not so bright anymore as in the morning, because there was a big cloud around the towers, and we were afraid we might not be able to see the tower properly.

We put on our thickest clothes, so that the wind can’t reach our sweaty backs. In that time, the weather was also cleared. We had a compulsory photo shoot, and we may have photographed the world’s most famous three towers and the blue mountain lake in front of them from each side. Snow was raining and the wind was so dreadful that it was hard to stand up. We did not want to stay up there for a very long time because the cold started coming into bones and we were on our way back down pretty soon.
I don’t know whether the hungry or the cold made our legs go faster, but we got down a lot faster than we had taken the time to get up. We got back to the camp at about 7 o’clock and altogether our hike lasted almost 8 hours. For dinner, we ate fast noodles and lenses with chorizo. We thought that the fast noodles have never tasted better. After dinner, we dived into our tent and went for sleep because we planned to wake up early the next morning because we needed to cover lots of kilometers tomorrow.

2. Day

We totally slept in. Neither of us heard an alarm clock for some reason. Perhaps it was an instinct of our body to enabled us to have enough sleep. We were still lucky because there was no drop of rain at night and it was pretty warm to sleep. We were prepared for the worse: the cold, the rain and the wind.
By 9: 00, we were able to put together our tent and have a little breakfast. We could say that with breakfast we had miscalculated and there was a little too little food. We had taken a couple of fast-soups for every morning because we are not a big fan of porridge, but at the same time, we wanted something warm. However, it turned out that soups left the stomach quite empty.

On that day, we had to go through 26 km, with a heavy backpack containing our tent, our sleeping mats, our sleeping bags, our entire supply of food, etc. We assumed that it would take us about 10 hours with food breaks. So, starting at 9 a.m., we were rather late. Fortunately, the weather was once again sunny and we started with high motivation. The path was supposed to be relatively flat terrain and smooth, so we hoped it would be a somewhat easy day.

We started the hike along the coast of the Nordernskjöld lake and later on followed the Sköttsberg lake. The path was really easy and the kilometers passed quickly. Most of the time, on one side of us, there was an enormous mountainous landscape and on the other side the bright blue Nordenskjöld lake. So, we had to walk across a number of rivers and streams that started from the mountains and run into the lakes. We made the first lunch break beside the lake and we ate rice cookies with a jam. The jam is one of our favorites during the hikes because you get a lot of energy from there.

Moving on, we passed the three campsites where we had not managed to get a place to stay. That is also why we had to go through so many kilometers on that day. For that reason, we could not complete the middle part of the W track, and we had to hike from one end of the park with one day. That is why we also missed one of the sightings in the park – the French glacier. It would have added another 5 to 6 km to our day and, as we were already in the time rush and it would have been just too many kilometers for us for one day. So, we enjoyed the view from the Italiano campsite over Francis and it was quite enough for us. A beautiful view, and next to the river, we ate our last wraps and continued our hike.

On the second half of the day, we saw a quite different landscape. We enjoyed the view of the mountains and glaciers. The trail went down to completely next to the lake and there was a desire to go swimming because the beach was simply magnificent and together with the waves we felt as if we were at the sea. For some time, we walked through the forest, which had been damaged by large-scale forest fires. In 2005 and 2011, a huge part of the national park burned and damaged the forest. Therefore, the park guards take fire safety very seriously, and there is no place for smokers in the park. Doing fire or cooking in the park is prohibited and may only be done at the campsites at areas specially designed for that purpose. We have heard that there have been cases where violators have been thrown out not only from the park but departed from Chile.

Just before 7 o’clock, Paine Grande campsite, which was located on the shore of Lake Pehoe, began to stand out. This is one of the largest in the park, as most tourists use the catamaran, which runs from this camping area, either when entering or leaving the park. There is also a very large hotel there for those who want a more comfortable stay. But for that convenience, you have to pay a pretty huge amount. We put our tent up again before dinner. We were looking as wind-protected place as possible, as we were warned that there have been occasions in this camping area where the wind is so strong that throws the tent directly in the middle of the lake. Fortunately, the wind was quite quiet during our stay (compared to what we had experienced during our hike).

The second day’s dinner we also had fast food – this time pasta. Once again, after the dinner and shower, we prepared the wraps for the next day’s lunch and went to have a sleep in the tent. The summer of Estonia came to our mind, as it was quite late, but still, it was light outside. The night was exceptionally warm and the sky was full of the start. Unfortunately, we could not find any familiar constellation from the sky, but the milky way was beautiful.

3. Day

On the third day planned to go to the Gray Glacier. It meant walking 11 km back and forth, or a total of 22 km. The track was supposed to be fairly flat and simple because we didn’t have our big backpack. However, we had a very difficult morning and probably because again the breakfast was not enough for us and we had to make the first stop already in the first hour to have some snacks. You should not underestimate the importance of breakfast when hiking!

Immediately in the morning, it was clear that the weather will once again exceptionally good. We got to hike without wind stopper or sweater for the most of the track. Almost half of the road we had wonderful views of the glacier and the Gray Lake. Watching the lake there is no doubt why the lake is named like this. This lake does look really gray.

We walked along the forest trail and along the cliff along the lake. Once again, we passed several streams and also a larger river that brought water from the top of the mountain to the lake. The road to the glacier passed quite quickly and soon we met a large iceberg. Large pieces of ice had fallen from the glacier into the lake, which now floats there. Once again, the view of the glacier was simply stunning and special. This combination of colors from gray to blue and purple is just unbelievable. Above the lake, one condor swirled and we also saw a local duck family walking around.

On the observation platform, there was an information board on how climate warming has affected one of the world’s largest glaciers over the years. It was sad to see that some time ago the glacier reached the place where we were now standing. The glacier has now decreased significantly.
We climbed to the top of a hill next to the observation deck, where we were hoping to get a better view of the lake and glacier. Although the mountain was fiercely windy and therefore cool, we decided to have lunch there, as the views were simply wonderful. We were also shocked by the loud bangs from the glacier. This is the voice that arises when the next ice rock breaks from the glacier.

For people who have a thicker wallet and less desire to hike, the glacier can be accessed with the boat tour as well. From the boat the glacier can be observed very closely. Unfortunately, we didn’t get so close.

If we had traveled a few kilometers further, we might have got a better view of the glacier and also see the famous suspension bridges, but it would have added about 5 hours to our trip. On the third day, we had not such enthusiasm anymore, and we promised to left this for the next time we come back here to discover the whole O trail.

After lunch, we started walking back along the way we came. The weather had suddenly turned hot and for the first time during the hike, we could hike with all the shorts outfit. Peeling off and putting on your clothes is one of the most annoying activities in Patagonia because the weather can change rapidly in five minutes. So, we always allowed some time before we took off the sweater or put on a windstopper. Some people suggested just to wear light clothes, and when you feel cold, you should just move faster. For us it mostly worked, except when the temperature rose to 26 degrees.
On the way back, we saw one girl on the trail eating berries. Til that time, we had not eaten any local berries because we feared they might be poisonous. We asked the girl if she knows if the berries were poisonous. She claimed that she has eaten them for the three days already and hadn’t died so far. So, we dared to taste some as well. Some of the berries were reddish pink and tasted a little like apples. It was a very refreshing snack. Other berries looked like our blueberries but tasted like juniper berries because they had seeds inside.

The girl was from Russia, more specifically from the Ural. Compared to us, he was a true backpacker who also gave up his job as an engineer and decided to travel around the world. She rented out his apartment and earn about 130 USD each month. Of which 100 USD is her monthly travel budget and 30 USD she puts aside to buy air ticket back home when needed. We listened and were both amazed that she manages with that little money because our monthly budget is still several times higher and still we seem to live very modestly. She said she was spending money only on food and everything else was free because to get around she just hitchhikes and she spends the night at the Couchsurfing or just knock on the doors of the strangers to find a place for the night. She is not spending any money on tourist attractions but goes to places where you can go for free. We then wondered how he came to Torres del Paine Park. She somehow managed to sneak in free of charge, and in the camping areas he just put his tent up and claims that anybody hardly ever checks if tents have the camping ticket. This is a story for people who claim that traveling is expensive. We don’t like to trick the systems like that but as a young person traveling alone … why not discover the world like that.

The evening we spent with the same girl just talking and cooking a risotto. We felt that we could even reward ourselves a little bit and bought two local beers at the campsite. On the third day, we were on the road for almost 8 hours, during that time Kaija managed to get a sunburn on top of her head. The sunscreen in Patagonia is a must, as the ozone layer in this area is thin and you get burns easily. Where else can you find a place in the world where you have to take into consideration the icy wind, both snow, and rain, as well as the burning sun and the hot weather?
Our last night in Torres del Pain was also exceptionally warm and the sky was once again perfectly clear to watch the stars.

4. Day

We allowed to wake up late on the last day because we knew that there was no rush. We woke up only 9 o’clock, and this time we bought some snack at the camping store in order to have our stomachs full for breakfast. Buying food in a national park is very expensive. For example, one biscuit pack costs 4-5 euros and the tiny 0.33 beers are more or less the same. This is also the reason why most of the hikers ‘ bags are so big, as most of the food has to be carried along. As mentioned earlier, we also had a tent, sleeping bags, and mattresses with us. They can all be rented on campsites as well, but it is much more expensive than to rent the same at Puerto Natales for several days.

Anyway, on the last day, we had a good start, as the backpack was relatively empty since most of the food was eaten and there was only about 19 km to go. In our previous post, we wrote that due to our savings budget, we decided to skip the catamaran journey and instead walk to the nearest bus stop. The day was again sunny and unbelievably hot, so we put on a proper layer of sunscreen and put on our lightest clothes.

We had read that this 19 km walk to the bus stop is a pretty boring damp land and there’s nothing special to see. Hiking there we did not understand this criticism because the beginning of the last day was wonderful! The weather was perfectly clear and there was a wonderful reflection of the mountains from Lake Pehoe. There were plenty of different birds at the lake. All of this called for a quick swim! At first, however, we doubted, because we feared that the weather would turn and become cooler. In addition, we did not want to waste any time at the beginning of the hike since we don’t know what else waits for us ahead. Later we kind of regretted that we did not go for a swim when there was an opportunity for us.

Soon we passed the lake and the trail began to run parallel to the Gray River. The Gray River is just as gray as the Gray Lake 😊 Having been on the road for 3-4 hours, we discovered that we had made a small miscalculation. Namely, we had only one bottle of water, which was already almost at the due to such killing heat. There were 10 kilometers more to go and in such a hot weather it would be a tremendous torment without a drinking water. Our miscalculation was due to the misdemeanor we had received during the hiking briefing in the Puerto Natales. The speaker claimed that all the trails of the park can in principle be completed just with a single cup, because every once and a while there is a waterfall, stream or river where you can get clean water. It turned out, however, that there was not much or none found in this specific part of the trail where we were at. It wasn’t just a very popular section, and it wasn’t part of W trail as well. This passage is called the Q-track, and there were not many people hiking there. One lady who came on the opposite way also said that she did not meet any streams on her way. We were already quite desperate. Luckily, however, we found one very small stream after a while. Basically, this water came from the ground through the moss. As there were no cattle animals around or near, so we dared to drink this water and the water tasted as clean as in the rest of the park. It was a great relief!

Beside the water, we also ate our lunch and the mood was good again! Rest of the trail continued along the river along the field. This landscape was once again quite different from what we had seen before but still, sort of beautiful. From a distance, we saw some rabbit running from us.

There were very few people on this track. We saw a total of 4-5 people during this day. One couple was brave enough to go for a swim in the river. We spotted their white bottoms already very far from the distance :D. Our bodies were also overheated by that time, so we decided to get ourselves in the river as well. We picked the right place on the river and skinny dipped ourselves in. The water was ice cold, so we were in the water basically a few seconds only. Although the water was ice cold, and for a moment offered a cooldown, the sun warmed us up again in seconds. We enjoyed the view of the river for a long time and the mountains in the background. We also were greeted by the group of kayakers. Fortunately, or, unfortunately, by that time, we have already dressed up again!

After this little adventure, we still had a final 6 km to go. The last part of the trail was the so-called damp land, but we were fascinated because we met the family of Lamas. They were not afraid of us and just ate the grass at the edge of the field without even noticing us.

By the evening, we arrived at the end of the trail, the administrative office of the national park. Our bus was at 6 o’clock. So, we had enough time to eat the last dinner and the rest of the snacks. We also wanted to go swimming, but when asking the park guards, we got a relatively bitter response that swimming in the national park was forbidden (Ups! Fortunately, we didn’t know that before). We hoped that we would still have time to visit the museum which was in the same building but once we finished our dinner we just wanted to have a nap.

At 6 o’clock we were on the bus and the ride lasted about 4 hours back to Puerto Natales. We had to be back before 11 am because we had to return all the rental equipment at that time. Fortunately, the bus arrived on time and we got all the stuff returned on time. We had also booked accommodation for one more night because it was no longer possible to get to Punta Arenas that late. Compared to the previous one, this guesthouse was a little more expensive but worth the price. After 4 days in the woods, we could sleep in a comfortable warm room and in a comfortable bed. The hostess greeted us in the morning with one of the best breakfasts we’ve ever had.

In total, we walked 85 km in 4 days, but this did not felt so long and was not physically so tiring, because the surrounding nature is what makes adrenaline rush and makes you forget hurting knees or empty stomach. For us, this trip was undoubtedly the highlight of our journey to date, and we would like to come back here and hike the entire Torres del Paine O trail. In addition, we did not go to Ushuaia this time, the southernmost city in the world, and the Argentinian part of Patagonia, which is supposed to be at least as beautiful, but much cheaper to visit. We dare to recommend Torres del Pain to all kinds of travelers! We were able to prove for ourselves that traveling in Patagonia does not cost a fortune, but every paid cent is undoubtedly worth the experience!

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