Torres del Paine

“This park changed my life and it can change yours if you let it. Remember, don’t be bitter. Smile… Welcome to Torres del Paine National Park” – Park Ranger

I had never been welcomed to a national park with an inspiring talk but it filled me with adrenaline to get out there and experience it for myself. I wanted to know more about this park rangers story but the busses were leaving to take me to the trailhead where I would unload my rented backpack from the bus and begin my 7 day adventure. Throwing the heavy bag over my shoulders I set off down the trail. This is the beginning of my first overnight trek. There are many other blogs out there that give tips and trekking details. This isn’t that. Just some of the highlights from this unforgettable week.

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A few days before I came to the park I checked the weather and decided I would only do 3 days in the park before it turned for the worst. But a day before I was going to arrive, I heard a local guide talk about the park and how incredible it was. He said you’re going to get wet, muddy, and everything else when you experience all four seasons in a day. His talk got me so excited to make the most of the time I spend in the park. Since I didn’t have anywhere to be for 8 days I decided I’d spend 6 nights and 7 days trekking.

My bag was filled with all my food for 7 days, camping and cooking gear, cold weather clothes, and most importantly, snacks. The trail started out in a flat plain but after a few hours of hiking I was starting to see the mountains in the distance. It was a perfect sunny day at Torres del Paine.

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Since I’m on a motorcycle trip I didn’t bring any real hiking gear. Sure I have my camping gear but that’s about it. I didn’t have shoes or any of the traditional hiking clothes. I thought about buying new gear but it was so expensive that I decided I would use what I had. My Icon Patrol riding boots have been really comfortable to walk around in and I’d done some short hikes in them so I figured this was the best option.

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Lago Pehoe

At the beginning of the trailhead I met John and Katrina and we hiked almost 11 miles together to the campsite at Paine Grande. They are from Chicago and decided to breakaway from their routine and live in Argentina for 3 months. John is an amazing writer and photographer.

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John and Katrina hiking by Lago Pehoe

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Campsite at Paine Grande

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The last light of Day 1. Hiked 10.9 miles.

The second day I only hiked 6.8 miles but the trail was significantly harder. The trail kept climbing over these small passes and each time I thought, ok I just need to make it up to the top here and I’ll see Glacier Grey and then I’ll almost be there. It seemed to take forever but eventually I climbed over one small pass and sat down to take in the view of the amazing scene.

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At Refugio Glacier Grey I met up with a kayak guide from Bigfoot Patagonia and we kayaked out to the glacier. My guide was possibly one of the greateast adventurers you’ve never heard of. Each year he does multi-month treks across glaciers, mountains, or kayak expeditions from the Pacific to the Atlantic. And here I was trying to paddle in a wind chopped lake. Glad to have him along.

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On the way back the wind picked up and we were able to surf the waves back to the refugio. Yes, here they have waves in the lake. That’s how strong the winds are down here.

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Icebergs float in the lake after breaking off from the glacier. For as massive as they are, they move fast in the wind.

In Torres del Paine you can only camp in designated campgrounds. At first I thought I wouldn’t like this and just wanted to be able to camp in the wild. But each night I’d set up my tent and then head to the small refugios they have for campers to cook their meals and stay warm. I met people from all around the world everynight. And since many were doing the similar “W” trek we’d hike together and then hang out in the refugios at night.

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Refugio Grey campground

My go to dinners were packaged rice dishes. It was easy to cook, didn’t weigh very much and was filling. I was amazed to see that other people were bringing bottles of whiskey, fresh vegetables, jars of peanut butter, and boxes of chocolate. Luckily most of those people quickly realized they wanted to get rid of that weight and shared their whiskey and delicious gourmet veggies dishes. Not the chocolate though. On a 7 day hiking trip, you can’t have enough chocolate.

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It’s almost autumn down here

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I didn’t need to carry much water with me because there were creeks or waterfalls every 10 minutes on the trail.

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On the third day I met back up with the guides at Bigfoot Patagonia for an afternoon of trekking and ice climbing on Glacier Grey.

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Motorcycle boots turned glacier trekking boots with crampons.

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Glacier Gray

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The more blue ice is the more solid it is because it is more compressed. This ice here is almost as hard as rock.

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for scale

After spending a few hours exploring different parts of the glacier and looking for bigger ice caves my guide asked if I wanted to give ice climbing a try. A few other guides had set up some ropes and we went to join them. With my harness and the ropes anchored I climbed over the ledge of ice to baley down. That’s always my favorite part.

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Once at the bottom I grabbed my ice picks and secured the leashes around my wrists. After a few practice swings into the ice I went over the steps they taught me. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. 1 – reach up and swing right pickaxe 2 – do the same but with the left. 3 – lift right foot and stick crampon into ice. 4 – do the same but with the left foot. 5. bring my body close to the ice. Easy. 1,2,3,4,5. I counted the steps in my head as I ascended higher and higher. Removing the pickaxe from the ice was sometimes challenging. I need to practice that more. When I reached the top I had to still climb over the ledge. The ice up top was more loose from all the other climbers so I had to find a solid spot to place my pick. Finally, after a few failed attempts I got a secure hold and lifted myself up and over. I quickly stepped away from the ledge. Such a rush. I loved it.

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The view of Glacier Grey from the trail between Paso and Refugio Grey

Back at Refugio Grey that night I was surprised to see a familiar face across the campground. American Ian showed up! We hadn’t seen each other since Santiago more than a month earlier. He’s been mostly camping and fly fishing for the past month. We hiked together for the next 4 days along with a spunky Danish girl named Bebe.

The hike from Refugio Grey back to Paine Grande then northeast to Campmento Italiano started out as a grim rainy morning. The winds were to our backs so we had a tail wind making the hiking easy. The rain didn’t last long but a few times the wind blew so strong it almost knocked Ian and I off our feet. I heard other hikers who were actually blown over.

On the 5th day I woke up in my tent, unzipped my sleeping bag and instantly wished I was back inside it. It was freezing. I wish I was exagerating the temperature but I wasn’t. Crawling out of my tent snowflakes were lightly falling to the ground.

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We hiked further and further into the French Valley and the snow started coming down heavier. It was a beautiful view with the rocks and trees covered in snow. Of course snowballs were thrown.

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On the trail to the mirador in the French Valley

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About 1km away from the mirador we came to a clearing and walked into a blizzard. The wind and snow was blowing so hard we couldn’t see the bright orange trail markers let alone any of the beauty the French Valley is known for. We decided this was good enough and headed back down.

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Ian in the blizzard

After the blizzard we hiked down to Refugio Los Cuernos on a very muddy trail.

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Lago Nordenskjöld

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Camping at Los Cuernos

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Los Cuernos

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Torres del Paine is a beautiful place but it can also be a very expensive place. I heard that the food and things were expensive inside the park but I didn’t think it’d be this much. Glad I packed all my own food. Here a snickers costs 3,000 pesos. That’s about $6. Dinner costs $22. Glad I could control my Snickers bar craving.

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Many people say the highlight of their W trek is seeing the towers at sunrise. But since the weather can change so quickly I wanted to go see the towers in the afternoon and in the morning to make sure I had a clear sight of them.

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The trail to the torres gets more difficult the further up you go. Soon it’s just a field of boulders to navigate through.

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The towers

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We spent an hour or more up there by the lake watching the condors soar above. With no zoom lens I couldn’t get a shot of them but there were 3 soaring through the clouds and around the granite towers.

Me and Ian (photo by Justin Smith)

Me and Ian (photo by Justin Smith)

Tap. tap. tap. I woke up the light sound of tapping on my tent. When it got louder and faster I knew it was rain falling on my tent. I checked the time. Ugh. It was 5:45. I told myself I’d start hiking at 6am to see the towers at sunrise. With the howling wind and rain coming down everything in me said to just go back to bed but the voice inside my head said get out of the sleeping bag and start moving. At the time I was not happy about the decision but 2 hours later I’d realized it was the best choice I could have made.

With my headlamp on to show me the trail I began hiking up the rocky trail in total darkness. Once I left the forest I had nothing to shelter me from the wind. Climbing over boulders s in 60mph wind gusts and rain in the dark had my heart racing as I got closer to the top. Finally reaching the lake below the towers I found a place behind a few boulders to block the rain and I waited. Slowly the towers began to be cast in the morning light. More than an hour after the sunrise the sun finally peaked over the mountain behind me and gave me the most beautiful morning sunrise ever. With the rain still slighting coming down and the sun hitting the sky a rainbow was ultimate finale of my 7 days in Torres del Paine.

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The amazing view only lasted 10 minutes then the storm really picked up. I spent the next 4 hours hiking in a downpour and strong winds. Luckily it was mostly down hill and the rain was to my back. I felt bad for the all the people starting their W trek this way and the those who were only doing a day hike up to see the towers as you couldn’t even see the mountains there was so much fog. It was an unpleasant way to end the trek but I was still on a high from the morning sunrise that it didn’t matter.

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Finally after 4 hours of hiking the storm was behind me. I dried off in the refugio then boarded a bus where I snapped this photo.

7 days, a little over 60 miles of trekking. This is the face of satisfaction. Once I was back in Puerto Natales I met up at Basecamp Pub with Ian and a bunch of my new hiking friends for a night of pizza and drinks.

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 Throughout my 7 days trekking here I met so many amazing people on the trails and at the camps. I’m grateful for their kindness, sharing meals, whiskey, and stories. John, Katrina, Ian, Bebe, Greg, Justin, Eva, and many many more. On the second day I met an englishman named Greg. Throughout the week I learned of his story and why he’s traveling. Greg survived cancer but before he was better he put together a list of things he was going to do when her survived. He’s on that journey now and along the way inspiring others who are fighting or survivors to not let their illness win. Check out his story, his travels, and his charity 101 Things To Do When You Survive.

Greg

Greg

 

Enjoy this video of my experience.

Places Beyond: Torres del Paine Patagonia from Places Beyond on Vimeo.

 

Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine Info

Erratic Rock and Basecamp Pub hold daily information meetings at 3pm. They go over really helpful information about trekking in the park. Don’t miss it. It’ll also pump you up about your upcoming trek.

There are so many hostels in this small city. I stayed at Hostal Shakana, one of the cheaper options at only 8,000 pesos a night versus many others that were 11,000 and higher for a dorm bed. Included a nice breakfast with two eggs, lots of parking, wifi, warm wood burning heaters.

Buses depart from the bus station for Torres del Paine at 7:30am. Usually 15,000 pesos. We talked them into giving them to us for 10,000.

It’s a 2hour bus ride on a washboard road. I’m glad I didn’t ride my motorcycle to the park.

Day 1 – Arrive hike to Paine Grande (5hrs Trekking, Camping 4,000 CLP)  Bus 10,000 CLP

Day 2 – to Refugio Grey (6.5 Hours Trekking, Camping 4,000CLP)

Day 3 – Glacier Ice Trek (Refugio Grey, Camping 4,000CLP)

Day 4 – to Campamento Italiano (6Hrs Trekking, Camping Free)

Day 5 – Valle de Frances to Los Cuernos (7.5hrs trekking, Camping 8,000CLP)

Day 6 – to  Camapmento Torres (8hrs trekking, Free Camping)

Day 7 – Torres at dawn, return to Natales. Shuttle CLP 2,500

 

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