Torres del Paine has the reputation as being one of the best places to hike in the world. It also has the reputation as having some of the most changeable and wild weather in the world.
When we arrived in the Park, from the quieter Western side, the famous mountains were covered in clouds which were raining – hard. We decided to hang out and see what happened as we didn’t want to head out on a multi-day trek in terrible conditions.
We spent the day relaxing at campsite Rio Serrano just outside the park with a great view of the mountain range and waited for a break in the weather.
We found out the weather was going to change for the better in another day, so we set out to explore the park by Truck while things weren’t so good. Not so good meaning no rain but 100km/hr winds which made walking around interesting.
We were determined to do some hiking so we drove to the trailhead for the “W” hike and spent a very bumpy night in the Beast getting battered by the wind. It felt a bit like a giant dog was shaking us in its mouth !
We woke in the morning to calm and blue skies so we wasted no time in setting out for the first leg of the W. We were cheating slightly as we hiked up to the Mirador de los Torres as a day hike then slept in the truck before heading out for the rest of the W the following day after a comfortable nights sleep and a good evening meal. This would mean that we didn’t have to carry big packs on the first and probably most difficult day of the trek.
It’s an 18k roundtrip hike, climbing 1000m. The path climbs up from the main valley up and over a range of hills into another valley before eventually climbing up a relatively loose, steep hillside to the Cirque where the towers are situated. We had to race slightly against the clock as the weather started to come in. We reached the top just before the views started to be impaired by incoming cloud. By the time we left the top the cloud was coming in hard and fast. Those who met on the way back down were not going to get a good view at all.
When we got back to the camper we were pretty tired – 10 days on a ship in the Antarctic eating ridiculous amounts of food is no preparation for a big hike. The next morning however, with a good nights rest we were raring to go for the next leg of our hike – to Refugio Los Cuernos a mere 11 km away – but this time carrying our big packs. We were so raring to go that we lay in bed until 11am and didn’t set off until 1pm but set off we did. This part of the hike was fairly easy with a couple of inclines but nothing too taxing but in terms of scenery this was probably the least interesting day.
On arriving at Los Cuernos we found a pitch for the tent and paid the outrageous fee of US30 for the camping – the most expensive camping we’ve done all trip and the Beast wasn’t even involved. This is a privately owned campsite and unfortunately we had no choice but to use it as Camp Italiano was closed and there was no sign of Camp Frances despite its mention in our guidebook. It wasn’t even that nice with tents on top of each other (although they were well sheltered from the wind) and only two toilets for over 100 people and 2 picnic tables in the kitchen area.
The next morning we woke (though I’m not sure we slept that much) after a cold night to decent sunshine and no wind so we got on the road for the 5.5km walk to Camp Italiano where we were able to drop our packs (but not set up camp) and hike up a steep sided lateral moraine into Valle de Francis.
The views from the top were good but we couldn’t hang around too long as we still needed to hike another 7.6kms from the bottom to the next camp at Refugio Mountain Paine Grande.
This was a nicer place to camp as there is a big open area where a tent can be pitched anywhere – in strong wind it might not be so pleasant but we were lucky as there was only a light breeze.
Good toilets and facilities as well as a little shop, bar and restaurant where we indulged in a couple of beers while sitting in the sunshine airing our by now fairly battered feet.
At this stage we were almost done with the W but had one leg left. Up alongside Lago Grey. The weather was beginning to turn and we were starting to suffer, so we decided to do this as a day hike, leaving our pack/ tent etc. at Paine Grande rather than camp at Refugio Grey and returning the following day.
It was then a simple matter of getting a boat back to the dock at lago Pehoe, a bus to Laguna Armaga and a second bus to Hotel Las Torres before we were reunited with the Beast.
After a very sound nights sleep we woke to pouring rain and low cloud and knew it was time to leave the park and head North.