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PATAGONIA: Puerto Natales & Torres Del Paine

We left Buenos Aires at around 4:30 AM and flew down south in Argentina to a town called Rio Gallegos. We had some time before we got on yet another transport, so we had a large and yummy breakfast in this cozy town. Coming from BA and the hot sun, Rio Gallegos was a bitter landing: brisk and cold. After breakfast took a seven hour bus to our final destination, Puerto Natales.

This was where we based ourselves for our the start of our journey through Patagonia. This small quaint town was known for its frequent mid afternoon rainbows, chilling weather and amazing artisanal restaurants. Restaurants were often full of excited hikers preparing for the next couple of days, or housing tired ones who were resting after their long hike through Torres del Paine.

Puerto Natales

We had two nights to recover from our long travel day, filling that time with wandering up and down the long streets, looking for warm clothes we needed, or sitting down for an afternoon coffee.

The morning we left, we stored our bags in our hotel, and headed out at around 6 am. Taking a taxi to the local bus station, we caught a bus that would eventually drop us off at the start of our W circuit (hiking Torres del Paine East to West).

Two different Circuits: W and O (not shown Q)

Torres del Paine can be hiked a variety of ways, ranging in comfort, length and of course, price. As we booked our trek very late in advance (as we did most of our larger activities), we had a variety of comfort, and opted for the shorter, more common route: The W.

Do not let “shorter” confuse you into thinking this was a piece of cake. A 87.2 kilometer trek (54.2 miles) in 4 days, we ascended 3800 meters (10,491 feet) with our packs (clothes/food/etc) and some very sore feet.

OUR W Circuit

Day 1: ~17 KM

The first day we started the uphill climb, and rounded “Windy Pass” a cutout on the side of the first mountain. As we climbed we started to see the fall colors spring from the mountain side: rustic oranges and dark yellows flooded the valley ahead.

Here trekkers were coming and going in both directions, some finishing their treks and some just beginning. We stopped for lunch at our Refugio, Chileno [Refugios are where hikers stay, and there are usually places for people to set up their tents, tents that you can rent with sleeping bags inside, or dormitory style bedrooms for a “luxurious” experience”]. Here we dropped our bags off in the tents we rented and started hiking to our first Mirador [-this means lookout in Spanish, and usually infers a steep climb to get to the viewpoint]. This hike was long to say the least. It took us around 3 hours one way, and the last hour was rock scrambling. As we reached the top climbing over the white boulders, and we were able to peer around and see the infamous towers.

Torres del Paine is known for their steep tower, 90 degrees and beautifully cut around a aqua blue pool accumulating just under the glacier. Just stunning. Pretty okay first day! Our feet were tired but we choked down a marginal meal of overly fatty beef steaks and slept in smelly rented sleeping bags. But we all fell fast asleep after this first long day.

"Where are you from" map in Chileno

Day 2: ~18 KM

The second day we descended for a while, taking in the large Lago (-lake) to our left and going deeper into marshy conditions. We would often have to jump on rocks or find alternative paths because the mud was too deep (occasionally having full legs stuck in the mud). Along this route we were alone for a lot of it and stopped to have a snack when we found a great mirador.

We walked along the lake for most of this walk and the last 3 KM was a very steep climb, and we were all VERY tired. We stayed at Refugio Frances in a tent, this time slightly upgraded with more cushiony sleeping pads. We had such a good dinner that night, a piece of salmon with a creamy caper sauce and mashed potatoes. Over dinner we met couples from China, France, and Chile who were all hiking similar routes to us, and we discussed upcoming days and the beauties of Torres del Paine.

Day 3: ~23 KM

We woke up early, because with the amount of hiking and uphill we had this day, we were nervous we wouldn’t make it to the next Refugio until dark. So we started onwards, our goal for the day to see Mirador Britannica. This was a gradual uphill the whole way up, but we were able to leave our bags at the Refugio Italiano (closed for the season), and pick them up when we walked back (~4 hours later).

This hike had so many different terrains, including scrambling on large white bleached rock, thick forests, desolate areas where fire had once raged. We reached the center of the valley, surrounded by the mountains filled with autumn color.

It took us around 2 hours to get to our Refugio, but the terrain throughout this flat walk was less stunning because of the couple fires frivolous campers had started. Torres del Paine has a strict no fire law, with high fines and prison sentences. The last fire in 2011 destroyed 43,500 acres of trees and land, and the effects or duly noted and mourned.

Our last Refugio was Refugio Paine Grande, and we upgraded to a dorm style sleeping arrangement. After a pisco sour and a quick dinner in this larger residence, we all fell promptly asleep, as a bed had never felt so heavenly.

Day 4: ~25 KM

Our last hike was to the Mirador Glacier Grey, a stunning Glacier with gleaming metallic blue hues bouncing off the lake. We left our bags at our Refugio (because we would be walking back and sleeping there another night). This was a long monotonous hike, but after around 2 hours we could see the glacier in the distance.

We reached the glacier after 4 hours and ate lunch at the top of a a rock peering down over the spectacular glacier, occasionally hearing large booms of ice falling into the clear water. There was Refugio Grey here that we were unable to book, so we hiked back home and collapsed after our last long day of hiking!

The next day we took a boat back to the starting point, and were able to look back on our long hiking days from the comfort of the boat.

Looking at the deep colors of the trees and the large spiky edges of the Torres, holding deep beauty and eloquence in their being.

We have hiked a lot on this trip. I mean some hard hikes where toenails have fallen off, blisters have been frequent, and there has been no shortage of spectacular miradors. I think I can say confidently, that this was the most amazing hiking on this trip, and probably the most spectacular hike in my life. It is truly a bucket list, a place you may go back again and again. Don’t miss this if you have the chance.

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