Torres del Paine

Chile

Just over three years ago, my mate, Dominik and I trekked the ‘O’ around Torres del Paine in Chilean Patagonia over five days. I wrote the following several weeks after we completed this challenging, but highly rewarding route.

The sound of heavy rain is not exactly what you want to wake up to when you’re about to embark on a five-day trek, but that’s exactly what confronted us in Puerto Natales on the morning we were due to travel to Torres del Paine National Park. We’d arrived the day before and had spent the afternoon hiring the gear we needed and buying enough food for the journey. It usually takes between six and eight days to complete the ‘O’ (the full circuit around the national park) but we had already booked the Navimag Ferry to Puerto Montt, so only had five days to play with. Wanting to see as much as possible, we decided to have a crack at it.

That first day was the longest and probably the most difficult, even though the majority of the walk was flat. The fairly constant rain and low cloud didn’t help proceedings as we covered over 30km from the National Park Office, where we had paid the entrance fee (at the time it was 18,000 CLP or $27 USD), to the campsite at Refugio Dickson.

Most people seem to start trekking early in the morning, however the previous six weeks in Patagonia had clearly indicated that we’re not most people and day two was no exception – eventually setting off around 9am. We encountered some ridiculous winds at the glacial lake just before Los Perros Campsite but made the 9km journey from our starting point in good time. We had lunch and chilled out for an hour before confronting what is considered to be the hardest section of the ‘O’, Paso John Gardner.

The strong winds returned as soon as we started the ascent and some assistance was definitely required. I put my headphones in and blasted Metallica’s seven good albums on random in order to help complete the climb.

It was almost impossible to walk at the very top, with the wind even stronger than before and sleet and snow smashing straight into our faces. After shouting several expletives at myself for extra motivation, I struggled forward, catching a first glimpse of the huge Grey Glacier below. After finally regaining my composure, I realised that the song, ‘Trapped Under Ice’ was playing through the headphones. It couldn’t have been scripted any better…

We walked down the other side of the pass in much calmer weather, eventually arriving at (the free) Paso Campsite. The 12km from Los Perros had taken just over 4 hours and, looking back, it was definitely the most gratifying part of our trek.

We completed the ‘W’ in the next three days (the most common route taken around the national park) and while the scenery was still amazing, it was very different to our first couple of days, where we had seen less than twenty people on the trails. Highlights were the lookout near Britanico Campsite, which provides a view of peaks in every direction, and waking up at 4:30am on our last morning to walk up to Base de las Torres to watch the sunrise change the colour of the rocks several times over.

We had both joked on day one that people must be crazy to walk the 7.5km back to the National Park Office when a mini-bus is available. I’m not sure whether we were just amped at what we had seen that morning, or slightly delirious after a huge five days, but that’s exactly what we did, clocking up over 140km in total. Even now, four weeks on, I have to say that Torres del Paine is one of the standouts of my time here in South America.

Now, more than three years later, those five days are easily near the top of my list of highlights from six months in South America. Even though the weather sometimes makes you wonder what you’re doing there in the first place, the ever-changing landscape more than makes up for it – not to mention the satisfaction of completing such an epic journey, or the ability to completely switch off, away from the crowds on the first couple of days. If you have the time to spare, I highly recommend trekking the ‘O’ and experiencing a part of Torres del Paine National Park that the majority of people miss out on…

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