TORRES DEL PAINE NATIONAL PARK, PATAGONIA, CHILE: 5 DAY TREK OF THE “W”.
DESTINATION: GLACIER TORRES AND THE TORRES
BASE CAMP: REFUGIO LAS TORRES
DISTANCE: 10 MILES
TIME: 8 HRS
WEATHER: MOSTLY CLOUDY, MODERATE WIND.
After stepping off our bus at 11:00 AM, We began our grueling trek to the famous Torres (towers) of Torres del Paine national park. As we reached the summit, we found the three towers suspended from the low clouds. The melting glacier below fed hundreds of small water falls that opened to a milky-blue lake below. We didn’t have much time to enjoy as we had to get back before dark. The Refugio was truly beautiful: an eco-lodge of perfect proportions. The food was great, the bunks were comfortable, and we were absolutely exhausted after just one day.
DESTINATION: LOS CUERNOS
BASE CAMP: REFUGIO LOS CUERNOS
DISTANCE: 8 MILES
TIME: 5 HRS
WEATHER: MORNING RAIN, PARTLY SUNNY AFTERNOON
The park is incredible. Around every corner is a view more spectacular than the last. This was our easy day. The lodge is more rustic with gas lamps and solar electricity.
DESTINATION: FRENCH VALLEY
BASE CAMP: REFUGIO PAINE GRANDE
DISTANCE: 14.5 MILES
TIME: 10.5 HRS
Now things are really getting interesting! After the rising sun cast its deep orange glow on the towering Cuernos above our lodge, we ate a quick breakfast and began our most challenging day. The French Valley did not disappoint. The massive Cuernos (Horns) guided us into this ancient valley littered with active glaciers. It was hard to hike for more than 20 minutes without hearing the thunderous moans of the French Glacier as it constantly deposited massive sections of its low hanging ice to the valley below. We never thought mountains could speak! These spectacular avalanches were just one of the many highlights of the valley. The 360 degree views often stopped us in our tracks. We had to move fast to finish this section in daylight, but not too fast to miss the beauty of it all. We ended the trek with some Pisco Sours in the lodge – a Chilean drink made from pisco alcohol. Amanda and I have officially put Torres Del Paine on our top 5 list after today’s hike. We highly recommend it!
DESTINATION: GLACIER GREY
BASE CAMP: REFUGIO GREY
DISTANCE: 7 MILES
TIME: 4.5 HRS
WEATHER: SUNNY, WIND GUSTS UPS TO 50 MPH!
We took our time this morning as another short hike lay ahead. We arrived at the glacier awestruck by its presence. The north end of Lake Grey is met by towering columns of jagged ice shooting up from the surface to form Glacier Grey. Massive chunks of ice radiating a magnificent blue light floated down the lake after separating from the glacier. The winds were constantly making us lose our balance as we stood to take photos and admire the glacier. It is a different world in Patagonia. The earth is alive with shifting ice, violent swings in weather, and magnificently jagged cliffs and mountains. We’ve spoken little Spanish lately; Patagonia is littered with Americans, Europeans, and even the occasional Chilean.
DESTINATION: PUERTO NATALES
BASE CAMP: N/A
DISTANCE: 10 MILES
TIME: 6 HRS
WEATHER: MORNING RAIN, CLEAR AFTERNOON
I took a dip in the glacier water today. My “macho juices”, as Amanda calls it, got flowing and I joined a friend from Norway for some ice swimming. After stripping down and wading knee high into the water for about 2 minutes, I looked to Morten and thought: ‘What am I, a guy from the Arizona desert, doing in a glacier lake with hundreds of ice cubes bigger than my last apartment accompanied a guy who probably took showers colder than this as a child in Norway?’ I suspect Morten was more concerned with hypothermia as he stared back at me. Whatever the case, we both dove in head first followed by a fast sprint back to the shore. I finally gained feeling in all my toes again about an hour later. It rained all morning. We took a chance by skipping the early bus and taking the bonus side hike for another view of the Cuernos from across the lake. This paid off tenfold as the clouds parted and gave us some spectacular skies.
TOTAL DISTANCE: 50 MILES
TOTAL HIKING TIME: 34 HOURS
Incredible and highly recommended! Now we are in Argentina, the final country on our list in South America.