Far south in Chilean Patagonia the Torres del Paine National Park was teetering between spring and summer and it was time for me to conquer the W Trek.
Dozens of miles of trail wrap around the Cordillera Paine, a group of mountains in the Torres del Paine National Park. The W Trek comprises the red path on this map. Depending on the course, it usually ends up being around 80km (50mi) to finish the ‘W’.
There are various routes to take to complete this trek. In the end my 64km (40mi) journey ended up being more like a messed up U than a W (see purple path on the map), but I’m fine with that. Between clouds, rain, wind and snow some stunning scenery revealed itself and it made it all worthwhile. I was also able to experience a true taste of what Patagonia weather is all about: completely unpredictable and wild.
Day 1 (22k): The ferry dropped my friend and I off at Paine Grande. Our roommate at the hostel gave us the brilliant idea to drop out bags, quickly set up our tent and hike up and back to Glacier Grey. The weather was amazing long enough to made quick work of this portion and we arrived back to camp just as the rain started.
Day 2 (7.6k): After a cold, windy, sleepless night in the tent, we broke down camp and had breakfast before hitting the trail again. The rain didn’t stop, if anything it picked up in intensity with each soggy step. The rain pants I rented soaked in the water. I grumpily cursed out loud to Mother Nature. “IS THIS ALL YOU GOT?!” True story. Lets just say it was a low moment (but not the lowest). All motivation to hike in the rain up the middle valley (with no hope of a view) was dashed by the time we reached Camp Italiano. We set up the tent, made a warm meal and proceeded to wait it out….the entire day and night. Here was the low. Laying in a sleeping back for almost 20 hours, desperately trying to be warm and panicking as moisture on the tent started reaching the sleeping bags and pads. The worst. (#firstworldproblems)
Day 3 (21k): The rain subsided by the time we got up for breakfast. We hit the trail and after a short bit realized we should have kept going the day before and stayed at the Los Cuernos camp. Not only did they have platforms for tents to rent, but they had dorm rooms. All my talk on Day 1 about how ridiculous it was to have these refugios turned into how-do-we-stay-in-one-of-these-asap! Hike, hike, hike for hours and hours with spectacular scenery in every direction. We eventually reached Chileno Camp and while no dorm beds were available, I was thrilled for just a new tent and sleeping bags to rent (our gear was officially water-logged, fail).
Day 4 (13.5k): Started with a rainy morning (pumping fist at the sky). After breakfast it temporarily cleared so we hauled ourselves up to the lookout, Mirador de Los Torres, as quickly as we could in order to make it back to catch the 2pm bus out of the park. Luck struck and the clouds parted just long enough to snap a few photos and appreciate viewing these famous towers at the end of the journey.
Lessons & Tips: Go to the hostel Erratic Rock in Puerto Natales. Do it. Hit up their 3 o’clock talk (free) and learn everything you need to know from transportation to food strategies. They also rent gear. Be prepared to adapt your plan. We thought we were prepared for the rain, but I’m pretty sure our storm set a record for the year (or longer?) for rainfall; there was no stopping it! After the essentials became wet, my spirits were down and I was ready to just move on. In hindsight, we could have walked the valley the third day and extended the trek one day to complete the W. Oh and plastic bags and powdered milk will be your new best friends.