We’re back from the Torres del Paine Circuit! Only 2% of people who come to the park actually complete the circuit trek. Most people do a more reasonable ~ 5 day trek called “the W”. We’re glad we did the circuit but it was definitely tougher than we expected.
Here was our day-to-day course from camp to camp (we hiked counter-clockwise) and hours hiked with a little description of each. We stayed at campsites along the way with the exception of Day 5 where we booked a hostel (called refugios on the trail) to give ourselves a little bit of a treat after completing the hardest portion of the trek.
Day 1 Entrance @ Laguna Amarga – Seron: 6 hours
Gorgeous entrance into the park with a gigantic rainbow over the mountains. A long and sunny day. Our bodies struggled to get used to hiking on uneven ground with 35 lbs on our backs but we arrived at our first campsite with smiles.
Got rained on all night, stayed dry in the tent. Beautiful sunrise over the mountains and a day of sun again for…
Day 2 Seron – Dickson: 6 hours
This was another long trekking day. We didn’t see any pumas but we saw the damage one had recently done: an abandoned llama carcass in the swamp. Straight out of The Lion King, guys. It was rainy and grey when we made the steep and tricky descent into Camp Dickson but the sun came out briefly for our dinner.
Day 3 Dickson – Los Perros: 5 hours
This was the day everything changed for me. We left just after sunrise because we knew we had a long hike. It was clear when we departed but by the time we were about an hour away from our destination, Los Perros, the rain and the wind came upon us with a vengeance. We had hiked through pampas and forests and now we found ourselves on an exposed rocky ridge, hard to keep our balance on even in the best weather. As we came up on the exposed part, the wind and rain hit us so hard it was a struggled to stand. The temperature dropped. My hands were rendered basically useless and I spent a good amount of time trying to hike with them in my armpits because it was too painful to have them on the poles, even with gloves. By the time we finally arrived at the campsite, I could barely hold back tears. I was stunned and traumatized. But at the campsite, where the rain didn’t stop until morning, there was a plain wooden room with a woodstove – a beacon of hope. Across the next few hours, about 30 of us trekkers gathered there in the only protection from the rain. We changed into dry clothes and hung our wet ones up to dry. We cooked dinner together, tried to cheer each other up, swapped stories, and when we couldn’t fight sleep any longer, we set up our tents in the pouring rain and dove inside. If I could have quit then, I probably would have. But there’s no way out once you start the circuit.
Day 4 Los Perros – Grey: 10 hours
Oh so many more tears this day. You know the saying, “do one thing every day that scares you”? I’m good for the next few years after this day. Of course, the scariest moments weren’t documented by us but we did find a good photo of the ladders we scaled. They were hanging by some cute rope with only a terrifying glacier hundreds of feet below. FUN.
So many mental images of me flying off of this ladder and crashing into the glacier below. So, so many.
But before we scaled the ladders and crossed bridges straight out of Indiana Jones, we conquered “The Pass”. The John Gardner Pass is the highest point in Torres del Paine. It sends you right between two mountains and you are rewarded with a brilliant initial view of Glacier Grey and the Patagonian Ice Field (third largest area of ice in the world) after you scale the steep, steep, climb through the valley below it. The wind pounded us on the way up, but once we reached the pass, completely alone without any other soul in sight, the air was calm and clear with snow flurries falling peacefully around us. It was a moment of victory we sorely needed.
Then the ladders. Then the swinging bridges. Then the climbing up ropes and rocks with all appendages for hours. And the praying, always praying, that we wouldn’t fall to our deaths. I honestly didn’t have a clue it would be so treacherous.
But at the end of all this, we got bits of sun as we finished our longest day. We celebrated with beer and a pisco sour at the refugio next to our campsite and I enjoyed my very first hot shower of the trek. Rained on again at night and woken up by the angry wind but again, stayed dry inside our tent.
Day 5 Grey – Paine Grande: 4 hours
Paine Grande! Our refugio night of refuge! Also our first dry day after being very, very wet and cold. Gorgeous hike where we witnessed the edge of the glacier and then watched it recede into the distance. We had made a great band of friends since starting out at Seron but this was the first night we began to change our paces. We said goodbye to one friend who hiked an even longer day and spent our last night with the rest of our trekking buddies in the refugio bar, a very welcome moment of relaxation. We shared a 6-bed dorm and made some new Canadian friends in our roommates, too. Sleeping indoors was strange but wonderful.
Day 6 Paine Grande – Italiano: 4.5 hours
A slow-going morning, we left Paine Grande around 12:30pm but still caught the incredible sunrise hitting the mountains.
We arrived at Campamento Italiano and decided to leave our packs and do the 2 hour round trip hike to the French Valley Mirador that afternoon. Felt incredible to hike without our packs and the mirador here was one of our favorite moments on the trip. A glacier to one side of us, we got to watch giant chunks fall off and create a thunder through the whole valley. Then to our other side, The Cuernos which are peaks like I’ve never seen. Had a great dinner at Italiano including some bites of PASTA from new friends (swoon). Met some fellow trekkers that would become our new “pack” until the end of the trek.
Day 7 Italiano – Los Cuernos: 2.5 hours
This hike brought us right next to a gorgeous neon-blue beach. Sun came out strong in the afternoon. We loved this campsite but we did not love the mice. So many mice. Mice running over and under our tent. Mice eating a hole in my bag. So many mice. But hot shower here. So we broke even. Gorgeous sunset and sunrise!
Day 8 Los Cuernos – Torres: 7 hours
This hike was long and sunny. Sunburns happened. We arrived at Campamento Torres, which is an hour’s hike away from the actually Torres del Paine. We hiked up in the late afternoon in order to prepare for our pre-dawn hike to see the sunrise hit the towers.
Day 9 Torres – Las Torres: 5.5 hours
Our day started at 5:30am when we set out for our hike. Climbing virtually straight up for an hour before breakfast in the pitch black of the pre-dawn night is frustrating and challenging. Finding the trail when it barely exists in the first place is challenging. But we arrive, find the sitting rock we scoped out the evening before, and settle in. We watch the stars fade, the sky turn from dark blue to light blue, and the towers turn from brown, to pink, to red, to orange.
It’s a sight to see but it’s also freezing and we’re exhausted, so back down to camp we go and we wake up again around 11am. We set out for Campamento Las Torres down near the entrance to the park and enjoy a dinner with some new German friends who have a broken stove. We can’t bring ourselves to go into our tent to sleep because the stars are out in all their glory. We marvel at them until our necks hurt and we can’t keep our eyes open.
Day 10 Las Torres – Puerta Natales! (home base)
A relaxing morning and we catch the 2:00pm bumpy bus back to Puerta Natales. I can’t believe we survived this trek. I feel like I’m in a dream and I still do. How did we get this blessed?
The biggest challenges on this trek were definitely the weather and injuries. We’re thankful injuries were few and healed fast. Some crippling back spasms, cramps, some falls and cuts and bruises. Oh and the blisters. I wish I could say that now I truly know that being wet and cold is temporary and I can live through any wet, cold hike in the future. But being wet and cold is HARD. No matter how long it lasts. Setting up a tent – your home – in the pouring rain is HARD. Not letting these things bring you into deep despair is HARD. But I was reminded that everything truly is temporary. Cold hands become warm, wet clothes become dry. Bodies shaking with cold become bodies sweating in the sun. These changes just never happen as fast as we want them to. Oh and the exception is that socks don’t dry out. Ever.
And now it’s onto the next adventure! We leave on a bus for El Calafate, Argentina in the morning for a few days and then a week of hiking, mostly day hikes, in El Chalten. No more carrying 10 days of food on our backs. That’s done for now.