On February 10th, 2016, I entered Chile. It was my fourth country since I had begun my travels, and was to be my home for the next five months. To cross the border, Julie and I had returned from El Chalten to El Calafate, and then got on one of the many buses taking hiking tourists from Argentina to Puerto Natales – the entry point to Torres Del Paine National Park.
We were about to embark on the famous W loop, a five-day journey that attracts hundreds of thousands of people to the tip of the South American continent. If you’re remotely interested in hiking, you’ve probably heard of the W. One thing I think that people don’t fully understand is just how far south the park is. While it’s not the very tip of South America, it’s pretty damn close. Check this out to put things into perspective:
We arrived at Puerto Natales, a small town that probably wouldn’t appear on maps if it weren’t for the national park, at around three in the afternoon. We were leaving for the park at 7:30am the next morning. That was not a lot of time to get rental gear, buy food for five days for three people, get money, and actually plan our trip. Seriously, we had no idea what we were doing when we arrived (the free info session at Erratic Rock helped us so much with this, I highly recommend it). It was a hectic afternoon of running around, but we managed to get everything in order before Amelia, my friend from Tufts who was doing the hike with us, made it to the hostel.
The next morning when we set off, tired but excited. We took a bus to the entrance of the park, and then caught a ferry to our starting point. Here’s a map from back-packers.org of the route we took:
Our starting point was Refugio Paine Grande. Day 1 would take us up to Refugio Grey. Day 2 was back to Refugio Paine Grande and onward to Campo Italiano. Day 3 would bring us to Refugio Los Cuernos. Day 4 all the way to Campo Torres (and the Torres themselves – the principal attraction of the park). Day 5 was our return to Puerto Natales. From this map, its pretty easy to figure out why the hike was named the W.
As we were waiting at Pudeto (the boat stop) for the ferry, it started pouring. Winds were gusting at 80 km/hr and the rain was literally blowing sideways. Needless to say, it was a rather inauspicious way to start the hike. However, as we had heard over and over while prepping for the trip, weather in the park changes with no warning. People like to say that hikers can experience all four seasons in one day while doing the loop.
So, despite the pouring rain, we began our journey with high spirits. The ferry ride was beautiful, and we took the first steps on our adventure:
It took us about three and a half hours to do the first leg of the hike. Unfortunately, the rain and fog didn’t let up, and we couldn’t see much of anything for the first few hours. However, at around hour three, despite the continued rain, we spotted Glacier Grey in the distance. The campsite was close:
After we made it to camp, set up our tents, and ate, the rain let up and the sun started to come out a bit. As the clouds cleared, it became apparent just how amazing our campsite was:
We decided as a group to hike up to the mirador (lookout) next to the glacier. It was a quick walk, and was the perfect way to end the day:
The ice was a piercing blue against the grey lake, and we spent an enjoyable hour or so relaxing and taking in the view. After a miserable first day of rain and cold, things were looking up.
Next time, Days 2 and 3 of the W trek.