While Torres del Paine National Park was certainly not the easiest to access, it was well worth the effort. We flew from Ushuaia (1 hour flight North) to Punta Arenas and immediately took a bus to Puerto Natales (3 hour drive). We spent the next day to pack and reconfirm our refugio/camping arrangements and ice hike logistics.
After spending 4 days in Ushuaia, "the end of the world", and enduring what we thought was the coldest summer we´ve ever experienced (yes! colder than summers spent in SF), we expected Puerto Natales to be a bit warmer (since it was a tad bit further north and closer to the equator). Boy, were we wrong! Puerto Natales greeted us with a bitterly cold antarctic wind. Gortex and long underwear were definitely on the "must pack" list.
We were off to the park early the next morning, which started with a 7:30 am bus pick up for our 2 hour journey to the park, followed by a 30 minute catamaran boat ride and a 3 hour hike to our starting point of our 5 day trek. Phew!
Our 5 day trek along the W trail was a blast with 2 exceptions....both of which were manageable. First, our ice hike and climb, scheduled for our 2nd day was cancelled last minute for the lamest reason! A rich American had paid an enormous amount of money to book the boat that was the only transport for us to reach the other side of the glacier where we would hike. X and I couldn´t have been more ashamed...this is exactly why Americans have such a horrible reputation around the world....no wonder many Americans tell others that they are Canadians when travelling.
On the flip side, this made for a much more manageable day. We had much more time to admire the glacier from a view point that we would have had to skip. Furthermore, we took our time hiking to the next refugio (a 3 hour hike we would have had to do immediately after our ice climb which would have concluded at 5pm). Aside from this disappointment, I got sick the 3rd and 4th day of our trek.....48 hour flu or something like that....food was not my friend and I had trouble keeping it down....this made for an extra challenging trek! Nevertheless, Xavier still tells me how well I did treking the long distances and making it up the optional look out ¨mirador¨to see the panoramic of the valley on day 3 despite my condition. Poor guy...he had to endure a wimpering sick puppy companion, especially as the day progressed on these 2 days! Admittedly, it was probably the hardest treks I´ve done as a result of my condition.
You´re probably wondering WHAT we saw! We saw an incredible array of nature and natural formations....a massive blue blue blue glacier (Glacier Grey), exquisite spiked towers (the famous Torres rock formations), additional rock towers (Cuernos) chiseled into the shape of horns by natural elements, HUGE condors (like the size of me!) soaring gracefully above, gorgeous rolling valleys, forests of dead trees that contributed a sense of beauty in their own way, red flowers giving sporadic bursts of color within the bushes, snow capped mountains and incredibly bright blue lakes and flowing water falls and streams everywhere. See our photos...they speak louder than words!
The hike itself was an amazing hike. Although the W is one of the most popular hikes within Patagonia and we saw plenty of people along the way, we chose to do the hike in the reverse (left to right) and loved it, definitely the less traveled way! Each day revealed a bit more of the beautiful park, with a climax of an incredible view of the Torres on the last day.....And not only that, we had incredible weather the last few days....sunny, warm and clear!
Day 1: 3 hour hike to Refugio Grey, first viewing of Glacier Grey, overnight in Refugio Grey right on Lago Grey with glacier in sight
Day 2: Hike to an incredible view of the glacier (2 hours rt), incredible siting of ice break off from the glacier (kaboom!), hike to Refugio Pehoe (3 hours), on Lago Pehoe....camp
Day 3: Hike to Valley Frances (2 hours)....first viewing of Torres and extensive views of Glacier Frances, additional optional hike (4 hours) to panoramic view of torres, glaciers, cuernos...todos! Hike and overnight in Refugio Cuernos (2 hours)
Day 4: Hike to Refugio Chileno (on the way to the Torres look out) (4 hours), overnight here in a prettly little valley, Hike up to the look out of Torres (sin Julie) (3-4 hours rt)
Day 5: Hike to Torres look out (3 hours rt) and then to Refugio Torres (1.5 hours) for transport out of park.
The people made this trek extra special and quite international. We had the best bunk mates and treking mates we met along the way! Stephanie and boyfriend from Belgium. Sven and Maran from Germany, Andrew and Ana from Washington DC, Shiri and David from the UK and a young polish couple. We loved every moment getting to know them all and sharing stories, sites and experiences....including sore achy feet and enduring other snoring bunk mates (fortunately, we did not have this experience!)