W-trek: A Patagonian flirt - Hiking in Torres del Paine, Chile

A brief guide to hiking in Torres del Paine, Chile

Sport: Trekking

Posted by: Tautik & Rohini

Camping one night next to a glacier, and the next to a gushing glacial stream, and next by the side of an emerald lake, and the last at the base of towering mountains – that’s the W-trek for you. Located in the Torres del Paine National Park in Southern Chilean Patagonia, the W – named for the shape of the trail – features glaciers, mountains, and lakes. The W-circuit is a sure qualifier for one of the best treks on planet earth. (Well, agreed, the Himalayan treks are a close contender.)

Carrying your own tent and stove is one rustic way to flirt around and at the same time economical. In an hour in the parque you can experience rain, snow, scorching sun and oh yes the notorious Patagonian wind. The winds reach a maximum of 180 km/hr and can blow away tents and sweep you off the ground, along with your backpack. The same phenomenon creates spontaneous rainbows over the emerald lake.

Water is a boon and at the same time a curse at Torres del Paine. The good part is you do not need to carry drinking water, as plentiful streams feed you pure mineral water every few miles. However, be prepared to have your feet wet most of the times. Get your feet at the start, so that you become comfortable with the rest of the trek.

The west-to-east W circuit commences with a catamaran ride across Lago Pehoé. A four hour hike takes you to Refugio Grey. You camp for the night next to Glacier Grey - the third largest ice sheet in the world, after Antarctica and Greenland. Day 1 is mixed feelings of bliss and pain. At night you get a shower and check your blisters! Yes, do carry band-aids. Day 2 is walking back the route, followed by two hours of trek to Campamento Italiano. Italiano is situated right next to a gushing glacial stream – the source of water for cooking and cleaning at your campsite. Day 3 starts early with a day hike, without the heavy backpacks (since you come back), up to Valle del Francés, the middle leg of the W. Even though the sky is clear, you suddenly hear a thunder storm, but relax that is just a regular avalanche - a huge mass of ice falling off the cliff on to the stream.

You cannot miss the treat reserved for trekkers – calafate berry. “One who eats the calafate berry is sure to come back to Patagonia”, so goes the saying. The scramble up Mirador Britannica gives you a 360 degree view of los montanas. The 5 hour two way trek brings you back to Italiano for lunch. Post lunch lug your backpack for 2 hours to the next camp site Refugio Los Cuernos on the shores of Lago Nordenskiöld.

4 hours of trekking on day 4 takes you to the warm and welcoming Refugio Chileno, but do not linger for more than a beer, because the icing on the cake awaits you. An hour’s hike gets you to your next night halt - Camp Torres, where you tent next to a small creek. Set your alarm for 4:30 am on Day 5, cause an hour’s steep hike gets you to heaven. The mirador next to a small lake here gives you the most dramatic view – that of the first sun rays behind the towers of Torres del Paine. Sighs and hugs and kisses all around make you forget the chill and you almost forget to stop hitting the camera shutter button.

The park treats you with a hue of wild flowers. Guanaco, the lama’s cousin, are a plenty and the endangered. Huemul deer is a treat. In the midst of the tiring hike, your spirits soar with the sight of the majestic condor.

People of every shape, size and age take up the trek every summer. The 70 odd km hike with a backpack may seem daunting at times, but the landscape will win you over again and again, without fail. The key is to keep your backpack light. One set of track pants , full-sleeved synthetic tees and rain jacket for all 5 days – be it wet or dry or mud-brown. For the nights - save a dry pair of socks, thermal top and bottom, floaters and a down jacket. Good old garbage bags are the best bet to keep your electronics and clothes dry - beats Gore-tex hands down any day. Double check your tent and sleeping bags before leaving, as the nights get cold. Lightweight food options to cook on your camp stove include soup envelopes for breakfast and ready-to-cook paella or khus-khus for dinner. Lunch is high calorie energy bars on the go.

Travel on Ruta del Fin del Mundo to experience pristine nature in it’s crowning glory. This is one flirt you would glow in the aftermath for long.

- tautik@gmail.com
February 2015

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