Torres del Paine: The “W” Trek, Day 2

Kendra and I had survived our first day and night on our journey across the “W” Trek within Torres del Paine National Park. We awoke to another beautiful, warm and sunny day. It felt great to sleep in a bit, but since we were getting a later start to our day we quickly packed up our tent and belongings, and hit the trail. Day 2 of hiking was the least iconic in my opinion. It was still absolutely gorgeous, however, there was no remarkable destination that we were aspiring to reach. And yes, I know how that sounds, “it’s supposed to be about the journey, not the destination”… and the journey really was fantastic! To be perfectly honest, we were mainly just trying to get to our refugio in time for dinner.

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Kendra and I trekked down from Campamento Torres, out of the valley, and across the front of the mountain range. Over the course of the 16ish kilometers, Lake Nodernskjöld  grew from a little blue, grey spec in the distance, to this massive turquoise lake we hiked alongside all day. The weather was still warm, but the wind added a chill to the air. I was constantly in and out of layers all day. Shorts and a tee shirt, pants and a tee shirt, shorts and a jacket, shorts and another jacket. It was a never ending game of finding comfort as the temperatures changed around every bend in the trail.

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Word on the trail was that the fallen bridge was still unaccessible, although rumors were starting to pop up about how people were getting around it. Some hikers told us that they heard of groups of people crossing it in the early hours of the morning, before rangers could catch them. Others said they heard the really adventurous were crossing further up river. We still had two more days before we needed to cross it, so we remained hopeful that we would find a way to get to the other side without back tracking. In the meantime, we crossed over what I feel was the most sturdy bridge on the trek, hiked up a couple of challenging and steep hills, and basked in the beauty of the land.

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We eventually began our descent through a forest of Magellanic deciduous trees to our final destination for the day, Refugio Los Cuernos. We had opted to stay at Los Cuernos with full board and dinner, as it was actually the cheapest option for places to stay due to the actual campground being fully booked. We arrived just in time for dinner, and I was ravenous. The food did not disappoint! We feasted on salad, vegetable soup, salmon and mashed potatoes with a lemon butter sauce drizzled over top, and a delectable caramel flan.

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A little post dinner exploring lead me down through the campsites to a rocky beach. The refugio is nestled amongst the trees on the bank of Lake Nodernskjöld, with the granite mountains towering behind the quaint building. I took some time to soak in the late evening rays, in awe of my surroundings. I continued to tinker around on the water’s edge for a while, gazing up at the sun as it slowly set over the mountain range in the distance. It was difficult to truly catch the actual setting of the sun, as the sun doesn’t really set until 11:00, with light lingering in the sky well into the night. In fact, the only night I ever even saw stars was during a bathroom run at around 3 AM. However, the peacefulness of watching and listening to the low lit waves crashing on the shoreline was just the mind clearing meditation I was needing after a long day on the trail. Afterwards, I walked back up to the refugio, played a couple of songs on the community guitar, and hit the showers before climbing up and settling into my third story bunk bed.

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Torres del Paine: The “W” Trek. Day 1

5 days, 4 nights, something around 70 kilometers… I still can’t seem to find anywhere with a definitive sum of distances that you hike along the “W” Trek within Torres del Paine National Park. You learn to guess-timate how far 6 hours of hiking equivalates to, as that’s how distances are “measured” in the park. They do have signs with some ambiguous distances listed, but at the end of the day it really seems to be a rough estimate. Anyway, the entire backpacking trip was beyond incredible. There were some bumps in the road, and by bumps I mean a broken bridge that gave Kendra and I a run for our money, but nothing we couldn’t handle!

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It is recommended to stay in Puerto Natales the day before starting your treks in the national park, so that is what we did. We stayed in a quaint, quiet hostel called the Yagan House, where we could relax and organize all of things we wanted to bring in our packs. Since backpacking wasn’t the only thing we would be doing during the entirety of our trip, we had a few extra articles of clothing that we were able to store with the hostel while we were away. We also rented a tent and some cookware here as well. While initially planning for the trip, we had decided it was worth renting as we didn’t want to lug around too much unnecessary gear after the trek was through.

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Packing and repacking
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Yagan House Hostel

Kendra and I had originally walked to our hostel from the bus station, but we opted to treat ourselves to a cab ride the morning of our departure. I had been advised by an REI employee during a chat about the trek, that the buses can be a little crazy on the way to Torres del Paine. He was not lying. Thank God we had purchased bus tickets well in advance. There were so many backpackers waiting, hoping to get a seat. We were at the bus station 15 minutes early, and barely got our bags under the bus and ourselves into our seats before the vehicle took off on the two hour journey to the park. Upon arriving, we had to pay the entrance fee and sit through an information session, which can be paid by credit card FYI. It was about 30$ USD. The visitors center is still several miles from where you begin the trek, so we caught another shuttle from the center to the trailhead area.

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Last minute stop shop for gear

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There is quite a bit of debate as to whether you should hike the trail East to West or West to East. Kendra and I decided on East to West and I am so glad that we did. Enter: Broken Bridge. The bridge was supposedly down between Campamento Italiano and Paine Grande. We would be getting to its location on Day 4 of our trip. This damn bridge became the forefront topic of all conversations had along the trails. Would it be fixed by the time we got to it? Would there be a boat shuttling people over? Could we just cross it, as heard it wasn’t that bad? Could we cross the river somewhere else? How were other hikers dealing with it? Well, other hikers getting royally screwed. That’s the answer to that. Camping reservations were getting all messed up as people were having to turn around and go backwards, hiking many more kilometers per day than they should have been. People were having to shell out even more cash for the main catamaran that transports hikers to Paine Grande. There was a shuttle boat for maybe one day but winds were far too strong to not have stable transportation after that. We heard nightmares of people hiking for hours and hours extra just to be turned away from campsites that were deemed too full. It seemed that the people hiking the circuit West to East were the ones having the most difficulties in this aspect.

The first day of the trek consisted of roughly 9 kilometers of challenging inclines. Right out of the gate, the trail climbed quite quickly until it reached a valley of which it ran along side.  The sun was beating down on us, and our packs seemed heavier with every step. But honestly in retrospect, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. The rest of the trek seemed so much easier, even the extra long days.

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The trail descended through the valley, following Rio Ascencio. The trail flattens out near the end of the valley as you reach Refugio Chileno. Kendra and I had opted to camp for free at Campamento Torres, which was still a steep hike up the next mountain.  If you have the extra funds, I would say to stay at Chileno. That way you can just take a day pack up and leave the heavy stuff down below.

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The remainder of the trail crawled up through a forest of tall, thin, twisted trees. I was hot, tired, and wondering if we would ever reach our destination. Everyone who was coming back down the trail, kept telling us, “It’s only 15 more minutes.” For the record, it’s NEVER just 15 more minutes, it’s FOREVERRRR. Ha! But honestly, when I finally saw the semi-hidden entrance to Campamento Torres, I was ecstatic. Our plan was to set up our tent, rest for a short while, and then complete the hike up to the Mirador Torres. Patagonia is notorious for strong winds that snap tent poles, and we were a little worried about our rental tent whose poles were showing their wear. Thankfully, the Torres campsite was well protected, tucked away securely below the trees. We set up our tent and I changed my shoes before starting the ascent to the base of Las Torres. As a tip, I would really recommend having an alternate pair of shoes. Mine were just a lightweight pair of trail runners, but they saved my feet.

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Kendra hiked ahead as I took my time climbing up the rocky trail, absorbing the vast scenery. There were also segments of scree which made the trail tough on my knees. When I took the final turn on the trail, the view opened up onto the beautiful towers and lake. And right as I started walking towards the water, a grey fox popped out from behind a large rock. We had a few moments of eye contact before she scrambled atop a small boulder, sniffing around for tidbits of food. She didn’t seem bothered by me at all, as I stood there snapping picture after picture of her. I actually ran into this beautiful creature several times while meandering around the crumbling granite walls bordering the Torres lake. The place was nearly empty, as we had gotten there later in the evening, avoiding most of the daytime rush. The sun had begun to set on the other side of the towers, creating a beautiful beam of light that shown onto the emerald lake below.  The whole scene was breathtaking and I couldn’t help but sit there in awe of the granduer surrounding me. After we had soaked in enough of the views, and the temperature began to drop, we climbed back down the mountain, cooked dinner, and hit the hay.

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