W hike – Torres del Paine (Chile)

W hike – Torres del Paine (Chile)

Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, known as one of the most beautiful places of Patagonia and Chile, has been our home for the past 5 days. 227 000 ha of forest, lakes, mountains, rivers, waterfalls and glaciers, that can only be accessed by foot or by horse, and where Queen Nature rules above all. Sun, snow, rain, 150km wind gusts… we hiked through it all. We completed the famous ‘W hike’ – named after its shape – an 80 km trail leading to some of Patagonia’s most isolated, mysterious and breath-taking viewpoints. We spent our evenings and nights in small “Refugios” which offer a bed in dorms and hot meals which were much appreciated after an entire day of hiking.

We started our journey in Puerto Natales, a little lake-town with small coloured wooden houses, which serves as the base camp for accessing the national park of Torres del Paine. We left our large backpacks in our hostel, filled our small backpacks with food and gear and set off for Torres del Paine.

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Map of the W hike (we stopped at different points because we didn’t sleep on the camping sites but in refugios)

Day 1: Lake Pehoe – Refugio Grey (12 km – 4.5 hours)

After a two hour bus drive from Puerto Natales and a 30 mins boat trip on a turquoise “fluo-blue” lake we set foot on the shores of Lake Pehoe and started our hike to the Grey Glacier. We reached the top after a bit more than two and a half hours walking through extreme wind gusts and were suddenly struck by the amazing beauty of the Grey Glacier which lies on the other side. A gigantic sea of ice of 16 000 km2 that lies between Chile and Argentina, which plunges into Lago Grey, a grey-blue-green shaded lake stuffed with floating icebergs as tall as buildings. The descent to the lake took us a bit more than two hours and we arrived at Refugio Grey in the middle of the afternoon, where we spent the night.

Day 2: Refugio Grey – Refugio Paine Grande (11 km – 4.5 hours)

The next morning we spotted a very rare puma right outside the Refugio while having breakfast and hesitantly started the hike back to Lake Pehoe to reach Refugio Paine Grande in the early afternoon. We had to put up with even more extreme wind gusts than the previous day, and were literally blown away on the top. However this time, we had the wind in the back which made the day easier than day 1.

Day 3: Paine Grande –Valle del Frances – Refugio Los Cuernos (25 km – 11 hours)

The third day was the longest and toughest day of the entire W hike. We left the Refugio at 8am and only reached Refugio Los Cuernos around 7pm. We hiked the whole middle part of the W, including the Valle del Frances, which was a tough climb but totally worth the effort. At the top of the Valle del Frances, we were rewarded with an amazing 360 degrees view on the valley, the surrounding glaciers and the lago Nordenskjold.

Day 4: Refugio Los Cuernos – Refugio El Chileno (14 km – 5 hours)

Although the weather was less good on day 4, the hike from Los Cuernos to El Chileno was beautiful and relatively easy. The majority of the hike follows the shores of the lago Nordenskjold and the trail is rather flat (except the final ascent to El Chileno). The last kilometre arriving to the refugio is absolutely stunning with amazing views on the Rio Ascencio and the valley.

Day 5: Refugio El Chileno – Base Los Torres – Las Torres bus stop (14 km – 4 hours)

The Parque Nacional Torres del Paine is named after the emblematic “torres”, three giant granite rocks that seem to threaten the sky with their sharp summits. It is the main attraction of the park and the view is supposed to be absolutely breath-taking at sunrise. With that in mind, we decided to wake up at 4am to make it to the summit around 6.15am. To our despair we woke up at 4am and it was snowing heavily! Putting on all the warm clothes we had, we decided to set off anyways (pitch dark and freezing) hoping that the sky would clear up. We caught up with other hikers, and made it to the top around 6.15am but unfortunately it was still very cloudy and we couldn’t admire the towers at sunrise. It was extremely cold, so we stayed 10 minutes at the top before heading back to refugio El Chileno and later to the bus stop at Hotel Las Torres.

Although we couldn’t see the towers properly, the experience was absolutely amazing and the place is truly magical; a MUST for everyone traveling to Southern Patagonia! We were also super happy we managed to hike 100% of the W hike and met some amazing people on the way!

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Arrival at Puerto Natales, the base camp from where hikers set off for the Torres del Paine National Park

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Sunset in Puerto Natales

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The famous “torres” after which the park is named

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Arrival at the park with the torres in the background

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Crossing the Lago Pehoe to reach the starting point of the W hike

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Camille still has no idea what awaits her 😉

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Amazing view on Lago Grey with icebergs floating in the back

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Grey glacier plunging into Lago Grey

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The tough climb on the first day rewarded by this stunning view on the Grey Glacier

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Grey Glacier – breath-taking

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Refugio Grey – waiting for hot food

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Filling our drinking bottles with water from the rivers – into the wild!

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Distant view on Lago Pehoe

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On our way to Refugio Los Cuernos at the start of the toughest day of the hike

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Strong wind gusts over the water

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Approaching the snow

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View from Valle del Frances

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Catching our breath at the top of Valle del Frances

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Mystical views on our way down from Valle del Frances

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Camille happy to have found her way again after we got lost

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Los Cuernos

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Rio Ascencio with Refugio El Chileno in the back

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Almost there!

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Epic view on the “torres” at 6.15am

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Same view on the Rio Ascencio after a night of snow

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The group of hikers that made it till the end with us. One of the great things about the W hike: you meet amazing people along the way and end up as a tight group

 

 

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