Everyone who’s spent time in Patagonia is likely to have visited Puerto Natales and done this trek or even the whole Circuit. The “W”(http://www.torres-del-paine.org/w-and-circuit-treks.html) is a 5 day hike known for its spectacular glacial scenery within the National Park of Torres del Paine. It’s called the W because you hike up each leg of the w and back down before moving onto the next. A tad repetitive but then the weather changes as quick here as it does in Scotland and so you’re continuously getting different views. We start off the trek with a couple from our hostel – Kirsty (South African) and Matt (welsh) who are intending doing the same trek itinerary as us. Usual rules apply; we walk together as long as we’re happy with each other’s pace and company. We also spend a little of the first part with Stephi, the Swiss girl from the mud bus. She’s doing a shortened route and staying at Refugio’s (they’re much more expensive here than what we paid in Bariloche so we’re not even considering using them – the tent it is) On the route to the park we see lots of llama’s, horses and emu things (forget what they’re called here). The park is a 2 hour bus journey away from town, followed by a 30 minute journey in a catamaran across the lake. This is dependent on whether you do the walk west to east or east to west. All of these cost money, on top of the park entrance fee, and by the time you’ve finished paying out for all that your 4 nights free camping suddenly costs the same as a hostel would. But then it’s not very often you get the chance to camp by the bottom of a huge glacier is it….
Surprisingly we bump into Johan the South African guy from Puerto Madryn. He left us weeks ago, can’t recall where he was headed, but it sure is a small world. Like meeting him in the Lake District then again 3 weeks later in Cornwall!
The campsites on route are either park run (included in your park entrance fee) or privately owned by the Refugio’s and there’s an additional cost. We only stay in a Refugio campsite one night and it was by far the worst – in terms of quality of pitch, scenery, location facilities.
Los Guardas was a really nice campsite, as 2 min walk from the tent and you were staring at the huge Glacier Grey. Italiano was nice in that there was a spot on the river where you could take in Glacier del Frances, as many did while cooking brekkie but the downside was the toilet block was locked which left the hundred or so campers (per night) no choice but to find alternative facilities – you can imagine and luckily our tent wasn’t near that part of the campsite! The best all round campsite was the last one though, Torres, it just needed the glacial wind to sod off and someone to turn the temperature up.
Most days we walked about 8 hours, apart from the last which was only about 4.5.
Luckily for us too, the only real rain we saw was on the initial day while we journeyed to our start point. Once off the catamaran the showers got weaker and fewer, till they faded out completely. Then each day after that the weather just got better and better!
The third day we got up and walked further up Valle del Frances to the mirador (viewpoint) where we had lunch, leaving our tent in the campsite and with little to carry it was a treat. Got to say this spot is a contender for “best restaurant” in the world, possibly knocking Penguins at Puerto Madryn off the top spot!! (yes really Fi)
Not only was the Refugio campsite (Los Cuernos) the worst, it’s also where we had a visit in the night. We had been warned it’s fair to say although they did tell us it wasn’t quite peak season for visitations yet, so we’d be ok. They came in the night too. What? Well wee furry white things of course (actually grey in this case). Not only did they get under the fly sheet and under the flap of Huw’s rucsac, they also managed to chew through a black bag, then a ziplock bag to steal our mixed fruit and nuts destined for our brekkie!!! Where’s Tom when you need him?
Obviously this being a busy route and lots of people going the same way, we kept bumping into the same people time and time again, either on route or at the campsites. So much so they started taking on little personas. There was happy, the penguins, the skinny-dippers, matching jackets, pliers couple, lost girl, lone damsel who wasn’t, cap wearers, and weirdo! Wonder what they called us!! No actually best not to know! Oh and we can´t forget Morman or was it Badley? – Matt and Kirsty – we all stayed together the whole week.
All week with the weather as it was we kept hoping, but not really believing it possible, for good weather on our last day for the big finale – the plan being to get up at 0530, yes really, and walk up the pass for about an hour to another mirador and watch the colours of the towers (Torres) as the sun rose. No we were not the only ones. Half the campsite had been briefed that this was the thing to do (oh forgot to mention, in Puerto Natales everyday there is a meeting in “Erratic Rock” whereby they give you a low down on the walk, the campsites, the costs etc). So up we all got up and trekked by torchlight up the pass to watch the sunrise. There was a little rain we have to admit, but it was dark so we never saw it! It was pretty special!
A great way to finish our hike! Back down at the campsite we packed up and headed off the mountain just as the clouds encapsulated the towers and hid them from all the late risers. Privileged!
It has to be said we had great weather and a great time – all 82km of it!!!. The bus reeks of stinky people most probably as it carries us all back to our hostels in town where we have lovely hot showers waiting for us. Now we know why there’s a door between the driver and the rest of the bus!!!!