If you ever wanted to feel like you were in a Lord of the Rings book, come to Torres del Paine national park. Sharp jagged grey peaks, outrageously blue lakes and equally vibrant green vegetation, rocky crevasses and babbling waterfalls. . . it´s really something out of a fairytale. Recently a friend and I did three days of the “W” trek hike here, each day offering a unique view, both in terms of scenery and weather. We were picked up early from Puerto Natales to transfer to the trailhead within the park, about a two drive. Just outside the park boundary we were treated to the first amazing view of the Patagonian mountains.
Starting up the trail from Hotel Las Torres, we were greeted with dazzling sunshine and lush forest, despite rather chilly off-season temperatures. We quickly learned that during spring in Patagonia, all four seasons generally occur each day. We reached El Chileno hut about two hours later, with clouds slowly rolling in over the mountains.
Leaving our bigger luggage at the hut, we continued up the Las Torres hike, about 4.5 hours round trip and getting you to that postcard viewpoint of the majestic sheer cliff faces. The weather was increasingly windy and cold as we climbed, and the last hour of the hike is not for those afraid of heights or some scrambling. The terrain is rocky, jagged, and hard on the knees.
But, the view at the top was so much more than any picture I´ve seen, so otherworldly up close. We snapped some pictures and enjoyed the view, but didn´t dawdle due to the freezing sleet and sideways wind gusts at the top.
Back at the El Chileno hut, we huddled by the fire with hot tea, and later on were treated to dinner, fresh, delicious, and filling. Herbed salmon and cabbage salad, followed by chicken and squash stew and finally stewed fruit for dessert.
All the huts and refuges in the park are very eco-friendly – garbage is essentially forbidden, hot water comes from solar energy, meals are based almost solely on locally available ingredients, and heating is only via one or two small stoves, with extra warm sleeping bags to compensate. We crawled into our sleeping bags early, and slept like rocks. The next morning, fueled but hot buttered toast and eggs, we put on our rain gear as the weather had sadly worsened overnight – higher wind speeds and a downpour. We set off, the first 2 hours generally grey, cold, wet, and windy. Luckily as we made our way along the trail beside the lake, the skies cleared enough for rare patches of sunlight to peak through, making the lake the most astounding shade of blue. If I hadn´t known better, we could have been in Switzerland in the summertime.
Today the trail included a lot of ups and downs but total elevation gain was relatively minimal (although it didn´t feel that way). We arrived to Hut Los Cuernos around 4 in the afternoon, to full blown sunshine and a crackling fire in the lodge. This lodge deserves its reputation as the nicest in the park, with a location directly on the lake, hot clean showers, and a beautiful bar area with a view. We enjoyed rounds of beer and card games with some fellow hikers, before having yet another wonderful dinner – vegetable soup and slow roasted beef with corn puree. Another early night followed, as hiking all day in all varieties of weather tends to tire one out.
Our final day was the longest one – and it felt that way too! We carried our bags to the Italiano Ranger station, where we left them nestled under the eaves of the station to continue hiking up the French Valley. Today, the weather really turned on us – rain started almost immediately, and the trail was entirely rocky, so slick rocks and mud made it slow-going work to get up to the lookout.
As we climbed, the rain turned to snow and we were happy to have brought our winter gear with us. Our views of the French valley were clearly a bit obscured but I can imagine in summer it would be stunning.
Back at the ranger station, we grabbed our bags and made a beeline to catch our catamaran to cross the lake and head back to Puerto Natales that evening. We had about 2.5 further hours hiking to get there. Again, strong winds made us slightly irritable by the end of the day, but looking back, I wouldn´t trade it for anything. Amazing views, astonishing nature at every turn, incredible geology, and good company. Even in the off season this was a trail I would recommend to anyone.