One of the main attractions here in Southern Patagonia is the Torres Del Paine National Park, located about 6 hours north of Punta Arenas. Most people who make it to Patagonia like to trek the “W”, a 80 kilometers long circuit named after its approximate shape on a map. However, the “W” requires to spend at least 4 nights in the park, sleeping in either of one the expensive refugios, either camping. Since we had nor the money nor the gear to camp in the wild, we decided to “only” hike to the Torres Del Paine for a day.
We took the bus from Puerto Natales at 7:30 and arrived at the entrance of the park around 10 am. It was a nice day by all Patagonian standards: windy and unpredictable, but some blue sky and no rain. Keeping in mind the weather can change in the blink of an eye here, we carried warm clothes, two liters of water, some food, rain gear… after all, the 20 kilometers hike would take us at least 8 hours.
We first had to climb 700 meters above the river. The trail was nice although very windy and occasionally steep. We saw a lot of backpackers with huge bags and camping gears… I don´t know how they did it. We had to stop a couple of times, out of breath and already sweaty, and we only had daypacks.
An hour later, we reached the top and followed a tiny trail along the river, overlooking the valley. The Trail was only about 80 centimeters wide and the vicious wind worried me a bit, I didn´t want to be tossed off the trail. We crossed waterfalls and walked down the valley towards the first refugio, Campamento Chileno. We rested there for a few minutes… and left again.
The second part of the hike was mostly in the forest. Uphill, downhill, the trail was not always clear and we wondered how far we were quite a few times. Eventually, we exited the forest and stand in front of the valley again. Last part. The most popular thing to see in Torres are, not surprisingly, the three granite torres (towers), so we had to do the final climb to admire them.
The towers´viewpoint is only 1.5 kilometers (or so) from there, but the climb is 1200 feet. There is no trail and you have to climb what at first looks like a field of scrambled boulders, but then becomes a mountain. There were little red dots on some of the rocks to indicate the easier path but frankly, it was no help at all.
We hoped from rock to rock, in full llama mode, crossing little rivers uphill. We really could not see how far we were because the towers were on the other side of the mountain and the boulders never seemed to end. Feng and I stood, exhausted, the sun blinding us, our legs shaking. The climb had turned very steep to the point that we were not hiking but rock climbing. We needed both of our hand to hold to the rocks and climb. Every five minutes, we would stop and stare at the top: how far were we?
Eventually we saw a huge house-size boulder at the top, and everybody seemed to disappear beyond it. We figured it was the top (or a really bad cliff that swallowed all the hikers). We kept on climbing.
The boulders were not stable. We stepped on rocks that would move downhill, avalanche like. Other rocks appeared huge but offered little help, because they were unsteady. I was quite scared to be honest. We were high in the mountain with no help whatsoever, no trail, we were tired and worse of all — we would have to make our way down, which I was afraid we might not be able to.
Eventually, we reached the top. Too exhausted at first to go a few meters further to see the towers, we just sat on a rock and eat our sandwich fast. It was quite cold and windy.
The towers were unbelievable. Three majestic and unusually shaped block of granite, overlooking a very blue lake. They were huge… and I felt tiny.
We didn´t stay to long since we had to make our way back. Going downhill was hell. I was tired and I was afraid that I´d make a stupid mistake because of that: stepping on the wrong rock, falling down the cliff, scramble down myself. It is a quite dangerous hike, even if it is not advertised as such.
I wondered about the backpackers who camped. Patagonia is true wilderness, and even though because the “W” trail is popular people think it´s easy, it´s not. If you are a real hiker, maybe. But for most of the backpackers, it is pretty hard. It was for us and we are young and reasonably fit. There were a lot of Israelis and I guess it could be easier for them — there is a tradition of young Israelis going backpacking after their compulsory national service. Assuming they have good military training, camping in the wild may be easier. At least, I´m pretty sure they can make a fire… unlike most of us.
We returned to Puero Natales sore everywhere, but it was worth it. I don´t regret not hiking the full “W” but I´m quite proud we made it to the top of the viewpoint.
Time to go back to Argentina, to see a true natural wonder…
This post is also an entry for the Viewspaper’s Travel Adventure Carnival.