I just got back to Puerto Natales after an amazing 9-day hiking trip in Torres del Paine National Park. What a place!!
I decided to join a G Adventures group tour almost entirely due to the ridiculous shambles of an online booking system the companies have managed to create! But that issue is fairly well-known so I can focus on the positives.
My group was 16 people plus two guides, Christian and Jo, and we had 5 porters to carry sleeping bags and food for the remote parts of the trail.
Note: the following was written during my time on the trail itself and is a real-time flow of consciousness, expletives and all!
11 Feb – Day 1 – 23km – Chileno Sector to Torres del Paine viewpoint (out and back)
The day started with a fairly leisurely pace in Puerto Natales getting our things together, jumping on a minibus and driving 2.5 hours to the park entrance near the Torres del Paine Hotel. We stopped a few times to see some great wildlife.
First, a beautiful grey fox trotted right past me into a field when we stopped for a toilet break, then we stopped to see wild guanaco and lesser rhea by the side of the road and I shouted out to tell the guide that I had seen a puma stalking a guanaco. Needless to say he didn’t believe me as he had assured us they only come out at night so when we finally got the driver to stop we walked back up a hill and found a film crew who confirmed that I had seen a puma 😂 but the puma was nowhere to be seen.
My daysack seems ridiculously heavy today but I think my legs were just getting back into it. I was carrying lots of spare clothes (essential as the weather can swing from sunny t-shirt weather to blizzard in the blink of an eye), my Nikon D600 and Wilhelm the Penguin of course.
The trail starts out in a wide flat valley for 2.4 kilometres until you come to the first main trail marker after the bridge and then we started to climb and cross more rivers as the dramatic landscape unfolded before us.
The trail was well-trodden and was fairly tough with lots of uphill sections as you got further into the Chileno Sector. The last section as you climb up towards the viewpoint is a scramble over boulders but it’s not too tough. Unfortunately we had cloud but it was still a nice place.
We also walked through a Lenga forest. Lenga is a type of beech which can live to around 400 years old and occurs in many forms, from scrubby bushes to mighty trees depending on the soil. The leaves are interesting with two lobes per vein.
We stayed overnight just outside the park, so we covered a bit of extra ground to get back to the carpark where we were collected. But this meant we got a great view over the whole massif from our campsite!
Tomorrow we can give 5kg of our things to the porters to carry including our huge all-weather sleeping bags which weigh over 2.5kg.
12 Feb – Day 2 – 14km – Torres del Paine hotel to Camp Serón
I got bitten to shit by mosquitoes last night. Through my leggings while I was trying to get one photo of the stunning stars. Needless to say, the photo was rubbish and if it could capture everything that was going on, it would be totally full of swear words. I am able to give a few of my things to the driver to take back to Puerto Natales so I’m sacrificing 2 t-shirts, my yak-wool hat, my bikini [as soon as I wrote bikini I realised that I’ve got a day at a lake so I’ve repacked it in my bag!!]. Hopefully my duffel for the porters weighs less than 5kg still as I’ve moved my battery pack into it. Still got to carry my bloody 90g toothpaste tube 😂.
It’s 1645 and I’m laying on the ground at Camp Serón while we wait to find out which tents we’ve got etc. The weather has been beautiful! Really sunny and warm for most of the day. We relaxed down by a river for about 45 minutes earlier because it was just so nice. It’s getting a little windy now but it’s still nice.
The trail was lovely today, about half of it was a level walk across a river valley. I was practicing my Spanish quite a lot this morning.
13 Feb – Day 3 – 19km – Camp Serón to Camp Dickson
The trail today is nice mostly flat with a great view to our right as we are contouring around a mountain above a lake. Then we had a steep section and from the top we could see Lake Paine with gorgeous mountains all around.
My tent mate is Susanna, also from England and we get on well. Our boots and feet smell pretty bad in the tent right now lol, but it’s way too wet to have them outside or to switch to flip flops this evening! Oops.
We were warned about the mosquitoes at Dickson by some people at Serón and they weren’t wrong. Once when I stopped this afternoon a mosquito bit my hand and I was quite unhappy about that but I’m ok now. Breakfast isn’t until 0830 tomorrow so plenty of time for sleeping. My calves are sore but they didn’t hurt at all today when I was hiking.
I just got into my sleeping bag now at about 10pm. This evening I listened to my book (Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari) for a while, napped a tiny bit listening to the rain and then went into the main tiny building for dinner. It wasn’t actually very nice but it was totally ok and much better than the food I would have been eating if I had carried all my own gear. The mosquitos here are epically huge. They can probably bite through tyres. The rain worsened so it’s pretty heavy now. I do love listening to the rain. But I also hope the trail isn’t abominable tomorrow. After dinner most of us sat around squished onto some “comfy” seating and there were 5 people playing uno and I was trying some epic brainteaser puzzles with Sarah. Then we got a great game of Heads Up going. I love games where you have to describe something and everyone guesses what it is. One of my favourite types of game for sure. We got kicked out at 9:30pm so I had to brave the herds of mosquitoes to get back to my tent for my toothbrush. It was horrendous. Not that we weren’t fending the little b*$tards off while we were inside!
I’ll listen to my book some more and then sleep quite a bit hopefully. The hike tomorrow isn’t hugely far but it could be miserable in the rain plagued by mozzies so it’ll seem better after a good night’s sleep. I should probably try to photograph the mosquitoes. I guess nobody ever does that. It certainly isn’t possible to put into words how awful they are and how it feels to be bitten. One on my cheek and one on my hand today. Plus probably a million that I haven’t found yet. I braved the toilet before bed and there was a full swarm in there. I just went in, no lights, bum straight on the seat, wafting my hands everywhere (probably futile) and then pulled my trousers up as best as I could without tucking in too many mosquitoes and ran out, down the slippery steps into the mud. Frantic. But now I don’t need to leave here until daylight. (But these f*#!ers are day-biters anyway…).
14 Feb – Day 4 – 13km – Camp Dickson to Camp Perros
I’m on a break at a stunning Mirador right now.
We reached an awesome rocky beach at the edge of the Perros glacial lake and spent ages hanging out. I ended up throwing some big rocks in and they made huge rainbows so we carried on for a while to get photos. I had to stop typing for a sec because we spotted a duck on the lake. The first bird all day except condors. Not wildly impressed as I wanted to see that woodpecker with the bright red head. The wind is getting up a little and it’s freezing when it blows. Crazy swing in temperature.
Appetizers were served at 6:30 with a great cold platter and pisco sours then we had lentils with sausage followed by quinoa with cinnamon and condensed milk. It was nice. I stayed in there after we had finished chatting with Andrew, Denise, Karl and Susanna and the porters came in for dinner. I chatted with them in Spanish about things like languages, travelling and food. Now I’m listening to my book in the tent.
15 Feb – Day 5 – 18km Camp Perros to Camp Grey
Today is probably my favourite day. I was woken at 0530 just before my alarm by heavy rain!! Breakfast was in the same dome tent and was nice. El Cubano had some great tunes playing so I was really enjoying myself. I ate less than usual (probably a bad idea because today’s hike is the hardest one) and we set off at about 0715 in the pouring rain.
The first bit was really steep through muddy forest and we climbed up and up including some really long sections of logs and rocks suspended in mud which totally submerged when you stepped on them! Then we left the woods and crossed some tricky moraine all the way up to the pass (El Paso) crossing some rivers. It was windy at the top but not too bad most of the way up. Still really rainy
It’s after dinner and I’m talking with some of the people in my group and one of the other guides. I’m probably going to bed soon, ready to go kayaking in the morning. I ache like hell this evening.
16 Jan – Day 6 – Day at Glacier Grey
My kayak buddy was Andrew and we had a good couple of hours out kayaking. We paddled around an iceberg and in a narrow channel of ice.
I was talking to one of the guides in Spanish a lot and it was hard to hear him and paddle at the same time and it was also hard to concentrate on steering and speaking Spanish, so Andrew had to paddle a bit harder, lol. But it’s his birthday tomorrow and I got us an invite to his birthday drinks tonight at the Grey Bar.
To see this…
And also I was looking for birds. I am so shocked at the lack of wildlife in general but birdlife in particular there is in this stunning forest which is surrounded by shrubland with an abundance of berries!!
Dinner was excellent – seafood stew with rice. I sat around chatting with Jen and Denise and we had quite a lot of wine, which was nice. Our hike tomorrow is short so we have a lay in with breakfast at 0830. My legs still feel good after stretching earlier 😁
17 Feb – Day 7 – 12km – Camp Grey to Paine Grande
Tonight we are staying at Paine Grande, the biggest Refugio by far.
We arrived at 2 and had lunch then plenty of time to chill out and enjoy the view of the lake and mountains. The view is phenomenal and photos can’t do it justice. The clouds only add to the drama.
There were also some upland geese hanging out around here so I went to take some close-up photos. There were some of my group in the bar upstairs watching me skip around and over the grass as I’m wearing flip flops and fleece trousers and the grass is soaking. We hung out in the bar for a while and also downstairs in the food hall. I brought out the speaker and we played Pass the Pigs and drank wine in the afternoon before dinner. I also gave Jen a lesson on using an SLR which she appreciated.
I was so starving hungry while we were queuing for dinner. It wasn’t bad. The asparagus soup wasn’t all that but the chicken leg with mashed potato was delicious with some garlic olive oil and merkén (roasted powdered chilli and peppers). Now I’m in the bar. I was playing a game with Jen and Denise, Susanna was watching and Nikolas joined us later on. It’s called Chicken Scream, it’s pretty weird but we found it hilarious. Denise passed an entire level by laughing her head off. Everyone else has gone to bed now except Nikolas. The music is the bar is really nice so I’m sitting and singing along.
18 Feb – Day 8 – 17km – Paine Grande to Camp Cuernos via French Valley
We walked 7.5km before reaching Italiano Camp where we headed steeply uphill into the French Valley for an amazing panorama after 2km. We had lunch at a great spot just past the main Mirador and I enjoyed most of my sandwich before having fun bouldering with the assistant guide Jo and Geoffery.
This is Jo holding himself up one-handed and eating an apple!! So impressed! We had some excellent views all day today, it was such a wonderful day.
We followed the rocky trail in the afternoon along a lakeside and ended up at a great pebble beach where we relaxed for a while. Karl was skimming stones and Jen and I were just throwing them in. A guide from another group, Jarec, who we have seen most evenings handed us a few dried figs. Then Jen and I had a throwing competition (which I won convincingly) before we headed off for the final half an hour walk which began along the beach.
We arrived here at Camp Cuernos at a really reasonable time and relaxed in the bar for a while before being shown where our tents were.
Then we played
19 February – Day 9 – 14km – Camp Cuernos to Hotel Torres del Paine
Then we set off. Our 12 kilometre hike was mostly Patagonian flat with fantastic scenery. We finally lost sight of the horns today as we followed the Nordenskjöld lake for 5 hours stopping a few times to admire the view. There were some friendly Rufus-collared sparrows at one of the viewpoints and they were super friendly.
We made it to this sign, and that was it, a full circuit! Still 2.4 km to get to the carpark but yeah, wow.
Back at the carpark I was playing music for the group whole we waited for everyone and then we got our bus back to Puerto Natales. We all went out for dinner to celebrate our efforts and I gave Cris this weather forecast stone so he can always know what the weather is doing.
And that was that, 130km, a great bunch of people and some amazing memories. Next stop for me is the Galapagos! Hasta luego x