03 May Torres del Paine, Experience in Patagonia
by Jonas Gillespie from Canada
For decades, the world’s most iron-chinned and stone-hearted adventurers have flocked to the staggering mountains of Patagonia to attempt the insurmountable feat of climbing these iconic vertical slabs of granite rock. Since 1520, when historic Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan led his fleet of ships through Patagonia lands and what is now called the ‘Strait of Magellan,’ thousands of people enter into the National Parks of Patagonia wide eyed and with the astonishment of a toddler seeing Santa Clause for the first time. With our sights set on the epic park of Torres del Paine in Southern Chile, myself and my bearded pal, Connor, blindly travelled towards the peaks that have summoned so many before us. What follows is a brief guide for our short and unprepared journey among the sky-scrapers of Patagonia.
Nearing the end of our four month backpacking trip and with enough money to buy one and a half empanadas, we booked a flight from Santiago to Punta Arenas. After arriving by bus to Puerto Natales, the town that serves as a base to the park, we prepared to complete the popular ‘W’ circuit in four days. We managed to reserve two campsites on the trail through the company Fantástico Sur. Three different companies own all the campsites and a reservation ahead of time is encouraged. Our journey was set to begin, memories and blisters were about to be formed. We were also about to officially go broke (see costs below).
We setup camp at Las Torres central camp and hit the trail for our day hike to the base of Torres del Paine which literally translates into “Towers of Blue.” The trail took us through beautiful lush green forests, past rushing glacial streams to rocky outcrops with views of the descending river valley. Coming face first with the three menacing towers is the finest reward for your excruciating joint pain.
The ferocious 90 km/h Patagonia winds gave us a strong reminder of Mother Nature’s unpredictable power as we hiked alongside the turquoise coloured Lake Nordenskjöld. Sporadic rain showers, whipping winds and 26 km later we had marveled at the views of Francés Valley, and lay exhausted in our tents at the Los Cuernos campsite. By some miracle, only one granola bar was swept away by the winds, never to be seen again and claimed by the mysterious Patagonia food gods.
This marked the day when our hiking clothes and shoes began to take on a new smell altogether. This brought about a strange sort of rugged Patagonian pride shared only by multi-day hikers alike. The trail today brought us by Laguna Scottsberg and the blackened scorched trees as a result of the massive forest fire that saw 16,000 hectares of the park go up in flame in 2011. 13 km later and the Paine Grande campground began to emerge in the distance in front of another impossibly teal coloured Lake named Lake Pehoé. With no campsite previously reserved, we were able buy a site with no issues. Easy as pie. Speaking of pie, we could have definitely used a slice of pie at this point. Blueberry, to be exact.
The jagged ice blue Grey glacier appeared to stick out of Grey Lake like a 3D imax film. This was the prize for our final day of trekking and I couldn’t help but feel as though I had just lived a four day National Geographic documentary. After a 22 km round trip day, we had crossed the ‘W’ circuit off our list. We hopped aboard the Catamaran and relished in our success. Torres Del Paine was a dream come true. Now it was time to eat pizza.
Flight to Punta Arenas $225 USD
Bus to Puerto Natales $11 USD
Rental Camping Gear $112 USD
• sleeping bag, two-person tent, cooking set, mat, 75 litre backpack, rain cover
Bus to Torres del Paine Entrance (Round trip) $20 USD
Shuttle into Torres del Paine National Park $5 USD
Campsites (Las Torres, Los Cuernos & Paine Grande) $88 USD
Catamaran (One-way) $30 USD
*doesn’t include cost for food