If you decided to complete the W Trek in Torres del Paine National Park, one of the world’s most impressive trekking routes, you may have a rough idea about what is ahead. But, believe me; the W Trek will exceed your expectations! Yes, you will see the rugged landscape, snow-capped mountains and the silent forests. However, no photograph will capture your experiences if you decide to complete the 7-day W Trek with EcoCamp Patagonia in Chile’s very own 8th wonder of the world!
I know what you may be thinking…”7-days of trekking…no way”. Don’t worry, this article proves that although the W trek is challenging, it is an accessible and once in a lifetime experience one should not miss! The trek allows one to spend 2 nights at refuges and 4 nights at EcoCamp, a compromise of adventure and comfort. There is no altitude issue as the trek is under 1000m/3000ft. So dear readers, get ready to read about the 75km/46mi of emotion, sweat and friendship we all experienced during our W trek!
Adventure start - DAY 1: Whether you arrive by air, land or sea to Punta Arenas; the onward journey to the park is a scenic introduction to Patagonia. The total distance from Punta Arenas to Torres Del Paine is a whopping (373km/232mi)! Our group consisted of 9 individuals, predominately from United States and Canada. We started the journey from Punta Arenas early morning, thankfully after 3 hours of flat landscapes we broke our journey in Puerto Natales, the “entrance door” to this mountainous area of Southern Chile. Here we were introduced to our guide Xabier, originally from the Basque country, passionate about the outdoors, with over 20 years of experience in Patagonia. We had no doubt that we would learn a lot from him! We also had the pleasure of meeting Pablo, his charismatic Chilean assistant. At Puerto Natales we completed the necessary paperwork with the friendly staff at the EcoCamp office. After which we were taken to “Aldea”, a nearby restaurant, where we ate authentic Chilean food washed down with a full bodied Chilean red. This meal gave us the energy required to say goodbye to civilization, get back in the van and continue the remaining leg of our journey to enter the remoteness of Patagonia. En route, we stopped at La Cueva del Milodon (the Milodon’s cave). This 200m cave is a striking geological formation, which was once an island. The history dates back to the end of the 19th century, when a German explorer discovered a piece of skin of an animal which was identified later as Milodon, a creature that inhabited the area 10,000 years ago.
After 2 hours of driving, we finally arrived in Torres del Paine…Wow! We were stunned by the natural beauty, the immensity of the mountain range, as the wind sounded like a freedom hymn. We were finally here! We stopped at the Sarmiento lookout, to view the biggest lake in the national park (Lago Sarmiento) and the mystic towers in the distant clouds. And to top it all, a dozen guanacos gave us a warm welcome as we entered their kingdom. Finally after 8 long hours we reached our sustainable geodesic hotel – EcoCamp Patagonia, we were in awe of the surroundings and had forgotten about our tiredness.
At Ecocamp after settling into our cozy new domes (each with unobstructive views of the towers), we made our way to the community dome to meet Xabier and review our itinerary for the next few days, raise any questions and get to know our group over a pisco sour.
The evening ended with a delicious Patagonian Fusion meal at EcoCamp Patagonia! Content and tired we headed to our domes for a good night sleep, gazing at the stars through the window and dreaming about our long-awaited Torres del Paine W Trek. Dome sweet Dome, Patagonia!
Los Cuernos - DAY 2: After a hearty buffet breakfast and an astonishing pink sunrise, we left EcoCamp to start our trek along the beautiful snowcapped Almirante Nieto Mountain. It was the middle of spring, and a mix of red and yellow flowers were in bloom and covered the beginning of the trail. We were hiking parallel to the azure Nordenskjold Lake, named after the Swed who discovered the lake. Apart from a few hills, the trail was relatively flat and easy. We stopped to admire the Horns (Los Cuernos) – dark horns towering the skyline – and Paine Grande, the highest mountain of the national park…this was also the perfect place to stop for a scenic lunch!
After lunch we trekked through the beautiful red Firebush flowers. Pablo and Xabier came to our rescue and built a bridge made out of rocks and branches, so as to allow us amateurs to to cross the various rivers without getting our precious feet wet! After 6 hours we finally reached Los Cuernos refuge. Once we were housed, we congregated in the communal area. Although we came from different backgrounds, we felt an equal admiration for our achievements and the surrounding landscapes. Later that evening we devoured a hearty dinner. Here whilst chatting I realized I had so much to learn from the group…And I started to get to know Sarah, Sameer, Andrew, Michael, Jane, Rick, Emily and Kyle.
Valle Frances - DAY 3: It rained all night long, and continued to do so during the day. The surrounding mystical forest, covered by an enigmatic morning fog looked mystical. We suddenly heard the loud voice of Xabier: “Let’s go….Adelante!”. We started trekking despite the rain, and we soon forgot about the weather and became mesmerized by our surroundings. We were forced to say goodbye to the piercing blue Nordenskjold Lake, and trekked uphill for 2hours finally reaching the Italino campsite. “El Italiano” is the entrance door to the famous French Valley, which stretches between The Horns and Paine Grande. Here Big lenga trees (local mountain trees) shadowed us. We were mesmerized by the snowy Paine Grande Mountain visible on our left side. This 3050m/10.000ft mountain has only been conquered 3 times, the constant threat of avalanches has prevented additional climbers from being able to sumitt this peak. After a steep 1hr climb uphill we reached the Paine Grande Lookout. The view was worth the hardship! The French Valley is surrounded by impressive peaks, a fantastic cocktail of colors where Lenga trees meet the snowy mountains.
Turning our back on the majestic Horns we headed back down from the lookout. We passed dead trees that once were part of the lush green forest. Here we sadly realized the terrible impact of the 2011 fire, caused by human negligence. How many years would nature need to recover? After being blinded by the blue beauty of lake Pehoe, ready for a well-deserved rest, we finally arrived at our destination - the Paine Grande refugio. The refuge has the choice of comfortable dormitories or closer to nature in the campsite. I decided to be brave and selected to stay the night at the campsite…I would never regret my choice. That evening we met for dinner, discussing the day’s events, through our experience we were becoming a close group and friendships were beginning to be formed. We could feel a cool breeze, the only clue likely to prove the proximity of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. Tomorrow we would head to the impressive Grey Glacier.
Grey Glacier - DAY 4: Early morning we left Paine Grande refugio, to make our way through a quiet valley covered with peculiar rock formations. After a short uphill trek, we finally reached the Western area of the W Trek! The point where the feet of the western side of Paine Grande met Grey Lake, this intersect was covered in wild scenery, and to top it all, huge icebergs had broken off the glacier and were floating in this famous lake. We could see the vastness of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field- Grey Glacier, which was like a lying monster of ice and snow. We felt so tiny facing the immensity!
We reached Grey refuge around midday, just in time as the clouds were threatening a downpour. We boarded on “Grey II”, a boat which would bring us close (we got as close as 20 meters!) to the glacier, allowing us to admire its vastness and its beauty. It was postcard perfect, even in the rain. After circling the entire glacier the boat headed back, where the van took us back to EcoCamp...after a long day the coziness of the domes and the delight of a warm dinner were a welcome treat! I stretched my legs, getting ready for the W Trek’s hardest walk.
Torres base - DAY 5: We started our trek from EcoCamp at 8:30am. The first few kilometers were quite easy as we trekked over flat land. We crossed a few bridges, and then started the steep and long ascent through the Ascensio valley, trekking along the roaring Ascensio River which snakes between the mountains. Our legs were beginning to suffer from the hard uphill trek, so we were please to take a well needed break at El Chileno refugio.
After our rest stop, we continued through the lush green forest to start another uphill climb, the final ascent turned into a rock scramble. We stopped to listen to the noisy silence of the trees that seemed to whisper into our ears. The place was full of an indescribable energy. Alas the weather gods were against us, it started to snow. The impressive towers were barely visible through the dense clouds. Sadly we would miss a photo opportunity…but we did it! The adrenaline, the achievement made us feel happy. That kind of happiness you can hardly describe with words. That evening at EcoCamp, before gathering in the famous community dome, we took the class in the yoga dome, and it felt incredibly good to stretch our muscles…Namaste!
Eastern Lakes - DAY 6: Today would be our last trekking day. An easy 3-hour natural trail across the steppe to explore the park’s fauna and offer us the best view of the Paine mountain range (this trail is also called “Porteria-Porteria”, as the trail starts at one national park entrance and ends at another entrance). Whilst trekking we came across a herd of guanacos and a few ñandus – a kind of Patagonian ostrich. Nov/Dec is the start of the guanacos birthing season, we were fortunate enough to see the birth of a newborn guanacos (chulengos). Rich in wildlife we also saw the beautiful condor, one of the biggest birds in the world, flying in the distance! After a short ascent, we came across another surprise: ancient rock paintings designed by the tribes that inhabited the area 6500 years ago. Fascinating!
Desperately we hunted for a sighting of the puma; alas we only came across the carcass of poor guanacos…the puma’s favorite meal. A short drive brought us to Laguna Azul ("blue lagoon"), where the landscape is picture perfect! The immensity of the blueness of the laguna contrasted against the hugeness of the mountain range, offering us an unforgettable clear view of the famous towers. Another perfect picnic spot, we each opened our lunchboxes and ate whilst admiring the breathtaking views. We could see the hidden side of the mountain range, from the Almirante Nieto mountain to the Seron forest! On our drive way back to EcoCamp, we stopped at the Paine Waterfalls (Cascada Paine), a magnificent cascade of magical waterfalls surrounded by the beautiful bright yellow flowers in bloom…another unique photograph. Upon arrival at EcoCamp, we quenched our thirst with a beer at Ecobar and celebrated the end of our trek! With our new friends we exchanged contact details, a lifetime bond sealed through our shared experience on the W trek. We enjoyed our last evening together and as the night progressed were slowly dawned on us that our trip was over…we would miss each other!
Adios Torres! - DAY 7: After crossing the mountains, some of us will cross the ocean to get home and settle back into our lives. The highlights of this trek we will never forget, the clouds at the summit of majestic mountains, the trek across the valleys, and more importantly the new friends we made during this unique experience. After some serious trekking days, my muscles were sore and aching. But I had adjusted to the routine and could trek for longer. We finally joined the W Trek Alumni Club, after having taken about 92000 steps and burnt at least 7000 calories! A strong wind was blowing on the mountains. We bid Xabier and Pablo a sad goodbye, without their skill, dedication and passion we would not have been able to complete this trek. We boarded the van, the van’s door slammed. Alas sadly Farewell Patagonia…until the next time!
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