The W Trek, Torres del Paine National Park: Trekking in Patagonia
“Travel is glamorous only in retrospect” – Paul Theroux
My feet and ankles throbbed with pain at the end of every day. Those last couple of kilometres were always the worst, and at those moments I lamented persisting with my half broken, fake Salomon hiking shoes that I bought in Nepal over a year ago. The W Trek, known as one of the world’s best multi-day treks, was harder than it probably needed to be, but I made it (and saw some amazing sights along the way). Here are some tips to make your trek a bit easier, as well as a quick look at some of the scenery.
Day 1: Hiking to Mirador Las Torres
After setting up our tent at Campamento Torres, we started the 8 hour round trip hike to Mirador Las Torres (torres means towers by the way), the W Trek’s most iconic viewpoint. The wind was raging and the skies were clear, but there was no guarantee that would last. We walked down the hill towards Refugio El Chileno, where we ate a lunch of plain, dry and completely unappealing bread. It turned out one of us had forgotten the tuna and olives. We continued to walk along the scenic valley, through sheltered forests and eventually to the start of the painful ascent to Mirador Las Torres. It was a tough climb; my shoes weren’t designed to be walking for that long on sharp rocks. I also had a wardrobe malfunction — my pants ripped, which meant I had to tie my girlfriend’s cardigan around my waste, which wasn’t one of my finest fashion moments. As for the view from up there…it’s almost indescribable. The razor sharp peaks, creamy green water and snow covered mountains combine to leave pretty much everyone who visits in silent awe. It was a long and hungry walk back to our tent, and the consistently rocky track was starting to frustrate me and my poor feet. Also, if you only want to a day hike in Torres del Paine National Park this would be a great option.
Day 2: Campamento Torres to Campamento Italiano
One of the tougher aspects of the W Trek is carrying all of your camping equipment, food and clothes between the campsites. You can stay in the various lodges along the way, but that’s only for people with money to burn. Most people will end up carrying around 10kgs on their backs, and the hardest big bag carrying section is the 7-8 hour hike between Campamento Torres and the free Italiano campsite. It was fairly flat, with a few ups and downs, but again it was rocky for most of the way. The scenery was great though — the grey Cuernos peaks provided a distracting backdrop during some of the hardest sections. I was absolutely shattered by the time we reached Campamento Italiano — I don’t think I’ve ever had a more well-earned rest.
Day 3: The French Valley
After filling up our water bottles in the freezing river close to camp, we made our way through the French Valley, eventually ending up at a huge opening surrounded by mountains. The walk took us past a glacier, a fast flowing river and a waterfall, eventually leading us into a peaceful forest. The track was rocky and there were plenty of ups and downs, but it was still one of the easier sections of the W Trek. After about 5 hours we made it back to Campamento Italiano. We packed up our tent, strapped on our heavy bags and started the 3 hour walk to Paine Grande, where we would camp for the night before walking to Grey Glacier. It was a tough walk; that 5 hour hike through the French Valley wasn’t the best preparation. I eventually hobbled into camp, relieved that it was the last time I’d have to carry the heavy bag.
Day 4: Grey Glacier
Our final day in Torres del Paine National Park was spent walking to Grey Glacier and back. The sun was shining and the track was a bit easier than the previous ones. All was good, and in less than 4 hours we were admiring the giant glacier while eating the last of our tuna and olives. We couldn’t wait around for too long though, as we needed to be back for the last boat/bus back to Puerto Natales. The walk to Grey Glacier and back took around 7 hours. The last hour was agony, but just when my feet were about to fall off the soothing site of the Paine Grande lodge/campsite came into view. We had finished the mighty W Trek! My terminally ill shoes made it that much harder and I’d never carried such a heavy bag for that long before. It showed me that I can do anything and also that I need to prepare for this sort of thing better. After packing up our tent one last time, we hopped on the catamaran headed to the park entrance, where a bus was waiting to take us back to Puerto Natales.
East to west or west to east?
You can either hike the W Trek east to west or west to east; the jury is still out on which one is better. We hiked east to west, mainly because the weather was good when we arrived at Torres del Paine National Park, meaning we’d have a better chance of seeing the towers (they are often shrouded in cloud). It worked out well; we got a good view of the towers on the first day, which took the stress of possibly not seeing them away. It also seems like it is easier to complete the W Trek in 4 days if you hike east to west. We had originally planned to do it in 5 days but the lure of nice food and a comfortable bed inspired us to do it in 4.
Tips for tackling the W Trek
- Wear good shoes: You’ll save yourself a lot of pain.
- Bring lots of snacks: Things like chocolate and biscuits are expensive if you buy them on the trek.
- Hire good camping gear: We talked to people who didn’t rent good sleeping bags and they said they were freezing and miserable every night. We paid a little extra for ours but we were always warm.
- Don’t carry much water: We rarely had to walk more than an hour without seeing a stream or river where we could fill up our bottles (the water is really nice too).
How much does it cost to do the W Trek?
Here’s a quick rundown of what we spent:
- Torres del Paine National Park entry ticket: 18,000 CLP
- Round trip bus ticket to/from the national park: 15,000 CLP
- Bus to Las Torres camp site: 2000 CLP
- Catamaran from Paine Grande to the national park office: 15,000 CLP
- Food: 35,000 CLP (for 2 people)
- Camping equipment (tent, sleeping bags, mats, cooking gear) 65,000 CLP (for 2 people)
- Camp sites (Las Torres and Paine Grande): 14,500 CLP (for 2 people)
- Snacks along the way: (we ate all of ours on a boat trip before the trek and didn’t have time to buy more before leaving Puerto Natales) – 15,000 CLP (for 2 people)
All up it cost us about 115,000 pesos each (around $160 USD) — not bad for a 4 day trek in one of the most expensive regions of South America.
The W Trek is one of the hardest and most rewarding things I’ve done. Paul Theroux might be right; this is definitely one of those treks you appreciate more when you reflect on it. My terrible shoes were the main reason for my discomfort though, so don’t let me put you off doing the W Trek.
Have you been on a multi-day trek? Where was it, and what challenges did you face? Let me know in the comments below!
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