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Hiking the W at Torres del Paine

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View Exploring Patagonia on Rebecca Heller's travel map.

I didn't sleep all that well the night before; I spent a bit of time wondering if this was such a good idea after all but I got up ready to get on with it. I got down to breakfast and met Diego sitting there; he was also leaving that morning to hike the W, also in 4 days.

Hurrah! A friend! Someone to walk with, at least on the first day, I'd thought. As it turned out, we walked together every day, even when we didn't stay in the same campsites.

First stop is Administración, where you register and pay to enter the park. You also get briefing of the rules: leave NO litter anywhere, stick to the trails... You also have another opportunity to reserve a free spot at the free campsites. Unfortunately, I was still unable to book my spaces, which is apparently quite rare. If you are planning on going, it's worth being a bit planned and booked them in advance if you can.

I then got back on the bus so that I could catch the catamaran across the lake to start the hike at Paine Grande. At this point it started raining and I did start to wonder again, if this was the best idea ever but then I got the first glimpse of the outstanding scenery we were about to spend the next few days surrounded by and I perked up!

Since we were doing the trek in 4 days, we set up shop at the Paine Grande campsite, before heading up the first branch of the W to Mirador Grey. If I'm completely honest, I'm pretty glad I didn't have to carry my bag up there and could get used to hiking up with just me myself and I (and Diego) before the really hard work began! It gave me a chance to get accustomed to the walking poles, and really enjoy the first day of the hike.

The official map weirdly gives you time estimations rather than distances, so I was ready for a 3.5 hour hike but it actually only took 2 to Mirador Grey where you get a spectacular view of the Glaciar ahead. There we were exposed the well known Patagonian winds, strong enough that I didn't stand too near any edges!

Since Diego wanted to walk further up before returning to camp, I returned to camp by myself - my first real solo hike. I didn't really know how I would feel about hiking alone, but I really enjoyed that walk back. There I was in still unspoiled nature, that is both visually beautiful and a joy to listen to.

I have heard several comments about how quiet, silent even, it would be to hike alone. On that walk back I discovered that those nature relaxation albums you can pick up at supermarket check outs aren't as bullshitty as I had previous thought.

We rarely hear it but nature has it's own orchestra. There's the chorus of the wind whistling through grass and trees and the valley, rivers running large and small, quickly and slowly, perhaps some ice cracking or crashing down from a glacier. There might be insects, birds and animals. Rocks falling. The sound of me walking along the trails.

So you see the walk back wasn't silent at all. It was peaceful, calm, and fairly unbelievable. I have had plenty of opportunities on my trip to reflect on how privileged I am, but realising those nature albums weren't made up and acknowledging that some people will never hear earth's own music, struck a chord (if you'll excuse the pun). I am one lucky lady.

The next day, I realised that a morning routine that requires camp stove cooking, queuing to wash it all up, packing up my tent and organising my backpack was a far longer process than I had imagined. I'm fairly slow in the mornings anyway, and that's when I don't need to pack my 'house' away every morning, so add the extras and it was a slow process. Eventually though we set off from Paine Grande campsite to Italiano.

This trail took us about 3 hours with the path along the lake bank, with a view of snow peaked mountains surrounding us. It was the first real distance I had gone with my bag on my back, so whilst it wasn't the most difficult section, it was the first real challenge for me. We took regular breaks at river banks and waterfalls and made it in about the average time (according to the map).

I hadn't got a spot at Italiano campsite so I went straight on the additional half an hour to Francés. That stretch was full of black and yellow butterflies that flew with me part of the way one at a time, making me feel like they were keeping me company on my journey.

After setting up camp, I went back to Italiano to meet Diego to make the trip up to Mirador Francés. This part of the trek is through woodland areas, and you can hear the rivers from afar, even when it's hidden from view. We saw some people bravely bathing in a river (I say bravely because the river is fed by the glacier, so it's fairly chilly water).

You can also hear the sound of the glacier cracking and the crash as the ice falls. We were lucky enough to see this in action from the mirador, which was quite something to witness!

Back at camp, it was possible to cook in cooking cubes near the tents, or there was a bench with shelter, unfortunately near the toilets. I chose the latter for my cooking as it was less crowded and I was far less likely to cause a fire (which apart from the danger of a forest fire, could have resulted in a Large fine and/ or imprisonment!). By the time dinner was ready, I had made friends with a group of Chilean girls my age, a group of veterinary students who were trekking in their summer break. It was a fun way to pass the evening, comparing life notes and getting a be deeper than my planned travel route.

On day 3, I met Diego at 7.30am, knowing we had a long day ahead. As the previous morning had taken me so long, I got up super early to ensure I wouldn't be late. We set off in good time, and I was surprised that we were amongst the only people starting early, as at least some others were doing the same section as us.

As expected, this was our hardest day. We did more uphill climbing than the previous day and we found ourselves stopping every half an hour or so to rest our tired shoulders. The walk was still beautiful, breathtaking not only from physical exertion, but also from the turquoise lakes on one side, mountains on the other and the crystal clear rivers we crossed.

That is apart from one river. We came to this wide, fast flowing river having followed some trekkers up ahead. When we came to it, Diego bounded across, jumping slightly from rock to rock to reach the other side. I however, hesitated. At 5 ft tall, I am considerably shorter than Diego, who had needed to jump across. I was scared to jump, miss and land up on my back being dragged down the river. After much hesitation, Diego came back across to take my bag to make it easier, and I still struggled. I landed up both feet firmly in the river, being the only way to make it across with my little legs!

When we eventually got across, we needed to climb up a fair way, me with soaking wet feet, and damp legs up to nearly my knees. At this point we realised the bridge way way above us was clearly the path, and would in fact have been the better (and probably quicker) option. You live and you learn!

We still had a considerable way to walk through the Patagonian mountains, and after some lunch (and shoe drying time) we kept going on our epic adventure. We eventually moved away from the lakes, and climbed a fair way, making us exposed to the strong Patagonian winds. I was thankful for the walking polls here!

By the time I reached the Chileno camp, I was exhausted and happy to set up camp. I waved Diego off who still had another hour or so to go to the Torres base camp (where I had really wanted a spot!) and said I would probably see him at the Torres in the morning for sunrise.

Over dinner I spoke to a few people to determine that others were planning the two hour walk to see the sunrise at the Torres del Paine themselves and I resolved to do it too. So I hurried off to bed and set my alarm for 2.15am.

It took me all of about two minutes to be good to go in the morning, but being alone, I decided to wait in my tent until others walked past for the trek. It wouldn't have been at all clever to attempt the walk alone in the pitch black. Eventually at 2.30am some people headed towards my tent and I jumped up to join their group.

It took us about two hours to reach the top, which included getting lost on the way and having to retrace our steps. We reached the top as the light was starting, but way before the sun was visibly rising. Once we stopped walking, it was freezing up there, so I found a spot with other people for warmth, ate some breakfast and waited for the sun.

It was the most amazing sunrise I have witnessed; even my photos look edited (I promise they aren't!). To one side I saw the sky painted in inky blues, reds, pinks, oranges, yellows, with clouds for extra dramatic effects, all of which you see reflected in the lake beneath the mountains. To the other, I saw the Torres del Paine illuminate into view reflecting the colours of the sunrise opposite.

It was a hard trek in the dark, but honestly one of the best things I have experienced on my trip. As tired as I was after the whole trek, and particularly the early start, I am proud of myself for having done the trek and if I may say so myself, smashing it!

Posted by Rebecca Heller 04:39 Archived in Chile Tagged landscapes waterfalls lakes bridges night mountain glacier hike patagonia

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