“The love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth, the earth which bore us and sustains us, the only paradise we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need if only we had the eyes to see.” - Edward Abbey
Hiking in Patagonia has always been a huge dream of mine, but to be honest I think I kind of just liked the way it sounded. It looked pretty badass written down on my bucket list and I knew it would be a rad experience. However, it wasn´t until I had hiked up to the first glacial lake that I understood just what Patagonia was— it is PARADISE. Real-life, tangible, raw paradise. There is something so magical about being completely surrounded by untouched beauty… It allows you to connect with the earth as if you have just returned home. I´ve left a big part of my heart in that park and have taken back with me a new perspective of wild places.
Getting anywhere in Chile is a logistical nightmare. Patagonia is no exception. After 3 long bus rides and one expensive flight we finally arrived in Puerto Natales, which is the starting point for Torres Del Paine. Right off the plane, we met a gal named Carissa who was doing the trek as well so we all buddied up and fumbled our way to a hostel in town. Erratic Rock Hostel is amazing (check out this post) and the staff helped us figure out everything we needed to know before the hike. We had decided to join up with Carissa and another single traveler named Mike to do the 5-day "W Trek" from west to east. We rented our gear (tents, sleeping back, stove) and finished up some final grocery shopping before departing bright and early for the park entrance.
We started the actual hike mid-afternoon and were stoked to have awesome weather. The sun was out and the sky was clear. Within the first 45 minutes, I had stripped down to just my base layers. Our first stop was a gorgeous lake and the rest of the day consisted of trails weaving up and around various viewpoints. We were told today was easy and pretty flat, so we were ill-prepared for the hills that awaited us. However, our enthusiasm helped us push through the pain of our newbie hiking legs. Carissa was having some issues with her pack and achy legs so Jace, Mike and I pushed ahead and arrived at camp around 4:30. Once she arrived we set up our tents and decided to do some exploring and see the glacier at sunset. We threw on our headlamps and made our way to the viewpoint. Holy moly, you guys this glacier was huge!!! It was perched at the head of the lake allowing us to see just how thick it was. We took some sweet pictures of course and headed back to camp for dinner and an early bedtime. We had learned in the pre-trip meeting that mice were prevalent so Mike fashioned some crazy Coast Guard rat guard on the string that we hung our food from. I was freezing all night and probably only slept a total of two hours. But I woke up the next morning excited to get back on the trail.
Starting the morning with a frosty nose I was anxious to get back on the trail to warm up. Again we had more beautiful weather so I was good as new in no time. Our trek today was the same 4.5-hour hike in the opposite direction with the addition of another 2.5 hours to get us to our next campground. We were once again told that the hike was easy and flat but soon found out Chileans are gladiators and have no idea what steep means… Mike kept Clarissa company while Jace and I went ahead for a bit. The landscape had changed quite a bit and we were now looking at rolling hills and golden trees. As the sun started to settle behind the mountains Jace and Mike took off at a brisk pace to set up the tents before it got dark. I hike the last two hours solo, which was pretty neat and allowed for some self-reflection. The trail flattened out and the last hour or so was a path through some pretty special woods. The setting sun shone brilliantly on the trees recovering from a forest fire and they literally sparkled silver! The entrance into camp was a sweet rope bridge and tents were scattered throughout the dense forest. I think all the tree covering took the edge off the frigid night because I slept comfortably and woke up refreshed.
The first section of the hike on this day was up French Valley to a viewpoint of Los Cuernos. Because we would be passing by camp on our way back down we left our big packs at the campsite and filled our daypacks with some lunch and water. The hike up to the viewpoint felt great without all the weight on our backs! It was through a neat forest with unique trees and lots of stream crossings. Looked a bit like a scene out of Lord of the Rings. After chowing down on some lunch at the top and watching the nearby avalanches we started our way back down the trail. It was super hot out so we scrambled down to the river to take a dip in the glacier water. After stripping down to our underwear we took a VERY quick dip and snapped a few hilarious shots, most not appropriate for public viewing… After drying out in the sun we grabbed our big packs and started towards our next campsite, Los Cuernos. The boys took off once again to set up camp and I arrived shortly after to help pick out a nice spot. We were exhausted and decided to call it an early night. We heard mice all night and woke up to my collapsible bowl being chewed through. Lots of people lost food and expensive gear, however, so I wasn´t too upset.
This day was our biggest day in terms of distance and difficulty. It was also the path to the most famous part of the hike, Los Torres. Carissa was in a lot of pain and had a few free nights at a Refugio so she parted ways. Jace set a speedy pace and we hiked some very steep hills basically in a full out run. We were thankful to no longer be carrying heavy produce and extra food weight! I was honestly pretty stoked to see how good of shape I was in, especially considering how much I hate hills. It was supposed to take us 8 hours to reach camp and we made it there in an astonishing 4.5 hours. It was actually pretty nice arriving at camp early enough to relax and explore the area. We took our time setting up the tents and hung out by the river washing our dirty socks. During dinner, we chatted with some other hikers and met a mother/daughter duo who we ended up really clicking with. We wanted to wake up early to see the sunrise at the Towers so we went to bed around 7:30 pm.
We awoke at 6:00 am and bundled up for a 45-minute hike up to Los Torres with our headlamps. It was a pretty technical trail in the dark and I broke a sweat pretty quickly… we were essentially bouldering our way up to the top. When we reached the Towers the sun was just beginning to peek through. The rocks were quite majestic on their own and the contrast of starlight and the blue morning sky was pretty spectacular. However, we waited in anticipation to see the popular red glow as the sun hit the Towers. At 8:15 am the arduous hike and early morning felt completely worth it as Los Torres began to glow. My descriptive words are useless at this point, but trust me it was amazing.
After watching the rocks return to their normal color we raced back to camp, grabbed our bags, and headed down to the bus that would take us out of the park. We had so much adrenaline that we literally ran down the hill, bouncing off rocks with smiles stretching across our faces. The bus ride back was quiet as hikers either slept or pondered what they had just witnessed. Once we reached our Hostel the mother/daughter duo joined us for a big pizza dinner, complete with beer and wine!