Wild Patagonia: Torres del Paine
End of December 2006 I visited the national park "Torres del Paine" in Chile/Patagonia. The trip started in Buenos Aires and was a round trip in Patagonia. We visited all the beautiful places in Patagonia, like the Glacier Petito Moreno, the Fitz Roy area (Argentina) and Tierra del Fuego. This was an exciting trip, but I still remember the national park "Torres Del Paine" as the absolute highlight.
End of 2006 the roads to the national park were still unpaved and the area was not very crowded although the park is famous and the main refugios on the east side are well developed for tourism. At the same time many roads in Patagonia were under construction for a better accessibility of the main tourist attractions. The question I had in mind whether Torres Del Paine will change to a place of mass tourism or hopefully would remain a quiet gem under the national parks. I'm not sure, but it is a matter of fact, that Chile is an extremely expensive spot to travel and the park itself is well known for rough weather conditions. So at least there is a good chance that the park stays fairly unattractive for mass tourism.
There are a couple of possibilities for hiking in the park. The most famous trek is the W-trail, either clockwise or counter clockwise. The W-trail is the southern part of the complete circuit around the central Cuernos and Torres mountain scenery. The complete round trip would last 8-10 days, but only in the southern part of the circuit are refugios available for day trips from refugio to refugio. For the complete circuit a tent is necessary and hikers have to carry their own heavy packs (unless they hire a porter, which is not very common for the complete circuit). Many hikers prefer the W-trail, which usually can be done in five days.
We did another approach, all in all also 5 days. We started in Puerto Natales, which has become the base for excursions to the Torres del Paine National Park. From there we were approaching the park by boat on the Serrano River (take a look at the map). After a couple of hours we reached the Glacier Serrano and we changed the boat to a smaller speed boat. In the evening after a wonderful boat trip we reached Refugio y Cp Pehoe where we were camping for the first night.
The next day we started a day trip to French Valley, a marvelous hike, and we were lucky: sunshine and blue sky the whole day. The third day we hiked from the Refugio y Cp Pehoe westwards to Glacier Grey. I will never forget this day; it started with a blue sky and ended with a lot, a lot, a lot of rain. When we eventually reached the refugio at Glacier Grey I was completely wet, and after dinner I was in the tent at nine in the evening listening to the heavy rain on the roof of the tent. These are the moments on a trip where sometimes thoughts popped into my mind like "what the heck I'm doing here?". But this is all part of the big adventure ... which continued the very next day on a day trip on the Glacier Grey including ice climbing. Walking on a glacier is a wonderful experience (and not that simple!), the colors of the ice have all shades between white and crystal blue, I never saw something like that before in my life. The water holes are of light bluish at the rim with a deep blue center, were you can get an idea how deep the hole goes down into the glacier. I have a photo on flickr which I called 'Walking on the water' where you see a guide who seems to walk on the water of a water hole.
In the evening we took a bus to the east side of the park. From there we started the last day to see the Torres: finally! The last day of the hike started with blue sky, but after a couple of hours it started to rain and the guide said that probably it will snow when we reach the Torres. I mean, it was in the middle of Patagonian summer! The guide was right; when we reached Mirador las Torres at noon (from where you should have a beautiful view of the three torres) it was snowing like in Germany in the deepest winter. At least I got a glimpse of the Torres for a couple of minutes. But in spite of the snow, the day trip to the Torres was amazing and a great experience. Needless to say, when we returned to the refugio late afternoon we had the most beautiful and warm summer weather again. It is true: the weather changes in Torres Del Paine so quickly and it is impossible to get a forecast which you can trust.
All in all I still think Torres Del Paine is probably one of the most beautiful places in the world. The climate: rough but mild, the incredible variety of the landscape, the marvelous mountain scenery and the wonderful blue water, and, the most important point: still only few tourists.