W Trek, Pategonia, Chile

I’m not a great flier at the best of times so after boarding the plane and sitting for an hour with the odd announcement in Spanish without knowing what was going on I was confused. After one final announcement everyone got up to get off the plane. I asked a steward what was going on and he said that we were changing to a different gate so we needed to disembark. Not a problem, but as I was leaving the plane a stewardess stops me and asks if I knew what was going on, I politely said yes and explained that I asked her colleague  but she proceeded to tell me that we were changing to a “better plane”. I don’t want to know what was said in those previous Spanish announcements. The views of the Andes along the way more than made up for it all though.


Ok to set the scene, the plane flies to Punta Arenas and from that town you get a bus to Peurto Natales before starting your trek in Torres Del Paine National Park. So although my flight was an evening flight I hadn’t booked accommodation in either town because I wasn’t sure if I would be on time for the last bus to Puerto Natales or not. As luck would have it my flight was delayed so I missed the last bus and had to stay in Punta Arenas for the night. Not a big deal but now I had to search for accommodation. I got an airport transfer into the town and picked an area which had a few well rated hostels to go searching. My first couple of knocks on doors came unanswered but it wasn’t as cold as I’d expected so I was fine and just kept searching. I found a place in the end which said hostel on the signage but was more of a cheap hotel. After some very poor attempted Spanish I settled in this cosy warm place for the night and booked my bus, online, for the morning to Puerto Natales.

After a nice sleep in a comfy warm bed (cherishing this as it was going to be cold once I hit the trek!) I grabbed some breakfast and headed for the bus.

The bus took about three hours. I got the 10am bus and reached Puerto Natales at 1:10pm. There are several buses through the day, the first at 7am and the last at 9pm. When I got there I went to the hostel and started to check out the situation with renting gear etc. my hostel, ‘Wild Hostel’, rented gear out itself so this saved a lot of potential hassle for me. After getting settled in, I headed for a free information talk (about trekking in the park) in the ‘Erratic Rock’ hostel that pretty much every blog I found on the internet raved about. As I was leaving my hostel the owner asked me if I wanted information, of course I did but the internet didn’t tell me about this hostel’s talks so I wanted to make sure I got to the other one first at 3pm. I told him I’d be back after to have a chat with him. He was really friendly and said that was no problem at all. When I got to the erratic rock, there was guy there who said they were not open until the 10th of October and that there was no talk until then. Although the guy did offer to answer any questions I had, I declined and headed back to my hostel to have a chat with my guy. When I got there he had just started an information session with two english girls so I joined in. He showed us a video of what conditions to expect this time of year (plenty of wind, rain and snow) before bringing up a weather website (windguru) that had all the expected information wind, sunlight, cloud, rain, temperatures etc. After all this he showed us a big map and went through the suggested routes and options for where to stay or how to do the trek depending on how long you had or what preferences you had. 


Some people do the trek from east to west and some people do it from west to east. He suggested doing it from west to east because the wind normally comes from the northwest (windguru agreed) and this meant that you would rarely be trekking into the wind. 

After the information session. I got chatting to the girls and we decided we would trek together, which would help save money for renting equipment such as the stove, gas and cooking set, as well as being able to pool together for food. Besides all that, it’s actually against the rules of the park to to trek on your own (although not strictly policed) and it would be nice to have some company along the way. For the rest of the evening we bought some trekking gear, did some food shopping:


 ate dinner, rented gear, eventually packed and temporarily recruited a fourth member to our group, before getting about five hours sleep. 

The W Trek

Day 1 (11km – 3.5hours)

Our bus to the park was at 7:30am so a 6:30am breakfast was had before we set off. The bus took about two hours to get the entrance of the park where we would pay our entry fee before hopping back on for another 45 minutes to get to the boat to the west side of the trek. A 40 minute boat across lake Pahoe got us to the start of the trek. 


Our fourth member, Katie, was in our hostel too and doing the same route but staying in Refugios and doing the trek one day faster. So the only part we would be together for us the first element to Camp Grey. We would be camping there but she would be returning back to where the boat dropped us at Refugio Peine. 


Before we set off, Katie dropped her backpack in the Refugio while the rest of us had to soldier on with about 15-20kgs on our backs. While we waited for her we seen our first (and as it would turn out or only fox) fox of the trek just messing about entertaining himself.

 When we were deciding our route I asked the guy in our hostel could we camp in the same place as Katie (all Refugios have camp sites too)  and do the trek to grey glacier and back on our first day without the big bags on our back but he said we wouldn’t have time. I think we did have enough time and if I was doing it again I would have done it that way. When we set off I carried both my tent and the girls tent as they were carrying most of the food, and my backpack was smaller so it made sense for me to carry the more dense items. The girls wouldn’t stop thanking me for carrying their tent, it wasn’t exactly light, but their bags were pretty heavy too with food etc. so it was a team effort! The first leg of our trip was an 11km trek to Camp Grey. As we got into it, it became clear that we had a different pace so I hit the front and ploughed on but there were some great viewpoints along the way and we usually regrouped at them for some pictures and maybe a quick snack or drink if needed. 


Lake Grey got its name due to the colour of it. It has this cement like colour from the glacial silt deposits in the water. It was along the way that I seen my first ever iceberg which was pretty cool although it was expected as we were makeing our way to Glacier Grey, the third largest ice sheet in the world (after Greenland and Antarctica).


About 30minutes from the camp Katie had to turn back so that she would make it to her Refugio before sunset. She had more time really, but didn’t want to risk it. We met a guy who was doing a similar trek to her, on his way back from Camp Grey who said their was no better views than she had already seen so she joined him on the way back. At this stage I was a good distance ahead of Clare and Dominique so I just kept going until I reached the camp. It took me 3.5hours to trek the 11km but I think if I was trying it could have been done in three, especially if I had opted to camp at Refugio Peine and not have the big backpack on me for this part of the trip. I set up my tent and as I was finishing the girls arrived so we set up the second tent and went to the lookout point to see how good the view of the glacier was. It did not disappoint. It was breathtaking. I think the guy the we met who said there was no views only made it to the camp and didn’t realize that you had to walk just passed the camp to see the views. 


After we got back, we brought our cooking set in to the room provided to use gas stoves. Campfires were banned in the park and there were very strict rules about where you could use gas stoves, as an Isreali tourist started a campfire in 2012 and it got out of control and burnt one third of the park. Literally. You would have to see it to believe it but on day one everywhere you looked, all you would see was dead trees burnt to a crisp. 


The stupidity of some people never ceases to amaze me. Anyway we cooked up our dinner in the designated room and had some coffee, soup etc. before heading to sleep. A guy in my hostel room, before we left, seen a puma while he was out brushing his teeth before bedtime outside his tent when he did the trek so we we all had this in the back of our minds as we brushed teeth, went to the tiolet etc. in the darkness with just a headlamp on. If you see a puma you are meant to make yourself as big as possible and make noise but not to run away. Easier said than done but I was eager to see one, from a safe distance, at some point on the trek. Day one was quiet windy but there was no rain or snow, unlike the video we were shown previously! So when I was settled into my sleeping bag and I started to hear the rain drops hit the roof of the tent, an element of smugness came over me, realising how lucky we were to avoid that while trekking.

Day 2 (11km+7.6km+2km – 3h+2h+1.5h)

I can’t claim to have had the best nights sleep in the tent, a bit cold and no real cushion underneath left me with some sore shoulders every time I twisted and turned durning the night. Regardless, it was time for breakfast, so we combined oats and bananas to give an energetic start to the morning. It was cold so packing up the tents wasn’t fun but once I got trekking again I warmed up. For the first 30 minutes or so I trekked with the girls before my internal competitive nature took over and I wanted to see how fast I could do the trek. I made it back to camp Peine in 3 hours, ate some lunch and waited for Claire and Dominique to arrive. We made the most of the warmth of the Refugio while eating lunch and I set off before them with the aim of reaching new camp Italiano as quick as I could, again. After 50 minutes trekking I got to a sign that I thought said I was 2/3 the way there already but only after I passed it I realised that I read it backwards and that I had 2/3 to go. That was a bit of a mental downer but never the less I kicked on anyway. Halfway through this part of the trek, for the first time, I began to see a lot of greenery. 



It was clear that this part of the park suffered less from the fire. The views along the way were very nice, from snowy mountains to green forests to picturesque lakes. I arrived in camp Italiano after 2 hours hiking. Another good days work done but there was a viewpoint to the north of the camp that I wanted to check out so after I set up camp, and with no sign of the girls, I headed north for a gander (with no backpack, what a great feeling that was!).


I had heard so much about how hard the W trek was but to be fair if you didn’t have a big bag on your back most of it was just a walk. But the part where I went to Frances viewpoint (note Frances viewpoint is to the north on the way to Bianco but Frances camp is to the south after Italiano) was a real trek. I was climbing rocks, using ropes etc. The viewpoint was well earned by the end I can tell you that for sure! It’s not something I would have liked to do with a bag, and some people do because camp Bianco is even further north on this hike and the trek gets steeper for it. I didn’t go that far for two reasons: A. I didn’t have time before sunset and B. The guy in the hostel suggested it wasn’t worth it if you consider the views you get at Frances. While I was on the way to Frances I heard some avalanches but couldn’t see them on the mountain but when I got to the top I had the pleasure of seeing a couple which was cool. On my way back, just outside the camp I met the girls who were going to check out Frances viewpoint too but I advised them that there was an area just five minutes north of the camp the have really good views and it wouldn’t be worth the effort to go much further as the view disappeared until you then got to Frances, which didn’t provide a view much better than that five minutes outside the camp. The weather was really good all day, no wind and a good bit of sunshine, which was different to what windguru had told us, it was meant to be the worst day of weather for the trek. At camp Italiano the ranger said the rest of the week was meant to be sunny. Now I wasn’t going to count my chickens but it sounded good. The thing about pategonia is they reckon the weather changes every ten minutes so you always need to prepare for the worst (and hope for the best) no matter what. That night after dinner, it felt a bit colder than camp grey but there was no rain.


 I didn’t have a great sleep again and woke up sporadically through the night but the nice thing about that was I was waking I the sound of the river running nearby or to more thunder like noises from the avalanches.

Day 3 (5.5km+11km – 1.5h+3.25h)

The trek on day 3 was anticipated to be the hardest of the lot as the map outlined some very short distances would take a long time suggesting a lot of tough hiking sections but this wasn’t the case for the first leg of the day. The map stated that Italiano to callenos was expected to take 2,5hours but I did it in 1.5hours with some of it being quiet flat down by the lake.

 

The second leg was long so I took a break at Callenos (see tips and prices for information on this place for camping!!) and waited for the girls to arrive. It was a bit soon for a break but we had arranged to meet there before we set off (not knowing that it could be done that fast) so once they arrived I set off again. While I was there I noticed a windguru page printed that morning that had more up to date information about the weather than what we had seen from windguru I the hostel – and the update was showing good weather for the rest of the week.  The start of the second leg was tough enough as it was mainly uphill but I kept going and only took a 15 minute break to eat a sandwich before heading on again. There was a shortcut chileno camp (see tips and prices, similar to callenos) on the way but chileno was still closed as it was technically still off season. So we didn’t consider it as a stop on our route and I kept going to Los Torres camp, where again there was a Refugio with showers and bathrooms. The second leg of the day took me 3.25hours but the guide time was 4.5hours so I was in bits after it. Sometimes to my own downfall I just keep going when I should take a break but I just have a determination to get things done. I knew with that pace that I was probably a decent bit of time ahead of the girls so I set up my tent and theirs when I arrived. I knew they would have been appreciative of it after the long day and I had nothing else to do so I didn’t mind. This camp was located beside a hotel at the bottom of the mountains which was near the main park entrance so it was the only time on the trek you would see any real sign of civilization. There was plenty of wildlife around that camp and I even made use of the free clothes line.

Claire had the idea of buying some red wine from the camp shop to have with dinner to celebrate finishing that long day. And a good idea it was! It was only 4,000 CLP for a liter which was decent considering we were in the middle of a trek. I’ve never been a big fan of red wine but I tried it and I liked it. It was cold so I don’t know if that helped but I for now at least I like cold red Chilean wine. Three days into the trek we were seeing the same people along the trek at different points so there was an element of getting know people without getting to know them, if that makes sense. That night before bed I finally got my chance to complete the Milky Way goal. The weather was great again today and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky that night. I spent about twenty minutes looking up at the Milky Way and shooting stars in amazement before I thought of getting my glasses. I put them on and it was like a different sky. If I was impressed before I put them on I couldn’t describe what it was like to see it when I could actually see everything. Breathtaking.


Day 4 (5.5km+3.2km+1.6km – 1.5h+1.2h+1.3h)

I though I had finally solved my poor sleeps by using clothes to provide an extra bit of padding but I found it very cold all night. Only when I got up did notice that their was ice all over the tent. It wasn’t just me. Last night was a cold one! After the rain on night one and the river flowing on night two I hadn’t quiet expected the noises of people  having sex being the sound of the night on night three but twice I woke up to people going at it in a near by tent. I mean I don’t blame them, it would have been a great way to keep warm but it was unexpected that’s for sure!

On paper day four wasn’t going to be that long so we took our time drying the tents in the sun and having breakfast before setting off. Salami cheese and crackers for breakfast, I must say the girls were doing a great job of rationing the food. I would have half it scoffed by now. The first part of the trek was steep and I was not in great shape after yesterday’s effort so slow and steady was the order of the day before we reached chileno for a lunch break after about 1.5hours.



After chileno we picked up the pace a bit and got to Campanento Torres in just over an hour. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky all day. It was the best day yet but the windguru forecasted a cloudy start to the morning so we made the decision to go to Towers at the top once we set up camp. I had no motivation at the start but after about 10minutes the determination kicked in and the hike turned into a parkour session! 35 minutes later I had this view of the Torres/Towers:


We decended at a steady pace as the sunset and still made it in 45 minutes. We met some nice people in that camp and I made friends with a couple of spanish guys who live in Buenos Aires so I made some plans to meet them there when I landed next week to end my trip. Due to the elevation this was meant to be the coldest sleep of the trek but it turned out to be the warmest and most comfortable. A great last sleep on the trek! Most people go to watch the sunrise over the Torres as it has this golden shine from the sun and the type of rock they consist of but after seeing the Torres for sunset I decided I wasn’t going to bother going up the next morning for sunrise if it was cloudy, as expected, as it would be a waste of time.

Day 5 (1.6km+3.2km+5.5km – 1.5h+1h+1.25h)

I woke up to Claire calling me. “Is it cloudy?” I asked, still in my tent. “Nope” she responded. “Ah bollux” I thought. I was cosy for once so didn’t want to get up but away up we went anyway. Nice and steady taking about 45 minutes. By the time I got there it was cloudy where the sun was and not where the towers were so there was no golden glow but we waited a while and the sun eventually broke through.


After heading back down to camp we packed up for the last time and headed down. The final trek. There was an afternoon bus and evening bus so we aimed to get the afternoon bus, giving us about 4 hours to do a trek that should take less. I arrived with an hour to spare and the girls were not far behind. Can you find me in the picture??


The sense of achievement of completing the trek was brilliant. Like I said before the trek isn’t that hard without backpacks but it turns into a serious effort with that weight on your back. On the trek I seen rabbits, foxes, condors, and hawks were even to be spotted but no Pumas. 

The idea of seeing pumas might sound like a joke, but a guy I met before the trek seen one and a guy I met after the trek had this picture to show that he seen one too:


On the bus back I seen so much more too, nandus, alpcacas, more rabbits, more condors, some sort of ducks etc. but it wasn’t long before the tiredness kicked in and I fell asleep, along with everyone else on the bus, for the rest of the trip back!

That evening I got a greasy steak, eggs, onions and chips. Tasted so good after a week of trekking!


 I also had some more Chilean red wine (with a couple of ice cubes). 


So good. It’s a game changer I’m telling you, I’m stocking my fridge when I get back with red wine. After all that, a sleep in a proper warm bed that night never felt as good! Mission accomplished.


The next day I did as little as possible, enjoyed my achievement and stayed in bed, unless food got me out. A few of us sat around that night drinking more red wine and just chatting before getting another early night. 

The next day it would be time to leave the beauty of Pategonia. After a quick walk down to the water to take in the scenery one final time, it was time to go.

  

A great week was had and some great people were met but now, back to Santiago for a couple of days I go.

Tips and Prices:

Airport transfer 10-20minutes depending what part of town you are in. 5,000 CLP 

Hostel/Cheap hotel. Including breakfast and private room. 20,000 CLP 

One way bus to Peurto Natales. Company: Bus sur, apparently the most reputable company. 6,010 CLP 

Hostel, 1 night including breakfast. 10,000 CLP. Can get cheaper hostels but this one was very good with good tripadvisor rating, good owner for information etc. and had gear to rent. Rooms were great and people in hostel very nice.

Open return bus ticket to park. Bus Gomez. 15,000 CLP. Approx three hours total (two to entrance where you pay fee, 45minutes then to boat).

Park entry fee 11,000 CLP. I had heard this was 15,000 CLP but it was still off season while we were there so MAYBE that’s why it was that price.

One way boat trip. 40 minutes. 18,000 CLP.

Camp grey – camping price 5,000 CLP (per person). Hot Shower included, bathroom and indoor area to use your own stove included.

Camp Italiano – free. Sheltered area to use stove and basic toilets. 

Camp Los Torres – camping price 8,500 CLP (per person). No sheltered area to use stove (there was a building being renovated while we were there so think there might of been a room in there. We just had to utilize the picnic benches provided. Hot showers available included in price too.

Campameto Torres – free. Sheltered area to use stove and toilets provided.

Shuttle bus from los torres to park entrance to get your bus back to Peurto Natales 3,000 CLP.

One way bus to Punta Arenas (drops you at airport if you want). Company: Bus Fernandez, 6,000 CLP 

Fernandez and Bus sur have buses going each way pretty much every hour between 7am and 9pm so it should be easy to get bus at time you want. You might need to book in advance in high season. Bus times for Fernandez below showing how frequent buses go:

Los callenos and chileno for some reason now charge 99,000 CLP (yes you read that correctly) to camp there. It included three meals but it’s crazy money so make sure you avoid them for camping. They offer beds for about 30,000 CLP so they are clearly trying to avoid campers for some reason.

Refugios are like hotels with dorm rooms.  This is just an FYI because I didn’t know anything about them. They also generally have camp sites and offer bathroom and shower facilities. All Refugios allow you in during the day for lunch, even if you eat your own food so don’t worry about that. Also if you were stuck to charge batteries they are generally helpful if you ask if you can use a power socket.

I rented gear from my hostel and here were the prices, per day:

We got a 10% discount because we were staying in the hostel too.

Remember you can share stoves and cooking sets, or even a tent if you find someone to share with so some savings can be made.

Total cost of my share of rented goods for four nights and 5 days was 93,300 CLP. (Tent (for two people even though I was on my own), sleeping bag and liner, cooking set, and mattress. I also bought a mug, bottle, gas and 4 camping meals. – all included in above price).

Apart from that I pooled together with the two girls to buy other food supplies in the local supermarket which came to about 22,000 CLP each. 

I found it very hard to find update information on pategonia when traveling so I hope all this helps. Any questions just ask.

I did the W Trek from 21st of September 2016 – 25th of September 2016

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