Trekking the W-Trek in Torres del Paine

By the end of November we decided to do the W-Trek in Torres del Paine. It is the most advertised and popular hiking destination in southern Chile. To trek there one has to sleep at specific campsites and those need to be booked way ahead. The demand is high! Only a limited set of camping spots were left for our flexible visiting window in January. Some of the available booking options forced us to include meals as well. It was something like, no meal? no camping!

The booking involved two websites and a meticulous (where to sleep when and which campsite is available) tour building process. A helpful blog post how to do it is available here. All planning/booking was done backwards, starting with the Torres as goal. We read somewhere that waking up at 4am, hiking and watching the sunrise by the base of the Torres should be considered as the trekking highlight.

Getting to Paine Grande National Park

The western entry checkpoint of the Paine Grande National Park is easily reachable within a few hours long bus ride from Puerto Natales. The first campsite however is still a couple of hiking hours away. Some like to walk from the entry checkpoint, we booked a bus that drove us further, to the last stop by the ferry.

Paine Day 1 – Ferry to Campamento Paine Grande

In order to arrive at the first campsite (that is if you trek the W-trek anti-clockwise) we had to take the one and only ferry to Campamento Paine Grande. The glacial waters were pretty azul blue and the wind blew us almost off the viewing deck.

Campamento Paine Grande

The campsite is big, well equipped with semi clean facilities, windy and noisy. Although it could provide enough free space for tents all people without reservation were turned away. It seems that park regulations permit only a limited amount of campers on site.

Paine Day 2 – Day hike to Glaciar Gray

After a stormy night (wind gusts around 80km/h) we woke up pretty battered. The goal of the day was to hike to Glaciar Gray and back, that’s around 12km in each direction. Equipped with light daypacks we hiked trough a slightly hilly landscape filled with dead trees. Most of the western flora in Paine Grande has been burned after someone tried to eliminate his/her toilet paper in 2008.

Smaller grass plants rehabilitated the burned areas. Loads of wild Calafata berries can be collected and eaten along the way.

Glacial Gray

After four to five hours of trekking we reached the nearest outlook point for Glaciar Gray. The end part of the bay was filled with big chunks of ice, previously broke away from the Glaciar.

Ice and rocks #glaciargray #torresdelpaine #chile 2018 – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA


Lago Gray

On the way back we enjoyed the panoramic views over Lago Gray. In the distance a ferry boat was visible, it connects visitors to Refugio Gray and offers tours to see Glaciar Gray from up close.

Paine Day 3 – Trekking to Refugio Los Cuernos

The weather changed over night and we were fortunate to start trekking to our 2nd campsite in less windy conditions. The goal, Refugio Cuernos was 13km far away. This time we had to carry our big backpacks. It took us roughly 6 hours, including picture and snack times.

Part one – Trek to Campartamento Italiano

Most of the flora along the first part to Campartamento Italiano was just as burned as the part to Glaciar Gray. Occasionally birds were singing along the way but most of the time we would hear other people’s conversations in English. The human traffic density increased and we had to step aside the narrow trekking path to overtake or let others pass.

The Italian split, W-trek or just U-trek?

Completing the W-trek means to visit all three key destinations, Glaciar Gray, Mirador Britanico and the Towers Viewpoint of Paine. After hiking to from Campartamento Paine Grand to Italiano we checked and realized that it would take additional 3-4 hours and 1000 meters in height difference to get up to Mirador Britanico and back. It is the middle I part of the W-trek. Instead of walking up to the Mirador we decided to keep going. Those who went up left their backpacks at the Italiano campground station.

Part two – Campartamento Italiano to Refugio Cuernos

Weatherwise we couldn’t had it better during the second part. Almost cloudless sky, no wind at all and a summer like temperature welcomed us. The native flora and fauna was untouched and the trek became most picturesque.

Suspension #bridge over #riodelfrances #torresdelpaine #chile 2018 – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

Refugio Cuernos

Refugio Cuernos is beautifully located right next to the lake and a down pouring water stream. Our booking included a wooden platform to pitch our tent and a “full board” food supply. That meant breakfast, a take away lunch package and fancy dinner in the restaurant.

Paine Day 4 – Relaxing around Refugio Cuernos

The warm weather continued over the night and provided us with almost clear views of the night sky above the Paine mountains. A stunning experience to watch millions of bright stars in this remote environment!

The past two days with long hours of trekking made us tired. Especially our knees would be happy about a relaxed day off. We couldn’t help it, a nearby waterfall called for a quick visit.

Back by the beach near our Refugio and inspired be the rocky surroundings Joanna started to build a impressionistic sculpture out of available material. Its intention would remain a riddle for visitors to come.

Paine Day 5 – Refugio Cuernos to Refugio Chileno

On the 12km long trek from Refugio Cuernos to Chileno we had to overcome less steep but rather longer ascends. Several mountain rivers crossings, wide panorama views and stretchy grass fields accompanied the way. During the last part, the trek leading into the Torres Valley became much more steep. Strong valley winds blew dust into our faces. A lot of dayhikers who ascended just to view the Torres joined our way.

Panorama view over #lagonordenskjöld #torresdelpaine #chile 2018 – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

Refugio Chileno was a nice and cozy place to stay. It is located in the valley just 4,3km below the Lago Torres viewpoint. An ideal, short distance for hiking up just before the sunrise. For the last night we booked real beds and full board food supply.

Paine Day 6 – Refugio Chileno to Lago Torres

Our initial plan to see the sunrise by the Torres was sabotaged by pouring rain. It started the night before and begun to stop just after our breakfast around 8am. We left our backpacks in the Refugio and started the ascend. Around ten other hikers were on the way at that time.

A well established trail led us trough the woods to a more steep and rocky part. Our only whish at that time was to see the Torres and for that the thick rain clouds had to disperse in time!

We arrived and for a brief moment the clouds opened up the view. The tres amigos became almost visible. I snapped this shot and asked others for the same with us.

Standing on #rocks beside Lago Torres in #torresdelpaine #chile 2018 – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

Happy End :) …

… wait not so fast!

The way to the exit (the western park ranger station) can only be described as downhill killer trek. A 9 km long descend over 800m left us wanting knee operations. After reaching the bottom we took a costly shuttle which bus drove from the Paine Hotel to the park entry station. There we could wait for the city buses to take us to Puerto Natales after 6pm or try our luck with hitch hiking. We did the latter and were lucky to get on a returning hotel tour bus (unfortunately also not for free).

Looking back at the W-Trek – Is it worth the time and money?

So far we did two other multi day treks during high season in Chile (December and January). The Dientes de Navarino and the Cerro Castillo trek. None of them were as costly or crowded as the W-trek. For the W-trek we paid over US $700,- for obligatory accommodation, including food. It could have been different if we only had the chance to book campsites only. Those spots were booked out well in advance. Our experience thus was lacking the feel of remoteness and self-sufficiency. The amount of other people didn’t helped either. It was a very expensive mass tourism attraction.

Our Tip:

Go off season, leave the trekking poles at home, save money and enjoy a less crowded trek!


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