Feb 26th - Mar 2nd, 2013: Torres Del Paine "W" Route

Warning: this post contains photos of mountains. A lot of photos of mountains  Probably way too many to be interesting to anyone but Fiona and I. You have been warned.

As part of our trip to Chile, Fiona and I hiked the "W" Route in Torres Del Paine from west to east over a 5 day period. I've been looking forward to this for years, and did a ton of research and planning. Started booking stuff 6 months in advance and actually found one of the places along the route was already full!

We arrived at Puerto Natales a day before heading into the park. Spent a relaxing evening at the Weskar, a great hotel just outside of the town.

Hiking Day 1: Glacier Grey Area

We woke up bright and early, and met our driver who brought us on a very bumpy 2 hr drive into the park. The morning was really foggy, and we could not see anything during the drive. After two stops (at the park entrance, and at the ranger station) we arrived at Hotel Lago Grey, where we drank coffee and watched the icebergs while waiting for the ferry to come back from it's last trip around the lake.

After a short shuttle, there was a short 2.2 km hike from the parking lot to the boat.

Transfer via a smaller fishing boat

The boat took a 1 hour drive through iceberg filled Lago Grey to drop us off at Refugio Grey.

The best view of the approaching glacier was from the front of the boat:

After a short hike up to the Refugio (just to find it), we decided to go for a hike northward 4km to get a better look at the Glacier from a lookout point. We found a cool suspension bridge on the way north. Fiona was a little bit nervous, but then crossed first while I snapped some photos:

We reached the lookout point, and took some time to rest and enjoy the view.

I walked up in to the trees and secretly got the engagement ring out of my wallet. Snapped a photo of Fiona while up there.

... then came back down and proposed. She said "Yes"!

Hiked back down and then out onto an outcropping of rocks to get a closer look at some of the icebergs.

Then headed back to the Refugio for a nice dinner, and a night of little sleep (German woman in the neighboring bunk bed was a loud snorer).

Hiking Day 2: Refugio Grey to Refugio Paine Grande (aka Pehoe). 11km, 4 hrs

This was to be the shortest hiking day, so we had a relaxing morning with breakfast at the Refugio before heading out. The path was mostly uphill at first, passing by some nice views.

Looking back along the trail, you could almost always see the large glacier in the distance:

... and looking forward, we could see back towards the hotel where we had caught the ferry the day before and icebergs we had hiked past to catch our boat.

Eventually, we came out over a crest and found a beautiful lagoon

.. then hiked some more and caught our first glimpse of Lago Pehoe.

.. and Refugio Paine Grande, which sits right on the edge of Lago Pehoe

Our room had 6 beds this time, but we only shared with 2 others, a nice couple from Switzerland who we ended up chatting with many times along the rest of the hike.

We arrived pretty early in the afternoon, and spent a lazy day relaxing. Some of the people in the campground outside were slacklining:

Had a nice dinner, and headed to bed early to prepare for the long day ahead of us.

Hiking Day 3: Refugio Paine Grande to Camp Britanico to Refugio Los Cuernos. 26.5km, 11 hrs

We woke super early in an attempt to get out as fast as possible, but found the breakfast to be closed. Snapped some pictures of the sunrise while waiting for it to open

Eventually we got our breakfast and were on our way, but it was about an hour later than we had hoped to be starting. The sun was still rising as we made our way past lakes and streams towards Campamento Italiano.

The campground was actually shut down due to some sanitary reasons (something to do with the toilets), but people were still able to leave their bags behind while doing the hard trek up to the center of the "W".

We added our stuff to the piles and started the trek up the center of the "W" with just a water bottle, our camera and some snacks.

Along the way up, we would frequently hear a loud crashing / rumbling noise. Avalanches!

The hike up the valley was quite beautiful, with the lake at the bottom of the hill, and mountains along the sides

Near to top of the valley is Camp Britanico, which was also closed.

We finally reached the Mirador, 1500m elevation, and the center of the "W". Here you are almost completely surrounded by mountains. It was also pretty full of people. We found a spot with a little privacy, and ate our snacks, then snapped some photos.

After a half-hour rest, we started heading back down.

Grabbed our stuff from the campground, and continued towards Refugio Los Cuernos.

The last 2.5 km was pretty torturous, especially on the knees.

First glimpse of Los Cuernos poking out through the trees.

Knowing this would be the hardest day, we paid extra for this night to get a private Cabaña beside a beautiful waterfall.

There was also a wood powered hot tub, but the water was a disgusting green murky swamp, so we did not go near it except to take a photo.

Had dinner next to some nice New Zealanders. Parents with their two young daughters hiking the "W" all together.

Hiking Day 4: Refugio Los Cuernos to Refugio Chileno. 16km, 5.5 hrs

Woke up shortly after sunrise to a great view from the bed through the skylight.

Grabbed a quick breakfast, then set out hiking!

Looking back at the Cabañas.

As it started to get sunny, I discovered my glasses had lost an arm somehow the day before. The arm was nowhere to be found, so I had to improvise with a twig and some band-aids.

Had a beautiful picnic lunch looking over the fields, lakes, and horses.

The final approach to Chileno was pretty steep and followed a river up-stream.

First glimpse of Refugio Chileno through the trees.

Each room slept 8 people. Fiona was not too impressed. Some nice Germans in this one, and a couple from California.

I was on the 3rd level bunk and could look over the back wall into the hallway below.

Chileno is really high up and nowhere near any lakes. It gets its supplies via horseback. These horses were resting before making the return trip back down with garbage and empty propane tanks.

Took the rest of the day easy, and enjoyed a nice dinner before heading to bed early.

Hiking Day 5: Refugio Chileno to Base Los Torres to Hosteria Los Torres. 13.5km, 5.5 hrs

4:30 wake up and a cold cheese sandwich breakfast before hitting the trail to reach the right tip of the "W"! Because we would be coming back, we were able to leave our packs at the refugio. We only had one flashlight between us, but a nice German lady lent me an extra that she had. The hike was pretty amazing with the moon in the sky, and the Milky Way clearly visible.

There was a long train of people making the hike up. Looking back at all of the flashlights coming up the hill was a very cool sight.

We reached the top after 1:40 of hiking mostly up a steep incline. We saw the New Zealanders at the top and they took a photo for us. Then they left with their girls 10 minutes before the sun came out (weird).

Sun hitting the peaks. We got really lucky with the weather!

We raced back down to the refugio in the hopes of making it back in time for the normal (hot) breakfast.

We made it in time, ate some breakfast, then started the hike down to Hotel Los Torres, where the bus would pick us up to take us back to Puerto Natales.

We arrived early, and spent some time in the Hotel Restaurant enjoying the views and some coffee.

We had to wait for a shuttle to first bring us to Amarga, where we would catch our bus back to the town. Fiona was cold, so she bundled up, and we talked to our British friends from Essex for awhile.

Jumped off the shuttle at Amarga, where there were a bunch of alpacas playing.

On the way out, it was much clearer, and we were actually able to see the mountains.

Finally spent a lazy Sunday back in Puerto Natales:

Despite her initial misgivings, I think Fiona was more reluctant to leave than I was.  It was a fantastic experience, and we were sad to leave the beautiful place where we got engaged. 


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