/ torres del paine: part 2

rewinding a bit from part one, in part two i’m going to highlight my 3 day, 35 mile hike through torres del paine (pronounced tor-rez del pie-nuh).
from el calafate, we took a 7am bus to puerto natalates. about 4 hours in, we hit the border of argentina and chile. first, we had to stop at the argentina border crossing point. everyone got off the bus and had to get their passports stamped. we reboarded the bus and drove 10 minutes to the chile crossing point. we had to take all of our luggage off the bus and send it through chilean customs – quite a process that took about 90 minutes in total.
once we arrived in puerto natales, i went over to the erratic rock hostel. they were pretty empty so we were able to get two beds easily. the owners are from oregon. i could quickly tell this would be the coolest hostel we have stayed at – it had a very hippie and homie vibe. we went to their TDP debrief talk at 3PM – something lauded by all the travel blogs and forums as a must see free info session before heading into the park. it did not dissapount and the woman who gave the talk – a german girl – was super funny with it. prior to the talk, we met Matt – a 32 yo aussie who just quit his job and is travelling the world – and we linked up to do our trek together. from the talk, we went to book campsites, get cash, and groceries.
matt and I went to the grocery store and got food for the 3 days – lunch consists of a tortilla wrapped with salami and cc, and for dinner we will boil rice and have tuna. The first night we will have dinner at the refugio.
the 2 hour ride into the park was incredible – vast plains surrounded by snow covered mountains of epic proportions and the sunrise was even more amazing – possibly the best i have ever seen in my life. i only had my phone but got some very dramatic looking shots. the sky was on fire.
some things about the park before i dive in:
  • like almost anywhere in Patagonia, you can drink water directly from the streams, which runs from glaciers. wherever you are in the park, fresh water is maybe 10 steps away, so you save a lot of weight not having to carry water. i just carried a titanium cup with me. its also the freshest water i have ever had in my life.
  • the mountains are nothing like what they seem like in the photos. it’s impossible to show how big they really are.
  • torres del paine is the same size of luxembourg.
  • the weather in the park can change any minute – from rain to sun to snow.
  • fall is the absolute best time to come down here. the trails are empty, we didn’t have to pre book any accommodations, and the weather has been great. i couldn’t imagine being in this park with big crowds, it has been very nice to have the trails to ourselves.
there are two main routes to hike the park: (1) the W – a 4 night, 5 day trek, and (2) the O – a 8 night, 9 day trek. we went with a partial W, starting at paine grande, heading to glacier gray for the first day, then heading back down towards the french valley for the 2nd day, and heading past los cuernos toward central on our last day.
day 1
we took the ferry our first day to paine grande, about 45 minutes. it was super windy, the water was super choppy, but with incredible views. we started our trek at paine grande toward refugio grey, which would be about 4 hours. we ended up walking most of the way with the same group of people, although they would be camping and we would be sleeping in the refugio – a simple lodge next to the campsite which also serves meals. there are many along the routes for people who want to do the circuits but do not want to camp. we got to the refugio around 4pm and checked in. we met a couple from the east village who had just quit their jobs, i would later find that the man had worked at JP across the street from me – small world!! we walked to go see the glacier which was insane. total raw nature. we had dinner at the refugio in a family style meal with others who were staying there – maybe less than 20 people in total so we got to know everyone. it was a super friendly atmoshophere. however, the food was okay-  pork with beans and rice, and a tomato soup. after our long day, i couldn’t complain with a hot meal.
the first day’s hike was a lot easier than our hike in ushuaia, it was different as it was a lot flatter and our packs weighed much much less. the trails were also marked 100x better than in ushuaia, where we got lost countless times. in TDP, you would have to try really hard to get lost from the trail. we got extremely lucky with good weather, too. it was maybe in the 40s or 50s with sun, and with moving fast i was just in a tee, but the winds were extremely strong, stronger than what i would have been used to with sailing.
it’s best to bring all your food into the park.  for lunch we made 3 days worth of salami and cream cheese rolls on whole wheat wraps. i also had my trail mix which i made back home and has lasted 2 weeks. i couldn’t forget my jar of dulce de leche, which i carry with me now as much as my iphone.
day 2
we started the day off early around 7am and it was still dark out. this time of year, the sun doesn’t really fully rise until 8/9am. we made oatmeal for breakfast and got on the trail. we had to hike back towards paine grande where we started the day prior, and then head towards campamento frances. it was pretty overcast but warmed up, and i was able to hike comfortably, even getting a bit warm, in leggings and a long sleeve tee. the smartwool merino wool is incredible at working away sweat and regulating your body temp.  we stopped a few times for photos of different perspectives, but it was more or less the same scenery we saw on the way in. we got to paine grande and had our lunch – the salami in cc and some snack bars – and got back on the trail. the hike was heading towards the french valley and through the burnt forest – a mistake made by a hiker that had grave effects on a large majority of the park. it was still a gorgeous landscape with some amazing views of mountains and lakes. the reflections of the mountains on the water were particularly special. when we got to campamento italiano, about 3 hours from paine grande, it started to rain. we got to the camp and set up our tent and cooked dinner (rice with lentils) it was wet but we got it done. i love sleeping in the tent in the rain because you can hear all the drops and it feels so natural. there is a big mouse problem at the campsites here, so you need to tie up any food and toiletries into a bear bag, as there have been some horror stories of mice chewing through tents and bags.
the hikes here have been pretty amazing as we’ve more or less had the trail to ourselves. there are very little people in the park this time of year, it’s actually closing soon for the winter, and sometimes you cross paths but then you’re on your own for a while. it’s remarkable to me how this is all natural.  i spent a lot of time outdoors when i was younger but was in a different state of mind, and it’s much more special now to think about how fortunate i am to be able to experience such amazing and untouched nature. i have a different appreciation now than when i was in the boy scouts.
day 3
we woke up in the rain and stashed the tent into my bag and got on the trail around 730 – it was an early start and still dark out, we had to hike the first hour with our headlamps. about 20 minutes in, the rain stopped and held off for the rest of our day. we had a goal to make a 2 pm bus out of the park and had 10 miles to cover. we had a quick day of hiking but our packs were the lightest they had been because we had eaten all of our food. it was foggy most of the day so it was hard to see the mountains but it was still a nice hike. at the end of the hike, we got to las torres, the luxury hotel in the park. we got a celebration beer at the bar there – at $15 bucks a beer we thought the 3 day journey justified the price.
this park really gives you a sense of how small you are. coming from NYC, you have a sense of how big the world is, but TDP is a different atmosphere, as it’s far larger than NYC with a teeny fraction of the people.
all in all – this was a blessing in disguise that we made it torres del paine. when i was planning this trip, i knew there was a good reason to only plan the first couple days and this detour in our plans is the perfect example why that worked best.

all images © 2019 dan greenberg.

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