There are, without a doubt, easier ways to see Torres del Paine – the jewel in the crown on Chile’s National Parks. To see the Torres themselves can be, just about, done in a day trip.
However, for the more adventurous, and those who are wanting more of the park than just it’s centrepiece, there is the 5 day W Trek – the stuff of legend for those hiking around Southern Patagonia.
It’s a long trek, just over 80km, most if which takes place on the middle three days. This is exacerbated by the 15-20kg of kit that you must take with you, tents, sleeping matts and bags, enough food to last you 5 days and clothing suitable for the -5 degrees that can be experienced at night.
But all of this hardship is offset by the sheer beauty of the park. Soaring peaks, turquoise lakes, knife edge towers of granite and a 27km long glacier that marks the end of the great Southern Patagonian Ice-field.
Working from west to east, we were bucking the trend and “doing the W” the wrong way round. After a fairly easy 11km walk uphill to our campsite on the side Glacier Grey. After pitching the tent, I thought nothing would beat sitting in wall-to-wall sunshine on a bay, looking over the glacier and watching hundreds of icebergs bob up and down. However, after dark and dinner cooked over a camping stove, we went to the disproportionately swanky refugio, where the more monied (read American) tourists stay. Next to a log burning fire and classic black and whites of the surrounding park, I sipped down a large Johnny Walker Black Label on the rocks. The whisky was a blend of minimum 12 year old Scotch’s. The ice, perfectly formed 25,000 year old glacial ice.
The next few days were even more challenging, averaging 20km each day, but the mountains to our left and the emerald and turquoise lakes to our right more than compensated.
By the end of day 4 we had climbed more than 600 meters in a few hours, through a blizzard and our chances of seeing the main event, the three Torres (towers) we’re fading fast. After pitching camp with damp equipment in the snow, we fired up the stove and had dinner. As we wolfed down our last mouthful, the weather broke and we could see, just, blue sky and sun.
Camera in waterproof bag was grabbed and almost at a jog we climbed the remaining 1km and 250 meters in altitude in just over 35 mins. When we crested the rim of the crater we were greeted by one of the most majestic sites I have seen in the trip so far. All three Torres unobstructed by cloud, with the sun behind them and a shimmering blue lake in front.
Had we done a day trip, we would be on our way home by now, disappointed as so many visitors are. It goes to show, with photography, it’s all about patience and perseverance, that and having the stupidity to hike for 5 days.
Lago Grey with Glacier Grey in the background and icebergs filling the small inlet
Torres del Paine, or Blue Towers in the mixture of Spanish and Native American in which they were named