After several days of a heavy social scene in Buenos Aires (BA), I took an afternoon on a set of couches high above the common area of my hostel to remind myself what I wanted to do while I travelled. Don’t get me wrong, the social scene is a big part of travelling and BA definitely had it. There I was, floating through the busiest hostel, knowing most people by name, stopping for plenty of small talk, piecing together the night before – it reminded me of the good times of university.
The problem was, what was meant to be a great byproduct of travelling (the social), was taking over. I had planned to stay in BA for two weeks to learn Spanish and tango, but instead, after a week, I had only managed a couple of hours of each. There’s always the option to stay at an apartment or a quieter hostel, but I could still find myself getting distracted. Then, when I spent some time to read into my next destination, Patagonia, I noticed that it was coming to the end of the dry season. My mind forward-wound a week and I realised I could also be missing out on a final weather window. I booked a flight to El Calafate to leave a couple of days later. A certain sense of relief.
Whilst my time in El Calafate and El Chalten justifies a blog post later, I felt like the 8 days I spent in Torres del Paine deserves to be described first and foremost. The 8 days were spent hiking and camping along a route called the Full Circuit in the Torres del Paine National Park in Chile. The scenery was simply unbelievable and by practically winning the lottery in terms of good weather, the photos I took were able to capture much of it too.
What is the Torres del Paine National Park?
Torres del Paine National Park is situated close to a town called Puerto Natales in the Chilean Patagonia region. The park is around 2,500 sq km in size and includes mountains, glaciers, lakes, forests and rivers – all within hiking distance of each other. In the winter, the park is covered by thick snow and in the summer, it’s perfect for trekking.
The park was ravaged by fire in 2011 with some saying that around 200 sq km of land had burned, changing the landscape that I saw compared to those little over a year ago.
Most of the hikers in the park are on one of two treks. The W or the Q (or Full Circuit). The letters are used because the routes on a map somewhat resemble the letters. With both treks, you move from camp or refugio (hotel) carrying your gear along a route and seeing the amazing views along the way.
What’s the difference between the W and the Full Circuit?
The Full Circuit is a complete loop. It encompasses the W and a path round the north side of the park to complete a loop. The W is typically done in 5 days and the Full Circuit is done in 8 days.
The W trek is certainly the most popular of the two treks – 95% of hikers are there for that one. It’s the one that’s mentioned as number 5 in the top 10 things to do in Lonely Planet’s South America on a Shoe String guide book. With that in mind, it’s no wonder the back side of the Full Circuit is considered much more of a wilderness trek.
Given the difference in the number of days and the facilities on the back side of the mountains being more basic, it’s no wonder that you need to carry noticeably more kit on the Full Circuit and carry that kit double the distance. By kit, we’re talking food and equipment. It all equates to carry a pack with around 15-20kg for the W trek and 20-25kg for the Full Circuit. Of course, the kit gets lighter as the days go by (eating the food you’re carrying).
In terms of distance, you cover around 60km in the W trek and 120km on the Full Circuit. Therefore, fitness is said to play a big part of people’s decision whether to trek the W or the Full Circuit.
To Guide or not to Guide
There’s nothing stopping you from taking all the gear you need and doing it alone, but there’s also the option to go with local guides too. There’s often strong opinions to be had on this. I spoke to other travellers on my way through Brazil and Argentina and made my own decision before I got down to Puerto Natales.
Either way, I strongly suggest visiting the Erratic Rock Base Camp (not the hostel next door), who each day at 3pm, give a talk about the routes through the park and finish up with a quick Q&A. Even if you decide to go with a guide, it’s great background to learn about the park, the names of the stopovers and the general logistics of both the W and the Full Circuit. With plenty of trekkers new in town attending the talk, it’s also great place to meet other trekkers to either team up with or to exchange ideas/tips. The Erratic Rock Base Camp is part bar and part equipment hire, so straight after the talk you can hire any equipment you need (list and prices is on their web site here).
The factors to consider when doing a guided hike or not are listed in the table below. I think each of them can nudge your decision in either direction, depending on how strongly you feel about each.
– Do I want to do the hike on a minimum budget?
If you need to do this as cheaply as possible, you probably don’t want to pay for the expertise of a guide. Most likely the deal breaker for most travellers.
– How much do I enjoy the planning and map reading aspect of hiking?
If you don’t have (or want to spend) the time on the logistics, with a guide you won’t have to worry at all. They know the park well enough that asking questions like “how far is the next river to fill my bottle?”, “what time should we leave the camp tomorrow morning?” or “what’s the longest we can hold out on this rain before we need to push onto the next site?” are answered pretty accurately.
– Do I want to spend most of my time on my own during the trek?
If you’re looking to be in isolation whilst you’re in the park, then you probably don’t want a guide. Bear in mind though, that with an average of 6 hours of trekking per day for several days, you need to be sure if you want to do it on your own. Once you hit camp, there’s plenty of people to socialise with and with people moving along similar (if not identical routes), you’ll probably see the same familiar faces at camp either way. If you’d like to join a group of people, guides typically have a minimum number of people doing a trek. So if you prefer to guarantee others, joining a hike is the best bet.
– How much equipment do I already have vs how much do I need to hire?
Whilst there’s a cost associated with having a guide, most people neglect the costs involved in hiring equipment that might come free or cheap with a guided trek. Group kit such as tents, stoves, gas, cutlery and first aid kits typically come included. If you have none of it, it may swallow up much of the cost difference.
– Have I ever camped before?
If you haven’t camped overnight before, you should consider whether you’ll be able to adapt quick enough yourself or if there’ll be others to help you up the learning curve. How to pitch a secure tent, how not to start a fire with your stove and how to deal with some serious Patagonian weather are all skills you’ll need for the time on the trek.
– How strong and fit am I?
Doing the hike with more people (which is more likely with a guided hike) means sharing kit – typically stoves, food, first aid kits and tents (if you’re a couple). Sharing kit means less weight per person. If you’re not fit or strong, you may need to rely on a group. Injuries plays a major part too – with blisters or turned ankles taking out even the most able hikers – the ability to share weight with a group is a useful backup.
– How much detail and background do I want to learn about the park?
The guides really are experts. If you like bombarding a guide with questions about the landscape, history, wildlife and weather in order to learn more about the environment you’re hiking in you’re likely to want a guide. Whilst you can read plenty of what you could see or know in the park, a guide with the knowledge at the time is magnitudes deeper.
– How keen am I to see the best views of the park at the best times?
The guides know the best spots for photos and the sunrise/sunset times. Typically, these guides are even hired by professional photographers coming to the park to simply beeline the best spots. If great photos with few people are important to you, you should consider a guide.
– Am I trekking the W or the Full Circuit?
Much of the points discussed above cluster around either W or the Full Circuit. The W is better trodden, better facilities and shorter and the Full Circuit is more remote, more basic facilities and longer. W tends towards doing it alone and Full Circuit tends towards having a guide.
Ultimately, I personally opted for a guided trek (organised by Erratic Rock) and so glad I did. For me, I wanted to do the Full Circuit, learn as much as I could about the park from an expert, learn how to camp properly, take out the stress of planning the everyday logistics and have the company of others for the 8 days.
My guide, Mauricio, was truly excellent to say the least. Before embarking on the trek, when the guys at Erratic Rock said he was a good guide, I thought it was simply biased talk. Far from it – I think it was a big part of why I had such an amazing experience at the park. Rather than list the benefits without context, I’ll describe them amongst the day to day itinerary below.
Day to Day Itinerary as a Photo Roll
Day 0 – Packing Kit
I was told that I should drop into Base Camp at 7pm the night before in order to meet the rest of the group, have a pre-trip talk from Mauricio and split the equipment we needed. I dropped into Base Camp early afternoon instead, so see if there was any prep to help with. Indeed there was and I joined Mauricio on a trip to the supermarket to shop and carry back the group food.
Personally, I would have been happy with porridge/water for breakfast, wraps for lunch, pasta for dinner and snack bars for the trail.I eat to live, I don’t live to eat. As long as the nutrition is there, taste is far less relevant to me. To my surprise, Mauricio was chucking into the basket better ingredients that I would by for my weekly shop back home. Take breakfast for example – three types of cereal (porridge, granola and corn flakes), powdered milk and more.
Mauricio was a pro and so I took the opportunity to learn more about the nutritional side of trekking. He told me he spends more time at the park than he does at his home. His thoughts behind the cereal was to get a mix of grains for breakfast pre-mixed in a ziplock bag so you get a combination of different levels of carbs for energy release (corn flakes to get you going, then granola, then porridge as your slow burner). Adding in the powdered milk before means you simply need to pour a “portion” from a ziplock bag into your bowl in the morning, add boiling water and a nutritious breakfast is made with a minimum of effort.
Next minute, he’s chucking bags of water fruit flavourings. I looked at him and said “I’m happy just having water – do we really need all these?”. He explained that “it’s not because you’ll be bored with the taste of pure water – you’ll need to replenish the salts you lose in sweat and the sugars will be useful for energy”. I thought I knew plenty about the right nutrition for hiking, but here I was learning even more and way before we’d even started to hike.
No need to describe all the food that went into the trolley, but to summarise, I thought there was loads – way more than I thought we needed. Mauricio’s philosophy was that it was better to carry too much but be well fed, than not enough. We carried back all the food in a 70 litre sackâ€¦ and a couple of shopping bags.
That evening, I met the rest of the group. An Australian couple and a Swiss woman. We split up the food, cooking equipment and tested out the tents we were given. The rest of that evening was spent packing our bags ready for the early start.
This is what my pack contents looked like with my personal gear and my share of group food/equipment. I didn’t weigh it accurately, but I think it came in at around 23kg.
Day 1 – The Warm Up
Guarderia Laguna Amarga –> Campamento Seron | 9km | 4hrs
After a 90 minute early morning bus ride from Puerto Natales, we arrived at the Larga Amarga drop off point. Everyone entering the park, by law, needs to attend a fire safety talk and sign an acknowledgment. From there, immediately started walking round the back of the famous peaks on the north (quieter) side of the park. This was honestly my first photo as we walked. The famous Las Torres peaks in the distance against the reflection of a lake. The route took as away from the famous mountains, to return to them for the final day of the trek.
The weather was good, so just a base layer on top and shorts on the bottom was enough in the daytime sun.
With our packs at their heaviest, it was good strategy to start on the flats of the circuit (up or down hill being more difficult with a fresh, but heavy pack).
The trail is blessed with plenty of flowing springs, creeks and rivers so you’re never more than 30 minutes from a clean water source. Between the bus and our camp site, we didn’t meet another single hiker.
Although it wasn’t immediately obvious to me, it was explained, that the plains we were walking on were once a forest. The fire had spread east from the original source as far as here and with 100 year old birch trees being burned, they would take time to recover. The burnt trees were left in the ground in order to protect the young trees that were trying to grow in their place.
We were one of the first to arrive at Seron and Mauricio was greeted with a warm reception by the camp owner and a local caracara bird.
After getting our tents set up, we were invited into the camp owners home. We were told how the camp is named after the past owner Seniore Seron, who lived there on his own for many years. He passed away a couple of years ago, through a tough winter. It was difficult to imagine living in such a basic facility on your own as your primary home. He must have truly loved the park.
Being the first night in the open, it was difficult to predict how cold it was going to be. I opted for thermal bottoms, ski socks, a fleece and my wool hat. I zipped both two inner and outer door of my tent and got ready to sleep feeling pretty toasty.
I’ll be honest, it felt a little strange going to sleep in my tent. I’ve done tents before for festivals, but in the cold of the wilderness it was different. There was something pleasant about the peacefulness of this camp. Even though there’s not much space to even roll over in your tent, knowing it was just my tent gave a certain level of comfort and a break from the dorm rooms of hostels I had been travelling in.
My first night wasn’t that comfortable. I woke up almost each hour and put on another layer of clothing on – a pair of trousers, my jacket. Being the first night out in the Patagonian hills, I didn’t know whether “this was just how it was meant to be” or if I was doing something wrong. It felt like after midnight, each hour got a little bit colder.
Day 2 – Flats, a Hill and Glacier Lake
Seron –> Dickson | 19km | 6hrs
I woke up and tried to peer out the small windows of my tent. The first thing I thought was “oh no, it’s rained last night”. I thought that, because there was plenty of moisture inside the tent. When I finally unzipped the outer layer I was shocked to see, there was no rain and the sky was clear.
So why was there all this moisture in my tent?
Well, I had zipped up both the mosquito net and the inner cover, which meant there wasn’t surface area for the humidity of my breath to escape. My sleeping bag was a good one too – made for temperatures that could dip to minus 9. With all the moisture I had cooped up, that affected my sleeping bag. Primaloft (the material in my sleeping bag) is amazing at insulating the heat, but any moisture reduces its thermal properties massively. That’s probably why I was getting colder through the night. I was sabotaging my own sleeping environment. I pieced this all together with a flood of Q&A with Mauricio. A good lesson learned and I was thankful that during the rest of the breakfast, the sun could dry my tent and sleeping bag before we left camp.
Day 2 we had further to walk, but with the sun out in force and the landscape fairly flat it was another pleasurable day. The landscape was mostly out of the forest (again, it was there once before), but the bonus was that you were heading in the direction of the mountains, so it was always in your view.
I had never used poles before this day, but I had taken them on the advice of the Base Camp. I had been fine on the first day not using poles, even with a heavy pack. But I wanted to use Day 2 as a test, knowing there was a short uphill section at the end to test the difference.
Until that point though, they became a source of entrainment – being used for make-believe puma hunting. The area between Seron and Dickson is known for puma sightings. I was told as the season draws to a close (as it was now) and there are fewer people on the trail, you may sight a puma coming down from the hills.
Getting closer to the mountains, you could see the different types of rocks crushed together to make some great visuals. Rock enthusiasts would have a field day here.
Coming over the last hill gave a great view of the camp we were able to stay at – Dickson. Perfect grassland surrounded by water and mountains. As far as entries go, it was my favourite camp site. Like Seron too, it was lovely and peaceful too.
Behind the campsite, scrambling down the banks you could get right down to Lake Dickson. It was stunning. Mountain, glacier, pebbles and a clear sky.
Mauricio advised us to soak our feet in the lake water to reduce swelling from a long walk. Being run-off from the glacier, it was freezing cold. Whilst I’ve done some pretty extreme cold activities in the past, I was shocked how cold this water really was. I could manage no more than about 20 seconds before my feet felt like they were about to fall off. I have to say though, it really did sooth the feet – it made them feel fresh and revived instantly.
That evening, I went back to the pebble beach. The atmosphere of the place was so calm. The gentle sound of tiny waves hitting the pebble surroundings and only natural scenery in a 360 degree view. With the calm atmosphere, I took the opportunity to train kung fu and lay on the beach to watch the sun go down. It turned out to be my favourite place in the park.
Taking all the camping advice from the night before, I made the necessary alterations before heading to bed – more ventilation but wear more clothes. An extra T-shirt, socks and a snoody on standby if it got really cold.
Day 3 – Into the Forests
Dickson –> Los Perros | 9km | 4.5hrs
I slept much better that night. The tent was more ventilated, but stayed I stayed warm.
Only once I laid down for bed the night before, did I notice a rash and cuts on my shoulders. It turned out, that I hadn’t fitted the straps from my backpack tight enough and the constant movement of a heavy pack ruined my shoulders. After a quick lesson on how to load and tighten a pack (there is indeed a method to it) I was good to go.
After breakfast, but before needing to leave the camp, I went back down to the lake again. This time, the wind was still, so the water of the lake could act as a perfect reflection for the mountains and the glacier in the background.
The route from Dickson to Los Perros was more hilly compared to the days before. At this point, you’re right round the back of the park, so you meet more of the original forest that makes up the park, following the river as you go.
You’ll notice the trees in the photo below grow fairly sporadically to the eye. The wind in the region is so fierce that it affects the way the trees grow. Most will lean in the direction to take the strong pacific winds of the north.
Plenty of the trees get completely blown over, so there’s regular maintenance on the track to saw gaps in trunks that fall across the path.
Just before getting to the Los Perros site, you get a great view of the Los Perros glacier and lake. This one is a strange dull green colour.
As you walk past the glacier to the camp, there are other oasis like pools and greenery.
Finally, once you make it to the camp, it’s a beautiful forest site. Again, being on the back side of the mountain, there’s plenty of space to pitch.
At the back of the camp site was a wide river. With no hot shower facilities at this site, it was a case of taking a very quick wash in the freezing cold river. It’s funny how you can feel surprisingly clean when you don’t use soap, but the water’s cold.
Having mastered the art of comfortable sleep through camping, I wasn’t going to change anything before bed this time.
Day 4 – The Toughest Day
Los Perros –> Paso –> Grey | 22km | 11hrs
Lowe and behold, another good nights sleep. By now, sleeping in a tent had become natural. The sounds of the wilderness and the routine to keep warm.
I woke a little earlier than necessary on the morning of Day 4 in order to race back to the Los Perros glacier to see the sunrise. I hoped, like Dickson, the water would be calm for perfect view. Unfortunately, with the surrounding hills, it meant I’d have to wait another hour for the sun to make it above the hills and shine on the lake, so I had to abort mission and head back to camp.
Day 4 was the pencilled in as the toughest day on the circuit. Long distance with almost none of it on flats. Being halfway through the journey, your pack would have been a little lighter, but you would still be carrying 5 days of food.
Unfortunately, my situation was a little different. As a group, we had only eaten a packet of lentils from my bag (just chance with what we cooked on each day) and one of the other trekkers in the group had been struggling with blisters from the second day. With the path going to be on rubble and stones, it was going to be tough on anyone’s feet. So I was a couple of kilos up from my original pack weight, by taking on more food. Feeling strong, used to my pack and wanting to test myself I didn’t think it would be a problem. Using poles meant I’d be getting a decent arm/shoulder workout.
The route takes you to a simple camp site called Paso. Every trekker makes the decision to stay at Paso or push on for another 10km to Grey, which, being a newly renovated site, means hot showers and great facilities. It was perfectly clear that we all wanted to make it to Grey, but it was a race against time. However light your pack is, after 8 hours of carrying it on any terrain you’d feel the strain.
After the first tough uphill section of the route, you’re presented with your first view of the Grey Glacier. The glacier is monstrous – 270 sq km it covers.
After the highest viewpoint, as you start walking downhill beside it, you’re given stunning view at almost every step.
Seeing the edge of the glacier as it touches the surrounding forest makes for a great panoramic.
Zooming close up to the glacier, you can see its ruggedness in all its glory.
By the time we made it to camp Paso, the chance of making it to Grey was looking poor. From being one of the quickest groups Mauricio had worked with, we were lagging by an hour on the most important day and you could see the disappointment on his face. Our injured trekker was struggling. Paso really was a basic camp site – a drop loo was the only “facility” it had and none of us wanted to stay there the night.
To make it, we would have to shift some more gear around. I took on the rest of the food, some extra clothes and donated a trekking pole. Mauricio took on an extra tent. We must have shared around 3kg of weight each to ease the strain. Personally, I don’t think many guides would do that for their group. Guides have a finite lifespan to haul weight across the park, with most knackering out by the time they reach their 40s. They need to be careful not to get injured too, because putting them out of action means no income until they recover too.
With the reshuffle, we put our heads down and pushed on hard to make it to Grey.
One of the things the guide books don’t tell you about this next section, is that you’ll need to climb vertically up one makeshift ladder, across a bridge and down another makeshift ladder. This is what the “up” ladder looked like. With a heavy pack, you want to be holding tight…
I was told by Mauricio, that he helped build the bridge. It took him 15 return trips to the nearest camp up the steepest hill in the park to carry the materials needed for it to be built. You can see how people like him become so attached to the park. They walk it, help evolve it and they’re proud to see the hard hours they spend doing it.
Before making it to Grey, we had the privilege of seeing a male and a female woodpecker. The male (tucked behind the trunk) had a bright red head and sounded so similar to the Woody Woodpecker Looney Toons character it was unreal – gurgling and tapping as we walked passed.
After a really tough slog, we all made it to Grey. Tired but relieved, we had the facilities to get comfortable and safe in the knowledge we wouldn’t have to move our kit until midday tomorrow.
For dinner I was so hungry. I ate 400g of pasta. Even by my own standards, that’s loads.
Day 5 – Recovery
Grey –> Paine Grande | 11km | 3hrs
The mood among the group was high having pulled through, and we all enjoyed a lazy start to the day. In the morning, we left our gear at the camp and strolled 30 minutes backpack less to a special viewpoint for the Grey Glacier. The viewpoint looks up from the South of the glacier at the two “tongues” (ends). Shards of the past glacier that have broken off float in the water. The bluer the ice, the more compressed it is (because the blue comes from the low levels of oxygen in the ice).
We returned to Grey, had a cooked lunch (for a change) and headed on the trail with our backpacks. Today we only needed to walk for 3 hours and now firmly on the W track, it was feeling pretty easy now. Each time you looked back, you’d get a wider view of the Grey Glacier behind you.
About an hour South of the camp site, Mauricio pointed out a beach. The beach was the site where the infamous fire was started. It seemed like the topic was talked about a lot, but it really did affect the park. Although only speculated, it’s thought that the culprit was illegally camping at the beach not to pay for the Grey camp site. After the strong Patagonian wind caught a stove that shouldn’t have been lit (it’s against the rules to light a stove outside of a camp and its designated cooking areas), it spread across the park in minutes.
Mauricio described how, on the day, he had to collect any hikers on the trail so they didn’t get caught in the fire and take on rescue duties. It’s amazing that a fire that spread so fast across such a huge area didn’t result in deaths. The firemen who turned up had no idea how to get to the fires so Mauricio led the teams around, hauling hoses and equipment with them. At the same time, he shared radios with army helicopters who did laps carrying water from the lake and guided them to the most important area – the French Valley (tomorrow’s hike). I came to realise over the days that Mauricio was a modest man and when he said, he thinks he saved the French Valley, truly, I believe him. It made sense now, why every other guide, camp owner and ranger greets him with a huge hello. They probably all know the stories.
The burnt trees give a very different feel to that area of the park. It’s like a constant reminder of what can happen when you’re not careful.
After an easy walk, we arrived at Paine Grande. The sky was grey, covering the views of the surrounding mountains and the winds were strong. The facilities of the camp site made it feel like a hostel – inside, you hardly noticed. A cafeteria and a lounge bar just didn’t seem to fit in.
With the strong winds picking up, I learned the best way to position the tent (in line with the Northerly winds). That night I went to bed with the sound of winds that felt like they would pick the whole tent up.
Day 6 – The French Valley
Paine Grande –> Italiano | 22km | 6hrs
It was the 5th day in a row that I woke up and thought our luck had run out and it would finally be a wet weather day. Especially with the wind, I was so sure this time, but alas, I was (thankfully) wrong again. The winds had cleared the clouds over the mountains and I woke up to this view in the morning.
We left Paine Grande and walked 2 hours with our packs to the Italiano camp.
From there, we set up camp and trekked up the French Valley with only a water bottle. It felt like most of the time on the W circuit, you’re not with your backpack, so these few days felt like a very different experience. It was almost like a reward for the previous “tough” backside of the Full Circuit.
The valley is a forest route uphill, deep into a valley such that when you pop out at the end, you have 360 degree views of mountains around you. Even halfway up, you get a sense of the views, like this one…
Looking back, you see a line of lush trees leading to the camp site and the lake at the bottom. This was the section that Mauricio was so passionate about. In his opinion, it’s the most beautiful part of the park.
This is the view from the end of the trail. Except looking behind you, you have peaks in all directions. Again, with the clear weather we could see them all in their full splendour.
It was an easy return downhill to the camp. With no pack and strong legs you can hit a fast pace.
Day 7 – Then the Weather Turned
Italiano –> Chileno –> Torres | 22km | 8hrs
I woke to reason weather again – well, no rain anyway. We really had pushed our limits with the weather.
The schedule for the day was to push on some fairly easy up and downhills towards our final camp. The idea was to follow the coastline to Chileno, have some lunch, then push onto Torres. With all the eating, we had shed much of the weight and our blistered trekker had almost fully recovered.
Day 7 is considered the hardest for the W trek. The distance is far and you’re carrying your pack for all of it. As we started walking, the weather slowly worsened. From the top of the hill, you could see the shoreline we would have to walk along for most of the day. With winds over 100kmph, the water was being lifted and covered the shore.
Sure, there was a rainbow…
But the winds were so strong it looked like something out of a hollywood movie…
We were told, when there’s a strong gust, to crouch down until it passes, so you don’t get blown over. I got this shot whilst we were crossing the main beach.
In Cuernos camping area, we stopped for a break and some lunch and pushed on to Chileno.
On the plains, you could be fooled into thinking the weather got better.
This was the last photo I took for the day because the rain came down so heavy, I didn’t want to take my camera out. We got to Torres, soaked and pitched up in the rain. Thankfully, after 7 days of pitching the same tent, I had it down to a T. Just after pitching up, the rain stopped and as the evening drew to a close, the sky began to clear.
This was the most important weather – because the most important view of the park is the sunrise from Torres we were expecting the next morning. It didn’t matter if we were soaked through, because with one more night to go, it’s easy to last.
Day 8 – Sunrise
Torres –> Hotel Torres Exit | 10km | 3hrs
We woke at 6am and had a quick tea/coffee before leaving our tents and climbing up the hill for an hour towards the Torres peaks.
The sky was perfectly clear – we couldn’t have asked for better conditions. At that time, we needed to track with head torches and the sky still had stars. One moment, as I climbing up the path, I looked up and saw a shooting star across the peaks. Mauricio caught it too and turned to me. You could just tell from his face that seeing a shooting star over Torres was special.
Once we got close to the view point, Mauricio noticed that the paths had been changed. There had been accidents from people climbing up the rocks to get a view of the peaks so the rangers had recently changed the path down to the lake. Thankfully, he knew the path so well, that we were guided off the track and up to the rocks.
There we were, five of us on our own private rock ready to watch the sunrise. Once we had stopped climbing and waited, the chill set in. We were all wearing as many layers as we could – hats, gloves, etc.
Before the sun hit the peaks, they looked a usual browny/grey colour.
As the sun crept over the surrounding hills, it began to just hit the peaks in isolation.
Eventually, they shone a bright orange.
It was magic.
You can see all the other trekkers down by the lake.
And finally, a panoramic of the view…
We made our way back to camp, picked up our belonging and made the final voyage back to the pick up point. The final section of the track is shared as a horse track, and true to tradition, we saw a handful of Chileans ride horses passed us.
Coming down from the hill, you’re given a reverse of the view we would have seen on the first day – a view down into the plains.
Once down, there were some great views looking back at the peak
Then finally, back to civilisation – the first proper building I had seen in over a week.
We used the nearby hotel to shower and wait for our bus back.
The park, the views, the luck with the weather and the whole learning curve for me will definitely stick in my mind as a great travel experience.
10 Tips for Hiking the Full Circuit
- On a dry morning, first thing you should do is take off your outer tent to let it dry whilst you have breakfast. A dry tent when you arrive at your next camp site will make you happy.
- Walking poles wedged into the ground make for perfect stabilisers to create washing lines. The wind is strong, so even in damp conditions, your items will dry.
- Take pegs too. You’ll need to wash and dry tops, towels, socks. You tent has lines, but items were forever getting blown off the lines. A couple of small pegs (or even paperclips) would have been really useful.
- Ziplock bags are perfect for preserving food and keeping your rubbish from spilling into your backpack (because you have to carry rubbish from site to site sometimes).
- Use the rivers and the lakes by the camp sites to cool down your feet from hiking. It really does help with the swelling.
- Mix up your breakfast into bags before you hit the park, to minimise fuss in the morning. Getting away from camp on time each morning is key.
- Take an extra camera battery. Although some sites have power sockets (like Paine Grande), everyone trying to use them. I managed to survive on two full batteries over the 8 days.
- On windy days, pitch your tent facing the north (in line against the strong winds)
- Take more food than you think you need. You’ll be surprised how much your intake goes up with all the walking. Although some sites have shops for essentials, it’s not more than snack food.
- Readjust your pack daily. As the weight changes and the straps work loose as you walk, you should make sure it’s sitting right each time.