Published: December 15th 2008December 11th 2008
Hiking the W Route was def a highlight of our trip and we are a little indecisive on whether or not it beat out kilimanjaro as the absolute highlight. We were very worried about the weather as everyone has heard horror stories about the weather in Patagonia. We had heard about people having to turn back after day 2 because it was too wet, windy and cold to continue on but we had amazing luck. The weather was pretty much perfect with the worst day on day 2 where it rained for about 30 minutes. We decided to go for the camping option as it was a lot cheaper than sleeping in the refugios which are basically dorm rooms for US$40 each a night. To make our packs lighter we hired tents from each of the refugios but did bring our own food to cook outside of our tent. If we were to do it over again I think we would hire tents in Puerto Natalies and carry our tents the entire time, it gives you more flexibility but does mean you have extra weight to carry. Here is a quick summary day by day.
We started out
View on Day 1
This was before we started walking so we were very fresh and clean!
our trip from the small town of Puerto Natalies where you get on a 2 hour bus ride into the National Park. It is about US$30 each to enter the park so it is not cheap. From there we had a short bus journey to a huge lake which we got on to cross to the other side of the park (another $22). We had beautiful weather and got amazing views which got us very excited about the trekking. You get off the boat in a refugio called Paine Grande which is where we spent night 2. So we were a little clever and dropped off some of the food (inc 2 liters of wine) that we were not going to need for the first day to lighten our packs. We only had a 4 hour hike to the place we were going to be sleeping at so decided to take a 2 hour detour to a great view south of Paine Grande. Not many people opted for this detour which was great as we only saw 2 people while walking and we got amazing views. After this we had our trek up to a refugio called Refugio Grey which
was next to Glacier Grey. The hike was not too difficult, a bit of up and down, but the hardest part was getting used to having the heavy pack. Even though we were not taking a tent, we still had all of our clothes, sleeping bags and quite a bit of food and wine. The views were fantastic on the walk with the best being views of the glacier. The weather was also great with the exception of a few heavy gusts of wind--almost knocking you over. We didn´t arrive at our campsite until about 7:30 so had some wine in a box and pasta before heading to bed. Overall, a fantastic day!
We slept in later than originally intended but we needed the sleep after the crazy navimag boat trip. We made poriage for breakfast and left all of our gear in the tent and went for a 3 hour return walk which would take us closer to the Glacier. The walk was not that difficult if you stayed on the main path but we took a little side route which took us very close to the water on very rocky terraine. It was
a very interesting walk with a few dodgy scary (scaling mountains) moments. But, we got fantastic views. On the return, we took the easy path back to make things easier on ourselves. At camp we ate sandwiches for lunch and then packed up all of our gear and were on the road by 12:30. The trip back was the same one we had taken the previous day so was pretty easy. The wind was a lot calmer but there were grey clounds so we were a little worried about rain. Sure enough, for the last 30 minutes of our trek we did get rain, but it was not too bad and we considered ourselves pretty lucky. This campsite had hot showers and a little campers kitchen where we could cook dinner which was an added bonus. So, we had pasta and wine again for dinner and were to bed pretty early.
Day 3 was our favourite day and we had beautiful sunny weather! We got up very early as today was to be a long 10+ hour hike. We had breakfast and were all packed up and ready to go by 6:45 and very excited
about beating the crouds. Unfortunatley we needed to return the gear we had hired (the office had our passports back) and the office did not open until 7:30. A bit of a bummer that we had to wait but we were on the road by 7:30 and didn´t see another person for at least an hour. We had a 2 hour walk along a beautiful lake until we reached a campsite where we could dump our gear and travel light for the 1000 meter climb (I think that is right) we had to amazing views. At the campsite we ran into our roomies from the Navimag boat and another couple we had kept bumping into since Bolivia. So, it was fun to have some company. The walk was fantastic gave us really good views. The whole time you were walking you could hear avalanches falling and making huge thunder noises. At the top we all took it easy and had our nice picnic lunch. From there we had to hike back down and the whole trip took about 6 hours. From there we picked up our gear and got walking another 2 hours to the campsite we would be staying
at that night, Cuernos Refugio. It was a really nice campsite and very friendly staff. We were absolutley exhausted so went to bed very early. My legs and feet were aching and we both had very sore backs.
Today was to be another long but beautiful day. We had to hike about 4 hours to Refugio Chilano, drop our gear and then hike up to the top where we could see the best views of the famous towers. We were on the road by 6:30 and the first two hours was a pretty easy walk with a lake on one side and mountains and avalanches on the other. Then we had a turnoff which took us uphill for about an hour. It was tough but we thought it would be a lot worse. To be honest, the worst part was that we were now at the popular part of the trek and there were loads more tourists. These were mostly daytrippers and they didn´t have the same hiking manners as the overnighters. For example, if someone was walking very slowly and you were right behind them, it would not occur to some of the daytrippers
to move out of our way. I found it quite frustrating! Then there were the horse riders. They didn´t bother me as much, but the horse poo and horse flys did! But, the reason there were so many tourists was that it was an absolutley amazing view or Torres de Paine at the top. We dropped our bags at a refugio called Refugio Chilanio and this was the first day we really regretted not carrying our own tents. It was not nearly as nice as the other sites but we had to stay there for there to hire the tents. There as a free campsite about an hour up the road which we would have prefered to stay at. After dropping our gear and eating lunch we hiked for about 1.5 hours to the Tower Views. This is the picture you have most likely seen associated with Patagonia. It was a very steep climb on tricky, slippery rocks and the views were fantastic! We took a half hour break at the top and I think I actually took a quick nap. That night we were, again, very very tired with very tired legs and feet.
We had a very short day today and only had to catch a bus for 2pm. So, we slept in until 9:00 and had breakfast around 10:00. The walk down was very easy and we had no problems getting back to Puerto Natalies. It was great to take a proper shower (there were showers at the refugios but they were not the best). Then we meet up with some of our new friends from Navimag and went out for a big steak dinner. The steak and wine in Chile is fantastic (not as good as Argentina, but still very good).
We thought we would include a few notes which we found from another posting which helped us a lot with planning. It was not very easy to find information on hiking the W route and we found the below very useful. Family, dont bother reading as this will be boring (more so than the above!!).
There is a hostel called Erratic Rock in Puerto Natalies which gives talks at 3pm every day about hiking both the W and the Circuit. It is run by an American guy so no worries if you dont speak spanish. He runs though
all the details and it is very very helpful. You dont have to stay at the hostel in order to go, open to all.
Another useful source is the free newspaper called Black Sheep which you can get pretty much anywhere in Patagonia and the Lakes District. It had loads of useful information.
It is pretty expensive to sleep in the refugios which is why we decided to camp. Below is a quick summary of estimated costs.
Park Entrance CH$15,000 (US$30) to be paid in Chilean pesos only
Ferry across Lago Pehoe CH $17,000 return, CH$11,000 1 way, to be paid in Chilean pesos only
REFUGIO COSTS (not exact figures as you would pay in Chilian Pesos and the below is US$)
Dorm Bed US$40
Set Dinner US18
Box Lunch US$14
Full board US$80
Camping US$7 per person, not per tent
2 person tend US$14
Sleeping bag US$7
REFUGIO CONTACT DETAILS
Refugios Dickson & Lago Grey - company: Andescape - email: email@example.com - Ph: 56 61 412 592
Refugios Las Torres, Chileno & Los Cuernos - company: Fantastico Sur - email: firstname.lastname@example.org - Ph: 56 61 360 360
Refugio Paine Grande - company: Vértice - email: email@example.com - Ph: 56 61 412 742