Torres Del Paine Circuit

Published: May 5th 2012
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Its wild, its remote, its dramatic, unpredictable and stunningly beautiful.

Torres Del Paine National Park is one of the finest places in Chile Situated in the southernmost,biggest and least populated region of Chile - Region of Magallanes Y Antarctica Chilena, it receives nearly 100.000 visitors from all over the world every year which makes this protected area one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country.

The park sits on the southern edge of the massive Patagonian Ice Cap and covers almost 600.000 acres of land in a beautiful mixture of impressive glaciers, wonderful turquoise lakes and rivers, eye-catching granite peaks and valleys, lenga forests and pampas-style-terrain.

Cordillera del Paine is the main mountain range in the the park and this is where the famous and majestic Torres del Paine and the prominent Cuernos del Paine are located.

The 'Torres del Paine Circuit' trekking route makes a circle of about 120 km around this magnificent range which normally takes more than one week to complete.

The park was first established in 1959 and was given its present name in 1970. In 1978 UNESCO gave it status as a World Biosphere Reserve.

I visited this area in November 2011 and this is my story :

From Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales to Parque Nacional Torres del Paine

After travelling through Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and parts of Chile I had now come to Patagonia, the southernmost point of my trip to South America. Some last few days in the thriving capital of Santiago in wonderful,warm and lovely sunshine had set me up nicely for the potentially rougher encounter with this vast endless area of wilderness and beauty.

My flight ticket with LAN from Santiago to Punta Arenas cost me almost USD 500 which was quite more expensive than Sky Airlines which operate on the same route.

Punta Arenas is one of the biggest cities in Patagonia located on the banks of Strait of Magellan some 1420 km north from the coast of Antarctica and 247 km south of Puerto Natales.

Since I arrived quite early I was able to explore some of the "attractions" in this seemingly small town which reminded me a little bit of northern Norway in many aspects. Mirador Cerro la Cruz at the high end of the town offered a good viewpoint of the area and strolling along the nicely laid out waterfront the fierce gusty winds was a valuable reminder of what nature may throw at you down here.

Next morning 3 hours on the bus - Bus Fernandez - took me to Puerto Natales located 150 km south of Torres del Paine National Park on the shores of Canal Senoret. This is where most people come before setting out on their adventures in the park and now, almost 100 years after the town was officially founded, tourism has become one of the most important factors of income here.

The town has a great selection of accomodation,travel agencies and restaurants. A good selection of trekking stores selling and renting all the famous brands like North Face, Marmot, Salomon etc. The big, but somewhat expensive Unimarc Supermarket on Manuel Bulnes Street and all the smaller grocery stores scattered around town are well stocked and will not leave you hungry on the trail if you pick wisely.

I had done quite some reading and research in advance before I came down here and already had an idea how I would organise and prepare myself doing the whole Torres del Paine Circuit as a solo traveller. As an experienced long distance hiker to many parts of the world one of my keys to enjoy my trekking is to carry as light as possible bringing only with me the necessary things I need to have some comfort along the way without compromising with safety.

Vertice Patagonia ( on Ladrilleros Street ) and Fantastico Sur ( on Esmaralda Street ) are the two companies offering accomodation ( lodging/tents/camping) and food along the Torres del Paine Circuit and they both have offices in Puerto Natales. Shortly after my arrival I decided to go down and visit them,check their offers and then negotiate my options.
Not surprisingly many of the lodges were already fully booked, but when I was told that I could rent a tent in most places and lodges in some my decision was very easy. If I added dinner at each place on top of my tent/lodge this would definately take away a lot of extra weight on my shoulders. My itinerary + cost ended up being like this :

Day 1 : Refugio & Camping Dickson : tent + dinner 20.400 pesos
Day 2 : Refugio & Camping Grey : tent + dinner 20.400 pesos
Day 3 : Mountain Lodge & Camping Paine Grande : lodge bed 64 USD
Day 4 : Refugio Los Cuernos : lodge bed + dinner 59 USD
Day 5 : Refugio El Chileno : tent + dinner 22.000 pesos

Added together the total cost was about USD 250. If I had decided instead on being completely independent by renting a tent from Puerto Natales, bringing/buying my own food ( dinner ) + renting cooking equipment and paying all the campsite fees I probably would have saved a few pennies but with all this extra weight on my shoulders and joints it was not worth it. I have met too many people on my previous treks who have been overloaded way beyond their comfort-zone.

In the afternoon I made a short walk from my hostel to Erratic Rock on Baquedano Street to attend their daily free 3 pm speech on Torres del Paine. I think there were as many as 30 people there to listen in and I am sure they all found the 1 hour spent there extremely useful. Personally I must say their presentation was excellent. Very detailed and informative on all the trekking aspects in the park. Highly recommended ! They even encouraged everyone who visit the park to return all their garbage to Puerto Natales for the recycling programme they were running as part of keeping Torres del Paine clean.

Next morning I was ready to go ! The bus - Bus Gomez - picked me up outside my hostel at 8 am and when all the seats were completely full we were finally on our way to the magnificent Parque Nacional Torres del Paine.

The drive to the park entrance at Laguna Amarga took a little bit less than 2 hours and that included the "normal" stop at a restaurant about halfway. Inside the bus we were given a registration card which everyone who visits the park has to fill out. When we finally arrived at the Laguna Amarga entry gate office I had to give my registration card and pay 15.000 Pesos in the entrance fee before I could connect to one of the smaller shuttle busses ( 2500 Pesos ) which were waiting there to take passengers further into the park and its terminus at Hotel Las Torres.

The views from Laguna Amarga can be brilliant if the weather is clear, but today the clouds were sitting very low hiding the whole Cordillera del Paine mountain range and the famous Torres del Paine granite towers completely. I could only cross my fingers and hope that this would improve at some stage but I knew that the weather in this windswept unpredictable part of Chile never can be trusted.

After manuevering the minibus with almost surgical precision across the narrow Kusanovic Bridge just down from Laguna Amarga the drive continued on a dusty gravel road for about 7 km until just before Hotel Las Torres. This is were I decided to get off and start my 6 day trekking around the Torres del Paine Circuit.

Day 1 : Refugio & Camping Las Torres - Refugio & Camping Dickson 29,7 km 6h55m

A few adjustments to my backpack and I was on my way. An wooden orientation sign next to the gravel road about 5 minutes into the walk had a diagram showing the 12 km trail profile from here to Campamento Seron and these would appear again at regular intervals as I came closer to the camp.

Except from the low clouds hiding all the mountain scenery, walking conditions were almost perfect when I set out this morning. The howling winds which very often haunt these areas were completely gone and replaced by a calmnes which I think the wind master himself, Sir Francis Beaufort, would have defined as a weak 1 on his scale from zero to 12.

The trail was marked with red/orange marking sticks and yellow bands hanging down from branches and was quite easy to follow.

The first hour or so was a gradual gentle climb taking me up to an altitude of 350-380 metres with some nice views overlooking the Patagonian countryside. Sometimes the trail was just a tiny strip through the terrain but it also changed to a wider dirt road from time to time passing cattle, forests, nice notro bushes windswept trees and bushes.

When the trail reached its highest point and gradually started to descend again I had some good views down to the huge flat open area that would eventually take me all the way to Campamento Seron. From this point I could see the impressive Rio Paine River sneaking its way through. The river actually originates from Lago Dickson and travels almost in a circle around the Paine massif terminating into the Lago del Toro at the southern end of the park.

Coming down to the flat open area my upper trail melted together with the lower trail coming up from Laguna Amarga and from here it was an easy 5 km walk to Seron on the left side of Rio Paine River.

At 1 pm I arrived at the white building of Campamento Seron. The camp is run by Fantastico Sur and is located in the upper Valle Encantado just south of Lago Paine. I was warmly greeted by the two rangers running the place and they did everything to convince me that I should stay here for the night, but with my reservation already in place at Camping Dickson I decided to break for lunch only. I must say I really liked the setting of this place and definately would have stayed if I had not been tied to my schedule. Looking at their menu and price list a lunch box was 8000 pesos, a coca cola 1L. 4000 pesos and a snickers 1000 pesos. Apparently this campsite had hot showers as well.

Moving on from Campamento Seron the trail undulated in a westerly direction alongside the milky coloured Paine Grande River and after what must have been the steepest slope so far Lago Paine suddenly appeared down to my right. From this point there were some fine views overlooking the wide open valley lying ahead of me. Looking at my map from this position, Campamento Dickson was still a long way to go sitting somewhere beneath one of the snow capped mountains at the far end of this huge open area.

Not surprisingly I had my first raindrops this afternoon as I traversed up and down up and down next to the Lago Paine lake. Walking on the less developed and less travelled backside of the Paine massif the trail was mostly just a tiny strip and almost overgrown in places. The red/orange marking sticks were either infrequent or difficult to spot but personally I never had any major problems with route finding.

Except from the campsite rangers at Seron I had not seen or met a single person since my start from Las Torres this morning. I really wondered if I was completely by myself out here until I suddenly stumbled upon a british couple coming in the opposite direction about halfway between Seron and Dickson. They could tell me that the John Gardner Pass was partly covered in snow and adviced me to cross the pass early in the morning before the snow got too soft.

Continuing on through boggy terrain, grassland, crossing small streams on temporary log bridges and getting my feet wet in some muddy awkward spots I finally arrived to my destination this day Refugio & Camping Dickson at 5.20 pm

The place is located at the southern tip of Lago Dickson with some fine views of Dickson Glacier. The place is run by Vertice and their refugio can accomodate for thirty people.

After giving them my reservation slip I was guided to my Marmot tent and for the first time this day I could lay down and deservedly rest my legs for a while. The shower facilites were definately not a 5-star experience but nevertheless felt awesome after walking non-stop for almost 7 hours this day.

Later in the afternoon a dinner of soup, spaghetti and desert was served inside the refugio rounding of a fine day out in the wilderness. With my belly smiling again and with some fresh Dickson mosquito bites to my body I crashed into my sleeping bag thinking that tomorrow is going to be even tougher and harder than today

Day 2 : Refugio & Camping Dickson - Refugio Grey 24km 9h40m

The light raindrops that had been hitting my tent for most of the night started to cease as I prepared my breakfast inside my comfortable and spacious Marmot shelter. Today the walking would take me to the highest and most exposed part of the Circuit crossing the famous John Gardner Pass about 1000 altitude metres above from where I was sitting right now, trying to pick together a decent morning meal with my squashed Unimarc bread and still intact mackerel filet.

It was still dusk when I set off from the campsite at 5 am. From the campsite I quickly entered a pretty dense forest which literally took away the small amount of daylight I had from the start leaving me in almost complete darkness on the tiny strip of trail cutting through the woods. I must say it felt a bit strange and weird to be walking there all by myself not able to judge my surroundings for a while in this extreme remote section of the park. And this happens to be puma territory . . . :o)

The trail followed the the Rio de los Perros river ( River of the Dogs ) on its left hand side climbing nicely and gradually through lenga forest.

The terrain did not really open up until I reached Laguna Los Perros and Glaciar Los Perros 2 1/2 hours after leaving Camping Dickson. From the top of the gravel dam the views of the glacier and the brownish lake with its floating icebergs carved out from above were very nice.

Continuing on for a further 20 minutes and back into the woods again I arrived at what seemed to be an almost completely empty Campamento Los Perros. A few tents here and there and as I sat down for a short snack break I was approached by a german guy and his girlfriend who confirmed there were not many people around here today. They were also doing the John Gardner Pass this morning and were a little bit anxious as to wether they had to cross the Pass all by themselves today.

Coming out of Los Perros the trail went straight up on what was undoubtely the steepest slope on this side of the John Gardner Pass followed by some very muddy sections with fallen trees and branches working as tricky hurdles.

As I gained height vegetation got shorter and soon I found myself surrounded by some fine undisturbed mountain views in a valley of rocks and scattered pockets of snow. The trail was not very distinct up here but the orange waymarks were frequent and quite easy to spot though I have a feeling they might not be easy to see when visibilty is low up here.

With great views of Cerro Blanco Sur on my left, the small Laguna Perros Lake now long way behind down the valley and the John Gardner Pass ahead I trudged myself up through the easy passable snow areas and comfortable rocky sections only accompanied by some moderate but somewhat cold winds coming as waves from the west.

A little bit before 10 am I could finally see the small branch which marks the summit ridge known as the John Gardner Pass. The pass is apparently named after the British mountaineer and explorer, John Garner, who was walking and exploring these areas in the 1970's

5 hours after leaving Campamento Dickson I eventually arrived at what is officially the highest point on the Torres del Paine Circuit. Standing at 1229 metres above sea level I felt a sense of accomplishment as some light snowfall was drifting in on me and this lonely, naked, rugged land which at times can receive some really temperamental weather. The tiny bended summit branch had all kinds of colourful items attached to it and if you should be in an urgent need of a balaclava or a pair of old socks this place can save you :o)

Coming down the somewhat steep slope on the other side of the pass the massive Glacier Grey appeared in its colosal figure slicing beautifully through a wide valley some 700 altitude metres down below. The glacier is apparently 20 km long and 7 km wide and covers an area of 270 square km at the south end of the great Southern Patagonia Icefield - Campo de Hielo Sur. This vast field of ice is one of the most popular tourist attractions inside the park.

From the rugged rocky terrain I soon descended into a forest and as I was manouvering down a steep section covered in mud and old snow a german hiker was coming in the opposite direction carrying a tent in one hand, a bag in the other and a small backpack on his shoulders. I was amazed to hear from him that this was only a sidetrip from his bicycle trip which had started in Ushuaia and would eventually end in Mexico some time in the future. All credit to him !

My left achilles tendon and a bad blister was starting to cause me some problems as I hiked up and down alongside the blue&white Glacier Grey. Passed a completely deserted Campamento Paso at 11.45 am and soon after I decided to sit down to have my first real break since early this morning.

The forest gave good shelter from the wind and rain which was starting to pick up as I continued through some roller-coaster terrain on the east side of the glacier. A section of the trail seemed to have been ravaged by a fire a some point resulting in some open exposed areas along the way.

When Lago Grey appeared I knew it would not take long until I reached my campsite this afternoon. Some steep energy-draining steps felt like climbing a huge mountain and 30 minutes later I was faced with a ugly looking metal ladder which was literally hanging in the air helping trekkers across what seemed to be a landslide- made canyon. Climbing down was actually easier than I thought,but coming up on the other side was a bit more challenging as I had to hold on to a dodgy piece of rope and then edge my way on a very tiny strip of trail.

After spending almost 10 hours of walking this day it was good to finally arrive at my destination this day Refugio and Camping Grey. This place is also run by Verticepatagonia and is located on the shores of Lago Grey seemingly sheltered from the gusty cold winds coming from the glacier ( a new Refugio Grey has now opened up nearby ). The campsite site is literally on the beach.
Overall the facilities were fairly basic but with hot showers available and a small mini market with at least a limited selection of items, I could not have asked for more

In the afternoon as dinner were being served I found myself in the most perfect position inside the refugio just in front of the nice and warm fireplace. Looking out of the window the drizzling rain and windy conditions did not look very tempting. Dinner was excellent ! Bread and some salsa as starter, meat with mashed potatoes as main dish before rounding off with some dessert was the best meal I had had since Santiago.

Before escaping into my Marmot tent for the night I decided to go for a 10 minute walk above the camp to a viewpoint/mirador of the Glacier Grey wall. Despite whipping rain I managed to take at least a few photos of this tremendous wall of ice which rises 40 metres up from the lake smashing and crashing out huge chunks of ice into the mighty Lago Grey

Day 3 : Refugio Grey - Paine Grande 11 km 2h55m

Despite a broken zipper to my tent I managed to stay completely dry even though rain had been knocking almost constantly on my canvas throughout the whole night.

After yesterdays marathon stage this was a much shorter and easier day by far taking me down alongside Lago Grey to the north-western shores of Lago Pehoe. From here an onwards I was now officially walking on the W-Circuit which is the classic and most famous route for trekking in the Torres del Paine. It is named the 'W' due to its shape and takes normally 4-5 days to complete.

I decided to make a somewhat late start from the campsite to see if the rainy weather would die out a some point, but that tactic never worked. When I left the tent at 9.45 am I had already prepared myself for the wettest day since leaving Norway more than 1 month ago.

The first 45 minutes of the walk was on easy flat terrain through forest, but after crossing a wooden bridge the trail started to climb into an area which was significantly more exposed to the strong winds and rain. As I came out of the shelter provided by the trees the wet and windy conditions only seemed to get worse by the minute. The strength and power easily penetrated my raingear leaving me, and probably most hikers this day as well, soaking wet. People coming in the opposite direction did not seem to come with a smile, but with their heads and faces bent and buried inside their gear for protection against the strong head wind and rain raging the area.

Afraid that my camera would surrender to the wet elements I managed to take only 1 photo at what seemed to be a very nice viewpoint/mirador on the way up, before continuing on passing what had become the stormy lake of Laguna Los Patos. From here it did not take long until I had my first glimpse of Lago Pehoe as the trail gradually descended into a more "quiet" section.

When I reached Mountain Lodge & Camping Paine Grande at 12.40 pm I was so wet and cold I barely managed to open the zipper on my backpack with my fingers to get my reservation out. Knowing that I would spend the next night under a normal roof in a normal bed this night could not have been timed any better.

The Paine Grande Mountain lodge sits next to Lago Pehoe at the foot of Punta Bariloche the southernmost summit in the Cerro Paine Grande range. The place can accomodate for 100 people and I must admit I was a bit surprised to see how big and modern the facilities were with nice comfortable bedrooms, clean bathrooms, a huge cafeteria, fire-place lounges, internet cabins and even a minimarket selling all kinds of camping food,snacks and souvenirs. Prices were not cheap though . . .

Views from the doorsteps in the northeastern direction towards the magnificient Cuernos del Paine were excellent. This can be a great spot to get some nice photos of the "Horns"

Dinner in the evening was rich and plentiful. Even though the place felt a bit crowded at times I really felt staying here for one night was money well spent

Day 4 : Paine Grande - Refugio Los Cuernos via Valles Frances 8h30m 22,2km

Breakfast in the huge cafeteria opened at 7.30 and in order to beat the crowds I decided to get up at 6 am, eat my self-carried morning meal in one of the lounges downstairs and hit the trail early.

Weather was a lot nicer than yesterday and wih only a light breeze and comfotable temperatures I started out in T-shirt and shorts.

The views towards the Cuernos del Paine were excellent as I walked along a nice laid out trail which had dried up almost completely since yesterdays crazy rain. About 30 minutes after leaving the Paine Grande Lodge the quiet waters of Lago Skottsberg appeared. The lake is named after the famous Swedish professor and botanist Carl Johan Fredrik Skottsberg who explored these areas in the early 1900.
The views of the impressive Cuernos del Paine, and in particular the black cones of Cuerno Norte and Cuerno Principal, came closer as I strolled along the western side of the "swedish" lake approaching the mouth of the famous Valles del Frances.

After crossing two nearby bridges I arrived at Campamento Italiano at 08.35 am. This campsite is literally hidden in a forest next to the Rio del Frances river about 7,5 km north-east of Paine Grande and 4,7 km west of Refugio Los Cuernos.

The Campamento will probably never ever win any beauty awards but with its strategic location at the bottom of the French Valley it makes a very convenient starting point for those who want to explore this beautiful valley and its dramatic surroundings.

I decided to leave my big backpack in a shelter at the campsite and only bring with me my small daypack with some food and extra clothes before heading up the valley. There were quite a few tents scattered around the area but I did not see many people. Maybe they were still sleeping ?

The French Valley - Valles del Frances is the middle arm of the W-trek sitting between Cerro Paine Grande on one side and the spectacular Cuernos del Paine on the other. The valley is framed by some very impressive cliffs, mountains and glaciers and If the weather is clear the views a stunning.

After finishing my light lunch I left the area at 09.05 am following the sign at the campsite saying "Campamento Britanico 2hrs". Looking up to my right coming out of the camp both Cuerno Norte and Cuerno Principal dominated with its highly impressive appearance and iconic black cones crowning their heads.

The trail was definately a bit more demanding than the first stage from Paine Grande this morning climbing fairly steeply in places until I reached an open naked area/mirador with direct views towards Glaciar del Frances. The glacier sounded really lively this day making itself heard with its groaning expression as bits and pieces of ice cracked and smashed at frequent intervals.

Looking further up the valley mist and clouds were now hiding most of the upper mountains but still I could see the lower parts and the green blanket of forest travelling up the valley basin.

It took me a further 1 hour on an undulating trail, which was not always easy to spot, to reach Campamento Britanico. To be fair this empty place did not really look like a campsite at all. If it had not been for the sign and a wall of branches built to protect from the wind I probably would not have noticed. Despite the mediocre mountain visibility I decided to continue a little bit further to a viewpoint 15-20 minutes uphill. Coming up and standing there the dramatic cliffs and mountains were all wrapped up and hidden behind there somewhere leaving nothing but the valley floor to see. Then it started to rain again. . . .

I made a quick descent to Campamento Italiano and on the way down I met quite a few people coming up. I think many of them decided not to go as far as Campamento Britanica this day as weather did not seem very likely to improve.

A little after 1 pm I was back down at the Campamento. The shelter which was pretty much empty when I arrived earlier this morning was now lined up with other backpacks as well and I literally had to dig myself in to find my own which was stuck into a corner. A french couple were cooking their noodle lunch underneath the roof as well and before I set out on the last 4,7 km walk to Refugio Los Cuernos we had a good chat sharing our best adventurestories and latest trailnews.

The last hours of walking this day took me down alongside the quiet waters of Lago Nordenskiold, a big lake named after another swedish geologist, geographer and explorer Otto Nordenskiold. High up on my left hand side the granite walls of Los Cuernos made a spectacular backdrop with its famous black horns literally watching over you as you go.

I think my bad blister and sore achilles tendon were the happiest and in most need of a rest when I eventually arrived at Los Cuernos at 3.05 pm. The refugio is run by Fantastico Sur and is located at the foothills of the impressive Cuernos del Paine slightly above the shore of the turquoise Lago Nordenskiold.

Facilites in the main building were quite good. Hot showers, a large dining hall overlooking the southern tip of Cerro Paine Grande and Cuernos del Paine and comfortabel dormitory bunk beds. The dinner served in the evening was tasty with a cup of soup as starter, meat loaf with pasta as main dish and stewed fruit as desert. I wonder if the french people would have picked the noodles over this ? I doubt it :O)

Day 5 : Refugio Cuernos - Campamento Chileno 3h15m 11 km
+ Camp. Chileno - Mirador Las torres - Camp Chileno 6,4 km

After yesterdays relatively long day it was nice to just spend the morning relaxing and saving up some energy in my comfortable bed knowing that I would spend my next night in a cold tent at Campamento Chileno. Even the sunshine was sharing some of its light through the window in our room giving me hope that this would be one of those rare days the famous three famous towers of Torres del Paine would unveil themselves in full figure.

With most people already gone I was on my way at 9.25 am. The Cuernos looked just as impressive today as they did yesterday especially the first hour or so and there were many opportunities and nice angles to get some nice photos en route . Informative wooden signs showing the trail profile/altitude/length between Refugio Cuernos and Hotel/Refugio Las Torres appeared on regular intervals along the way just like they did between Las Terros and Campamento Serron on the first day. The trail was very easy to follow.

At 11.20 am I reached a trail junction offering the chance to take a shortcut up to Campamento Chileno instead of going all the way down to Las Torres and then up again. A brownish wooden sign saying "Atajo a/Shortcut Chileno" points up to the left and this is were I went. This trail was easy to follow but maybe not as developed as the one I had just left. A little bit tiny and indistinct in some places but route finding was overall quite easy, though some people I met later that day had lost their way at some point taking them a bit longer to get in.

After crossing an open flat area the trail started to climb nicely and gently and coming a little bit higher up there were views down towards the Las Torres area and the gravel road going out to Laguna Amarga. At 12.25 pm my shortcut-trail connected with the busier maintrail coming up from Las Torres along the steep eastern slopes of Monte Almirante Niesto. A few minutes later the length of the narrow Valle Ascencio appeared in front of me dotted in green beech forest flanked by gravel slopes and mountains. I could also spot the rooftop of Refugio Chileno down there somewhere as well and the 20 minutes it took me to finally get there was an easy leisurely downhill walk.

Refugio & Camping Chileno is run by Fantastico Sur and is located 4,2 km up from Las Torres in Valle Ascencio basin right next to the Rio Ascencio River running through the valley. This is a very convenient resting point on the way to the Three Towers further up the valley.

While my Dutch and American trekking partners over the last few days were handed a nice warm bed in the Refugio I was escorted to my pre-booked tent just outside the hut sheltered under some trees. Like all the other tents ( except the zipper at Campamento Lago Grey ) I had been given so far on the circuit they all looked good, solid, dry and clean. Definately money well spent !

We decided to rest at the campsite for a few hours, have some lunch and then continue on up-valley to one of the major highlights on the circuit, The Three Towers. Reports from people coming down told us that the views of the Towers were good in some moments and completely locked up in mist and clouds for longer periods as well which basically meant we would have a at least fair chance to see all three of them in its dramatic full figures.

With a small daypack taking some extra clothes and food, a prepared camera and a postive mind that this would be a very rewarding walk we set out from the camp-area a little over 3 pm. The trail stayed on the right hand side of the river for a short while and after crossing a bridge we continued on the left side of Rio Ascencio for the remaining walk up. Rumours from others that the Towers might soon be completely hidden in the unpredictable weather gave great speed to our feet and within 40 minutes we were already at the bottom of the steep climb near Campamento Torres that would eventually put us face to face with the magic granite. A brownish sign here said " Mirador Las Torres 45 mins, Campamento Torres 1 min, Guarda Parques 1min "

After carrying a heavy backpack for 5 long consecutive days and now being without it, my feet and breath felt incredibly sharp this afternoon and coming up the well marked steep zig-zag trail felt easier than expected. Negotiating the last open area of huge boulders and rocks I had to be a little bit careful and right up there I could see all the three spectacular Towers for the first time standing side by side with with only a dot of cloud sitting on the very top of Torres Central.

Coming up to the final edge, known as Mirador Las Torres, the cathedral of beauty appeared in its whole magical figure. With its floor of greenish water and the spectacular three granite pillars standing majestically above it is easy to understand why thousands of people travel this far every year to see this unique and remarkable landmark. This is undoubtebly one of the finest wonders of South America.

Despite the chilly winds and light raindrops coming in from time to time we spent nearly two hours just admiring the wonderful views and atmosphere only accompanied by a handful of other people and a patagonian grey fox who suddenly appeared among the big rocks covering this area. The little fellow had a bad cut on his left ear but did not really seem very shy to people.

While the fox was still looking for some leftovers and the mist was starting to embrace the towers it was time head down again. Coming down the inital rugged terrain I took a little bit extra care, but once we hit the forest it was all easy. On the way back to the camp we caught up with our trekking friends from New York and since one of them had to slow down because of a painful knee we decided to join them the last kilometre or so to the campsite.

Coming back we had timed it perfectly. Dinner was just about being served and after a fairly long and very adventerous walk this day I think we all looked forward to finally be sitting down and enjoy some good food. This time we had tasty soup as starter, a nice main dish of beef and rice and cake for desert. Well done !

Day 6 : Campamento Chileno - Laguna Amarga 3h35m 11,6 km

My decision to not make another attempt up to Mirador Las Torres to see the spectacular sunrise on the Towers was unanimous once I looked out of my tent door in the early morning hours seeing the whole windy valley covered up in mist with light snow and rain adding to the misery. I decided to escape back into my Mountain Equipment bag instead.

This was my last day in Torres del Paine. Knowing that the bus would leave from Laguna Amarga at 2.30 pm today I had plenty of time to cover the almost 12 kilometres it would me take to get there.

From Campamento Chileno I backtracked the same way I came in yesterday but once the trail started to descend I stayed on the main path which would eventually take me to Hotel Las Torres. Walking was easy and comfortable and it took a little bit more than one hour to reach the hotel area at the bottom of the valley. A mini-market is located at the entrance of the hotel with a decent selection of pricey items.

Instead of hanging around doing nothing but waiting for the shuttle bus to Laguna Amarga I decided to walk the distance instead. To be walking on a dusty gravel road for 7,4 km may not always be very interesting but in this case I saw the opportunity to get a distant angle on the photogenic Paine Massif for the first time since arriving here almost one week ago. This time weather was much more favourable in terms of visibility and chances to get some really nice pictures were excellent. Coming out to Laguna Amarga I could see the Towers ( two of them ), the surrounding mountains and the embracing patagonian steppe almost perfectly clear and had to admit that this was a very,very worthy end to an amazing walk in an amazing area :O)

Top 7 list :

1. Easiest stage : Campamento Lago Grey - Paine Grande

2. Toughest stage : Campamento Dickson - Lago Grey

3. Biggest disappointment : Weather in Valles Frances and the not so clear views from John Gardner Pass down towards Glacier Grey

4. Biggest surprise : The big crowds at Paine Grande Lodge

5. Best showers : Paine Grande

6. Coldest showers : The whipping rain shared by mother nature about halfway between Lago Grey and Paine Grande

7. Best moments : Walking on the backside of the Circuit, The feeling of accomplishment, wilderness and complete loneliness standing all by myself on the John Gardner Pass, The views of the colossal Glacier Grey, The Cuernos from different angles, The Three Towers standing there in all its natural beauty, the distant views of the Paine Massif on the road to Laguna Amarga, Meeting up with Michel, Maaike,Thy and Ben. It was great to share some of my days with you :O)

Additional photos below
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6th May 2012
In the boulder terrain towards Mirador Las Torres

Torres del Paine...aaaah...fortunately the weather was good for most beautiful place in the World...but when my daughter was there several months ago it was cold, wet & of course windy...some are more fortunate...thank you for sharing.
10th May 2012

Thank you so much for sharing this. I have always wanted to travel to South America and reading this only makes me want to go their even more! Your blog is so informative yet easy to read. Your pictures are all so beautiful and makes Torres del Paine look like one of the most beautiful places in the world!

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