The sound of heavy rain is not exactly what you want to wake up to when you’re about to embark on a five-day trek. We’d arrived in Puerto Natales the day before and had spent the afternoon hiring the gear we needed and buying enough food for the journey. It usually takes seven days to complete the ‘O’ (the circuit around the national park) but we had already booked the Navimag Ferry to Puerto Montt, so only had five days to play with. Wanting to see as much as possible, we decided to have a crack at it.
The first day was the longest and probably the most difficult, even though the majority of the walk that day was flat. The fairly constant rain and low cloud didn’t help proceedings as we covered over 30km from the National Park Office, where we had paid the 18,000 CLP ($36 AUD) entrance fee, to the campsite at Refugio Dickson.
Most people seem to set off trekking early in the morning, however the previous six weeks in Patagonia had clearly indicated that we’re not most people and day two was no exception. We encountered some ridiculous winds at the glacial lake just before Los Perros Campsite but made the 9km journey from our starting point in good time. We had lunch and chilled out for an hour before confronting what is considered to be the hardest section of the ‘O’, Paso John Gardner.
The strong winds returned as soon as we started the ascent and some assistance was definitely required. I put my headphones in and blasted Metallica’s seven good albums on random in order to help complete the climb.
It was almost impossible to walk at the very top, with the wind even stronger than before and snow smashing straight into our faces. After shouting several expletives at myself for motivation, I struggled forward, catching a first glimpse of the huge Glacier Grey below. After finally regaining my composure, I realised that ‘Trapped Under Ice’ was playing through the headphones. It couldn’t have been scripted any better…
We walked down the other side of the pass in much calmer weather, eventually arriving at (the free) Paso Campsite. The 12km from Los Perros had taken us just over 4 hours and, looking back, it was definitely the most gratifying part of our trek.
We completed the ‘W’ in the next three days (the most common route taken around the national park) and while the scenery was amazing, it was very different to our first couple of days, where we had seen less than twenty people on the trails. Highlights were the lookout near Britanico Campsite, which provides a view of peaks in every direction, and waking up at 4:30am on our last morning to walk up to Base de las Torres to watch the sunrise change the colour of the rocks several times over.
I had commented on day one that people must be crazy to walk the 7.5km back to the National Park Office when a mini-bus was available. I’m not sure whether we were just amped at what we had seen that morning or slightly delirious after a huge five days, but that’s exactly what we did, clocking up over 140km in total. Even now, four weeks on, I have to say that Torres del Paine is one of the standouts of my time here in South America.
Not wanting to forget the craft beer-side of the blog, we briefly ducked into Baguales Brewery and Restaurant in Puerto Natales just before boarding the ferry. Meaning ‘wild horses’, Baguales was founded in 2006 by two Chileans and an American who had met several years earlier through their mutual love of rock climbing. The brewpub opened in 2010 and serves up their two unfiltered, unpasteurised ales on tap and a small range of bottled beer from around the world (although most of these would be considered commercial beers).
The Rubia (a Pale Ale) was brilliant, and not just because it was our first craft beer in well over a week! Unfortunately we were in a rush to catch the ferry, but still managed to sample the Negra (Dark Ale). During our time in Patagonia, we generally found that the darker beers got the nod over their lighter counterparts but on this occasion, the Rubia was a clear winner. It’s just a pity that it’s only available on tap, as it would have been great to take on board instead of the mass-produced beer we had picked up earlier…