9 days in the wilderness when I almost died aka Torres del Paine circuit

The Torres del Paine National Park has been on my bucket list since I first looked into going to Patagonia. I think it was pretty much the first thing that popped up when searching for trekking in Patagonia. There are a few options to get to know the National Park but the following ones are the most known ones:

1. a day trip from Puerto Natales to the base of the Torres

2. the W-trek, which is usually 5 days/4 nights

3. the circuit or O-trek, which is usually announced as a 8 days/7 nights trek

When I first thought about going to the park, I wanted to do the W-trek because it would be my first trek where I would carry everything myself, from tent, sleeping bag, etc. to food and personal items. Back in January, after some people told me, I had to make reservations even I would go in march, I made the reservations for the camp for the end of march. With that in mind, I went to Puerto Natales with Caroline and thought, I would have to come back later for my reservation.

In Puerto Natales, we stayed with a Couchsurfer host, that was a porter in the National Park and had tons of tips on the treks. He recommended us to do the circuit because it was just quieter and you would have beautiful views. Caroline wasn’t as convinced and wanted to only do the W. So we tried to get reservations for the next few days but it was impossible. At the end, this convinced her to try and do the Circuit.

We actually got some last minute reservations and started preparation as of buying food, renting equipment from our host’s friends and whatever we didn’t get from him or his friends, we rented in town.

Day 1

On the 12th of March, we set of at 7 am to the bus that would take us to the park entrance. We and our heavy backpacks (probably around 13-14 kilos each) put ourselves on the bus and the journey started. After taking another bus inside of the park, we started our tiny walk with our huge backpacks towards the first camp.

Quickly checking in, putting up our tent and grabbing our daypacks, we started the ascend to the base of the Torres. It was around a 4 hour walk, with a quite steep part at the end. We managed this in sunshine, rain, wind, snow and whatever else you could find in Patagonia (hello Patagonian weather!) and just when we reached the top, the clouds cleared up and we got to see the Torres in its full size. Obviously, we had to take a lot of instagram-worthy photos and started to walk down to prepare our first three-course-meal. The first time using the gas stove with our pan, I just made everything wrong I could just do wrong: spilling the water because the pan collapsed, spilling the water with the soup powder and the pasta again, because it fell from the stove and adding the pasta too early so it took forever to cook. But we did not starve. Oh, and I guess, I just forgot to cook the two other meals for our three-course dinner :P

Day 2

The second day, or the first day with our heavy backpacks started in the rain. We would have to get used to this situation and packing up the tent wet because we would face this situation quite a few times during our trek.

The backpacks felt incredibly heavy and it rained all day long, so we were very slow that day. Instead of the mentioned 4 hours, it took us 4,5 hours in order to get to the next camp: Serron. The path was very muddy and we tried to jump over or walk around all the puddles and the mud fields and whatelse was in our way. We arrived very tired but got to the camp just when it stopped to rain and we could dry our tent a little bit.

During the day, we met Kathy, who offered us her other meals, because a friend that was supposed to go with her had to cancel and she had a paid meal over. Instead of giving us one meal to share, we actually got each one meal and enjoyed it to the fullest. This time it was a real three-course dinner.

After sharing (well, the others shared and we accepted) a bit of Pisco with the guys from the Refugio (mountain hut), we even got offered a nice and big tent, that was already set up and had some very comfortable mattresses in it. Unfortunately we didn’t sleep as well as we anticipated but had to start the next day early anyways.

Day 3

The breakfast (it was still part of the meals) was very delicious and we started motivated and with sun into the next trekking day.

That day, a lot of people came our directions because they had turned around due to the bad weather conditions on the John Gardner pass. We wanted to try anyways and didn’t turn around at that point. That afternoon, after around 5-6 hours of walking, we arrived to the next camp: Dickson.

Unfortunately that night, we got bad news, which said (it was Wednesday at that point) that the pass would be closed until Sunday because there were snow storms and about 1,20 meters of snow. Those news made us turn around the next day, so we could still do the W-trek.

Day 4

Back to the first camp! The first three hours we were doubting we would actually make it all the way to the first camp because we were tired (sleeping in a tent on a hard and cold floor isn’t the most comfortable option), had very heavy legs and were really unmotivated after the bad news from the night before. But a bit of wraps with Dulce de Leche (typical Argentinian and Chilenian caramel spread) lifted our spirits and we continued until the very first camp. Tired but happy to be done with it, we arrived to Camp Central after 8,5 hours of walking.

Day 5

We got persuaded by our Couchsurfing host (Pablo the porter) to stay one day longer and just have a rest day. We didn’t do much that day but dry our tent, try to dry our shoes (we were not successful) and ate all day long

Day 6

Caroline and I continued to our next camp: Cuernos. Supposedly it was a 4,5-hour hike but we did it in a little more than three hours. Just before we arrived, I pointed out some domes to Caroline and guessed that that would be our next camp. Wrong, our camp was just going down the hill, which was quite a disappointment as we could have continued easily.

As Pablo new the camp manager, we got beds in the Refugio rather than staying in our tiny and not-ready-for-the-patagonian-wind tent. We were so happy even though our beds were on the third level of the bunk beds.

Refugio Cuernos is in the forest so you are not allowed to lit a fire or even cook on the gas stove, so everyone has to pay for food (dinner, breakfast, and a lunch box). But after a few days just eating bland food like pasta or potato puree with packaged soups, this food was very welcomed. We even got some free coffee and some Pisco Sours (I have never had a better Pisco Sour in my life, probably due to all the hiking).

Day 7

The forecast was strong winds, so Caroline wanted to stay a day longer (and she liked the free pisco sours :D ) so I left with Pablo and two Belgium girls towards the next camp Paine Grande but we returned about half way through because the winds got stronger and rain was coming up. The wind gusts were so strong (up until 140 km/h), I actually had to use my poles to dick them into the ground and stand with my legs wide open to get not blown over. Pablo he hold onto my backpack every time a wind gust hit, so I wouldn’t fly away! And he told me to stop to prepare for the wind gust and when it is over would call me to run to get as far as possible before we got blown over by the next one. It was both fun and scary to see nature to be that powerful. When we came back, a few tents collapsed, so did Pablo’s and it was irreparable, so he had to sleep at his house the next day and come back the day after to do the rest of his job.

Day 8

We woke up to beautiful weather and started very motivated into the next day (the big breakfast also helped). We started off and went to the Mirador Britanico (British viewpoint). Before starting the climb to the Mirador, we left the big backpacks behind and went up only with the small ones. The views were amazing, especially as it had snowed the previous day and everything was white.

While we were making our way down, we started to think how we could do the last bit of our trek so we could catch the early bus the next day (11:35 am) and still get to Grey, the last camp.

We first continued to Paine Grande, the next camp on the trek but totally went past it towards Grey. The sign at the start of that part said it would take us 3,5 hours. Well, it took us even longer than that because we were just so tired and we were just dead when we arrived after 11 hours of walking, but we made it! Without even taking a shower, we fell into bed, or better our uncomfortable mats, and tried to sleep as much as we could.

Day 9

We went part of the way back we came from this morning to catch the earlier ferry to catch a bus at midday back to Puerto Natales. The weather was beautiful again and we had wonderful views and enjoyed the last bit of the Torres del Paine.

Conclusion

This was the hardest physical thing I have ever done. This backpack was killing me,and my shoulders, and my back and my hips (the zipper was right under the hip belt, Fun!) and it was exhausting sleeping in a very small tent, only made for two people (without counting two huge backpacks), which wasn’t made for the mountains, so we were always afraid everything would get wet inside, on thin mats, that didn’t hold out the cold and in more or less warm sleeping bags. It was also very frustrating having wet and cold feet pretty much everyday. Usually there was no fire or not enough warmth for the shoes to dry over night and the mud puddles were endless.

The food on a trek like this is very basic because you don’t want to carry any extra weight from vegetables or other yummy foods. We had tons of pretty unhealthy foods, like Snickers bars, chocolate, dulce de leche, packaged soups (don’t do the same mistake and listen to smart people, that tell you to have soup in the morning! Disgusting!),packaged other foods, and cereal bars. But, the most important part is to eat a lot of calories because you burn them straight away.

I was very sad and disappointed we had to return and couldn’t finish the whole circuit but you just can’t change the weather and it was probably better to turn around safely instead of getting yourself into danger.

Last but not least: I would totally do it again but with some changes: better shoes (mine got holes on both sides of each shoe of around 4 cm and let all the water through), a better tent that would suit the weather conditions, I would take my own wonderful Deuter backpack (I don’t get paid for this) I have waiting for me at home, it would just fit me so much better, another rain jacket and more potato puree because this was just so much better than pasta or rice!

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