Torres del Paine National Park

We arrived into Puerto Natales on Monday at lunchtime after 4 days on the boat. I had met a Swiss girl called Carla who had similar plans to mine regarding heading out to the Torres del Paine national park to do a few days trekking. After a fantastic fish lunch (with all this coast around it seems a pity not to have fish!), we headed off to a very informative talk about trekking in the park then went out to rent all our gear, including tent and stoves. The hardest part of the afternoon was shopping for food. We planned to be out for 4 days and were both keen to keep weight to an absolute minimum. We bought a lot of chocolate! We spent the evening packing and drinking wine and enjoyed a final shower before our big expedition.
We ate as much as we physically could on Tuesday morning before catching a bus for the 2 hour ride into the park. Once we had signed in at the entrance we got on another bus further into the park where we met a catamaran which took us over lake Pehoe and to the start point of our trek. The weather at this stage was beautiful sunshine and fairly warm with little wind. The trek we planned was the famous W trek (you walk up 3 valleys so the path looks like a W).
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We set off for our first camp at around 1pm and made fairly slow progress. Nothing to do with the 15kg backpacks, it was due to the fact that the views were so stunning. After about 2hrs hiking you get your first glimpse of glacier Grey, which is one of many glaciers off the Southern Patagonian ice field. In the sunshine it looked amazing, especially as it was the first time many of us had seen a glacier.
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We arrived at our camp at around 4:30pm, we set up our tent, then headed further along the path to get a better view of the glacier. On our way back we got chatting to sone guys who run kayaking trips on lake Grey in front on the glacier. After a bit of persuasion we managed to get a discount for a trip the following morning. We had dinner (rice mixed with soup powder, surprisingly nice actually!) and spent the evening chatting to other trekkers who would become our W trek friends as we would see each other along the way and at each camp every night.
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We got up early on Tuesday and headed down to the lake for our mornings kayaking, although it wasn’t sunny it was clear. After getting our kit on we had a short briefing and got into our kayaks. As soon as we paddled out there were huge icebergs everywhere which had carved off the glacier the previous day. As I asked our guide if we could go closer to one of the icebergs we heard a huge crash as the said iceberg broke into 2 splintering ice everywhere and causing a huge wave. The guide started laughing and asked me if I would like to get closer now, I said I was happy here! We paddled up close to the face of the glacier which was pretty special, you only start to get an idea of how big glaciers are when you get up close to them. We then left our kayaks on the shore to get up close on the side of the glacier and have a lovely warming cup of tea. After this we paddled back and were back into our trekking gear by 11:30am, time for a hot chocolate and a quick lesson about the glacier and we were back on the path trekking to our next camp by midday.
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We arrived at our next camp at around 5:30pm and set up our tent straight away. After a mornings kayaking and an afternoons hiking we were feeling pretty exhausted, to add to this the wind had really got up in the afternoon so this had added a certain challenge to walking in a straight line! We had another rice and soup meal (sensibly finishing all of our rice, we decided there was bound to be a shop at the next campsite) and had an early night.
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The next day we hiked further into the valley del Frances (the middle part of the W) whilst we left our bags at the campsite. We were rewarded with beautiful panoramic views made even better by glorious sunshine.
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By the time we got back to camp we were hiking in t-shirts. We packed our bags and hiked to our next stopping point. We were at another campsite by 2:30pm and had the big decision to either keep hiking to the next campsite which would mean that we would do the trek in 4 days or camp where we were and do it in 5 days. As we sat in the sunshine looking at the map another hiker told us about the amazing hot showers at the campsite. That made our decision. We had showers, washed our hair and then sat in the sun all afternoon, with SPF30 on as the rather large hole in the ozone layer means you burn quickly as we both learnt the hard way! We managed to persuade a guy at the campsite to sell us a bag of pasta and he gave us some leftover cooked pasta and sauce from the kitchen as well. We made friends with a very professional looking hiker called Thomas who insisted he cooked for us aswell, so we enjoyed a couscous and vegetable starter that evening!
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The following day we hiked up the last leg of the W. This involved most of the day hiking uphill which was tough at times. In the morning we had glorious sunshine but in the afternoon the winds were really strong again and at times this meant you had to stop walking just so you didn’t get blown away! We made it to our final campsite by late afternoon, by then we had made a lot of trekking friends so the campsites become very sociable places. Within an hour of being there someone is offering to make you a coffee and asking if you have enough food! We were lucky enough to be with Thomas again who made us a lovely vegetable soup starter then we had a mountain of pasta afterwards. Feeling unpleasantly full we went to bed ready for an early start the next day.
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We woke up at 5am, got dressed and hiked up to a viewpoint further up the valley in the half light with our head torches on. The plan was that we would see sunrise come up behind the 3 towers (the namesake of the park, Torres del Paine), basically 3 massive shards of rock sticking out of the ground. As we hiked up to the viewpoint it was snowing hard. The higher we got the harder the snow fell. We arrived at the viewpoint and could see nothing. No towers, no sun, in fact we could hardly see each other! It was freezing cold so we decided that the best thing to do was to get back to camp and have a hot drink!
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Whilst disappointed by the lack of views at the top, both Carla and myself felt like we had had a more authentic Patagonian experience for it. We had been told Patagonia throws all 4 seasons of weather at you in 1 day and so far we had had a lot of sunshine. This way we felt it was balanced out a bit, also it was our last day and we knew we would be having a hot shower and a warm bed that evening so we felt we could handle anything! We walked the final hike back down the valley in time for the bus back to Puerto natales at 2pm.
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After hot showers, putting our clothes in to be washed, returning our hired equipment a group of our hiking friends all met for dinner. We went out to an amazing steak restaurant where there was not a grain of rice or piece of pasta in sight! We ate loads, dranks lots of wine and reminisced about how much fun we had had over the last 5 days, but also agreed we were all happy to be back in civilisation again. Then it was time for farewells. It was particularly sad for Carla and I to say goodbye as we had spent 9 days together and had got on so well. We have made promises of meeting up to go hiking together again, either in England or Switzerland, we will have to see if we make it hapoen!

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