The ¨W Trek¨ of Patagonia in Chile is home to the most special landscape that I have ever experienced in my life.
This trip to the National Park of Torres del Paine was full of growing glowing blue glaciers, wise tall majestical mountains, roaring snowy peaks, tiny crunchy pebbles, rocky paths, crisp fresh stream drinking water, granite climbing, rock diving, 70 mile an hour winds knocking you off your feet blowing, sleeping on bare cold earth dreamy, pasta with soup and squished bread eating, awe inspiring energy filled 5 day trek. The trip gave me a new backdrop for my dreams.
The Cordillera del Paine mountains soar above 3,050 meters above sea level and you can feel how large they are because the paths are at the base of these massive mountains. You can literally understand what a mountain that large feels like. These mountains also join with the Curenos del Paine and well known lakes – Grey Lake, Pehoe Lake, Sarimiento Lake and Nordenskiold Lake. The colors of these lakes ranging from deep dark blue to grey silvery turquoise.
The park in total is 181,000 hectares and is located about 112 kilometers from Puerto Natales. It was easy for me to get to the park by hitch hiking and avoiding the $30 USD bus that takes twice as long. Only 3 Chileans cars picked me up but I met a farmer, a dentist and a park ranger who were able to drive me. I never waited more than 5 minutes for a ride in the blistering wind. It was absolutely worth it.
The park rangers dropped us off at the pay station where we discovered was the eastern side (the side less travelled to start the trek) and we were off to start trekking. $36 USD for the park entrance fee and we headed into the Mountains towards the first free campsite which was 6 hours up hill.
Day 1: When you start off trekking your backpack is super heavy and you think that you cannot even hike up a steep in grade. However, after an hour or two you get warmed up and it gets easier. Really you start to think about the things you have on your back and what you really need versus what you really want. It puts things into a healthy perspective. That same day we found the free campsite, went to bed early.
Day 2: We woke up at 4:00 am the next day for the famous ¨Tower Sunrise¨ where you can see the Towers of the park. They are three pillars that stand high on the mountainside overlooking a blue and green lake. It’s a 1 hour morning climb straight up to the highest part of the whole circuit.
It was well worth it as until 7 am we watched the sunrise and then the sunlight hit the towers. We got super lucky as they say, there are four seasons in one day in Patagonia so we were expecting the worse, and head there was a lot of rain and wine. We had no rain and no wind; it was perfectly sunny, a little chilly but so still that the water made a reflection of the towers perfectly for us, just unbelievably beautiful.
One of my favorite parts about this trek is that you can drink the water from the streams that you stumble upon at least every 30 minutes. You don’t need to have the heaviness of water because you can just fill up as your go and the water tastes so refreshing and wonderfully amazing.
That same day we continued to trek 13 hours in the hot hot heat, which is unusual to have such good weather in the park. I got sun burnt and we had a fabulous lucky day for the long way.
We trekked to the next free park. We passed through fields of singing birds, wild flowers I’ve never seen, and gigantic mountains with wise and enormous energy just radiating intensity. This part of the trek was not so famous but one of my favorite parts because it has 360 views of lakes and the 3 mountains at once. It was so peaceful and not so many people were on this path.
Later that day, again we called It an early night and cooked some pasta, drank more stream water and slept tightly in the tent with rough sleeping in the grueling wind.
Day 3: The next morning we woke up at 8am and it was raining and hailing. We were going into the French Valley and heard there were some beautiful 360 views. Unfortunately it was raining and then the rain turned into violent windy snow that would burn your face because it was cold. It was an odd balance between being cold and being warm because you have so many layers on and your core is hot because you are working out. There was a lot of exchanging of taking off clothes and putting on clothes.
In the French valley we saw baby ducks learning how to cross the raging powerful river, fields of trees frozen in a windy blown shape from the wind, electric blue glaciers pouring off the mountains, and foggy views. The birds were still singing and the views were still incredible, even though we were not able to see everything.
It was hard to face the cold for a long time so we didn’t enjoy it as much as we wanted to, but well worth it.
After we got down the 6 hour hike we packed up our stuff which was hard to do as we were cold and freezing and we moved onto another 3 hour hike to the next camp where we were exhausted and called it another early night, but made some delicious hot chocolate from chocolate bars and powdered milk. Some of the camp sites even had free gas stoves and inside areas to cook.
Day 4: The next morning we start at 8 am again and headed to the glacier! The glacier was about a 5 hour hike to the view point and then 5 hours back. I never thought I would ever see a glacier in my life. The views were incredible, the sounds were stunning, and the emotions I felt were heart melting and almost overwhelming for me.
The paths passed alongside a river where you could see the wind currents across the top of the water. Pools of mist would gather and spray you as it crossed in circles in all different directions and running off the water onto the land.
This part of the trek really made me sad as you could tell the effects of a 2011 fire. 3 Israeli men were trekking and lit toilet paper on fire and it got out of control and set 20 percent of the National Park on fire for 3 days just devastating effects. The after effect was horrible as whole mountain sides were burnt to a crisp. However, interestingly enough there were some trees that were able to regenerate and were forming buds at the bottom of their roots, almost giving life to seeds as it was dying. This was pretty impressive.
Now, the parks require that you only have tiny gas camp stoves and cook in certain areas that are allowed in the park. The rules for camping are quite strict as well, and for this many of the campsites are crowded because you have to park in specific parts. After trekking all day again, my body was getting sore and I was ready for bed. I did the trek in running shoes which, with a pack and extra weight, was super intense. It gave me a lot of blisters and affected my body differently than if I had strong shoes. Not to mention all of the rain, wet, and mud that I had inside my shoes. I loved it because it is what Patagonia is really like and I was enjoying just being in the middle on 70 mile an hour wind. Just beautiful.
Then we were off to the Glaciers! I had never seen one before in my life, and I was super excited for this part of the trek. I really was not prepared for what we were about to see.
The glacier in the park was huge named Glacier Grey. There was also Glacier Pingo, Tyndall and Geikie which along belong to the same Southern Patagonia Ice Field. This ¨Field¨ was stunning, with chunks of huge ice bergs falling off the glaciers into the cold blue waters and floating around.
Also, last but not least, as we walked 5 hours out of the park onto the main road to hitch hike we got saw some pretty amazing animals. A private jet pilot picked us up from the road hitch hiking and we were able to see some animals from the car which was exciting because we found 3 baby foxes. I couldn’t handle all the babies we saw, because it is Spring time in Patagonia. How beautiful!
This W Trek is really what backpacking is all about! Food for five days, sleeping bag, tent, stove, utensils, clothes for wet and dry, and whatever else you need for 5 days of 8-13 hour days of walking. It is one thing to walk 8-10 hours but with a backpack its another story! I survived and definitely am addicted I would like to do a lot more trekking in California and Washington when I get home. Maybe I will do one more in Patagonia before I leave here. For the next couple of weeks I will be painting in Puerto Natales, a hippy van of the wonderful Oregon family of Erratic Rock (erraticrock.com) and am looking forward to spending more time in Patagonia as the air is clean, the people are friendly, and the scenery is spectacular. Feeling refreshed.
Here is a look at some of the wild flowers that I could not stop taking pictures of because I had never seen such flowers before in my life. On all the trails they had these flowers, even in the parts of the park that were affected by the forest fires had bright patches of flower life.