Though I realized long ago what I needed to do was travel solo, I hesitated for various reasons to go off alone. I suspect my late arrival to backpacking was also due to many of the same reasons, I just assumed that it naturally would involve others.
Well I finally acted on what I always knew: just go and do it. Better late than never, and backpacking light has helped immensely to get me outdoors.
I had some time off and started to think about where to go. It was summer in South America, a good time for a nice long walk. For some reason, I had never been down that way. As another BPL member, Ryan T., who helped me plan the trip pointed out, Patagonia would be an excellent choice. A beautiful trek combined with exposure to another culture, and I would get to play with my gear.
I'm back, and I had a wonderful time.
Despite going in high season it really didn't seem crowded, there was room for everyone. It is definitely a well traveled trail but I found that a bonus. I enjoyed spending time with other travelers, talking in camp, on buses etc. What you invariably have is interaction with a very healthy mix of people who are stoked to be there. The parks are beautiful, well kept and well respected. There is no way you can get lost (the map they give you at the park is all you need) and despite being very fortunate in North America with our vast, splendid wilderness, Patagonia has beautiful places that are concentrated in a relatively small area, and is easily accessible to almost anyone (low elevation) with a little effort. I lucked out with the weather and my gear held up beautifully.
Here are the pictures (sorry for the bloat). I did the "W" trek clockwise, an attempt was made to show what the trail was like and the photos were organized and chosen in a sequential manner to reflect this. The long winded logistical stuff, unsolicited advice and opinions are after.
The trail leading up to Camp Torres:
The Torres. As good as it got for me with visibility:
From this point, if I remember correctly, on the right is a trail that leads you up to the Valle de Silencio (another hour or so). If I wasn't so bagged from travel or woke up earlier I would have liked to check it out. I believe it is an area frequented more so by climbers. Ryan T. has photos of it somewhere on BPL (gearlists I think). Definitely looked worth exploring.
You can also scramble up the somewhat steep scree/rock face (3-400ft?) on the left side for a very nice "high" view and then scramble down the rocks at the ridge's end (pic below) to meet with the trail back to camp.
The walk to Camp Italiano, past Refugio Cuerno. I missed the shortcut:
Valle de Frances. It rained all night and was still raining in the morning as I started up, but fortunately it cleared up for me at just the right time:
You essentially get to the "vista" point, which is a volkswagon sized rock that you can sit on, and are ringed by:
On the way down. Good thing it cleared up because I didn't remember this part.. there was a river?
Almost there, near Campamento Grande Paine. A look back at where I was earlier in the day.
Ahhh... after two hours walking against a howling wind, finally, a huge blue lake, a nice tidy lodge set in a field, with flat grassy campsites...and oh!..college girls.
The last part of the "W" is the hike up to Lago Grey and it's glacier.
You basically walk through a valley, then a ridge along Lago Grey, and then descend down to the water to within spitting distance, and level with, the glacier. I heard the part after the glacier (the view from the pass, the highest point on the trek) is spectacular. Unfortunately, I'll have to wait till next time. Supposedly if you do the 8 day Grande Circuit you want to go counter clockwise because of the pass.
OK, so that's why they call it Grey Lake.
The bus stops at the Ranger station, where I started the trek. While waiting to pick up those who did the trek counterclockwise... a local decided to bid us farewell.
A big bad ass mountain lion! 30-40 feet up on the rockface bordering the parking area/Ranger station. I really should have went outside to take a picture, but I was stuck in the opposite window seat. Highlight! Wicked!
Glacier Perito Moreno in Argentina. Supposedly it's one of the few that's actually growing and scientists don't know why. Day trip from El Calafate.
I signed up for a glacier walk, intro to ice climbing, tourist thingy at the hostel in El Calafate. So I had to hang around in El Chalten. Seeing how nice it was the next day I sort of thought I should've been in the mountains with my trek underway, but the glacier was loads of fun.
Just another day in El Chalten I assume, a quick chat with a neighbor:
On the Senda Fitzroy, heading to campsite, pitch tent, blow up mattress and if the weather holds up... heading up there:
Almost to campsite (well sheltered). The hike to the campsite is pretty much a nice, leisurely walk. About another half hour:
The weather is splendid, tent is pitched. A relatively steep, very rocky, hour, hour and a half hike up to Lagunas de la Tres and a view of Fitzroy:
Pheww.. gotta take a load off:
I spent about 2 hours up there clambering amongst the rocks and checking out the lagoons. It's a pretty small area, but very beautiful. The water tasted awesome, and is really that color. Aside from changing the exposure a little on some of the darker shots, non of the photos in this trip report have been touched up at all. And you're very close up, no zoom on these photos, 28mm.
The hike and view down back to camp. Where I came from on the left, and where I'll be heading tomorrow on the right. Back to El Chalten along the Senda Laguna Torre (trail):
From the clearing in camp, a final look with my after dinner coffee. A nice place to cook and eat breakfast as well:
Had five hours to kill and was only an hour away from town and my journey home, so I decided to take a nap on this rocky patch overlooking Rio Fitzroy. Befriended a Czech couple, his girlfriend was smart and sat in the shade. They weren't kidding about the intensity of the sun down here. I now look like a sherpa. Laguna Torre Trail and a shot of El Chalten.
I suppose it would have been better to take a shot of my pack before I left when it had food etc in it. With food, I maxed out the extension collar. My baseweight was about 10 lbs. MLD Burn, Hexamid tent w/cuben floor and door, MB UL Spiral #3, BAIAC, MB pillow, SP900 w/cozy and Coleman UL F2 stove, Petzl XP2, MB Ex-light, Driducks, Golite Reed rain pants, Montane Lightspeed, lots of icebreaker merino wool, and way too many batteries.
With food for 8 days and a book that I lost, it was about 15-16lbs.
I dehydrated my own food because I couldn't be bothered to look for appropriate camping food in a foreign country with the short time I had. Chilean customs didn't take it away in Santiago.
- 4.5 lbs of stewing beef
-2 lbs of potatoes
-1 lb of carrots (made a stew)
-1 lb of ground beef
-4 cans of Amy's Organic lentil soup
(all the above came out to about 2.5 lbs dried and all food fit in three 9 X 10 opsaks)
-box of instant rice
-28 Nature Valley Sweet and Salty snack bars
-4 snickers bars
-20 packets of Crystal Light and some Via instant coffee.
Torre Del Paine, Chile and Los Glaciares in Argentina are both National Parks in the Patagonia region of the Southern Andes. About 3000 km from Santiago and Buenos Aires. Both Punta Arenas, Chile (PUQ) and El Calafate, Argentina (FTE) have airports. However, it is far easier to fly into PUQ as it has far more flights from the capitals (about 5 daily).
From Punta Arenas it is about a 3 hour/$10 USD bus ride to Puerto Natales, Chile. A very nice seaside town where you can rent or buy all your gear and supplies. There are all the facilities in town that a traveller would need. In fact, the bus stop, supermarket (surprisingly with lots of BPing appropriate food) and a hostel can all be found along one street: Manuel Baquedano. You can rent all the gear that you'll need for the trek from this hostel (about $20/day), and they offer a daily 3:00 pm info session free of charge (stressing you don't need to buy/rent anything).
Erratic Rock Hostel (no affiliation whatsoever. Room 9, the private room, is small but quite nice)
You must go through PN to catch a bus to Torre Del Paine, National Park. There are 2 per day at 8 am and 2:30 pm. I found Bus Sur (on Baquedano) to be the cheapest/best for my transportation needs. They offer service to TDP, Punta Arenas, and to El Calafate, Argentina.
Like PN, in order to get to Los Glaciares NP in Argentina, you must first go through El Calafate. It's about $20USD and 3 hours from Puerto Natales. Though it took about 2 hours to get through the border formalities so factor that in. The town is kind of like a Vail knockoff. It's in wide open, flat country and the major attraction is a huge glacier called Perito Moreno. It's expensive to get to, and though cool, I wouldn't blame you for skipping it. The all you can eat beef and lamb dinner (asado/bbq) is absolutely delicious($10).
I stayed at the Che Lagarto Hostel in El Calafate. A bit noisy, but a very central location ( near bus stop), and by far the cleanest hostel I've ever stayed at. It was like being in a modern condo w/ stainless steel sinks, granite (I think) countertops, kitchen, modern showers etc. Probably cheaper options, but ask for room 9 if there are 3-4 of you or you don't mind paying for privacy ($65 US).
The town of El Chalten (2.5 hours and $20 return from El Calafate) was created in 1985 to service trekkers. You can stay in town and do day hikes to all the trails in Los Glaciares. There are many hostels, but make sure to book ahead of time. You can also pay to camp (showers etc) in town but starting around 5 pm, the wind starts howling. However, there are 3 very nice free campsites in the park that are a short distance from town (4 hours at most, camp capri is only 1.5 hours). All you need is the free map from the tourist office.
It's a relatively small area, though you may want to take it real easy and do a lot of lounging, you can easily cover the area in 3-4 days. The campsites are only about 3-4 hours walk apart from each other and you're only really about 4 hours from El Chalten from any of the campsites.
Los Glaciares is drier, and the TDP has more of a coastal/maritime feel (kinda like a PNW light). Mt. Fitzroy/Lagunas de la Tres in Los Glaciares is awesome. You can spend hours up there. The other trail, Senda (trail) Laguna Torre, has 3 trail heads out of El Chalten, the one along Rio Fitzroy is the one to take.
In general, the Torre Del Paine "W" trek is set up so that you can base camp (for free for the most part) at the bottom or trough of the "W" and hike up the arms to all the vistas at the top of the "W". Going from the right side of the "W" (clockwise) you have 3 "vistas/highlights" that you hike to at the top (about 2 hours uphill from base campsites). The Torres (Campamento Torre), Valle Frances (Camp Italiano at the bottom, Britanico at the top), and the glacier at Lago Grey (Refugio Grande Paine at the bottom, Refugio Grey at the top). My favorite was the Valle Frances, I suggest taking your time.
Whether you go clockwise or counterclockwise (you start by taking a half hour catamaran) is a personal choice. I chose to go clockwise because I had been on planes and buses for 36 hours and was itching to start walking. If you choose this option, there is a $2 shuttle that takes you from the ranger station to the trailhead up to the Torres. It saves you a 1.5 hour uphill road walk.
Everyone I talked to, like myself, did the "W" in 3 nights and 4 days.
Refugio Grande Paine ($10 per person/night) was stellar and like an oasis in the desert. Going clockwise lets you have a shower, cold beer and a hot cooked meal at the end of your trip (isobutane canisters can be bought there for $5). Go counterclockwise and you have a view of mountains the whole way, the wind is to your back and it's slightly uphill. Going clockwise and you have views of open country with a chain of lakes ahead. I quite enjoyed it.
I didn't think it was worth it to camp at the higher sites. Britanico seemed exposed, better to camp at Italiano. No question about camping at Grande Paine. The other refugios I didn't think were that nice, I would rather camp at the free sites.
I didn't book anything in advance and pretty much just showed up. YMMV but I don't foresee anyone else having any problems in this regard. For the most part, all buses, catamaran schedules etc are coordinated, at least during high season. Logistics couldn't be easier. It seems everyone goes out of their way to make sure all are accommodated.
Hope this helps.