Torres Del Paine National Park
Torres Del Paine National Park is known for its iconic rock towers (torres) and their jagged profiles. What we learned is that it also contains a number of other peaks and rock formations that are equally spectacular, glaciers, dramatic water falls, gorgeous lakes, and even ice bergs! Oh yes, there are also plenty of interesting animals, birds, flowers, and trees.
Then there’s the weather… The wind whips through with incredible force – we saw 90 kilometer per hour winds, with higher gusts, and these are routine and frequent.
In the US, many park managers dream of getting rid of all the cars and having visitors arrive by bus or boat – in Torres Del Paine that’s how the park is run. There are about 8 “refugios” spread around in the park, about a day’s walk apart. These offer bunk beds, camping areas, meals, showers, and basic supplies. The result is that one can hike for days without carrying a heavy pack, and even enjoy
wine with a hot dinner before climbing into a real bed. The refugios also facilitate meeting other travelers. We met people from Singapore, London, France, Canada, the U.S., Holland and South Africa. Refugios also help reduce fire risk because they reduce the number of people out camping in the wilderness.
Fire risk is a big deal here due to the high winds and the lack of staff and equipment to fight fires. About 4 years ago they had a huge fire – we saw dead trees through a large swath of our travels. Now every visitor has to sign a document saying that they understand the rules regarding fire and the heavy fines and jail sentences we should expect if we disregard the rules. Interestingly, there is no lightening here, so all fires are initiated by humans.
We spent 4 days with our guide, Mauricio. He’d grown up in Puerto Natales and taken an interest in hiking and climbing at an early age, although most of his family were not hikers. There is a very tight guide and porter community which he’s a part of.
Mauricio dreams of starting a mountaineering / guide training school. One of his goals is to provide a direction and purpose to the Puerto Natales youth he sees getting lost in alcohol because the job prospects are dim and the winter nights are long. Dan shared with him some of his experiences and perceptions from having worked in several different outdoors programs.
If you are thinking about going to this park, there are many ways to enjoy it, ranging from short one day hikes with one or two overnight stays to the 4 day ‘W’ trek we did, to a 9 day circuit. It’s a good idea to spend the time learning about it before you go so you can match your experience to your desires and skills. Some of our more detailed advice is in this google document.
A new Mirador (Viewpoint)
As we hiked up Grey’s Lake to Grey’s Glacier,
Dan found the icebergs floating in the lake particularly interesting. He could see how they were all washing ashore at a location inaccessible by trail. One morning he hiked cross country to this location, and got up close and personal with some big icebergs.
He wrote to the Park Service to suggest they build a new trail to this spot.
A map showing our travels, and more of our favorite photos are below:
More of our favorite photos are in this slide show: