Up one level Argentina, Bolivia, Chile » Torres del Paine National Park

Torres del Paine National Park
From Calama, we flew down to Punta Arenas. In Punta Arenas, we bought a few screw top gas canisters for our stove before taking the bus to Puerto Natales, where we stayed the night. The following morning, we left Puerto Natales and reached Torres del Paine around 11. We wanted to backpack the Paine circuit but were told by the rangers that the circuit was closed because of landslides in two areas. Disappointed, we were starting out on the W trek from Refugio las Torres when we ran into a backpacker from Utah on his way out who met several groups of people who'd gotten through the landslide areas safely. Upon learning this, we turned around and started the circuit by heading to Refugio Dickson.
     During our time in the park, the weather was constantly overcast and occasionally rainy, but we were fortunate that the famous sights weren't clouded in and we didn't encounter any torrential rains. Even though I had gotten up for four sunrises and stayed up for every sunset, I didn't manage to get any good photographs then because of clouds on the horizon.
     The trails were in pretty bad shape especially in the back between Camping Seron and Campamento Paso. When we were there, the trails were often very muddy, or washed out, or confusingly marked, or all of the above. The trail got a lot better once we hit the more popular W part of the trail. We'd bought waterproof breathable socks (sealskinz) because we were wearing trail running shoes and they turned out to be quite essential for keeping our feet dry. From what I read before leaving on the trip, I thought that a 4 season tent is essential for Patagonia. On hindsight, I realise that a sturdy 3 season tent is probably sufficient for the Paine circuit because the campamento and refugio campsites (at least the ones we were at) have good wind breaks.
     Our itinerary was as follows :
     Day 1: Refugio las Torres to Refugio Dickson. This day had the heaviest rain during our trip and combined with the low clouds, we didn't get to see much. The day was a real grind because I was carrying 6 days of food for two people, which, together with my photo gear, resulted in a 55 lb pack; after we'd eaten most of the food, my pack felt weightless in comparison. The area near Refugio Dickson is very pretty and it is well worth spending a night at Dickson. The staff at Dickson were very friendly and we enjoyed our stay. We ran into them in Puerto Natales just after we'd returned from the park.
     Day 2: Refugio Dickson to Campamento Paso. This day had the worst trail and best view in Torres. The trail is non-existent for a large section between Camping los Perros and Paso John Gardner because it's basically a large bog. We spent a lot of time figuring out whether we were on the right track and avoiding the knee deep mud. On the other hand, the view as you crest the top of Paso John Gardner and see Glacier Grey for the first time is amazing. This view was easily the best we saw in Torres del Paine and (together with the area around Lago Dickson) makes it worthwhile hiking the circuit instead of just the W. I carelessly left my spectacles on a rock just below the pass and was forced to use the (goofy looking) prescription inserts on my sunglasses as my regular glasses for the rest of the trip.
     Day 3: Campamento Paso to Refugio Grey. We wanted to stay in Refugio Grey to watch icebergs float past and so this was a short day.
     Day 4: Refugio Grey to Campamento Britanico. Valle del Frances is my second favourite sight in Torres del Paine. As we headed up the valley, on our left was Cerro Paine Grande from which we would constantly hear and see avalanches, and on our right were the spectacular Cuernos del Paine. The mirador at the end of the trail has a view of the cirque of towers in the valley, which is amazing as well.
     Day 5: Campamento Britanico to Refugio los Cuernos. We'd heard from an American lady living in Refugio Grey that Refugio los Cuernos had an amazing view so we decided to spend an extra day and stay there. The view is nice but I think she exaggerated the merits of staying in Refugio los Cuernos.
     Day 6: Refugio los Cuernos to Campamento Torres. After setting up our tent at Campamento Torres, we dayhiked up to Campamento Japones and then into the Valle del Silencio, where the Torres climbing routes begin. This hike was based on the recommendation of Mariano, a Chilean guide we met on the trail. The hike into Valle del Silencio is over scree, talus, and boulder fields and was enjoyable as you can get quite close to the sheer walls of the mountains in the valley. The weather turned bad midway through our dayhike so we didn't get much of a view.
     Day 7: Campamento Torres to Refugio las Torres. We woke up early, hoping to see sunrise alpenglow on the Torres del Paine but we had no luck with that. At least we got to see Torres without being shrouded with clouds. This was our last day and we hiked out to catch the shuttle out of the park at Refugio las Torres.

crw_3463 Serene and Ray heading down the Valle Encantado. The first day was rainy and cloudy so we didn't see very much. crw_3476 Orchids growing alongside the trail. crw_3497 Alpenglow on mountains behind Lago Dickson. This was the only sunset alpenglow I saw on the circuit. crw_3509 We hiked from Refugio los Torres to Refugio Dickson and stayed there our first night. Ray and Serene with the two very friendly staff members at Refugio Dickson. crw_3540 Serene with Glaciar los Perros in the background. Ray had a very painful experience with dust getting into his eye at the overlook. crw_3547-ray-4118 Crossing a bridge after leaving the Los Perros campground, where we rediscovered how good hot milo tastes. Taken by Ray Woo. crw_3556 On the way up Paso John Garner. The worst section of the circuit was just before this part - incredibly boggy and muddy. We later met a Dutch couple who told us that they fell into knee deep mud in that area. crw_3563 Ray taking a photo of the very small bergshrund on the way up Paso John Garner. crw_3569-ray-4145 Final snowfield before reaching the top of the pass. Taken by Ray Woo. crw_3571-ray-4155 I'm taking photographs at the top of Paso John Garner. Taken by Ray Woo. crw_3571 Glacier Grey from the top of Paso John Garner. Photos don't do the view justice and this view was easily the best of the entire trip. Glacier Grey is massive when viewed from the top of the pass. crw_3580 Ray and Serene hiding behind the windbreak at Paso John Garner. The winds were 40 or 50 mph sustained with gusts of about 70 or 80 mph, enough to throw you off balance. crw_3599 Glacier Grey branching off the Campo de Hielo Patagonico Sur (Southern Patagonia Icefield). Glacier Dickson and the Perito Moren Glacier are branches of this icefield. crw_3606 The northern inlet of Glacier Grey. crw_3610 Crevasses on the eastern edge of Glacier Grey. crw_3621 Ray and Serene descending towards Glacier Grey. crw_3639 The Paine Circuit was officially closed when we were there because of landslides and rockfall in two sections of the trail from Campamento Paso and Campamento los Guardas. By the time we got there, the rangers had signed and fixed lines on the landslide areas so it was quite easy to get around them. Here, Ray is climbing up a temporary detour at the second (and larger) landslide area. crw_3655 The Dutch couple descending down the rope ladder in the second landslide area. The guides and porter for the American guided group are standing on top with Mariano in the middle. Mariano tipped us off to Valle del Silencio, which we visited later. crw_3661 A closeup of the face of Glacier Grey. crw_3682 The eastern section of the face of Glacier Grey from the mirador near Refugio Grey. This section is 1.2 km / 0.75 miles wide. crw_3686 The icefield from the top of the face to the headwall. crw_3709 Icebergs in Lago Grey at sunset. crw_3718 Sunset over Lago Grey at Refugio Grey. crw_3725 Serene staring at the face of Glacier Grey. The face is about 5 km / 3 miles wide. crw_3743 Serene crossing the bridge to Campamento Italiano. crw_3765-67-pano The eastern side of Valle del Frances. From left: Cerro Espada (2500 m), Cerro Hoja (2200 m), Cerro Mascara (2300 m), Cuerno Norte (2400 m), Cuerno Central (2600 m) crw_3768 The western side of Valle del Frances. We constantly heard and saw thunderous avalanches on the face of this range. crw_3804-10-pano The cirque of towers from the mirador at the end of Valle del Frances. crw_3848 Sunlight on Lago Nordenskjold (descending from Campamento Britanico). crw_3864 Sunset at Refugio los Cuernos. crw_3881 Cuernos del Paine (Horns of Paine). From left: Cuerno Central (2600 m), Cuerno Este (2200 m). crw_3882 Leaning peak just east of the Cuernos. crw_3888 Condor. We saw 4 or 5 condors between Refugio los Cuernos and Chileno. crw_3898 Wooden birds with stone eggs at Campamento Japones. crw_3903-ray-4368 The climber's trail into the Valle del Silencio is over scree, talus, and boulder fields. Parts of the narrow trail had been wiped out by rock fall. Here, Serene is crossing the trickiest part of the trail that has a steep dropoff on the left and is also slick with water. Taken by Ray Woo. crw_3903 View west midway into the Valle del Silencio. crw_3925 We woke up early and hiked up to the Torres del Paine mirador for sunrise and all we got was this lousy glow. At least it wasn't fogged in. crw_3930 Torres del Paine. From left: Torre Sur (2850 m), Torre Central (2800 m), Torre Norte (2248 m). crw_3934 We saw a few of these flowers growing in boulder fields. They may be orchids (5 petals). crw_3945 Enjoying a real meal at Refugio las Torres while waiting for the shuttle to the park entrance.