Over New Year’s, I trekked through Patagonia over seven days with my boyfriend and his family, and it was a dream-I-never-knew-I-had-come-true. I didn’t know much about Patagonia (honestly, I thought it was just the clothing brand) before I went on this trip, so every new sight was a breathtaking surprise. If you want that experience, stop reading. 🙂 Or, if you’re curious, here’s my take on the trek.
The W circuit is a trek through Torres del Paine National Park on the Chilean side of Patagonia. It actually traces a “W” on the map and is a popular trek for backpackers around the world. Now I know why.
Day 1 (~13.3 miles): Puerto Natales > Refugio Chileno > Mirador Torres del Paine
We departed Puerto Natales, Chile and made it to the park after about a 5 hour van ride. From the parking lot, we put on our backpacks and kicked off our trek. We had gorgeous weather (look at that crazy cloud below!) hiking up (yes, up) to Refugio Chileno where we dropped off our stuff and continued on to the Mirador Torres del Paine with our day packs. As we were approaching the viewpoint, the weather changed and we got some snow and rain. Once we got to the towers all we could see was a big white cloud. Womp womp. It was chilly, so we turned around and headed back to the refugio for a hot meal and some much needed sleep in our tents!
The towers are THE iconic photograph I’ve seen of Patagonia, so I was disappointed at the time I couldn’t see them in person. Come to find out, we had such gorgeous views in the coming days, that looking back, it didn’t matter. It’s all part of the experience.
Day 2 – New Year’s Eve! – (~14.2 miles): Refugio Chileno > Japones Camp > Refugio Torre Central
This was another rainy and cold hike through the Silence Valley up to Japones Camp (a shelter covered in tarps) where we ate lunch. Though the weather wasn’t perfect, this was a fun hike through forest, along a stream and scrambling over boulders. We also spotted a male and female South Andean deer.
At the next Refugio we had a special holiday dinner and dessert buffet (it was delicious!) and lots of pisco sour to ring in the New Year. As our group waited to count down to 2018, the clouds started to blow away and we got a gorgeous glimpse of the towers from afar at dusk. This is my favorite picture of the entire trip and it was captured on my Google Pixel 2 XL smart phone!
Day 3 (~9.6 miles): Refugio Torre Central > Refugio Los Cuernos
After maybe one (or three) too many pisco sours, we were fortunate our shortest day fell on the first of 2018. The main goal was to get from one refugio to the next: Refugio Los Cuernos, at the base of one of the most beautiful mountains I’ve ever seen.
This hike still had plenty of eye candy. This day was when the bright blue Lago Nordenskjöld and Los Cuernos mountains first came into view – two of my favorite sites of the entire trip. We enjoyed a nice long lunch gazing at the lake!
When we arrived to the refugio, it was time for a beer (we loved the local Austral Calafate beer!) some hot food and plenty of rest as the two biggest days lay ahead of us!
Day 4 (~14.1 miles): Valle Bader
This hike was absolutely my favorite day of the trip and a reminder of the sweet rewards of exploring such beautiful and natural places. Did I mention we had perfect weather, too? We were staying at the same refugio this night so we packed our day packs and headed towards Valle Badar. Of course, we stopped for these picture perfect views of Los Cuernos and Lago Nordenskjöld again!
You need a special permit to get into Valle Bader (Forgotten Valley) so our group didn’t see another single hiker there. We scrambled over boulders and mossy streams into what looked like another planet. While drinking water straight from the stream and enjoying our lunch, a condor swooped down to check us out.
Day 5 (~19.5 miles): Refugio Los Cuernos > Valle Frances > Refugio Paine Grande
First, I want you to know that it’s true that you’ll get four seasons in a day in Patagonia. Here was the very beginning of our hike – cold and rainy at the shore of Lago Nordenskjöld, then we were in T-shirts shortly after on the way to the French Valley.
At almost 20 miles, this was definitely a long and tiring day. We packed up our gear and headed to Camp Italiano where we were able to leave our big bags and switch to day packs. Then, it was a long but worthwhile hike into the French Valley. We had gorgeous views of mountains, glaciers and even saw a few avalanches in action. Definitely a few firsts for me!
Then, we picked up our bags and still had a long way to go to our next refugio, Paine Grande. It was towards the end of the day so we had the most beautiful light upon Paine Grande and Los Cuernos mountains. And on the other side, the mountain range looked purple. Though I was exhausted, it was a magical experience! Now, it’s dinner time!
Day 6 (~10.6 miles): Refugio Paine Grande > Refugio Grey > Glaciar Grey Viewpoint
Nearing the end of our adventure, this was the most laid back day. Or maybe I was just worn out from the past two days! We ventured on from Refugio Paine Grande to Refugio Grey where we spotted our first views of Glaciar Grey.
When we made to the refugio, we got settled and checked out a few view points nearby.
Day 7 (~14.4 miles): Bridges and Glaciar Grey
We spent the morning taking a trail with two long bridges, one that was one kilometer long, and fabulous views of the glacier. And if it couldn’t be more perfect, there was a rainbow, too! This was a quick hike and I highly recommend checking it out if you’re at Refugio Grey!
And if that wasn’t enough, we went on a hike on Glaciar Grey, too! We booked through a company called Big Foot Patagonia. We met at the office, signed some waivers and picked up our gear. Then it was a short boat ride to our destination where we started hiking over some interesting rock formations. Once we got to the ice, we put on our crampons, got a demo and then explored the glacier!
I wasn’t originally excited about this, but once we finished, I was SO happy I decided to go on the ice hike. It was an up close and personal experience with the glacier. Our guide showed us some awesome caverns and holes within the ice. Looking down was definitely enough to get your heart racing.
Day seven was our last day of adventure. The next day we hung around and waited for the boat to take us back to town.
This was a life changing experience that I am so glad I had. I would not change a single minute of it! Have you been to Torres del Paine before? Or are you thinking about it? Let me know in the comments!
More blog posts on Torres del Paine, Patagonia:
- How to Plan Your Trip to Torres del Paine
- What to Pack for Torres del Paine/Patagonia
- How to Train for a Backpacking Trip