Hiking Patagonia: The W

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When doing research for our trip to Patagonia I found a handful of blogs with great trip reports. I usually am not one for writing detailed trip reports but hopefully this post can help others plan their trip! Dittmar Adventures helped us with logistics and booking the refugios and buses. You can definitely do all the leg work yourself but I highly recommend Dittmar if you want some extra help.

One word of caution; if you are going to Patagonia for isolation this may not be the trek for you. Being from SoCal I’m used to busy trails so I never thought that the W was that crowded. It does get pretty packed around the refugios though and you will pass large groups on the trails. However most of the time we spent hiking we were alone  and it was actually a lot of fun meeting our bunk mates in the refugios.

Location: Torres Del Paine National Park

Total time: Three nights/ four days

Average mileage per day: 11 miles

Getting there: There are numerous buses that leave from Puerto Natales. Book bus tickets in advance. When you get to the park you will need to register and purchase your entry tickets. The bus drivers are very good about directing you to the right spots. Depending on the direction you are taking on the W you will either transfer by bus to the eastern trail head or take a catamaran to the western trail head. We did the trek east to west.

Staying at the Refugios: Because we wanted to travel light on our Patagonia trip we choose to stay and eat at the Refugios. Staying in the refugios was a lot of fun, we made friends with people from all over the world. The food was very good and we definitely did not go hungry. The refugios provide dinner, breakfast and a box lunch. They also had vegetarian options. Most have beer and snacks for purchase as well but because everything is packed in it is very expensive.

It can be pricey to stay in the refugios. Room and board ran us about 125USD per person per night, camping with room and board will set you back about 55USD. There are also free camping spots on the W so dirtbagging is an option. We did camp on our last night which was actually nice after sharing bunks the past two days. If you can only choose one refugio to stay in I highly recommend Los Cuernos, the views are gorgeous. Make sure to book far in advance as the Refugios fill up fast. In the high season the Park officials will not let you trek The W if you do not have reservations for camping and/or Refugios.

Hiking: In Patagonia trail distances are typically expressed in the time it will take you to get to various points. I found that the time estimates were pretty spot on including breaks and photo stops we took. The trail itself is pretty mellow, although some of the lookouts take a bit of huffing and puffing to get to. You can drop your heavy pack and take a light day pack up to the lookouts so that helps make the hike easier. If you are in good hiking shape the W will be no problem for you. The Austral summer has very long days, with the sun setting so late you should never have to worry about getting stuck on the trail in the dark. Always bring a headlamp just in case.

DAY ONE

Itinerary: Take an early morning bus from Puerto Natales. Arrive in the park  and take the transfer to Las Torres’ welcome center. Start hiking! Check in and Drop off bags at Refugio Chileno. Take day packs to the Las Torres lookout.  Hike back to Chileno for dinner.

Notes: Do not be disappointed when the mountains are socked in with clouds. This is Patagonia after all and the unpredictable weather is part of the fun. We were pretty excited about getting  those Intragram worthy shots of the Torres but sadly the towers failed to show themselves through the mist. Regardless the hike was fun, although a bit wet. We passed , forest of green moss and saw our first Andean condors.

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DAY TWO

Itinerary: Hike from Refugio Chileno to Refugio Cuernos.

Notes: Take your time and take in the sights this was my favorite stretch of trail. The trail passes striking blue waters of Nordernskjold Lake to the south and Almirante Nieto Mountain to the north. Take time to stop and gaze upon the mountain. You will likely see Andean condors soaring and may also be lucky enough to witness and avalanche or two as the sun heats up ice fields perched on the steep gullies of the mountain. Once at Refugio Cuernos have a beer ( the most expensive beer of my life) and look out of the high windows to stunning views of the lake    and mountain. There is a path that will take you down the rocky shoreline of the lake. I highly recommend taking time to sit and listen the waves lap the shore.

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DAY THREE

Itinerary: Hike from Refugio Cuernos to Frances Valley. Drop off packs at the Italiano ranger station and take day packs up to the Frances and Britanico lookouts. Hike back to the ranger station to pick up your packs and continue to Paine Grande.

Notes: The hike to the lookouts is steep in sections but totally worth if it the view is clear. We hiked to the Britanico lookout and just as we got to the top the sun came out and we had a clear 360 degree view of the mountains. Within five minutes a wall of white moved in from the north and we were in the middle of a snow storm. Thus is Patagonia weather! There was a recent fire in the park, started by someone trying to burn their toilet paper. The fire burned thousands of acres and you can see the result of this along the final stretch of the trail toward Paine Grande. This is a good reminder to not start fires in the park. The burnt landscape is ghostly, with white skeletons of trees reaching up into the Patagonian mist. We rented a tent and camped for the night at Paine Grande – you could book a room in the refugio as well.

 

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DAY FOUR

Itinerary: Hike to Refugio Grey and take the Grey II boat across Grey Lake to Lago Grey Hotel. We had made arrangements to be picked up at The Lago grey Hotel and we were taken to our hotel for the night. In the morning we were picked up for our Kayak excursion. Another option is to hike to Refugio Grey spend the night there and hike back to Paine Grande on day five. You could also go there and back in one day. The catamaran lands at Paine Grande and this is how you get back to the park entrance and to the buses.

Notes: This final stretch of the trail follows along a rugged landscape of forest and cliff sides.  Eventually glacier grey comes into view. Take time to enjoy views and hopefully you get some sunny weather. We were caught in large storm cell which soaked our rain jackets through. Luckily the sun came out shortly after this and we dried out nicely. As I mentioned in the itinerary there are a few options here for finishing the W. I highly recommend take the Grey II as it passes close by the glacier and you can get great photos. They also serve complementary pisco sours on board with glacial ice pulled straight from the lake.

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I hope this itinerary helps anyone trying to plan a trip to Trek the W. The best advice I can give is book early and bring good rain gear. You can really do the trek on any budget; from brining all your own gear to staying in the refugios. Heck Curenos even has private cabins with hot tubs if you want to get fancy! The most important thing is just enjoy the trail; no matter what the Patagonia weather throws at you it is a beautiful trek. You will have the opportunity to see incredible wildlife and will get to meet people from all over the world.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Simone Fick says:

    Thanks for the list. Patagonia has been on my list for a long time and I plan to do a hike within the next year.

    Like

    1. betsydionne says:

      Awesome! I hope you make it out there it is beautiful.

      Like

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