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2017 Torres del Paine - Patagonia, Chile


What is it:



Patagonia is a huge region towards the southern tip of South America that is shared by Argentina and Chile. The Torres del Paine is a national park within Patagonia in Chile. There are two main long hikes in the Torres del Paine area, the "W Circuit" which is towards the front of the park, and the "O Circuit" which is a loop that includes the W Circuit but also visits the back side of Torres area. Here is a Map. The "W" is the bottom half that looks like a "W" and the "O" is the whole thing marked in orange. You are only allowed to go around the "O" in a counter-clockwise direction, and they limit the number of people allowed per day. The "W" is more accessible.

The main attraction of the trip is the namesake "Torres del Paine" which translates to "Blue Towers". They are huge stone towers above a bright blue colored lake. You will also see the Gray Glacier, a massive ice flow that is hard to comprehend until you see it. The whole area is pretty spectacular. I would rank this as the most jaw dropping trip that I've been on to date.

When:



We hiked from January 27th to Feb 3rd, 2017. There were also several days of travel time on either end of hiking, and our whole trip consumed about two weeks of time. January is the middle of the summer in the southern hemisphere. Because Patagonia is so far south the weather is mild even in mid summer. We had highs in the 60's, with nighttime temperatures above freezing (40's) Fahrenheit. We had a half day of drizzly rain, and a few brief rain storms, however most of the trip was sunny and pleasantly cool. Patagonia is notorious for ferocious winds and we did experience some. As with most mountainous regions the weather is unpredictable and you need to be prepared for anything.

Planning:



As of the 2017 season you MUST make lodging reservations ahead of time to enter the park for anything other than day trips, and you must have camping reservations to enter the back parts of the park. If you wish to do the full "O circuit" you must have camping reservations for either Refugio Dickson, or the Los Perros campsite. Reservations fill up fast and if you don't have one they will not allow you to enter the back part of the park. You also need reservations ahead of time for every night you intend to be in the park.

You might be thinking you can get away with stealth camping, or that there won't be much enforcement. In many other popular destinations around the world, and in the US it is sometimes rare to run into a ranger beyond the park entrance. Not so here. They have park guards stationed at checkpoints throughout the park, and they will grill you on your itinerary and make you show your reservations. If you do not have them they will turn you back or escort you out of the park. If you show up at the front gate too late in the day and do not have overnight reservations you don't get in.

We didn't realize how strict the requirements were, and we were not able to make camping reservations for the back side of the "O" circuit before our trip. I was able to complete most of the circuit by piecing together camping and Refugio reservations from Camp Seron in the East, to the top of John Gardner Pass in the West. The only reason I was able to climb John Gardner pass from the west (clockwise) is because I started super early and the Camp Paso guard allowed me to go up and back as a day trip. Totally worth it- looking down on Grey Glacier from above was the highlight of my trip.

The Torres del Paine park is a tourist destination complete with many lodges, Refugios (hostels), and camping. The Refugios and lodges offer showers, meals, sometimes a bar, and sometimes Wifi. It is not a wilderness experience although it is a stunning landscape.

Many of the campsites and Refugios are privately run, and reservations need to be made with whichever company owns them. Fantastico Sur, and Vertice Patagonia are the main two and they can be booked online. A few of the campsites are run by the park service, CONAF, but it is harder to get those spots.

Chile is a Spanish speaking country, but most of the Chileans we met spoke at least a little bit of English if not fluent English. There were also tons of other adventurers from around the world, many of whom spoke some English. We didn't have any issue with the language barrier.

Expect meals and lodging to be similar in price to a touristy destination in the US. It is a nice area and it is not inexpensive.

Getting There



We flew to the town of Punta Arenas, Chile, and from there took a bus about 3.5 hours north to Puerto Natales. Puerto Natales is a small seaside town with many hostels and restaurants and a laid back atmosphere. It is a great place to spend a day before and/or after your trip. You'll probably meet some friendly street dogs which roam free throughout town.

From Puerto Natales you will need to take another bus about 2 more hours north to the Torres del Paine park entrance. From there it is another short shuttle to the "Refugio Las Torres Central" area. There are several lodges, camping, a camp store, and a restaurant in the vicinity. We started and ended our walk there.

If you are doing the "W" instead of the full circuit, there is a ferry that you can take across Lago Pehoe, and a bus that will take you from there back to the entrance area. Or you can take a ferry across Lago Grey and catch a bus to the entrance from there.

Logistics / Resupply



The Torres del Paine park has refugios spaced out every half day or so. Most of them serve meals and some have snacks or a camp store. You don't have to carry much food if you are willing to pay for food as you go, though it is fairly expensive. If you do the back side of the "O" circuit you'll need to carry food for that couple day section, but there is a camp store and meals at Refugio Gray.

The biggest challenge is getting there, and making sure you have an itinerary with reservations for each night.

Difficulty



The trails in the park are well maintained, well marked, and easy to follow. There are some steep sections, big climbs, and some rocky sections that might be tricky in wet weather. Overall it is pretty moderate and you'll probably be too busy looking at all the amazing views to notice the hard parts.

2017 Tour Du Mont Blanc Gear List:

OuncesPacking System
21 Arc Blast Backpack
1Pair Shoulder Pouches
1.5Pair Belt Pouches
OuncesShelter System
23.5Solplex Flex Tent Prototype
2.18x Carbon Tent Stakes w/ stake sack
OuncesSleeping System
18.7Zpacks 20F Slim, Long Classic Sleeping Bag
1.7Medium Pillow Dry Bag
8Neoair Xlite Pad, size small
OuncesCooking System
3.3.6L Evernew Pot
.2Titanium short handle spoon
.5Lightload Towel
.4Mini-Bic Lighter
.5Esbit Stove
 Esbit tablets
1.4Roll top Food Bag
OuncesWater Storage
1.51 Quart Powerade Bottle
1.51 Quart Powerade Bottle
0No water treatment.
OuncesMiscellaneous Items
5.3Galaxy S7 Smartphone / Camera
6Anchor 10,000 mAh PowerCore battery
1.5Pak-Light w/ homemade headband
.7Victorinox Classic Pocket Knife
.5Silva Compass / Thermometer
.7Zpacks Travel Toothbrush
1Passport, Credit Card, License, Cash in Travel Zip
.950ft 1.75mm Z-Line cord
.44x Mini-D Carabiners
.3Chap Stick
.01Ear plugs
.8Sunglasses
.1Ibuprofen
OuncesGear Repair
.63x strips of Cuben Fiber Repair Tape
.16x Large safety pins
.1Sewing Needles, dental floss thread
OuncesCarried Clothing
6.2Vertice Rain Jacket
3.6Vertice Rain Pants
1.0Vertice Rain Mitts
.9Zpacks Fleece Hat
2Zpacks Wind Shell Jacket
8.9Zpacks Climashield insulated Jacket (coming soon)
1Medium-Plus Dry Bag
OuncesWorn Items (Not part of base weight)
10.2Columbia Silver Ridge II Zip off pants
7.3Champion long sleeve, breathable shirt
.9Ultamax Triathlete low cut socks
3.5Patagonia boxers
3.9Zpacks Pointy Hat
1.5Visor
23Teva Grecko Sandals
7.3Zpacks Carbon Fiber Staff
OuncesTotal Base Weight
129.48 lbs 1.4 ounces (3.67 kg)
Comments

This is the same gear list I would carry on any 3 season backpacking trip to pretty much any destination. I don't usually use the "Flex" poles for my tent but I was testing them on this trip. They worked pretty well in the Patagonia wind.