Quick Adventure Facts:
What - The "W" Circuit
When - January 27th to January 31st 2017 | 5 Days
Torres del Paine National Park in the Patagonian portion of Chile is home to a series of hiking trails which can be strung together. The most popular sections can be connected to form the "O" Circuit, the "G" Circuit, or the very popular "W" Circuit.Length
The length of the entire trip varies depending on which route and refugios/campsites you stay at. The length of our "W" Circuit was roughly 42 miles not including a large portion of backtracking we were required due to lodging constraints.Terrain
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.Weather
The Patagonia summer provides your best chance for decent weather. That being said, the weather in Patagonia is unpredictable. It can be sunny one minute and then switch, with little to no warning, to an intense rain storm with ferocious Antarctic winds. Temperatures can fluctuate through the day from the high 60's to upper 40's with night time lows in the 30's.
The optimal time to hike in Torres del Paine National Park is from November to early March. As the window of time to enjoy this amazing landscape is brief, expect to be in the company of a large amount of likeminded adventurers.
There are two things to take into considerations when heading to Torres del Paine National Park:
1) 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.
2) Accommodations -
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. We were 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 we were able to climb John Gardner pass from the west (clockwise) is because we 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 the 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.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. Those looking to bring food into the park can purchase some in Puerto Natales which has a handful of markets.Gear
By: Will Wood
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