“And yes, I know they’re not the coolest accessories, but trust me – take walking poles with you. The winds can get really strong out there, so strong I’ve literally seen grown men being picked up and thrown into the bushes. You’ll need those poles to stick into the ground when those winds come after you.“
Our briefing before leaving for our first camping adventure in Patagonia was essential as, on top of life survival tips, they recommended what route to take, what gear would be needed and other general information which we struggled to find online.
The briefing was held in Erratic Rock, a hostel / pub / camping gear rental place in Puerto Natales, stop-off city to Torres del Paine where our adventure was to begin. Torres del Paine is a huge national park in southern Chile and also a big attraction for hiking junkies across the globe. We are barely hiking beginners but knew we couldn’t give this one a miss.
We flew southwards from Coyhaique to Punta Arenas – most southern city in our trip which also marked 10,000km travelled since our arrival in Latin America in August – and after a tasty meal (for me at least, not so much for Annalie) of rabbit and hake in renowned restaurant La Marmita, we took a 3h bus up north to Puerto Natales.
In Puerto Natales we spent our time prepping for our 4 night / 5 day trek across Torres del Paine (which Annalie quite rightly labelled Towers of Pain). We rented a tent, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, camping stove, kitchen gear, walking poles and bought lots of food to keep us going on our hike across the park. We’d heard the weather forecast was pretty rubbish but as it’s Patagonia we knew weather could very well be iffy, so we smartly decided to ignore all warnings and the following morning woke up early to take the 2h bus to the park. As expected, we woke up to rain.
We got to the park, swiftly signed in, paid our £25 entrance fee and got driven to a catamaran that took us to Paine Grande to begin our trek (and kindly served us free water drenchings en route). By noon our motorised transportation was over meaning it was time to begin our 11km walk towards the campsite where we’d spend our first night.
It was a baptism of fire as we trudged through bullets of rain and bomb-like gushes of wind through a fairly hilly landscape and of course carrying our 10kg rucksacks. Our clothes quickly got drenched (well, Annalie’s mainly as she forgot her waterproof trousers) and our glasses were in desperate need of windscreen wipers but we were nonetheless enjoying ourselves. Our 4h hike was sprinkled with a few truly amazing sights, and Lake Grey’s icebergs were the most memorable. But the small floating icebergs were only a tease of what was to come, for our campsite was near the 3rd biggest ice field in the world – Glacier Grey.
Once we reached our destination we set up our tent and walked to see the glacier which was nestled between dark rocky mountains. Slices of the glacier had freed themselves and congregated around the edge of the lake, so we couldn’t resist going off piste to see them up close and touch them. The ice was just so so blue it looked like a smurf’s icelolly, it was amazing!
After the long day’s walk we cooked ourselves some soup and risotto from a packet (yum yum), devoured half a chocolate bar and chatted to 3 nice American girls who we ended up bumping into a few times along the trek. Bed time was 9pm and within minutes we were ‘sleeping’. The rain and wind were so loud we could barely hear ourselves dream and unfortunately one of the sleeping bags had lost all its insulation which meant that lucky me shivered all night despite wearing a fleece and a hat.
The next morning we woke up as cold as snowmen, very achey and very ready for breakfast. We boiled some water, made ourselves cups of tea and bowls of porridge, and I soon found out my hatred for porridge hadn’t magically disappeared, what a shame. Luckily we’d stocked up on granola bars which did the trick. With puffy eyes and wet gear we set off back on our tracks and walked the 11km back to where the catamaran had dropped us at Paine Grande. Day 1 had taught us that making sandwiches under the rain isn’t easy so this time we prepared our lunch in advance – a gourmet tortilla wrap with 5 slices of salami and 1.5.slices of cheese along with a little bag of nuts, some sweets, and dried fruit.
The walk was tough as 1/3 was uphill, but I guess that’s an appropriate induction to the Patagonian landscape. As a treat however, we saw a hare on the way which made us feel like true adventurers in the wild. Once at the refuge in Paine Grande we had a reinvigorating cup of tea and, just as we set off to leave, the the sun finally decided to make an appearance which made our walk to the next campsite – camping Italiano – all the better.
The 5 day trek we had embarked on is called the W trek due to its shape, but unfortunately we had to cut ours short making it more of a 4 day U trek. The valley branching off from camping Italiano was shut due to bad weather so we decided to walk another 30mins to the next campsite, camping Frances (minor influencer was the fact we’d heard Italiano also had rats). The sun which had so kindly lit the way to Italiano suddenly disappeared and a nasty rain / snow storm took its place. We reached the campsite as quickly as possible, put up our tent (clamping it down with hammer and nails, as you do) and ran to the showers which actually turned out to be pretty amazing! Apart from the fancy showers and toilets however, the camping had nothing at all, so to keep warm and forget about the snow we stayed in the bathrooms to cook our pasta next to another dozen hikers. Classy ay?
Day 3 showed up and the valley was still shut so we decided to bomb our way to the far end of the park where the famous Towers of Paine stand. The day started off with a drizzle, continued with blistering sun, and had intermittent intervals of uber rough winds, so bloody rough our walking poles gave up on us forcing us to throw ourselves on the ground and wait for the wind to die down. Patagonia’s great weather was slowly becoming our friend and despite being so moody and unpredictable it was certainly making our experience more exciting.
The 8h walk to Torres del Paine was exceptionally tiring but equally rewarding. We coasted the sky blue Nordenskjold lake, climbed up never ending dusty hills, drank the freshest water directly from waterfalls, ploughed our way through fields of emerald green, got our feet sucked up by pools of mud, had our trousers rip when fighting through thorny shoulder-high bushes (that’s when we got lost though so technically it shouldn’t have happened), crawled up rocky boulders (again, when lost), slalomed our way through webs of trees and eventually reached our snow covered campsite…and did all of this without crying once! Go us!
Once arrived at the campsite our shoulders were about to fall off and our backs were burning fire from the weight we were carrying, but pride and joy kind of made us forget about all that. Once again we set up our tent (after finding a patch of land that hadn’t been snowed upon), got changed into dry clothes (with wet stinky shoes – delightful), made some food under the barely sheltered shelter, and then went to bed with alarm clock set for 4:30am to go see the sunrise at the towers. It was so cold we improvised with makeshift hot water bottles by filling our plastic bottles with boiling water – a godsend. We tried to do the same the following morning by filling a bottle with hot tea but by the time we walked up to the snow-covered viewpoint 50 minutes later it unfortunately had turned to ice tea. We nonetheless enjoyed our biscuits and wrapped ourselves warm in a sleeping bag for 45 minutes to catch a glimpse of the towers at sunrise. Unfortunately though our glorious sun turned out to be a big fat foggy cloud so not quite worth the 4:30 wake up call, but the cold mist at least helped the snow harden up which meant we could sledge down a few slopes with our bums on the ice. Silver linings.
On our 4th and last day we had a 10km hike back down the mountain. Our rucksacks were lighter from all the food we’d eaten and our shoulders were feeling stronger after the 65km we’d already walked, so our final sprint back to the world turned out to be quite a delight (perhaps also driven by the thought of the beer that was waiting for us).
Our return to Puerto Natale was oh so very welcome. We used the two days that followed to restore our muscles, appreciate the comfort of a real mattress and eat good food, including two typical dishes of Patagonian crab (fresh cold crab and crab gratin).
We’ve only explored a few small areas of this vast, vague territory that encompasses 900,000 square kilometers of Argentina and Chile, but we can certainly say that Patagonia and its magnificent nature have earned a spot on the podium of our preferred spots. Next stop: Argentinean Patagonia which I’m sure will confirm our love for this beautiful region.
Ciao for now! X