We just returned from an epic 5 day "W Circuit" trek in the park. Many blisters and sore body parts later, we'd hiked somewhere in the area of 70km carrying our not-light-enough packs and camping every night. We carried our food, tents, sleeping bags, clothing, and cameras throughout. We endured gale force winds, some light rain (lucky!), and even a bit of snow. But we made it!
Our path took us from west to east through the park and started with a catamaran trip. We decided right away to start hiking with our Swiss friends Tobias and Manuela. Also in the crew were Danielle (Brisbane, AUS) and Kai (Germany).
As you can see, the views are pretty amazing. Here's a rundown of the full trek by day. Note that a Refugio is basically an area with some dorm rooms and some paid camping areas. A Campamento is just a free camping site. Mirador means scenic viewpoint.
- Day 1: Bus to Laguna Amarga, transfer to shuttle to Lake Pahoe. Hopped on a catamaran to get us to Refugio Paine Grande. Hiked from Paine Grande to Refugio Grey, with views of the Grey glacier. Camped in a treed meadow in the shadow of the mountains.
- Day 2: Backtracked from Refugio Grey back to Refugio Paine Grande. Took a break for some lunch and to air out our socks. Continued hiking to Campamento Italiano, where we fell asleep to the sound of the nearby river rushing by.
- Day 3: Hiked up to Mirador Brittanico in the centre of the valley (sans big bags, since we were coming back out the same way). Returned to Campamento Italiano to pick up our bags and continued onward to Refugio Cuernos. Camped near the glacier-fed lake where Ian took a dip in the icy waters.
- Day 4: From Refugio Cuernos to Campamento Torres. Our longest day, but Sandra's favourite (no backtracking!). In the evening, Ian and Kai trekked to the Mirador Torres -- a very steep 1km trail leading to an incredible view of "The Towers". We were to return again the next morning.
- Day 5: Ian's favourite part of the trek. A 4:30am wakeup to hike back to the Mirador Torres for sunrise. The best part wasn't the sunrise itself (although that was great, too!), but waking up with a camp full of people all placing their headlamps on and hiking together. Looking down across the mountain as you ascended, you could see an entire trail of illuminated human ants following you along the path, bobbing up and down as they walked. After sunrise, we headed back to camp and packed up our gear for our last hike back to Hotel Torres, where a shuttle returned us to Laguna Amarga for our bus ride back to Puerto Natales.
All in all, it was a very rewarding experience. It's amazing what the human body can endure. Many times I felt achy and sore within 10 minutes of hiking, but somehow we were able to make it through each day! Success!