I’ve just returned from the O trek at Torres del Paine, one of the most beautiful national parks on the planet. Over the past 9 days i walked over 120km, slept in the snow, climbed a 1200 metres over mountain pass, spent 17 hours alone trapped in my tent, camped 200 metres from the worlds largest fresh water reserve, crossed streams, buckets of mud, rope bridges during high winds and was stuck in a tent for 17 hours. It was definitely type 3 fun, I’ll explain this later. I completed my challenge and the next stop is the end of the world but first me talk you through my experience of Torres del Paine.
I had m another early rise to catch the 7am bus from El Calafate to Puerto Natales, skipping back across the border to Chile. The bus ride was fairly uneventful and as soon as I arrived I checked into my homely hostel. It is the first that had a living room set up with DVDs to watch so I decided on one of my rest days I’d have a movie day. I had arrived in town a couple of days early which gave me plenty of time to prepare for the O trek. Much more than people showing up the day before with no reservations and no equipment.
First on the agenda was the Erratic Rock talk at 3pm (Located 2 blocks from erratic rock hostel – at Baquedano 955, Puerto Natales, Chile). Whilst the talk was informative and good I did feel the dangers were overplayed and telling people to walk for hours in the rain without wearing their water proofs is irresponsable in my opinion. I did leave realising I needed a better sleeping bag and that I’d need to buy some hiking poles. Although I was tired so I decided to leave the shopping for the next day. Relaxed and had some tacos at Cerveza Baguales.
The next day I had to get organised. So firstly the food. The Erratic Rock talk said that if you don’t like porridge then you won’t like it on the trail. The speaker said she had a snickers for breakfast which delighted me. I went to Frutos Secos and brought 1kg of trail mix (i opted for the cheapest so it was mostly nuts and chocolate and sugar coated nuts). Then the supermarket for the rest. Here was my food for the week.
Breakfast – 2 x snickers
Lunch – trail mix
Snack – Haribo style sweets
Dinner – Couscous, packet soup, parmizan, chorizo and peas.
I decantad everything from its original packaging and made up little bags for each day. Note on day 5 & 8 I had a Refugio booked with food included. I also took sandwiches for lunch on day 1 as I had food left over.
The rest of the day was spent trying to find equipment which I eventually did. My advise, especially if you do the O trek is to buy your own and bring it with you. Nothing is cheap on Puerto Natales. If you are doing the W and are sharing then it is not too bad to rent but I head Loya of stories about leaky tents etc. If you rent make sure you check it!
I had an early night, and spent Sunday packing. Note if you do arrive on a Sunday most of the shops are closed so it’s really not a good day to prep. Then I did some more life admin, planning the next stages and watched Demolition Man and No Country for Old Men for which half the hostel joined me.
Torres del Paine – The O Circuit
I woke around 6am, grabbed breakfast, checked my pack and headed to the bus station for the 7:20 bus. Most leave at 7:30 but if you can get this one (Bus Gomez) as it will get you there ahead of the queues. I was really nervous but I felt that this was actually happening now. One of the American guys I’d briefly met in the Hostel was on the bus. Sadly he was only day tripping but it was good to have company.
We soon arrived at Torres del Paine. It looked grey and was windy but so far the bad weather predicted by everyone at the hostel failed to materialise. I payed he 21000 extortion fee, got my stamps and watched the welcome video. Soon I was on my way to the welcoming centre in a Ford minibus with some serious suspension. There was a British family who live in Hong Kong on the bus, Imi, Simon and Louie, and they were also doing the O. I was happy not to be doing it alone. I had a quick chat with them as we got our bags and then headed off to where I thought the circuit started. As I’d been warned there were not many signs and it was a little confusing even using maps.me. I took a wrong trail and asked the person behind me, Lindsey, who was also hiking the O. She said she had been following me as I looked like I knew what I was doing, This couldn’t be further from the truth, but I had a hiking buddy and that was a good start.
Camp Seron 13k (3 1/2 hours)
I wasn’t too worried about the fist day. I’d hiked this far with a bag before, although my bag was massively heavier, and I knew the terrain was fairly flat. If I couldn’t hike this far then there is no way that I should be doing the circuit. As we started out the clouds tried to rain but couldn’t quite make it work. The path largely follows a jeep track, which is how I assume supplies are delivered to Camp Serón. It was a good track to follow, mostly dry following the valley around the mountains. It’s mostly grassy inter dispersed with trees. We followed the river for most of the way and had to cross a couple of streams-not all have bridges but there was nothing to soak our boots as had been suggested as the Erratic Rock talk.
About halfway I felt fine, but soon after my shoulders really started to hurt. Lindsay helped by showing me how to correctly tighten my pack. After that each kilometre was painful. We stopped to have lunch and I was thankful. I was carrying two heavy sandwiches which I though I’d eat at the beginning of the trek-most blogs told me I’d start around 11:30 but I’d beaten the queues by accidentally getting the early bus.
Soon after that I realised there were two kilometres to go. I knew I could do that easily so I pushed forward and soon arrived at Serón. We had been beaten by the British family who had overtaken us on the trail and they grabbed the best spot, so I chose somewhere sheltered and set up my tent.
The camp was emptying out as it’s due to close in the next few days so they had no wine or beer. They did have a delicious hot chocolate. The rain finally hit at 4pm and it was a huge storm. Luckily I was inside the Refugio making new friends. People do say that you bond on the O trek and it’s really true. We didn’t all hike together but by the end of the night I had met about 10 people I’d spend a lot of time with over the next few days. Although I was sad to discover most of them were skipping the free camp at Paso so they would then all be a day ahead.
Camp Dickson 18k (6 hours)
This is the day I was worried about. It’s the longest distance I would cover on the trail and my bag was still heavy with food. I felt that if I could do this then I’d be fine the rest of the way. I’d later find out that distance is not everything when trekking.
Lindsay and I headed out at 9am continuing the hiking partnership from the day before. The sky was clear and i was hoping for a good day. We wouldn’t actually see a single cloud all day and the wind had dried my tent overnight.
As the set off the scenery was similar although the path a little muddy. We were still following the river and ran into a little bird.
The path started heading uphill and there is one steep rise near the beginning of the day. Once you get to the top of this you have some beautiful views and you can see the rest of he valley which you spend the rest of the day traversing.
The path remains hilly as you walk around the lake, and another condor flew over head You then start heading down to the valley floor and about halfway through the day come to the ranger station where you have to register. The rest of the day is spent walking along the valley towards to the mountains in the distance.
There is one more short climb and then you are treated to one of the most picturesque views I’ve ever seen. This is Camp Dickson, my favourite for the views.
At each camp you will need to register with the park rangers and once that was done and the tent set up we had a little walk to the lake.
There is nowhere with a roof to cook here so after dinner when it got cold we took over the Refugio again.
Camp Los Perros – 11km (4 hours)
Nobody is quite sure when but after 2am the rain started. It was still storming at 7am. I was cold and with nothing better to do I packed up my bag and then went in the Refugio to get some warmth and see if anyone else was up. Slowly but surely people started arriving, not sure what to do in the rain. I bit the bullet and took down my tent in the downpour. By the time I had finished it was twice the weight and my hands were frozen from the rain. I attached it to my backpack without it’s bag in the hope it would dry out and headed back into the Refugio. One of the staff noticed that I was freezing so gave me a free coffee.
Once warmed up we were all stood around like lemmings waiting for each other which resulted us leaving one by one. Today I left with Lucy and Danny as hiked through the rain and into the forrest canopy that would cover the hole for the duration of the day. It was all uphill going from an elevation of 400m to 600m which didn’t sound like much but it felt like it when walking. The water added significant weight to my pack and I certainly felt it.
Luckily the rain levelled off after and hour so I took off my water proofs and my fleece soaked up the drops from the branches. The worst thing today was the amount of mud. There was mud everywhere and it was a choice between marching straight through it or jumping around and over puddles. Neither was particularly appealing and my shoes should be 100% waterproof but if that failed they would never dry for the rest of the trip. Despite testing them in a lake I really didn’t want wet feet so I took a halfway house.
It was also a slight daunting trek as we could see the snow line of the mountains had rapidly increased overnight. Where we had had buckets of rain at higher elevations there had been tonnes of snow that wasn’t reassuring for the mountain pass trek tomorrow where we would have to go to 1200metres and back down again. Ignoring this and walking through the grey we carried on and came to this fun bridge near the end of the trek.
Shortly after we left the trees and started hiking across rocks and this is when I saw the first people heading towards me on the path for several days. They briefly told us that the pass had been closed due to the snow and this is where something weird happens. Jamie if you are reading this sit down…I turned into the ultimate optimist. Danny and I declared it would be fine and as we got closer to the camp we saw more people heading down.
When we arrived it turned out that the group had left that morning and been stuck with snow, high winds what had blown them over, and really poor visibility. They had been close to the pass but hadn’t known and turned back. Most were understandably traumatised, most were heading back and the more people we spoke to the worse the stores got. There were wolves, lions, lightening, gale force winds, yetis etc…okay none of that was actually said but you get the idea.
I was in a stupidly happy mood, despite my tent being drenched, dancing around telling everyone my weather luck would hold and it would be sunny tomorrow. It started to snow which raised everyone’s spirits a little more. I ran into Mary who I met at the hostel, she left the day before me and I had a feeling I’d catch up with her and she was pretty down beat. I did my best to say it would all be fine and we were told a ranger would go with us over the pass the next day at 7:30am.
The camp was pretty basic, we had a room we could cook in with no heading. There were two cold showers everyone avoided and some flushing toilets. Lindsay lent me her bottle so I had a hit water bottle for the night and I went to bed in the freezing snow.
Camp Paso 7.6k (5 hours)
Okay so I’ll level with you. In my mind this was an easy day but I hadn’t factored in elevation. Something I will make sure that I do on any future hike. We still did it under par and it was slow going and i took a lot of photos at the top of the pass. Oh so I made it huh? You know why? Because hey prestó the weather was perfect. Okay not perfect but good, no wind, no rain and no snow. The sun even tried its hardest to break though the clouds.
So I awoke at 6am. That’s a lie as I hardly slept that night due to the cold. I packed up as quickly as possible, which in the dark is hard. Took down my tent and realised I had lost all my tent bags. Lindsay later found hem for me and awaited the ranger. We waited a little longer for the sun to rise and headed upwards through more forrest. The path was saturated and the park ranger seemed to stop at every leaf, tree and vegetation to give a guided tour in Spanish. It was unbelievably slow going and weighted down by the pack made it worse. As we got higher we started seeing snow and ice and we soon left the trees for the first clearing that was covered in snow. After the second lot of trees the snow was getting deep and there was one patch of ice where the ranger stayed to stop people falling into the ravine. After this there was no protection and we were at the mercy of the wind waking up through snow and ice to the top of the pass.
Now I and other had done research about his trek and in all the blogs I had read there were no pictures or reports of snow on this section. We actually had a fairly clear day as we met with people who did the trek the day after and they said visibility was really bad. Now it’s important to point out that the pass was never closed. The rangers told us that it was fine the day before when the group didn’t make it over, most of them headed back rather than try again, but in all honesty even in going over on the best day I don’t think I would have been happy to do it without a ranger.
The streams were covered with snow and at one point I went in deep thinking my gortex luck had ran out. I actually thought it had the day before but turns out the liquid in my boots was my own sweat. Still the boots were being good to me and aside from being cold they didn’t let in a drop of that stream water either. We battled the wind and snow and arrived at the top to these views.
Then as soon as we were up at the top it was the same elevation to get down. Because I stopped for photos I found myself at the back of the group and all I can say is going down was dangerous. It’s one thing to be the first person to walk over snow but as one of the last it had turned to ice and there were huge steps down covered with ice, with turns that would send you flying over the cliff edge of you made the wrong turn. Luckily for me I saved my falls for further down the mountain when we were back in the mud. I had a couple of lucky escapes including bending one of my hiking poles really badly. I couldn’t believe my luck because of that hadn’t broken my fall I’d probably be structured off the mountain. In hindsight I think the poles were part of the problem. I’m not used to using them and with my camera out I had weight on all sides and no arms to counter balance. But I made it exhausted and all on one piece and someone retrieved my had that I’d left on the path so all was good.
It was here that I said goodbye to most of the group I’d travelled with as they were all heading on to Camp Grey another 10km away on this day. It’s probably a god thing as I was exhausted. I hung out with Simon, Louie and Lottie before heading to my tent at 4:30 to warm up my sleeping bag. Camp Paso is about 200 metres from Glacier Grey and it’s cold. I popped out at 6pm for some food, the rangers gave me some pasta and I went to bed. It rained all night to give me a sticky walk the next day.
BUT today I had walked across my first mountain pass. I was ecstatic by the achievement and in the context of things I’m not sure there are many people how can say they have done the same.
Refugio Grey 10k (2 1/2 hours)
Okay so some night call this cheating but for my fifth night I had booked a bed in a Refugio. I did this to lighten the food load as I’d get dinner, breakfast and lunch provided and just to give myself a break. I have to say that I was broken at Paso. I was tired from the walking, lack of sleep and also that most of the friends I had made were now a day ahead and I wouldn’t see most of them again. To be honest I wasn’t excited about he bed in the morning but it was another night I could tick off if I made it there.
I crawled out of be with the sunrise around 7:45 and took a long time to get ready. The British family offered for me to walk with them but they were leaving later, I was cold and the only way to get warm is to walk and also I wanted to go at my own pace. I was tired and thought I’d take it slow with a lot of breaks.
I thought this trek would be fairy easy. I was wrong. The weather was also not perfect. It was a cold Octoberish day with rain not quite taking hold. There were some steep rises and drops out of the camp and then some less than 100% safe paths along cliff edges that required steep climbs. The wind wasn’t bad but seemed to be getting stronger and then there were the rope bridges. I’d forgotten about the rope bridges. This is the first one.
I reached it and took photos strapped everything to my pack got up and walked across. Looking down I realised that a fall would be instant death so I egged my self forward as if I was calling an animal to me and soon I had crossed safety. I’m not good with hikes and the word thing is that I just did it without question. Well I suppose there was no way back but I was proud of myself for the achievement.
The path then turned down into the forrest and was much more sheltered before another climb and I realised the second bridge was coming. I reached the top and could hear the wind blowing. There was a viewpoint to the right which I started to walk towards before realising that I had to cross the bridge now if it was going to happen. I got to the bridge and could feel the wind with the occasional strong gust. I didn’t want to be in the middle when that hit. I waited a few minutes for it to die down but it didn’t. So I thought now or never and stepped out on to the bridge, hunkering down a little which I hopefully thought would protect me against a sudden gust of wind. It was really scary but i made it to the other side.
Soon after I ran into the Canadian couple who told me I was nearly at the Refugio and that there was one more bridge. They also said the refugio was warm and there was a bar. I nearly cried as at this point I felt like I’d been in the wilderness for about a month. The final fridge was a doddle, the worst thing were the two girls taking selfies who held me up.
I arrived at the Refugio and it was warm. I had a hot shower, sat in the warm all afternoon. The sin came out so I decided to go to the view point to get a look at the icebergs.
I had dinner at the Refugio and the food was extra delicious and the bed was comfy and warm. I awoke the following noting realising I had broken the back of the trek and feeling like i could complete it. Two more nights of camping and one more Refugio and these camping nights should not be at high altitude, in freezing temperatures and snow….
Paine Grande 11km (3.5 hours)
Today was a fairly short walk, many people go on to the next camp, so I decided to wait for a hot lunch and hike in the afternoon. I didn’t realise I’d get kicked out and have to wait in the hall while the staff cleaned. Still, lunch was great, and I started hiking with the Dutch guy who was also in my room.
The trail largely followed Largo Grey east then skipped across land until you reach Largo Pehoe where the camp is situated on the shore. We had beautiful blue sky but the wind made it cold when we stopped to take photo. Once you get going there are some steep climbs which provide some spectacular views of the lake and glacier.
I became cold so hiked ahead on the second section of the tail. Annoyingly when I was near the camp I twisted my ankle again but managed to finish and i quickly forgot about it when I saw the campsite.
I had been told this camp was windy. As I checked in I was told they lost four tents the night before. I found a secluded place to pitch and settled in for the night. It was blustery when I arrived but the wind hit hard in the night. It was so loud but not loud enough to block out the snoring from the tent next door. Both noises kept me up all night, but the wind was really scary. My tent to it’s credit stood up to the challenge really well. I heard people the next day discussing how they had bent and broken tent poles I felt good that my little tent was in perfect condition.
Camp Italiano 8km (1hour 40mins)
I set off early the next morning, partly so I didn’t kill the snorer in the next tent and alps because the weather reports suggested rain in the afternoon and I wanted to head up to the French Valley.
I set a really fast pace and arrived at he camp before most people had left. I set up my tent in what I thought was a good place as it had drainage and headed up to the valley. I made it to the first viewpoint and hear my weather luck ran out. The mountains were covered in clouds and it was difficult see yet you could still see the beauty. At times there was a roar of an avalanche but I couldn’t locate the snow.
I decided to skip the second viewpoint when the rain started. I put on my waterproofs and headed back down to camp and jumped into my tent for a snooze feeling smug that I hadn’t gotten wet. What started as light rain turned onto a downpour and I realised that water was pooling under my tent and coming through the ground sheet. I jumped out and someone suggested I move all my things out and move my tent. Camp Italiano is a free camp and as a result has very few facilities. There is a small shelter with two picnic tables and it was full of soaking wet people. I decided I had a better idea and so I got to work building new channels for the water to flow that led it around my tent and not under it. There was so much water coming from the sky that the water hitting my tent was also running under so I build a moat, all with my boots to send the water around the tent. This worked and the water stopped pooling but I was now soaked. I got into my tent, changed into my dry clothes and waited for the rain to stop or slow down. The problem is that it didn’t. The wind picked up and there were sting winds in the trees, loud raindrops hit my tent all night and I kept hearing avalanches, thinking I’d be covered in water or something at any time. With my waterproofs soaked both inside and out and no shelter I had no choice but to wait until morning. This was 17 hours after I first got into the tent. It was a long long wait, but i can’t complain, the tent didn’t leak, i was dry, my sleeping bag was dry, my shoes were dry which was much better than most other hikers.
Refugio Chillano 17km (6 hours)
I started packing as soon as it seemed logical to do so. The rain had stopped sometime in the night and the wind had also dropped. I put everything back in my dry bags and swirly other than the ground sheet my tent was mostly dry. There were a lot of clothes hanging in the shelter trying to dry, unsuccessfully. In the night is made a playlist and put my headphones in. To be honest at this point I was tempted to march back to Paine Grande and catch the boat back to the busses but I’d come so far I knew I couldn’t give up now. I walked the first 2km in 25mins listening to metal and arrived at Camp Francis. People were pretty miserable here too due to the rain and I ran into some of the O Trekkers from the day behind me so I hiked with them.
Due to the rain there was a lot of mud, the paths turned into streams and this that we did have to cross were inflated. Today i was mostly walking alongside Lago Nordenskjöld. There was lots of ups that gave us some great views and a rainbow popped out.
Once we passed the lake i said goodbye to my new friends and took the shortcut to Chiliano. What I didn’t expect was the extra deep stream to cross and this is where my boots failed me, but only because the water came over the top of them. To be fair the amount of water they let in was minimal but I now had a wet foot. This path was more remote so it went through bogs and many more streams before heading uphill for the final climb to the Refugio.
I made a new friend from Belgium along the way for the final push and with 1km to go a storm hit but i was dry in my waterproofs. I was so glad to arrive i didn’t care that the weather said it would rain all the next day. I told everyone that as long as i was there it would be sunny butte caught up with Lindsay again and we made a pact to have breakfast and set off to the towers at 8am. The storm cleared and We went outside to have a celebration beer.
I found it funny that the tents on this camp site were all on stilts up a steep hill. Also on the way i saw the horses that bring the supplies to the camps.
The Torres and return to Central 12km (5 hours)
Many people got up to see the sunrise at the towers, which as I predicted was perfect (I saw some photos and videos) but as planned I had breakfast and headed up at 8am. It’s a 4km walk through forrest that turns into a steep climb and then is a scramble up rocks to the lake. On the way we saw the sunrise hit the towers.
The day was beautiful and we ran into many of our fellow hikers on the way up. Today was a stressful day as the bus was at 2:30 so we had to make good time. Hiking fast without bugs we made it up in 80mins and I finally saw what i had come here to see. The Towers:
Whilst up there the snow stayed falling so we decided it was time to get to the bus stop and head back. On the way down we saw a woodpecker.
Then it was a largely downhill hike to the busses. I twisted my ankle again with abut 1km left to go but made it in plenty of time. When I got on the bus i nearly cried. I’d achieved the thing that I set out to do. The whole trip up until this point has been based around this trek, the practice hikes and I had done it. I was so excited to get back to town, get clean and have a rest day. Right now I can’t really describe everything I went through but I know it’s changed me. It was Type 1.5 Fun. I do know that I love hiking, I hate carrying the bag and I don’t want to camp more than a few days, although a pub and a bed at the end is more ideal. I do however finally feel alive. And more importantly tomorrow I don’t have to wake up in the freezing dark to put on the sweaty clothes I’ve been wearing for the past 8 days.
I forgot to take a before photo but here is the after one.