The circuit of Paine
Let’s clarify one thing first, Lee likes to walk, me.......not so much. I like to see, seeing is nice, but exercise hasn’t ever been one of my favourite things. But we’d heard such amazing things about the W circuit in Torres del Paine national park, that even I thought I could manage that one.
The “W” as it’s affectionately called, is so named as the shape of the trail has three main prongs, and therefore resembles the shape of a W. It’s a four day hike, and the wimp’s version of the full circuit. So this is the one we chose. Still, it is a four day trek carrying all your own kit, so we weren’t too disappointed about it. In fact I was pretty impressed with myself before it even began – what with not doing walking or carrying.
We started at the western side of the W and caught a bus from Puerto Natales at 7.30am which took us to the edge of Lago Pehoe where we caught a catamaran over to Refugio Paine Grande, arriving at about 1pm. This is where I started to worry a touch. We got there, grabbed a spot and set up our tent, ready to head off at 1.45pm. The only problem being that the walk to the Grey Glacier was 3.5hr each way, meaning with minimal turnaround time and even sticking to schedule, we wouldn’t make it back to camp until at least nine. Add in my lack of fitness and the first day of walking and we were pushing it to make it back before sunset (luckily 9.30pm here at the moment). But we kicked in and with Aly pushing away at the front we set an even pace. The weather was spot on and the views were stunning. Each direction provided something stunning to look at, from the gorgeous green waters of Lago Pehoe to the snow capped peak of Cero Paine Grande. After about forty minutes of walking where Lee proclaimed we were only a fifth of the way there, we worked out we were on track and were only just starting to get into our stride. In the end it took us about 3hrs 15 minutes to get up to the Grey Glacier lookout and the whole 11kms were worth it. The glacier was gorgeous and run straight into the water on two sides of an island. So pretty. The walk back wasn’t so fab though. My knees obviously hadn’t had sufficient warm up and down was pretty taxing. But even whilst I felt like a cripple, it seemed Aly had become one and was hobbling down the trail looking mighty taxed. We ended up making it back in good time, despite the injuries and were in the kitchen cooking up our cheeseburger before nine. Bed by ten – all good. Day one tick, 22kms and seven hours of calorie burning check!
That was until it rained during the night and leaked in through the tent. That, the cold and the ripping wind made for an awful night’s sleep, but waking the next morning to glorious weather lifted the spirits. All but Aly’s that is. Seems the damage she had done to her knee the afternoon before wasn’t improving and she was going to have to end the W and call it an I. Lee and I set off in high spirits though, with the aim of making it to and up the middle prong of the W and camping there at Campamento Italiano. The walk continued to be stunning, and despite lagging on suggested walking times, we made it to the cute little Italian camp around about eleven. The walk up the middle prong, Vallee Frances is equally as stunning as the Lago Grey leg, if not a little more gorgeous. The whole time you are climbing along the rocky path, or walking in the tree covered ridge you can hear massive rumblings from the glacier del Frances. When we got half way up we reached the first lookout and were able to have our packed lunch whilst watching massive avalanches tumble down the side of the mountain. We continued upwards after lunch, pushing on for another two hours through still beautiful scenery to the mirador which overlooked Cuernos and the Torres del Paine. After a very brief spot of viewing in the wind, and some lovely shots, we began the descent and reached camp around about six pm. I had forgotten that there’s not a lot to do when you’re camping, and even less when it’s freezing cold. After finding a good spot to set up camp, and making friends with our neighbours, we did the very sociable act of bringing our stove inside the tent and eating our tuna pasta by ourselves. It was freezing I tell ya!!! Another solid day, which I was still enjoying, covering 22.6kms and 7 hours of walking. Day two – tick.
We kicked off day three with a stunning walk along the Lago Nordenskjold from Campamento Italiano towards the Refugio Cuernos. Despite the swollen knees and aching muscles – where I didn’t even know I had muscles – the walk was pretty spritely and we made great time. At Cuernos we treated ourselves to the world’s most expensive cans of coke, put them in our bags (saving them for Ron) and kicked on. One thing I couldn’t complain about on this trip was the views. Torres Del Paine National Park is simply stunning. On one side you are confronted by the massive granite and magma towers of rock, and on the other stunning glacial lakes. SO BEAUTIFUL. So Despite feeling like there was a lot to complain about on t he body side of things, we pushed on enjoying the stunning scenery. Day three was massive. After missing both the apparent shortcuts to Campamento Chileno, we finally got directions for a turnoff and made more kms than any other day. I’m guessing about 30kms, which took us a massive nine hours with minimal breaks. The highlight was making friends with the world’s best Americans at Campamento Chileno. Doctor Elliot and his wife were lovely, giving us hot chocolate and half a block of chocolate – we obviously looked insanely pitiful by this point! It did get us thinking though and we’ve decided that in order to fund the rest of our travels we’ll pout and play up to all rich American couples in the hope of handouts! No, we have no shame. So refreshed, we kicked on and arrived at Campamento Torres (45 mins from the Torres summit) at just after six thirty and set straight away to setting up the camp and cooking our tea so we could once again get into bed before the sun went down. Oh how wild we are!
Lee woke up for Sunrise on the final day, but I have to admit to not even entertaining the idea as everything was still hurting. Knees, hips, muscles that lie somewhere under the layer of fat – everything, even my massive bones! So it wasn’t until 8 am when the intrepid traveller returned from his 45 minute scramble up, little sunrise stationary stint and then 45 minute scramble down that I saw what I had missed. It looked stunning, the towers were lit up orange and the sky was a gorgeous mix of pinks and purples. But the weather soon turned and by the time we had packed up our tent for one final time, the drizzle had set in. The horror walk up from the previous day was turned into an equally painful downhill charge (the knees weren’t happy), but one that thankfully only lasted 2 hours. By 11.30am we were down – the walk was over – and the body didn’t feel like it had far to go either before it packed it in.
But despite all the aches and pains I would do it again in a flash. After 4 months of travelling, 5 countries and countless amazing sights and events, this almost makes the top 5. Now if I could only get a double leg replacement (models only need apply).
Love you all loads
Em & Lee