I’m baaaaaack! Did you miss me? Ha. I’ve been in Patagonia for the past eight days hiking ” the W” trail in Torres del Paine. It was hands down the most physically challenging thing I’ve done in my life, but it makes me feel so good to know that I could do it. So for any of you who are planning on heading down to the end of the world any time soon to do some hiking, here are some things I’m glad I did. Later on, look for things I wish I’d done!
1. Hiked “The W” East to West. This was kind of random luck on my part. As I was planning the trip I read lots of travel blogs and this one I liked said they had started at Hosteria Torres so I decided to do it that way too. That means we hiked up to the Torres the first day, which some might think is best to do last (you know, save the best for last), but really, we had perfect weather and were actually able to see them (if it’s cloudy/rainy, you can’t see them) so I’m glad I planned it this way. Plus, we got the hardest hike out of the way first. After that, no matter how hard it was, we could say “at least it’s not as hard as Las Torres!”
2. Intervals.We timed ourselves and walked 20 minutes and rested for 2. It was a nice way to break it up, and it gave us enough time to either take off our backpacks, drink some water, eat a quick snack or duck behind the bushes when mother nature called. We weren’t super strict about the 2 minutes, but usually it was enough time.
3. Stayed in Refugios. Yes, they’re expensive, but if you can afford them, they are worth it. I can handle one or two nights of camping, and we did stay in a tent for one night, but sore muscles plus a hard ground is just not my idea of a good time. If you do want to stay in the refugios, though, book in advance. I booked in early December for mid-February and one of the refugios (Cuernos) was already booked. This is the website for booking Refugio Chileno and Refugio Cuernos (owned by Fantastico Sur) and this is the website for Refugio Paine Grande and Refugio Grey (owned by Vertice Patagonia).
4. My packing job. I brought the perfect amount of everything. There was nothing I didn’t use at least twice. I thought I was bringing an insanely small amount of clothes, but trust me, when you’re sweating a lot every day, it doesn’t matter that you’ve been wearing the same shirt for three days in a row. Also, I was so glad I saved some non-hiking clothes for when we got back to Puerto Natales. It was so nice to be able to put on clean clothes!
5. Packed food. We purposefully didn’t bring enough food for the whole trip because we planned on eating some dinners at the refugios. They are expensive ($10.000 CLP) but you can always share with someone (especially at Paine Grande or Grey) because they give you a huge plate. However, we packed cans of tuna, Cliff Bars, trail mix, Sunshine Morning bars (available at Jumbo and so delicious), apples and oranges, juice powder, instant coffee, tea and cocoa (hot water available at all refugios), pita bread and peanut butter. Yes, our packs were heavy the first few days, but it was worth it. It would have broken the bank to eat all of our meals at the refugios!
6. Flashlight. Bring one. Even at the refugios they shut off the electricity at night.
7. Banano (aka Fanny Pack). My friends made fun of me big time for committing this fashion faux pas, but man was it useful. I kept all my important documents and money in there, plus had room for a cliff bar or two, hand sanitizer and other important things. It was nice not to have to rummage through my backpack for stuff like that.
8. Had an extra day. A lot of people do the W in 4 nights, 5 days. It’s definitely doable in this amount of time. I scheduled an extra night at Refugio Grey because I’d heard that it’s nice to have a day of less intense hiking and to be able to explore more. This was definitely a good choice for me because I ended up hurting my knee on Day 3, and so it was good to look forward to a day of rest for my aching joint. I’m not sure it was the best idea to book the extra day up at Grey, you could fiddle around with that, but it worked out okay for us. (See more on this in the follow up post!)
9. Hiked one part alone. Okay, so they warn you not to do this, but I’m glad I did. It was soon after I had injured my knee, and I wasn’t able to hike up the Valle Frances with my friends. I considered waiting at Campamento Italiano until they got back, but it was FREEZING and I knew I would just spend two miserable hours shivering and bored out of my mind. So, I told them I’d continue on by myself to Paine Grande Lodge. It’s the easiest hike according to the official map, so I figured I wouldn’t have a problem going solo. Besides, if I did, my friends would eventually find me. Ha. Hiking alone was amazing. Of course I saw other hikers, but there were long stretches of time where I felt like I was the ONLY person in the park. It was an amazing feeling. Plus, it was nice to go at my own (slow) pace and take as many pictures as I wanted without worrying about slowing up the rest of the group.
10. Had good socks. There are times when you literally have to walk through rivers, and although my boots were waterproof at some point in time, that obviously wore off and I forgot to re-waterproof them. That being said, although my feet got wet, my wonderful wool socks prevented my feet from getting cold until I could change into another pair. I had two really good pairs of wool socks plus two pretty good pairs and that was enough for the six days of hiking.
This isn’t my last word on Torres del Paine. Look for the second half of this post, plus a picture post coming soon!