Patagonia’s dramatic landscapes and beautiful hiking trails have been calling adventurers from around the world for many years. Over the course of our three-week adventure throughout the region we attempted to get exposed to as much of it as possible. One of the highlights of the trip was tackling the W Trek in Torres Del Paine National Park. Considered one of the most popular treks in South America, the W Trek doesn’t require technical climbing experience or require hikers to endure high altitudes. It will, however, test your physical ability, endurance and adventurous spirit. Sounds perfect right? We sure think so.
The 3 to 4 day W Trek gets its name due to the actual shape of the pathway through Torres Del Paine National Park. Trekkers can either start the trek on the west or east side. Taking a look at the map you’ll see that regardless of the direction you decide to go, the path you follow is an outline “W”. Also famous in Torres Del Paine National Park is the 7 to 8 day O Circuit. I bet you can’t guess how it got its name? Ding Ding Ding – That’s right, it circumnavigates the park in the shape of an “O.”
Puerto Natales (Destinations // Puerto Natales) was our pre- and post-base trekking location. We left all but our essentials at our hotel, met up with our W Trek guide, boarded a bus and made our way towards Laguna Amarga – the eastern entrance to Torres Del Paine National Park.
If you missed Destinations // W-Trek, Torres Del Paine National Park Part 1 be sure to check it out to see how the adventure started and how we trekked 30km in two days.
Here is Part 2 of our 4 Day/3Night W-Trek adventure:
// DAY 3 French valley trek
The ferocious sounds of wind and rain pummelling our tent overnight was a nice reminder that we were in Patagonia. Locals will often tell you that you can experience all four seasons in one day – this could not be truer. In addition to being the longest day on the trek, day 3 of the W Trek was definitely the wettest. It’s moments like these that you are thankful you threw the extra money at your fancy outdoor gear to keep you warm and dry. Weather aside, day 3 was definitely my favourite day of the trek. The path has you maneuvering alongside the Paine Massif into the French Valley and is probably the most challenging of all the routes over the course of the W Trek.
After leaving Refugio Los Cuernos we began heading into the valley towards the Refugio Italiano. Trekkers use the Refugio as a bag dumping point to continue their path up the center of the “W” towards the Francés and Británico Lookouts. Upon arrival at the Refugio we were told the weather conditions were too bad and that the trail had been closed after the Francés lookout. Our experienced guide expressed that it didn’t make sense to go further along the path due to the conditions, but a few of us were keen to continue as far as we could go. We were here to tackle the “W” not the “U” – right?
Seven out of sixteen of us (including our experienced guide) decided we would brave the elements and make our way up to the Francés Lookout. After dropping off our bags at the Italian Refugio we headed off. The path became steeper, very slippery and put us in our paces. We passed gorgeous waterfalls, meandered through dense forest and eventually was knee deep in snow. The rain turned to snow and it was like we were in a different world.
Overlooking the French Glacier at the Francés Lookout was fantastic. One of the highlights was witnessing a humongous avalanche in the valley. Our guide pointed out the cracking sounds he heard high into the mountains, which were shortly followed by one of the biggest avalanches he had experienced. It made the strenuous trek to the mirador well worth it. You can sort of make it out behind us in the photo below.
We made our way back down, grabbed our bags and continued along the path. We trekked alongside Lago Skottsberg where we stopped for lunch and pushed forward towards Lago Pehoé. Both of these lakes are a stunning turquoise color and make for a great backdrop as we neared the Paine Massif and our campsite for the evening – Refugio Paine Grande.
To the left you can see the towering Paine Grande and to the right you see the stunning pampas fields along the shores of Lago Pehoé. Definitely a treat for those either using it as a starting point or like us – the last place we stayed on the W Trek.
Day 3 Total Distance/Time: 17.5km/8h
- Refugio Los Cuernos – Refugio Italiano (5km/2.5h)
- Refugio Italiano – French Look Out (2.5km/1.5h)
- French LookOut – Refugio Italiani (2.5K/1.5h)
- Refugio Italiano – Refugio Piane Grande (7.5km/8h)
// DAY 4: Grey Glacier Trek
When we got out of the tent on our last day of trekking the W Trek in Torres Del Paine, we got a glimpse of the sun rising above Paine Grande. Reason # 1,239,456 why we will always remember the “W” Trek. Finishing the last stroke of the “W” was bittersweet.
Our trek started through the pampas and headed up into the valley. The trail itself was quite easy as we headed to our first break stop – the overlook at Laguna Los Platos. While it’s nothing spectacular, it is one of the many lagoons in Torres Del Paine that are being fed by the melting glaciers on the southern ice field.
Continuing further along the trail you can’t help but notice the presence of Grande Paine. We had amazing weather so were quite lucky to have a constant view of this beauty. Grande Paine is the tallest of the mountains in the Cordillera mountain group.
On our way through the valley we made our final pit stop at Mirador Lago Grey Lookout. In addition to views of Lago Grey, we got to see Grey Glacier. Most trekkers will navigate onward to the Refugio Grey Glacier on this leg of the trek. As we needed to ensure that we made it onto the catamaran back to town, we only trekked to the Grey Glacier Lookout.
Known to be the largest glacier in Torres Del Paine National Park, Grey Glacier is a part of the Southern Patagonian Icefield of Chile and Argentina. Like many glaciers around the world, it’s retreating at a significant rate. While we didn’t get as close to the glacier as we had wanted, standing out on the lookout ledge and having the ice-cold air battering us was a clear sign of the enormity of it. Just look at the pic of the girls – hair blowing all over the place. Reflecting on the glacier, we knew in the back of our minds that without continued education and the taking of responsibility it may some day be gone – such a shame.
After spending time at the lookout we made our way back down to Refugio Paine Grande to pick up our bags. We made our way down the footpath to Lago Pehoé and boarded the Catamarán Hielos Patagónicos. From Lago Pehoé, the thirty-minute catamaran takes you to Pudeto on what is quite literally the most beautiful boat ride I have ever been on.
The boat makes its way in front of and around Torres Del Paine National Park. For all the trekkers like us who went from east to west along the path, it is the first time we got a full view of the park in which we spent the last 4 days trekking. We could visualize for the first time exactly where the “W” was and the perspective was astonishing. Seeing the moody clouds stretch along Las Torres, Los Cuernos and Paine Grande in one view is awe-inspiring.
We met our driver in Pudeto, loaded up our gear and began our 2-hour journey back to Puerto Natales. We made one more pit stop to admire the vista, shortly after which our rearview mirror views of Torres Del Paine began to slowly disappear.
There are not enough descriptive words I could use to construct a sentence that accurately describes how grateful I am to have been able to experience the “W” Trek in Torres Del Paine National Park.
Day 4 Total Distance/Time: 11km/6h
- Refugio Paine Grande – Grey Glacier Lookout (5.5km/3h)
- Grey Glacier Lookout – Refugio Paine Grande (5.5km/3h)
Patagonia is a special place and what could be described as the epitome of wilderness. Like many other adventure seekers around the world, the “W” Trek, deep in the heart of Patagonia, pulled us in and did not disappoint. I hope after sharing my stories and photos that you are feeling like an adventure is in your future and add this beautiful place to your travel bucket list.
For up to date information on the trek and Torres Del Paine National Park be sure to visit the official Torres Del Paine National Park Website. Happy Hiking!