On this collection, we take you step-by-step by how we deliberate a few of the most intricate journey adventures, so you’ll be able to recreate them your self with ease. Right here, author Sarah Reid takes you thru how she deliberate her hike on Chile’s well-known W Trek.
Tracing the foothills of the snow-capped Paine Massif in southern Chile’s well-known Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, the W Trek one of many world’s most epic multi-day tramps. Named for the form sketched by the 80km (50-mile) path, the W Trek immerses you in a few of Patagonia’s most mesmerizing surroundings, with turquoise lakes, oozing glaciers, gnarled subpolar forests and wildlife recognizing alternatives aplenty (you would possibly even spot a puma).
Whereas it’s simple to comply with the well-trodden if not all the time well-marked path, planning the expedition is sophisticated by the quite a few methods to entry the route and the a number of reservations required earlier than you set out. Having not too long ago skilled the path in two other ways, I’ve found out all of the methods you’ll have to plan one of the memorable hikes of your life. Right here’s what I discovered.
Step 1: Time it proper
Discover one of the best combine of excellent climate and lodging availability.
Mountaineering the W Trek hinges on the supply of the half-dozen presently operational refugios (hostels with restricted dorm beds, a restaurant, sizzling showers and campsites) dotted alongside the route, which may ebook out months prematurely in the course of the November-to-February peak season. That is the warmest time of the 12 months comes with the added bonus of lengthy daylight – nevertheless it may also be very windy. The less-busy shoulder seasons (March to April and September to October) supply elevated tenting availability and extra agreeable climate (doubtlessly; that is Patagonia, in spite of everything). A information is required for a wintertime hike (Might to August, when refugios are closed). Wildlife, together with pumas, may be noticed year-round.
To get to Torres del Paine, you’ll have to journey to the small, superbly located gateway metropolis of Puerto Natales. You’ll be able to fly right here (or to close by Punta Arenas) from Santiago, take a four-day ferry journey from Puerto Montt or journey overland from Argentina (a 5.5-hour bus trip from El Calafate to Puerto Natales). From Puerto Natales, count on a two-hour bus trip to the jap finish of the W Trek, and a three-hour bus trip adopted by a 45-minute ferry to the western finish.
Step 2: Determine which path to hike in
You can begin or end your trek with one of many hike’s most epic views.
The W Trek may be hiked from east to west or vice versa, independently or guided, and you may take as many days as you want (pending refugio availability). Hikers with a great degree of health will discover it’s an achievable four-day unbiased hike. Consider an additional day so as to add a glacier kayaking or ice-trekking tour departing from Refugio Gray (organize prematurely; extra on this under).
The advantages of climbing east to west embody frequent each day bus providers from Puerto Natales (from 7am) to the trailhead. You’ll additionally knock off the difficult hike to Mirador las Torres, on the base of the three granite towers that give the nationwide park its title, on the primary day. Mountaineering on this path additionally means you don’t have to fret about securing a spot on the primary ferry of the day throughout Lago Pehoé to entry the western finish of the W (crucial for a four-day itinerary), as ferry tickets can’t be booked prematurely. The early ferry (9am) solely operates from November to March.
The fantastic thing about climbing west to east is the chance to spend your final night time at Refugio Chileno, making it simpler to catch the dawn at Mirador Las Torres in your last day and be again in Puerto Natales by dinnertime (ending at Paine Grande will get you again to city nearer to 10pm). With Patagonia identified for its robust westerlies, climbing eastward additionally retains the wind at your again for many of the journey.
Step 3: Take into account your reserving choices
Reserve your lodging, transit and park go prematurely to simplify your life.
That is the place it will get difficult. The 2 refugios on the path’s western finish (Paine Grande and Gray) are operated by Vertice Patagonia, which additionally runs glacier trekking and kayaking excursions. The opposite 4 refugios (Francés, Cuernos, Chileno and Central; there’s a further bunkhouse close to Central referred to as Torre Norte) are operated by Las Torres Patagonia. You’ll be able to ebook most popular campsites and dorm beds (some refugios even have rooms) individually by their web sites, or make reservations at camps run by each operators in a single reserving by way of Reserving Patagonia.
Meals, pre-pitched tents, sleeping luggage and mats may be prebooked for extra charges, pushing the price of a four-day hike from as little as $62 (tenting prices solely; wild tenting is forbidden) to round $400 in the event you ebook all of the extras (and it’s value doing so in the event you’re not eager on carrying all of your provides, together with cooking gear). Reserving bus tickets to and from Puerto Natales prematurely can be really helpful; Bus Sur providers each ends of the path.
A neater if dearer choice is to ebook an all-inclusive bundle. These are available all styles and sizes, starting from basic unguided through-hikes, to hikes alongside sections of the path every day with a information then shuttling again to an off-trail camp or lodge every night time. (Observe that it’s troublesome to finish all legs of the W Trek as day hikes given the amount of backtracking required to the 2 exit factors.) Native operators providing good-value unguided through-hike packages with an east-west itinerary (about $1000) embody Chile Nativo and ChileTour Patagonia. Las Torres Patagonia and Vertice Patagonia additionally supply packages with lodging at their very own properties (a through-hike is simply attainable with the previous). Worldwide operators together with G Adventures and World Expeditions additionally supply through-hike packages.
You’ll additionally have to ebook a multi-day nationwide park go by way of the CONAF web site ($35), which might be checked on the entrance to the park.
Step 4: Prep for the journey
Discover the right gear on your journey.
With the whole path positioned between 100-900m (330-2600ft) above sea degree, there’s no altitude to think about on the W Trek. Nevertheless it’s the ever-changing Patagonian climate, together with the uneven, often-exposed path, that may doubtless check you. Layers are key, and a water-proof jacket, rain pants and pack cowl are important year-round.
Count on to have next-to-no mobile reception all through the journey. Wi-fi coupons can be found on the market at refugios (supplied the router is working) nevertheless it’s extra enjoyable to remain disconnected and mingle with fellow hikers on the bar as an alternative; each refugio has one. Be conscious when packing that every little thing you carry into the nationwide park should come out with you – the one garbage bins at refugios are designed for bathroom paper. With a restricted variety of energy factors in refugios for charging gadgets, packing spare batteries is a good suggestion.
Step 5: Nail the path
Be adaptable to situations to get probably the most out of your journey.
Days on the path may be lengthy on a four-day hike; set out by 8am in autumn and spring to reach in camp effectively earlier than dusk. Should you’ve booked meals, most refugios have two sittings; ebook the primary sitting once you arrive in camp every day to make sure an early night time, and early begin the subsequent morning.
On foggy days, rethink rising early to hike to Mirador las Torres for dawn. You may also want to reassess the largely uphill return hike from Mirador Francés to Mirador Británico (the center arm of the “W”) in poor climate, although I hiked the latter in common situations and loved it, significantly as I noticed a pair of endangered huemul deer proper under Mirador Británico. Take into account leaving non-essentials in a dry bag at Italiano (a CONAF-run camp not presently open for in a single day stays) in your manner up, as you’ll go this camp once more in your manner again down.
Should you’re making good time between Paine Grande and Valle Francés (French Valley), take into account veering off the primary path to hike the lesser-tramped different path across the barely extra scenic jap facet of Lago Skottsberg, which provides about half-hour to the journey. Flip left on the first bridge after Italiano in the event you’re coming from the east, and head proper on the fork after the primary bridge you cross in the event you’re coming from Paine Grande.
If I might do all of it once more…
I booked a last-minute four-day through-hike bundle on my first W Trek expertise. I hiked east to west in March 2022, and camped at Central, Cuernos and Paine Grande, and this itinerary was good for me. I’ve since hiked sections of the path on a guided multi-day, multi-sport tour with Chile Nativo, with very good views on Torres del Paine that complemented my first expertise.
If I had been to do the W Trek once more, I’d goal to sort out the prolonged model of the path referred to as the O Circuit, ideally in late September, as I discovered the climate very good and the crowds skinny once I visited then. I’d lower prices by making unbiased bookings, and I’d ebook my meals once more (although additional comforts will not be accessible in any respect refugios on the O Circuit).
Since my toes had been soaking from the second day onward, I’d additionally put on waterproof boots; pack fewer snacks, because the boxed lunches had been adequate; and go simpler on the Carménère (Chilean purple wine) on the refugio bars. Did I point out you’ll be able to order pisco sours, too?