Arguably the most famous location in Chile is Patagonia; even if you don’t know what or where it is specifically, you’ve heard the word before, and not just because of the clothing brand. Torres del Paine is the huge national park located in the Chilean side of Patagonia, and is largely responsible for that name recognition.
When I arrived this semester in February, the tourist season in Torres del Paine was already wrapping up. We thought that we wouldn’t be able to go until one of my friends from IES Abroad found a company doing tours for international students with Santiago as a starting point. We went the first week of May, when it was roughly 45 degrees, a bit rainy, and very windy, but not all that snowy.
The trip started a day before we did the actual W trek: we met in the airport in Santiago, traveled together as a group to Punta Arenas, which is the southernmost city in Chile, and then we took a bus up to Puerto Natales, which served as the launching point for our trip to the Torres. After arriving at the hostel there was an introductory session about what we would be doing, what we would need to bring, and all of those important things. We ate together, prepared our backpacks, and got ready to leave for the park bright and early the next day.
The drive to the national park was about two hours with a short stop to pick up our main guide who lives outside of ‘Natales’ as the locals call it. Driving in we passed guanaco, which are a Patagonia staple and share a close relation with alpacas and llamas, as well lakes and streams, and we already had a fantastic view of the famed Torres before we’d even entered the park proper.
Our first adventure was a wet and windy catamaran ride across Lake Pehoe to get to the start of the W trek, which is one the western side of the park. We arrived, dropped our bags, and began our first trek to the Grey Glacier. There were tons of trees in the throes of fall and plenty of rocks and mud. That would be a common theme. The glaciers are a brilliant blue white and almost seem to glow. They had told us beforehand that the glacier had decreased in size drastically in the last ~80 years.
We returned to our backpacks and began the journey to our first campsite—this is where things went downhill for me. I had kept up well during the first hike so I thought it’d be similar for this second one, but with the added weight of the backpack and my tiredness and lack of energy from the previous activity. During this time I realized just how mental these treks are—the mountains don’t care that you’re tired, sleeping in a tent, and carrying extra weight, not to mention eating less and differently than you usually do. Once I got to the campsite I was fine, but it was an uphill battle that I truly didn’t think I was going to win.
The second day we trekked to the French Glacier, which was one of my favorite views of the trip. With this longer trek came a lot more wind—more than many of us had been prepared for. The viewpoints for the glaciers are open and exposed, which makes it hard to spend any kind of quality time enjoying the view. We were almost knocked over trying to take pictures at el Francés. I didn’t end up continuing the hike to see the British glacier, and half of those who did go didn’t make it all the way to the viewpoint.
I was knocked over later that day when we were heading to our second campsite of the trip. Luckily I was happy with the view I had of the Torres from the base of the park, because the guides told me I wouldn’t be able to do the trek up to the viewpoint with my leg the way it was. Fortunately adrenaline kept pumping, and my leg was bad, but hurt much more when I stopped than when I kept moving forward. At this point we were all tired and the guides had already adapted for me and the other slower person. I do, however, maintain that I was not going slow and that I was simply not rushing. My friend pointed out that we all had different goals for the trip: mine was to see pretty things, while others were focused on getting to the destinations.
The second day my previous tent buddy and I split up so that me and my fellow slowpoke could avoid going up to the campsite closer to the Torres—which was double the distance of the campsite we ended up staying in.
Our last day was when the sun came out, shining on the mountains and us as we made our way to the exit. It was the only day we woke up with the sun shining—true sleeping-in if you know anything about the sun schedule in Patagonia. We passed the Patagonia hotel and the horses that call it home—they were beautiful.
Much of the trek was over rocks and streams—water from the melting snow and rivers seems to run into the paths people have made through the park. We crossed at least five huge waterfalls throughout the trip, and I slipped on at least three separate occasions (not all of which were related to the aforementioned waterfalls). It was an incredible trip, and very beautiful, and as I told my parents: I am so happy I did it, and I am so happy it's done.
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My name is Maggie and I'm from Chicago, Illinois (one of the best cities in the States in my completely unbiased opinion). I'm left-handed, could watch Encanto every day, and I am a huge fan of the singer-songwriter Mitski. I study Public Policy at the University of Illinois in Chicago and am excited to learn more about Santiago. I hope to find a community away from the one I have at home and make Santiago my own.