My best friend finally came to visit me from New York City. We met in Cusco, took pictures in Machu Picchu, island hopped in Lake Titicaca, joined a tour to see the Salt Flats in Bolivia, and spent New Year's Eve in Atacama, Chile. When we arrived in Santiago, we debated if we should take a $200 flight to Buenos Aires or to Punta Arenas to hike the Torres del Paine.
We chose the latter because I wanted more nature. If only we knew what we got ourselves into. Our flight was in the next three days. I prepared while my friend visited Valparaiso.
After a month on the road, we had a tight budget and planned to stay only in free campsites as much as possible and eat the food we brought. We knew Torres del Paine would be expensive.
Our "W" Circuit trail
Day 1: Bus to Hotel Las Torres - Hike to Camp Torres = 4 hours
Day 2: Camp Torres - Base de La Torres - Refugio Camp LC = 11 hours
Day 3: Refugio Camp LC - Camp Italiano - Mirador = 8 hours
Day 4: Camp Italiano - Gardenia Paine Grande = 3 hours
If you know the W trail, you could see we did not complete the full W trail because we skipped the Glacier Grey. We did more of a backward's U with a little tail. Read on. I'll explain why.
MY PACKING LIST: Light raincoat, long coat, 2 t-shirts, a pair of hiking pants, 4 pairs of socks, hiking shoes, cotton jumper (where the shirt is connected to the pants), a cardigan, scarf and gloves, mini-toiletries, and a journal & pen.
My goal was to keep my bag as light as possible. I knew we'd be hiking all 4 days with our bag and every little pound would add up. Again, another mistake. My cotton jumper was the worst idea ever! It got really cold and it was the most inconvenient thing to wear when I had to use the bathroom. I wish I brought two sweaters and leggings instead.
MY FOOD LIST: 2 Korean Ramen package (from NYC), Asian candies (gifts from back home), 3 ravioli packs and tomato sauce, bread, cheese, salami, 2 cracker packs, granolas, oranges and apples.
Our thought process was granolas and fruits for breakfast, salami and cheese sandwiches for lunch, and ravioli or ramen for dinner, for the next four days.
How did we not think this through? How would we cook ravioli without a pot and fire? How? We were naively hoping there would be a kitchen at the free camp sites. No, there wasn't a communal kitchen with fire, pots, or utensils!
MY (lack of) CAMPING GEAR : We used my 15 Lukas ($20) tent I used on my road-trip from Santiago to the Atacama Desert. It served me well. But, I didn't consider the extreme weather in Torres del Paine. I borrowed a sleeping bag from a friend which I realized too late that the zipper was broken. We didn't have a sleeping pad for the freezing ground or a tarp for the rain.
If you were to get anything out of this post, bring a sleeping pad with you! Also, there are info sessions at Erratic Rock so you don't end up like us. 😭
The hike was difficult because it was uphill and the wind was strong. I was impressed by all the old folks and young kids strolling on the trail.
Our first free campsite was basic. I was a little embarrassed because everyone had their legit camping gear while we had our flimsy tent with no tarp. It got extremely cold at night and the air kept coming in my broken sleeping bag. My back was freezing from the ground and ached from the hardness. Even though it didn't rain, the moisture made our tent wet.
We woke up early because we barely slept. We had our salami sandwich and got ready for our hike.
It was a lot. We hiked for 11 hours in total. We hiked uphill to see the Three Towers. When we got there, it started to rain and the clouds covered the view. We took some pictures and headed down. I didn't like how we had to backtrack because we saw the same view again.
We stopped at a campsite to get hot chocolate, ate more salami sandwiches, and hiked to our next campsite for the night.
This was pleasant because we entered Spring season. Did I mention you could experience four seasons on this trail?
We were so exhausted when we got to our campsite. Obviously, we didn't have any propane gas to make our ravioli. My friend went to the cafeteria to borrow a big bowl and hot water to cook our ramen. The lady was super nice and even offered us mote con huesillo (popular Chilean summer-time drink made from peach and wheat). We also managed to take a shower - the best shower ever! It was so warm that I didn't want to leave.
Our second campsite was not as bad. It was a lot warmer and we camped near the beach.
This was, by far, the most shameless thing I've ever done. My mom would probably disown me as a daughter if she knew. So, we were getting ready for our hike and I saw this guy preparing lunch for a group. There was a lot of food in front of him. My friend asked the night before for water so it was my turn. I used all my lady charm I had and got us a muffin and an apple for free.
I like to remind ya'll that we could buy warm food. I think we came on this trip to push ourselves and see how far we could go.
We arrived at our third campsite. It was free so it was bare minimal again. We set up our tent and left our bags. We continued our hike to see the Mirador. This was my favorite view. There were mountains and glaciers in front of us and turquoise lake in the back. There were also short trees along the trail that I haven't seen before.
It was our last salami and bread. With a stroke of luck, a Spanish guy asked if we wanted the rest of his tomato sauce. I told him we didn't have propane gas or a pot to cook it with. Again, I was shameless. I asked if we could borrow his. He was so nice about it (Propane gas was worth gold). Our cardboard ravioli never tasted better. I returned the pot and gave him my last package of cookies to show my appreciation.
Our third night was the worst night! I wore four pairs of socks, two t-shirts, my friend's sweater, and three pairs of pants. I emptied my bag and used it as a pad. It started to rain. Luckily, our tent managed to stay dry inside.
In the middle of the night, I was tossing and turning. I couldn't feel anything. I literally woke up wanting to cry. I wore my jumper and it was the worst idea ever because I had to take all my clothes off to use the bathroom. It was so cold!
The hike was so sad on our fourth day because part of the forest was accidentally burned down by a traveler. It was gloomy and there were charred trees everywhere. It also snowed. It was difficult to hike because the wind was so strong. I was getting blown. This trip was challenging me physically and mentally. Our spirit was down at the moment.
Out of nowhere, we saw a group of 30 students. We pointed out how diverse it was because we haven't seen many color folks on our entire trip. My friend saw one of the girls wearing a hat with our alma mater, Geneseo, written across it. The group was on a study abroad trip from SUNY Geneseo! What?? We even saw our freshman geology professor.
We were so happy! What coincidences to meet them at the end of the world?
We continued our hike in the rain/snow/slush with renewed energy. But, It was still a struggle because the ice would hurt our face. We arrived at our last campsite, cold and wet. We finally "spoiled" ourselves and ordered a plate of chicken with sides. I missed chicken so much! It was so relaxing to be in a warm building next to the fire.
The idea of sleeping in the rain and hiking to see glaciers sounded miserable to me. I wanted the trip to end. I was exhausted, cold, and hungry. I was so glad my friend felt the same way.
Did I regret not finishing the W trail? Nope, not at all. I've learned about my limits and pushed myself as far as I could until I couldn't anymore. I don't travel to say I did them. I travel to learn more about myself and my environment. This also tested my friendship and made me realized he is my best friend for life.
This was not part of the W Circuit but it was definitely worth checking out. We took a ferry to Isla Magdalena to see the Humboldt penguins. My heart couldn't handle it. I was losing it. They were so cute! They would wobble in front of you and stare at you. Ahhhh! There were small colonies of families in little holes. The baby penguins were so fat and chubby with their fur still intact. By the water, you'd see a colony of (maybe single) penguins strutting and wobbling. I felt like I was behind the scenes of Happy Feet!
Torres del Paine was somewhat similar to Norway. Norway is one of my favorite countries with beautiful greens and fjords. We were hiking for hours in Torres del Paine so we've looked at the same view. The scenery was stunning but this was more of a character-building trip.
I left the park feeling I could conquer anything. But also realizing doing something because I want to do it and not just for the sake of it or checking it off my list. I could go hard and finish the W circuit but I don't know if I would have enjoyed it. Probably not. I am forever a summer child.
Want to hear more crazy travel stories? Read HITCHHIKING TALES FROM A MILLENNIAL WOMAN.
Friends don't let friends make foolish mistakes. Share it with your folks who want to or will hike the Torres del Paine. What are your personal advice for anyone who wants to hike the Torres del Paine? Show some love below - it makes me happy! 😄