Torres del Paine – The “W” – Day One

By Bryan • chile, patagonia, photography, travel • 11 May 2013

Three hours off the ferry to Puerto Natales will land one within striking distance of the famous Torres del Paine National Park.  While I like to say I was traveling around Patagonia, this was really my first view of this region, having spent the previous two weeks in Tierra del Fuego.  Torres del Paine National Park is home to the Cordillera del Paine, a massif of mountains, glaciers and lakes protruding from the dry sea level steppes.  The glacier to desert topography combined with the stand-alone nature of the granite massif creates a very unique mountainscape.   

Torres del Paine National Park

There are a number of different approaches to trekking in Torres del Paine.  Purists will opt for the 10 day circuit of the massif, folks with little time will just make a day trip to the well known look-outs and the rest of us will settle for the “W”.  As the below map indicates, it’s fairly obvious where the name originates from.  The W is a four to five day trek along the southern side of the massif.  Apparently it allows the best scenery to time benefit and several of the refugio’s along the W route offer food and lodging options.  I’m told that the circuit also offers some killer views, especially of Glacier Grey, but I went with the W, largely based on time considerations (I still wanted to see Fitz Roy).    


There are number of ways to approach the W, but my trusty LP recommended an West to East route.  I can’t recall the writer’s rationale for this route, but after completing the W, I can say that a East to West choice would require you to trek a rather steep, hot, dry and exposed route the first day.  On a scorching day, this probably isn’t the best introduction to Torres del Paine.  Start West!

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Day one will see a short briefing on park etiquette and forest fires at the park entrance.  Forest fires are a harsh reality here, and the park has suffered several major trekker-caused fires over the past decade.   Accessing the west side of the W requires a short catamaran journey to Refugio Torres Grande.  This refugio is the largest and best equipped in the park and is where we dropped our bags, pitched the tents and grabbed some lunch before making a fast trek up to the massive Glacier Grey, about a 15km return hike along the shores of Lago Grey.   

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IMGP3110Tent city outside of Refugio Torres Grande.IMGP3115

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The trek will take you along the eastern shores of Lago Grey, terminating at Refugio Grey, about 10 minutes below the extraordinary Glacier Grey.  It’s also the scene of one of the recent forest fires.  Like the terrain around the Sierra Valdiviseo, it’s obvious that recovery from fires in this ecotype is a long and very, very slow process.

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Back at Refugio Torres Grande.  Expect a lot of people, but that’s not necessarily a knock on the trek.  Park rules require everyone to cook in a designated shelter, which creates a very social atmosphere with trekkers from around the world trading stories, food and salt…no one ever had enough salt.

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Evening view of Torres del Paine

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