Know Before You Go: Tips For Trekking Torres Del Paine
Patagonia, a place that at once awes and intimidates even the greatest mountaineers, straddles the sparsely populated tip of Chile and Argentina. It’s a destination of extremes, from granite glaciers and howling winds to lactic-inducing inclines and unpredictable seasons.
That said, the challenge shouldn’t put you off. If it’s a Bruce Chatwin-style overland adventure that you’re chasing, then Torres del Paine National Park is the hiking mecca for you. Whether you’re tackling the W Trail (76km), the O Trail (93km) or the Circuit Trail (110km), get ready to roll into refugios, play Spot the Puma, and fly high as a condor with outdoor euphoria.
But, before you download a Spanish language app or hightail it to the arrivals lounge at Santiago airport, take a second to read a few tips for the track. After all, when you’re headed to the end of the earth, a little preparation goes a long way.
#1 Four Seasons In One Day
Neil and Tim Finn must have penned this Aussie anthem with Patagonia in mind, because the Torres del Paine doesn’t play by the rules when it comes to weather. Even if you’re travelling in summer, don’t expect warm temperatures all day long. You’re just as likely to encounter a morning of razor-edged sleet, followed by scorching afternoon sun and an evening of wind so fierce it threatens to take you — and your tent — with it.
#2 Pack One Of Everything
Given the unpredictability of the weather, packing for Patagonia requires some expert-level foresight. In the end, it’s highly recommend that you just take one of everything. Two when it comes to socks (ain’t nothing worse than a second-day blister party).
You’re going to need a good set of thermals, a decent windbreaker (read: definitely waterproof), all the accessories (gloves, beanies, buff), layers can be stripped off if necessary, sunglasses, and your best, most-broken-in pair of hiking boots. Throw in a pair of thongs, Crocs, or Birkenstocks for around camp, and maybe even do the socks-and-sandals thing if you’re feeling brave.
You’re tackling Torres del Paine. You do you.
#3 Stop, Drop And Reserve
The Torres del Paine is a bucket-list destination for a reason, but with popularity comes crowds. Nowadays, you’ve got to make reservations in advance if you’re planning on staying overnight in the park. Don’t run the risk of being turned away at the entrance, especially if you’re keen to kick it in the refugios (in-park hostels with showers and bunk beds) during peak season.
#4 Lighten Your Load
On that note, if you’re not keen on trekking with a backpack full of camp equipment and all your food supplies, refugios are a muy bueno option for the lighter hiker. If you’ve made your reservations, you can just rock up with your sleeping bag and call it a night.
Staying at the refugios also means you don’t have to worry about water filtration devices, as you can safely fill your bottle from running taps. They do offer meal services, though they vary from to delicious to not-so-delicious. You’ve been warned.
#5 Don’t Be A Sheep
While the O Circuit requires you hike counter-clockwise, you can trek the W in either direction. Your options include starting either with the Torres hike (east to west) or Glacier Grey (west to east).
There is no right or wrong answer here, but I’d recommend sussing out which one has travellers traversing its trails and go with that. It means less crowds at the campgrounds and less traffic on the paths.
One of the great things about Patagonia is the perspective it gives you, so embrace feeling small against the epic landscape.
#6 Forget About Getting Lost
One of the major perks of Torres del Paine is that you don’t need a guide. Sure, they come with a wealth of knowledge about the region, but the tracks are so well signposted that you don’t need a local for directions.
Instead, hike at your own pace and make friends with other travellers you encounter on the trails. Surely someone you meet will know how to ask for “one hot chocolate, please” in Spanish.
#7 There’s No Rush
If you’re trekking during the summertime, the sun doesn’t set ’til 10pm, which means you’ve got almost 17 hours of daylight to play with. Whether you’re sitting by an aquamarine lake or traversing undulating steppe, you’re in Patagonia, so take your time. The inside of your tent can wait.
(Lead image: Bailey Hall)