Torres del Paine “W Trek” Day 1: Refugio Chileno & Mirador Las Torres

Hi Guys!  Hope you are having a wonderful holiday week.  I took a little time off blogging to relax with family and unplug, but I’m back and want to wrap up these Patagonia posts.  Enjoy!

Now that you’ve seen the overview of the Torres del Paine W Trek, I’ll start recapping the 5-day hut-to-hut hikes.  Our first day on the trek would consist of a couple bus rides, a 2-hour hike to Refugio Chileno with packs, then after dropping our packs, a 4-hour out-and-back hike to Mirador Los Torres.  We lodged at Refugio Chileno that evening (see #1 on east side of map below). 

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{ map source }

We re-packed our gear the night before and made sure our large packs were not too heavy.  We kept asking “es necesito?” and removing items that weren’t really necessary.  Luckily we didn’t have to pack too much water as you can drink water from streams within the park, and were usually within a couple hours of a refugio.

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{ Bye dreary Puerto Natales! }

We had a 2-hour bus ride from Puerto Natales to Laguna Amarga (the entrance to the park) that left around 8 AM that morning, with one short stop at a small town, Castillo, for bathroom, food/coffee, and souvenirs.   We were getting to some wide-open spaces.

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I think David slept most of the bus ride, and I listened to my podcasts.  Thank you, Rich Roll for entertaining me on these long rides!

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{ not obsessed or anything }

Once you get to the park, you are dropped off at the Laguna Amarga ranger station where you have to fill out a form (you must keep a copy while in the park) and watch a video.  There have been devastating forest fires in the park, so they are pretty serious about visitor education.  Then you get your packs and wait for a minibus that costs 2,500 Chilean Pesos per person that will take you to the Refugio Las Torres area where the trailhead is.  This is a bit confusing: they don’t drop you off directly at the Hotel Las Torres because it is on private land, so they drop you off and you walk to the hotel.  Sort of odd, but not a long walk.  There is a bathroom at the hotel – I highly recommend using it while you can as there is little cover on the trail.

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{ Hotel Las Torres in the background }

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There were a good number of hikers on the trail since most of us started that morning.  There are some nice wooden signposts with elevations and distances on this east side of the park.  We quickly shed layers as it was hot while hiking – Texas represent!

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There is some elevation initially, but nothing too bad.  After you get into the valley, you’ll follow a river and hike along the mountain side.  There is a lot of loose gravel that might be more dangerous when wet.

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After about two hours (I think possibly 1.5 hours for us), you’ll see signs of the refugio and cross a wooden bridge to get to it.

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We had reached the adorable, rustic Refugio Chileno where we would check-in, drop our large packs and re-pack our day packs, claim our bunk beds, and eat lunch before the next round of hiking to the lookout.

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Our packed lunch we had picked up in Puerto Natales the day before was a heavy, Ciabatta sandwich with cheese, hearts of palm, and some other veggies and mayo (turkey for David).  The hiking snacks were a big bag of trail mix, an apple, a chocolate bar, and a Nature Valley-like Chewy bar.  Yes, either we ate all of it over the course of the day, or anything we didn’t eat was saved for the following days!  There was also food & drink available for purchase at the refugio.

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From the lunch spot, we could see the peaks of Las Torres, the area we’d hike to next.  The first part was fairly wooded with quite a few stream crossings.

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Then we made it to a more exposed area with steeper elevation.  The path is pretty good – no scrambling, but a little rocky.

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After some good uphill hiking, we turned the corner, and were shocked at the amazing views.  First, the peaks, then the shimmery glacier run off, then a glacial lake!  It was truly hard to capture this on camera, but it was one of the most spectacular views I’ve ever seen.

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I’m really bad about stopping to enjoy my surroundings, but we definitely took some time to take this all in.  Completely amazing. 

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The return trip was swift and mainly downhill, then it was time to clean up and enjoy the evening!  First a little tour of Refugio Chileno.  This was my favorite refugio of the trek; it’s one of the smallest, so book early, and it’s run by Fantastico Sur.  There’s a pretty hip vibe, with sounds of reggae and dance music coming from the kitchen.  The rooms are bunk beds (8 in ours, there were three levels!), and there are showers with hot water (bring flip flops) and a heating room in the back to dry clothes.   Keep in mind you are in the middle of the wilderness, so it’s not luxury, but I loved its character.

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After cleaning up, re-packing, etc. we hung out in the dining area before dinner (you will be kicked out briefly while they set the table).  It was fun to meet some of our fellow hikers over dinner, who came from the Netherlands, Israel, and Colorado.  Most tourists on the trail spoke English as a common language. 

I had ordered a vegetarian dinner in hopes of more vegetables, and David had the regular.  They have a set menu that changes daily.  There is alcohol for purchase as well, though usually it’s a big pricey.  The refugios served three courses for dinner, catering to hungry hikers: starting with a soup and bread, then the main entrée, and lastly a dessert.  Tonight’s menu was a veggie soup, Shepherd’s pie made of ground beef, hard-boiled eggs, and mashed potatoes for David, and mashed potatoes and veggie burgers and roasted vegetables for me.  Dessert was a chocolate mousse. 

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I was really happy with my dinner, but some of the fellow hikers weren’t too happy with the powdered mashed potatoes.  Much of the food is packed in by horses (we assume since we saw them), so a lot of it is in powdered form, including the milk, coffee and hot chocolate!  On the bright side, bread is baked fresh daily from the flour that is packed in.

With six hours of hiking under our belt, we hit the sack pretty early and slept wonderfully!  We used our sleeping bags we packed in and the refugio provided pillows (they all do).  The temperature is pretty cold at night, so I wore a couple layers to bed, but slept well, and we lucked out with no snorers in our room – amazing!  Oh, the place was pitch black, so if you need to go to the bathroom at night, like me, then remember your headlamp or flashlight.   Next up we hike to Refugio Cuernos.


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