One month in Southern Patagonia (Part 1)

Torres del Paine, Chile

When Nathan painstakingly stayed up till 4am changing our bookings a month early, I thought he was crazy.

It turned out that his decision was wise. As we learnt from personal experience and from the Los Glaciares’ park ranger’s spiel, the weather in Patagonia is “very changeable”.

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If you can zoom in to the photo, at this point the wind was incredibly strong; I’m surprised we still managed to have a photo taken!

I wouldn’t be able to tell you what the weather would have been like in mid-March, which was when our original bookings were for. One other issue was that we were missing bookings for two of the necessary campsites, including for the very first night – which would have made it difficult to explain to the park authorities to let us in without a booking. (The booking system was recently implemented and there was ambiguity in the Internet as to how much the park rangers were enforcing the system and whether one could get a booking from last-minute cancellations)

You might think that one month in Southern Patagonia is quite long, but I am surprised at how quickly time flew by, especially since we hiked for a total of 14 days in two different national parks (in two different countries).

Patagonia is a large area and we only explored southern Patagonia in our month there. We toyed with the idea of travelling along the famous Carretera Austral in Chile (which traverses through Central Patagonia) after TdP, El Chalten and El Calafate (to be covered in Part 2), but we decided to leave that road trip until next time.

We started our Patagonian adventure by travelling to Torres del Paine National Park in Chile, arguably the “jewel of Chile” and the main tourist attraction. The most popular trek here is the W trek, which is a trek on the southern part of the park shaped like a W.

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We chose to do the entire O circuit which takes you around the northern side of the mountains.

The biggest hurdle was, as I said initially, obtaining the campsites, because you have to book through at least three different operators and trying to coordinate availability for the entire circuit.

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Miraculously Nathan managed to work something out so we ended up doing the O circuit.

The campsites on the W part of the trek were “refugios” selling food, alcohol and camping necessities. It was quite the luxury to have the option to have hot showers in some of the campsites – something I was not expecting at all! However especially in the Dickson refugio there were hot showers, but it rained all day so I wondered how useful a hot shower would be. The indoor cabin with a hang out area was a good place to escape the unrelenting rain (not heavy, but constant).

The views were spectacular, to say the least.

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I’m never a morning person, but waking up early to cross a difficult pass (with “changeable” weather, as I said) was important to catch the best weather of the day. No one knows whether it will start to snow, rain, or hail – in our case, we had constant light rain which ended up being detrimental to our trek.

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Views of Glaciar Grey after crossing the dreaded John Gardner Pass, and the views of the glacier continued as we walked along the trail 

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When hiking, it is always so surreal to think you were somewhere back there – which we were (when we descended the pass we were beside the midpoint of the glacier), in this case.

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I almost backed out of hiking to the Torres because I developed a cold, but we made it!

Some of our challenges were:

  • The “constant wall of wind” between Camp Seron and Dickson. At least snow wasn’t pelting on our face.

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No photographic evidence of the “wall of wind”, but there is video evidence to be compiled into a video soon. This was the view after the strong winds though.

  • Our tent soaking through on Day 4, halfway through the O circuit. We decided to use an ultralight tent (a Sea to Summit Specialist Duo) which weighed about 700g which was awesome for our pack weight. It survived strong winds, but the 24-hour constant light but unrelenting rain was too much for it to handle. We unfortunately also pitched our tent in a drainage spot so water seeped in from the bottom and leaked from above, getting our sleeping mat and sleeping bag wet. That was a downer not only because of the terrible weather but the risk of wet equipment to our overall safety. We considered bailing out at the next campsite (Grey), but miraculously it was sunny the next day and we got to dry all our belongings – and just like that we were back in the game.

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The miracle that is sunshine.

  • Allocating enough food for the entire trek. We spent about 10,000 Chilean pesos ($22AUD) for each of the 5 dehydrated meals which we purchased from Puerto Natales. It was worth the weight saving, but we underestimated how hungry we would be. Thankfully when we got to Camp Grey we could restock on food. It was quite cute how most Chilean hikers were mystified by the dehydrated meals and baffled that you could get “teriyaki chicken and rice” by adding some hot water to powder in a silver bag.
  • For me, having the perseverance to continue on especially towards the end of the day when I was getting impatient and wanting to reach our destination. I realised I am a goal-oriented hiker, which means that I just want to get to my destination. I am consciously trying to enjoy the hike as I go and to soak it all in – which is sometimes hard to appreciate because you are just surrounded by beauty that you take it for granted. Photographs are great to jog my memory of where we had just hiked from and what we had just seen with our very eyes.

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Constantly motivating myself to keep going onward and upward by trying to guess where the pass actually is. It’s that little dip on the far right.

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The hike up to the Torres was also reasonably strenuous. Hundreds of people do this hike each day so I tell myself I can do it too.

Having not done any physical activity for a month prior to the hike due to rolling my ankle (how stupid), I was quite slow and unfit – but after a few days I got better. Nathan never does any physical activity and he always just seems to be fine.

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One of the three suspension bridge crossings between Camp Paso and Refugio Grey. It was wobbly but thankfully not being blown by the wind at the time of crossing!

One thing that struck me was the tendency for a lot of hikers (including myself) who wanted to reach their destination quickly. On the maps they quoted how long a hike would take and most people would use that perhaps as a measure of their fitness or capabilities – bragging if they made it earlier than the recommended time. I had to consciously remind myself that it didn’t matter how long it took for me to reach my destination, so long as I got there safely and in daylight (in Argentina, some hikers hiked through a snow storm and a tough pass and arrived the hut at 9pm… not ideal. But they survived to tell the tale.) Everyone should hike their own hike at their own speed; and going slower definitely helps you soak in more of the magnificent views which make the inclement weather worth it.

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Whilst climbing up the pass with constant rain, it was a treat to see the sun peek out, even if it was just for five minutes.

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It’s always amazing to look back at where you came from.

2 thoughts on “One month in Southern Patagonia (Part 1)

    1. Thank you for your comment! The booking system is a bit manic but TdP is totally worth it. We also went to El Chalten (at the base of the Fitzroy range in Argentina) for some hiking and will blog about that in coming weeks xx PK

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