Glaciers.  Snow-capped mountains.  Turquoise lakes.  Rolling green hills.  Fresh water that you don’t have to filter.  What could be more amazing than Torres Del Paine National Park in the Chilean Patagonia?  (Click here to watch some of my videos from the trip.)

This was one of the hardest and most rewarding vacations of my life.  Five days and four nights, and we hiked the entire “W” portion of the park.  I knew it was going to be hard, but I didn’t realize just how hard it was going to be.  I had trouble finding information on the actual elevation gains of the trek before I went, but after doing it, I can tell you they’re pretty high.  

We kept good notes that way we could write some valuable information for those who are preparing to do the hike.  We attended the free informational talk (in English) at  Erratic Rock in Puerto Natales before going, which was extremely helpful.  However, we really wished we had known stuff way before we had already bought all our clothing and gear.  We were leaving the next morning, and we were there on a Sunday (which means almost everything is closed except the Unimart.)  We thought we’d share some of the good pointers they gave, that way you could have time to prepare that we didn’t have.

(Update: 10:30 a.m. I was able to find a few recordings of the talk uploaded to YouTube. Here’s an example of one of their talks, and another one.)

Tips from the talk that we used:

  • You need zero-degree rated sleeping bag.  It really does get very chilly when you’re up in the mountains, and you need a sleeping pad for sure.  As the person at the talk said “the sleeping bag rating is for what you won’t die at, not what you’ll comfortably sleep at.”)  So the zero-degree will keep you not feeling freezing.
  • You need to bring extra cord or guy-lines.  Although we didn’t stay on it, many of the sites at Cuernos are actually on wooden platforms.  So you need extra cord to secure your tent into the wood or it will blow away.  It’s also very windy in that location.  Some of the people we were camping with lost their rainfly because of the wind, so make sure to bring extra cord to secure it down.  (There are a lot of rocks around which can help secure the tent down.)
  • You can not start a fire anywhere in the park.  You HAVE to have a camping stove and fuel, and you HAVE to cook in the designated areas.  There are no exceptions to this.  We saw people bring questionable ways to cook food, and they ended up having to buy fuel in the park which was overpriced and sold-out at some locations.  (We also saw people ignore this rule altogether, which is upsetting, considering 30 percent of the park was just burned by people not following the rules.  We even saw someone cooking in their tent, which not only against the rules but extremely bad for you.  Can you say carbon monoxide poisoning?)
  • Make sure to bring garbage bags to wrap all of your stuff in.  We lined our backpack with a garbage bag before putting everything in it.  It’s an extra secure way to avoid stuff getting wet.
  • You have to book free campsites.  You can either do that at the CONAF office in Puerto Natales, or when you get to the park.  We were told at the park that Italianos was completely booked.  However, as we began the hike to Glacier Grey, we stopped by the first office and they have 15 spots they’re allowed to give away.  If you stop there, they can give you a campsite, even if the first guards tell you there aren’t any available.  We ended up getting a spot and it was no problem.
  • Wear all your layers in the evenings around camp when it’s cold and only wear along sleeve shirt while hiking.  You heat up quick, and you don’t need to wear everything or it will be too hot.  If you feel cold with one long sleeve shirt (which you need to wear because you’re right under a hole in the ozone layer) and one pair of pants, just start walking.  In 15 minutes, you’ll be hot.  As she said in the talk, “if you feel cold, walk faster.”
  • If it starts to rain, don’t stop and put on a jacket, walk through the rain. We did that and the rain stopped eventually, the wind dried us off, and it was very simple and we never got too cold or wet.  Otherwise, you’re stopping a lot to remove layers and put layers on.. just keep going.  The weather changes so much, it’s not worth it to keep stopping and re-regulating your body temp.  This was one of the most helpful, practical tips.
  • Sleep in merino wool base layers.  You don’t need to sleep in multiple layers.  In fact, you’ll be warmer because your body heat will help to heat up the sleeping bag better than trapping all the heat with all that clothing.
Other things we learned after completing the hike:
  • When you arrive at the park, a woman comes on the bus and gives you instructions as to what to do.  You go in, pay your camp fees, make any additional reservations you didn’t do ahead of time and watch a video about park rules.  Then the bus drops you off and you begin your trek (west to east) to Glacier Grey.  If you’re going east to west, the bus will drop you off at the other side.  A LOT of people were doing east to west.  From what I heard, it really doesn’t make much of a difference.  You see the same views, it’s just what days do you want to see them on?  The hike to Torres is the hardest, but I’m glad we did that on the second to last day.  I think working up to that hard climb was actually helpful than starting with that, burning out and trying to do another three days.  But that’s just us!  There are strong opinions on both sides, but seriously… it’s beautiful regardless.
  • The map they give you is very helpful and detailed.  It tells you how many hours you can expect to hike for.  (It took us about 30 minutes more than the map told us it would take us.  We stopped a lot though to take pictures and enjoy the scenery.)
  • Showers and water are regulated at the paid sites at refugios.  (FYI, it’s pronounced rah-fook-e-o, which I didn’t realize until after being there.)  We woke up early to make breakfast, but the water wasn’t turned on until 8 a.m. at the Grey Refugio.  There is no running water in the free campsites but they are all near a creek or river.  (Although flush toilets are available, but bring your own toilet paper.
  • There are no toilets along the trails.  With the amount of people that are on the trek and the amount of the forest area that has been burned down, you really are without a bathroom for long stretches of time.  Most of the time I tried to hold it, but you’re drinking so much water so that’s just not available.  I brought a bandana and looked for a place that had a little covering and didn’t have tons of people walking back and forth (which trust me was difficult) and I used my bandana so I didn’t have to worry about packing any garbage out.  But on those 5-6 hour long hiking stretches from one spot to the next, you are on your own in the toilet situation.
  • You have to pack all your garbage out.  There is no where to drop it except for some of the trashcans at PAID sites.  There are no trashcans at the free campgrounds.  They also have signs up everywhere reminding people.  In fact, one of them said, “How many languages do you have to read this in to get it?  TAKE YOUR TRASH WITH YOU.”  So apparently, people still don’t listen, which isn’t surprising.

I created a clothing and gear list for Travel Fashion Girl readers: click here to view all the details.  So for recommendations and tips for what I brought to wear and what gear we used, check it out there.

Patagonia
 

Nina Thomas

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