In 9 days we walked 90 miles in the Torres Del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia. This was a test of our trekking ability, and 100% my fault. For the last 2 months we had only planned on doing the “W” trek, which is a very popular 4 night trek. From home in Seattle we had made advance reservations to stay in the Refugios (living in style) and a tent where the refugio was full.
Once we were in Puerto Natales – the classic access town for the park – we started preparing for our trek. We had 4 nights in Puerto Natales to organize ourselves. The first night we went to get a beer at the Base Camp bar run by Erratic Rock hostel because we’d heard it was a good place to learn some things about the Torres Del Paine trekking. They do a talk every afternoon and rent gear. Half way through our beer we started talking with a couple who had just finished the W trek. Turns out James and Karianne are like our travel twins from New Orleans. They quit their accounting jobs to travel for a year and they have a few houses that they rent out back home. (You can read their stories at oneyearoneplanet.com) We had a super fun evening talking with them, and the seed was planted in my mind…. the W sounded so great, what if just we did the whole circuit?
The next day we went to the 3 o’clock talk at Erratic Rock hostel and got all the info. Still only planning the 4 night W trek. I asked Matt while we were at the talk, do you want to do the full circuit? He said a resounding “no.”
Two nights before departure we went back to Erratic Rock for a drink, since it’s a great place to meet other people headed out for the park. Matt and I were brainstorming what to do between the trek and our flight out of Ushuaia almost a month later. I asked Matt again… with so much extra time, what if we just did the full circuit? This time he was only slightly interested. But it was enough for me. I told him to go ask some questions of Elise, who was working the rental desk at the hostel. Things like, can we do it without renting a tent? Where can we buy food along the trail? Price lists for rental gear? Elise was SO EXCITED about us doing the full circuit and convinced us we wouldn’t have to carry any extra gear because there was another refugio and tents could be rented at the other camps. All we would have to do was simply continue on walking once we had completed our pre-planned W trek. Matt said to me, “do you really want to do this?” I did! I assured him. I’ve never done anything like this, and what better time then now? There is so much infrastructure along the way, I could use a flushing toilet and have an occasional hot shower. You might call our discussions that evening a “minor fight”. I was determined to do the Circuit and Matt was convinced that we shouldn’t. But, in the end I won. We were going!!
The next day we set out in search of trekking poles and food to take with us. We walked all over town trying to find trekking poles and dried fruits. We had forgotten that it was Sunday, and in Chile (and much of South America) most stores are closed. Lucky us the major grocery store was still open. While wandering the chocolate aisle Matt said hello to some other shoppers who I was pretty sure had just come off the Torres Del Paine trek. Sure enough, Adam and Kara had just finished the Circuit. We started asking them all kinds of questions in the aisle… mostly just blocking the way for everyone else. After about 10 minutes, realizing this could be a much longer conversation, we all decided to just meet up later for pizza. With dinner set, we continued our meal planning.
After price comparing pole rentals, it turned out to be cheaper to just purchase the poles then try to re-sell them to the next group of trekkers. Now, I think we’re finally ready for our 9 day adventure.
Pizza night was at Mesita Grande (highly recommend), where there are long picnic style tables that you share with everyone. About halfway though dinner with Adam and Kara, a couple that Matt and I recognized from our hostel sat next to us at the table. And in Puerto Natales, the greeting almost always involves, “are you going or coming from the park?”. Our table neighbors were heading out in the morning for the W trek, with the same starting point as us. And since they were in the same hostel, we were even taking the same bus. Our party of 4 quickly became a party of 6 as we shared stories with Norman and Fabienne. Then the restaurant was closing (remember, it’s Sunday) and someone decided our little dinner party should keep going… as a fellow trekker later told us “when you’re in good company, keep it.” So pisco sours were in order at the bar down the street. Meanwhile, I was working on convincing Norman and Fabienne that they should also do the full circuit with us. Our bus was coming at 7:00am the next morning, and Norman and Fabienne had not packed. Reason took over, and we called it a night.
Bright and early the next morning all four of us loaded up onto the bus. After all the weather warnings we had heard, there was not a cloud in the sky. This was great! We watched the sunrise from the bus while Norman and Fabienne were having the same discussions Matt and I went though a few nights earlier… to do the full circuit or not!? Sometime during the 3 hour bus ride, they decided to come with us on the full circuit! HURRAY! I have now convinced 3 people to ditch the “W” plans and do the circuit. After all, you only have to keep walking.
Our experience on the actual trek will have to wait for another post. But we loved the adventure, and now have two great friends from Munich. My advice, just do the full Torres Del Paine Circuit. It’s worth it.