Kim visited Torres del Paine national park in December. She has kindly shared her experience in the park which gives you a real idea of what trekking is like. Kim went self-guided, and spent 4 days visiting the park before heading over the border to El Chalten.
I allowed four days for the whole trip. On day one I was picked up from outside my hostal and taken to the Park. Once there, I transferred on to one of the waiting mini buses to transfer to Refugio Torres. From there, I slogged up through the rain to Refugio Chileno. It took me the better part of 3 hours to get there, with much of the hike being a steady climb (and a slow one in my case). The track is obvious, open to the elements (ie not amongst trees) and there’s no chance of getting lost. I checked into the Refugio and later in the afternoon (after it had stopped snowing up top!) I walked up to Las Torres. The first hour of that walk is a very pleasant forest walk. On reaching the turnoff to the Torres campsite, the track proceeded for about 45 minutes up the last boulder clambering climb to the mirador, where, miraculously, the weather cleared for a spectacular view of the towers.
Day 2 I returned early down the hill (one hour down!) to Refugio las Torres to catch the bus to connect to the lunchtime ferry across the lake to Lodge Paine Grande. I had a relaxing afternoon doing a short walk to a nearby mirador and not much else. We had a snorer in the dorm room tonight – fortunately I had my ear plugs!
Day 3 was my big day, a day trip up to Valle de Frances, one of the jewels of the Park. The full day, leaving and returning to Paine Grande and walking all the way up to the Valle de France mirador, was a 9 ½ hour epic and it’s safe to say that I was fairly knackered by the end of it and never been so happy to round a bend and see a hostal come in to view. It was well worth the effort though. The weather was stunning – sunny but not hot and for the most part not much wind. Leaving at 8am, a flat and easy two hour walk takes you from Paine Grande to the mouth of the valley and the Italiano campsite. From there, the first section of track heading up the valley was more difficult and much slower going, being mostly over boulderly river stones. It’s necessary to keep an eye out for paint markings on the stones or ribbons on the occasional tree to ensure you are staying on track.
The track then briefly traverses along the top of a thin and attractively treed ridge, with views to French Glacier, before emerging onto a windswept hilltop. The track soon ascends back in to forest, for the remaining climb to the head of the valley. The forest track is undulating rather than a continuous steep climb, relatively obvious and straight forward, though again you do need to keep an eye out for track markers in some places. There isn’t a lot of undergrowth in these forests so it’s generally easy to spot the track markers up ahead. You emerge briefly at the beautifully situated Britanico campsite (pausing to replenish water supplies from the adjacent river) before walking on another 10-15 minutes to the Mirador itself, which involves a short steep climb at the end. The total climb from the mouth of the valley took me 3 hours. The view at the top of the Mirador on a clear day is absolutely stunning, essentially comprising a beautiful forested valley amidst a spectacular mountain amphitheatre. I highly recommend it and this recommendation is coming from someone who lives in the South Island of New Zealand (and so has quite high standards for scenery). From there of course there was nowhere to go but down. It took me two and a half hours going down, including a very cautious walk down the last boulderly part, where I figured the risk of injury on tired legs was highest. It was a relief to safely reach the mouth of the valley. Then two hours flat walking back to Lodge Paine Grande, a welcome meal and a big sleep.
Day 4 I left the Lodge at 8am, storing my pack in the Lodge’s secure left luggage facility, to do a quick trip to the first Glaciar Grey mirador (just over half way to the glaciar itself). The return trip was 4 hours, including a brief rest at the Mirador to admire the glacier. The track to the first Mirador is obvious, gently undulating and fairly easy. On return to the Lodge, I caught the lunchtime ferry back across the Lago, connecting with my bus to Puerto Natales, arriving back in town in the late afternoon.
My other epic hiking day was a day trip I did to Laguna de los tres from El Chalten. Again I was really lucky with the weather and had stunning views of FitzRoy, photos attached just because I love to share them! The last section from Camp Poincenot to the lake and back was hard work and I didn’t particularly enjoy that part to be honest, but the rest of the walk was very pleasant and with great views. If anyone was concerned about fitness on the last climb, I’d suggest just going as far as the camp and returning to El Chalten from there. The views of Fitz Roy (including the wee Laguna Capri stop) are still great and you don’t have to completely knacker yourself in the process (the one hour walk from Capri to Poincenot is essentially flat and really quite pretty). To the camp and back for me would have been about four and a half hours to five hours I think (from the middle of town), including a stop at the first lookout and then at Capri.