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Patagonia: Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine


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In November, 2018 we made a 20 day trip to Patagonia, primarily to do some hiking in the famous mountains of southern Chile and Argentina. We flew to Santiago, Chile which is about in the middle of the country and then to Punta Arenas, the largest town in Patagonia. Travel time from take-off to touch-down was about 28 hours. In Punta Arenas we rented a car to drive up to Torres del Paine National Park. We also visited El Calafate and El Chalten in Argentina.

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We explored various options for renting and returning the rental car. It was virtually impossible to rent a car in Chile and return it in Argentina, and prohibitively expensive to rent and drop off in different Chilean cities. So we had to return to Punta Arenas to drop off the car at the end of our hiking. Crossing the border into Argentina with a rental car is also a hassle. We rented from Avis in Punta Arenas, and I followed the advice of some on-line commentators to contact Avis 10 days before our pickup to initiate the paperwork to cross the border. When I went to pick up the car, they had record of this request, but apparently didn’t actually do anything because it took about 45 minutes for the clerk to fill out all of the necessary paperwork. This included having to sign a paper that we would not take a ‘shortcut’ on the way from Torres del Paine to El Calafate.
So after more than an hour in the Avis rental office, they finally drove the car out from the garage but it had a flat tire, not just low on air but dead flat. They called their mechanic, who arrived 20 minutes later and he promptly went to work taking a tire off of the car he drove in and exchanging it for the flat on mine. It was not possible to simply switch cars because all of the paperwork had the original car’s ID. Meanwhile Lil was back in the Airbnb waiting and wondering why it took over 2 hours to rent the car.

Torres del Paine National Park

The jewel of the Chilean hiking experience in southern Patagonia is Torres del Paine National Park. The hiking is not at altitude since you begin from about sea level but the jagged peaks are spectacular. For the first three nights in the park we camped at the Torres Central camping site which is close to the main entrance to the park at Laguna Amarga. Since we decided to come to Patagonia at the last minute, the camping sites were some of the last options. Getting reservations in TdP is notoriously difficult, especially if you want to take one of the two classical multi-day circuits, the W or O route. People plan these routes months in advance since spaces are very limited. There are several on-line blogs and websites devoted just on how best to reserve the necessary campsite.

In the dining hall at refugio Torres Central

In the dining hall at refugio Torres Central

Dinner time at Torres Central refugio

Dinner time at Torres Central refugio


The good news about the arrangement is that there are dining rooms available at most of the refugios so you don’t need to bring food if you sign up for the food option. The bad news is that the food is not very good. Breakfast and the box lunches were fine but the dinners were barely edible. Nevertheless there is a very nice vibe in the dining hall with all of the serious hikers at the refugio and since you are eating together, inevitably, you get to talk to many of them. We met one group of Chileans who we did not really converse with much because of our limited Spanish. Nonetheless, when we said good-bye, they gave us a kiss like good friends do. The other group we ate with were 5 young Americans who did the hike to the base of the Torres in 6 hours total (it took us about 10+ hours!).

Laguna Sarmiento and Torres

Laguna Sarmiento and Torres

Torres del Paine and a lenticular cloud from a distance

Torres del Paine and a lenticular cloud from a distance

Hike to the base of the Torres

The most famous hike in Torres del Paine is part of the W circuit from Torres Central to the base of the Torres (towers). This hike is classified as difficult and rated as 3-4 hours each way. It took us a total of about 11 hours with a break for lunch at refugio Chileno and about a half hour at the top. Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate. When we started out the skies were partly cloudy with some sunshine but the weather worsened steadily as we climbed. By the time we got to the top, the torres were totally socked in and it began to sleet and blow hard. And in Patagonia, it can blow very hard! The last 2 kms or so were particularly difficult since it is essentially scrambling over boulders. I timed our descent from the top to a sign that said it was 45 minutes to the top. This section, going downhill, took us 75 minutes! We knew we were slow since many people passed us, while we rarely passed anyone else. The hike is very popular so at least you are rarely alone. We had to get back to the refugio Central by dinner time, so there was some urgency to get back before dark. It was disappointing not to get a good view of the Torres after such a long struggle, but this is not an uncommon experience here. The good news is that this was the worst weather we experienced on this trip but of course we didn’t know that at the time.
On the hike to the base of the Torres

On the hike to the base of the Torres

Tent campsites at refugio Chileno where flat ground is at a premium

Tent campsites at refugio Chileno where flat ground is at a premium

One of many stream crossings

One of many stream crossings

Friendly Go-pro hiker

Friendly Go-pro hiker

Supply train for the refugio

Supply train for the refugio

Hike to the base of the Torres

Hike to the base of the Torres

Socked in at the top!

Socked in at the top!

Hike to Mirador Cuernos

After the exhausting first hike, we took it easy the next day with an easy hike to Mirador Cuernos. The hike has one of the best views of the Cuernos, which means ‘horns’ in Spanish and refers to the unusual shape of this mountain range, quite striking with the lovely Lake Nordenskjold below the mountains. The day was overcast but at least when we began the hike it was unusually calm with virtually no wind so the lakes on the way to the mirador were mirror-like.

Reflection

Reflection

Reflection

Reflection

Cuernos del Paine and Lago Nordenskjold

Cuernos del Paine and Lago Nordenskjold

Nice spot for lunch at Mirador Cuernos

Nice spot for lunch at Mirador Cuernos


Avalanche on Paine Grande

Avalanche on Paine Grande


Panorama of Cuernos del Paine and Lago Nordenskjold

Panorama of Cuernos del Paine and Lago Nordenskjold

Panorama of Cuernos del Paine and Lago Nordenskjold

Panorama of Cuernos del Paine and Lago Nordenskjold

Mirador Condor

After 3 nights camping at Torres Central, we moved to Hosteria Pehoe which is closer to the center of the park. We drove the section between Torres Central and Pehoe several times and saw many guanaco (see below) on most of these drives. We had originally planned to stay at Pehoe for 2 days but our flight from Punta Arenas to Santiago was canceled and we had to leave a day earlier than expected, which necessitated cutting one day off of our itinerary. The hike to the mirador is a bit confusing. Most of the maps show the hike starting from the camping Pehoe site. But our host at the hosteria said to take the hike from a small parking spot just past the hosteria entrance. But she wasn’t even clear if the hike went to Mirador Condor. Turns out that both of these hikes lead up to the mirador, just from different directions. There’s a great 360 deg panoramic view from the top of the Mirador and there were also condors to be seen.

Hosteria Pehoe

Hosteria Pehoe

Panorama from Mirador Condor

Panorama from Mirador Condor

View from Mirador Condor

View from Mirador Condor

Nice spot for lunch at Mirador Condor

Nice spot for lunch at Mirador Condor

After we left Torres del Paine, we crossed the border into Argentina at Cerro Castillo and drove to El Calafate and then to El Chalten. There are additional entries to the blog covering those visits as well as one with photos of the wildlife we encountered.

Posted by neurotraveler 17:43 Archived in Chile Tagged argentina photos condors guanacos Comments (0)

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