Feb 17, 2011 at 3:11 am #1269284
Though I realized long ago what I needed to do was travel solo, I hesitated for various reasons to go off alone. I suspect my late arrival to backpacking was also due to many of the same reasons, I just assumed that it naturally would involve others.
Well I finally acted on what I always knew: just go and do it. Better late than never, and backpacking light has helped immensely to get me outdoors.
I had some time off and started to think about where to go. It was summer in South America, a good time for a nice long walk. For some reason, I had never been down that way. As another BPL member, Ryan T., who helped me plan the trip pointed out, Patagonia would be an excellent choice. A beautiful trek combined with exposure to another culture, and I would get to play with my gear.
I'm back, and I had a wonderful time.
Despite going in high season it really didn't seem crowded, there was room for everyone. It is definitely a well traveled trail but I found that a bonus. I enjoyed spending time with other travelers, talking in camp, on buses etc. What you invariably have is interaction with a very healthy mix of people who are stoked to be there. The parks are beautiful, well kept and well respected. There is no way you can get lost (the map they give you at the park is all you need) and despite being very fortunate in North America with our vast, splendid wilderness, Patagonia has beautiful places that are concentrated in a relatively small area, and is easily accessible to almost anyone (low elevation) with a little effort. I lucked out with the weather and my gear held up beautifully.
Here are the pictures (sorry for the bloat). I did the "W" trek clockwise, an attempt was made to show what the trail was like and the photos were organized and chosen in a sequential manner to reflect this. The long winded logistical stuff, unsolicited advice and opinions are after.
The trail leading up to Camp Torres:
The Torres. As good as it got for me with visibility:
From this point, if I remember correctly, on the right is a trail that leads you up to the Valle de Silencio (another hour or so). If I wasn't so bagged from travel or woke up earlier I would have liked to check it out. I believe it is an area frequented more so by climbers. Ryan T. has photos of it somewhere on BPL (gearlists I think). Definitely looked worth exploring.
You can also scramble up the somewhat steep scree/rock face (3-400ft?) on the left side for a very nice "high" view and then scramble down the rocks at the ridge's end (pic below) to meet with the trail back to camp.
The walk to Camp Italiano, past Refugio Cuerno. I missed the shortcut:
Valle de Frances. It rained all night and was still raining in the morning as I started up, but fortunately it cleared up for me at just the right time:
You essentially get to the "vista" point, which is a volkswagon sized rock that you can sit on, and are ringed by:
On the way down. Good thing it cleared up because I didn't remember this part.. there was a river?
Almost there, near Campamento Grande Paine. A look back at where I was earlier in the day.
Ahhh… after two hours walking against a howling wind, finally, a huge blue lake, a nice tidy lodge set in a field, with flat grassy campsites…and oh!..college girls.
The last part of the "W" is the hike up to Lago Grey and it's glacier.
You basically walk through a valley, then a ridge along Lago Grey, and then descend down to the water to within spitting distance, and level with, the glacier. I heard the part after the glacier (the view from the pass, the highest point on the trek) is spectacular. Unfortunately, I'll have to wait till next time. Supposedly if you do the 8 day Grande Circuit you want to go counter clockwise because of the pass.
OK, so that's why they call it Grey Lake.
The bus stops at the Ranger station, where I started the trek. While waiting to pick up those who did the trek counterclockwise… a local decided to bid us farewell.
A big bad ass mountain lion! 30-40 feet up on the rockface bordering the parking area/Ranger station. I really should have went outside to take a picture, but I was stuck in the opposite window seat. Highlight! Wicked!
Glacier Perito Moreno in Argentina. Supposedly it's one of the few that's actually growing and scientists don't know why. Day trip from El Calafate.
I signed up for a glacier walk, intro to ice climbing, tourist thingy at the hostel in El Calafate. So I had to hang around in El Chalten. Seeing how nice it was the next day I sort of thought I should've been in the mountains with my trek underway, but the glacier was loads of fun.
Just another day in El Chalten I assume, a quick chat with a neighbor:
On the Senda Fitzroy, heading to campsite, pitch tent, blow up mattress and if the weather holds up… heading up there:
Almost to campsite (well sheltered). The hike to the campsite is pretty much a nice, leisurely walk. About another half hour:
The weather is splendid, tent is pitched. A relatively steep, very rocky, hour, hour and a half hike up to Lagunas de la Tres and a view of Fitzroy:
Pheww.. gotta take a load off:
I spent about 2 hours up there clambering amongst the rocks and checking out the lagoons. It's a pretty small area, but very beautiful. The water tasted awesome, and is really that color. Aside from changing the exposure a little on some of the darker shots, non of the photos in this trip report have been touched up at all. And you're very close up, no zoom on these photos, 28mm.
The hike and view down back to camp. Where I came from on the left, and where I'll be heading tomorrow on the right. Back to El Chalten along the Senda Laguna Torre (trail):
From the clearing in camp, a final look with my after dinner coffee. A nice place to cook and eat breakfast as well:
Had five hours to kill and was only an hour away from town and my journey home, so I decided to take a nap on this rocky patch overlooking Rio Fitzroy. Befriended a Czech couple, his girlfriend was smart and sat in the shade. They weren't kidding about the intensity of the sun down here. I now look like a sherpa. Laguna Torre Trail and a shot of El Chalten.
I suppose it would have been better to take a shot of my pack before I left when it had food etc in it. With food, I maxed out the extension collar. My baseweight was about 10 lbs. MLD Burn, Hexamid tent w/cuben floor and door, MB UL Spiral #3, BAIAC, MB pillow, SP900 w/cozy and Coleman UL F2 stove, Petzl XP2, MB Ex-light, Driducks, Golite Reed rain pants, Montane Lightspeed, lots of icebreaker merino wool, and way too many batteries.
With food for 8 days and a book that I lost, it was about 15-16lbs.
I dehydrated my own food because I couldn't be bothered to look for appropriate camping food in a foreign country with the short time I had. Chilean customs didn't take it away in Santiago.
– 4.5 lbs of stewing beef
-2 lbs of potatoes
-1 lb of carrots (made a stew)
-1 lb of ground beef
-4 cans of Amy's Organic lentil soup
(all the above came out to about 2.5 lbs dried and all food fit in three 9 X 10 opsaks)
-box of instant rice
-28 Nature Valley Sweet and Salty snack bars
-4 snickers bars
-20 packets of Crystal Light and some Via instant coffee.
Torre Del Paine, Chile and Los Glaciares in Argentina are both National Parks in the Patagonia region of the Southern Andes. About 3000 km from Santiago and Buenos Aires. Both Punta Arenas, Chile (PUQ) and El Calafate, Argentina (FTE) have airports. However, it is far easier to fly into PUQ as it has far more flights from the capitals (about 5 daily).
From Punta Arenas it is about a 3 hour/$10 USD bus ride to Puerto Natales, Chile. A very nice seaside town where you can rent or buy all your gear and supplies. There are all the facilities in town that a traveller would need. In fact, the bus stop, supermarket (surprisingly with lots of BPing appropriate food) and a hostel can all be found along one street: Manuel Baquedano. You can rent all the gear that you'll need for the trek from this hostel (about $20/day), and they offer a daily 3:00 pm info session free of charge (stressing you don't need to buy/rent anything).
Erratic Rock Hostel (no affiliation whatsoever. Room 9, the private room, is small but quite nice)
You must go through PN to catch a bus to Torre Del Paine, National Park. There are 2 per day at 8 am and 2:30 pm. I found Bus Sur (on Baquedano) to be the cheapest/best for my transportation needs. They offer service to TDP, Punta Arenas, and to El Calafate, Argentina.
Like PN, in order to get to Los Glaciares NP in Argentina, you must first go through El Calafate. It's about $20USD and 3 hours from Puerto Natales. Though it took about 2 hours to get through the border formalities so factor that in. The town is kind of like a Vail knockoff. It's in wide open, flat country and the major attraction is a huge glacier called Perito Moreno. It's expensive to get to, and though cool, I wouldn't blame you for skipping it. The all you can eat beef and lamb dinner (asado/bbq) is absolutely delicious($10).
I stayed at the Che Lagarto Hostel in El Calafate. A bit noisy, but a very central location ( near bus stop), and by far the cleanest hostel I've ever stayed at. It was like being in a modern condo w/ stainless steel sinks, granite (I think) countertops, kitchen, modern showers etc. Probably cheaper options, but ask for room 9 if there are 3-4 of you or you don't mind paying for privacy ($65 US).
The town of El Chalten (2.5 hours and $20 return from El Calafate) was created in 1985 to service trekkers. You can stay in town and do day hikes to all the trails in Los Glaciares. There are many hostels, but make sure to book ahead of time. You can also pay to camp (showers etc) in town but starting around 5 pm, the wind starts howling. However, there are 3 very nice free campsites in the park that are a short distance from town (4 hours at most, camp capri is only 1.5 hours). All you need is the free map from the tourist office.
It's a relatively small area, though you may want to take it real easy and do a lot of lounging, you can easily cover the area in 3-4 days. The campsites are only about 3-4 hours walk apart from each other and you're only really about 4 hours from El Chalten from any of the campsites.
Los Glaciares is drier, and the TDP has more of a coastal/maritime feel (kinda like a PNW light). Mt. Fitzroy/Lagunas de la Tres in Los Glaciares is awesome. You can spend hours up there. The other trail, Senda (trail) Laguna Torre, has 3 trail heads out of El Chalten, the one along Rio Fitzroy is the one to take.
In general, the Torre Del Paine "W" trek is set up so that you can base camp (for free for the most part) at the bottom or trough of the "W" and hike up the arms to all the vistas at the top of the "W". Going from the right side of the "W" (clockwise) you have 3 "vistas/highlights" that you hike to at the top (about 2 hours uphill from base campsites). The Torres (Campamento Torre), Valle Frances (Camp Italiano at the bottom, Britanico at the top), and the glacier at Lago Grey (Refugio Grande Paine at the bottom, Refugio Grey at the top). My favorite was the Valle Frances, I suggest taking your time.
Whether you go clockwise or counterclockwise (you start by taking a half hour catamaran) is a personal choice. I chose to go clockwise because I had been on planes and buses for 36 hours and was itching to start walking. If you choose this option, there is a $2 shuttle that takes you from the ranger station to the trailhead up to the Torres. It saves you a 1.5 hour uphill road walk.
Everyone I talked to, like myself, did the "W" in 3 nights and 4 days.
Refugio Grande Paine ($10 per person/night) was stellar and like an oasis in the desert. Going clockwise lets you have a shower, cold beer and a hot cooked meal at the end of your trip (isobutane canisters can be bought there for $5). Go counterclockwise and you have a view of mountains the whole way, the wind is to your back and it's slightly uphill. Going clockwise and you have views of open country with a chain of lakes ahead. I quite enjoyed it.
I didn't think it was worth it to camp at the higher sites. Britanico seemed exposed, better to camp at Italiano. No question about camping at Grande Paine. The other refugios I didn't think were that nice, I would rather camp at the free sites.
I didn't book anything in advance and pretty much just showed up. YMMV but I don't foresee anyone else having any problems in this regard. For the most part, all buses, catamaran schedules etc are coordinated, at least during high season. Logistics couldn't be easier. It seems everyone goes out of their way to make sure all are accommodated.
Hope this helps.Feb 17, 2011 at 4:25 am #1697729
Jonathan RyanBPL Member
@jkrew81Locale: White Mtns
dude, this is the coolest thing I have seen on BPL in a while. Congrats and thanks for sharing!Feb 17, 2011 at 4:51 am #1697732
Eugene SmithBPL Member
@eugeneiusLocale: Nuevo Mexico
Bravo Scott- excellent writeup. This trip looks incredible and definitely consolidated in my mind that Patagonia is one place I absolutely want to venture out of our borders to visit someday in my life. Thank you for sharing this here on BPL.Feb 17, 2011 at 6:15 am #1697748
Thank you for putting this together. Well written and the pictures are hard to believe they are even real. It's on my list now.Feb 17, 2011 at 6:22 am #1697749
Devin MontgomeryBPL Member
@dsmontgomeryLocale: one snowball away from big trouble
Just amazing. Thank you so much for sharing. It's that kind of place that makes me feel small, and in awe of the natural world around us. I want to go to there.Feb 17, 2011 at 9:26 am #1697821
Dave .BPL Member
I agree with Jonathan: best thing on BPL in a while. Thanks for posting, Scott. Really makes me want to get to Patagonia.Feb 17, 2011 at 11:01 am #1697884
Fred ericBPL Member
@fre49Locale: France, vallée de la Loire
Thanks for the photos, it reminds me of a great trip :)
I did the TDP clockwise too but because of the snow i wanted to do the steep part climbing.
Camp Britanico is useful if you want to see the sunrise in the vallée frances.
( but camp Britanico next to vallee Frances WTF !!! )
some photos of the same place later in the season ( in 2010 )
But what i hated about Patagonia is hundred of kms of wire fence :
you hike where you are supposed to , no sense of freedom like in Greenland, Iceland or Scottland to name a few places i love.
How bad were the mices ? , they were a huge pain for us, our food was safely hung far from our sleeping spot , but they managed to puncture my wife neoair and walk on us during the nights
maybe it was because food is scare once the snow is there ?Feb 17, 2011 at 11:24 am #1697901
beautiful, thx a lot.Feb 17, 2011 at 12:13 pm #1697922
John Frederick AndersonMember
Scott, hats off to you, mate!!
Great report, spectacular place and excellent photos.
Inspirational, makes me want to get down there myself.
fredFeb 17, 2011 at 1:52 pm #1697968
Thanks. Glad you guys liked the report, I was kind of worried it'd be too much with the photos. I didn't prepare much, and truth be told, was pretty lazy about it, so I thought I'd try to pass along info that I was looking for before I left.
I'm glad the weather held out for me. It's actually not really that large of an area, at least the parts I was in, it'd make a great portion of a larger SA visit. Very relaxing. For most, flying to and within SA is pretty pricey.
I kept on hearing a lot of good things about Bolivia as a travel destination (mountain biking, planned outdoor excurions etc, cheap). And Columbia, supposedly very good surfing, though I'm not sure if it's good for a beginner landlubber like me.
Actually a French fellow I talked to mentioned Greenland and Iceland along the same lines. The well traveled aspect of the trek actually appealed to me this time around. Right place at the right time.
I"ll have to save the cross country for later on when I get more comfortable with map and compass.
For me, its appeal was its ability to combine a trek with foreign travel (I wanted to try the beef). Everything is condensed and hassle free, at least the "W" and Los Glaciares, could be good or bad. I'd like to see what the Sierra/JMT is like. One day Alaska, maybe Glacier this summer. Really there's a lot of good stuff in North America. I'm still undecided about Anapurna (sic)… if it's the same as the Everest base camp trek…though it's for good reason (given the terrain/altitude) seems too much.
I really want to check out the Alps (GR54), or Pyrenees this summer.
I'd imagine it's equally, if not more, beautiful in the winter. Definitely doable (at least the "W"), though that snow looks pretty gnarly.
And you're right about Britanico and the sunset, that would be a good reason to be up there. I forgot about that, it's just walking up the valley, I had an imaginary expectation/image of what the campsite would be like set against the backdrop. When i saw that it wasn't too much different from Italiano, I guess that's when I made judgment.
I had read about the mice problem beforehand, hence the Opsaks (brought along a hanging system too), but I didn't encounter or even see any. One guy told me it was pretty bad in some sites on the Grande Circuit (backside) though.Feb 17, 2011 at 3:30 pm #1698017
Tony WongBPL Member
@valsharLocale: San Francisco Bay Area
Wow….spectacular photos and an amazing adventure that you managed in a MLD Burn?!
Crazy and shocked that you managed 8 days of food and your gear in there with a 10 lbs base weight…Holy Cow!!!
Thank you for sharing this, it is always exciting to see other parts of the world and what they have to offer that is different from what we are used to seeing.
Appreciate your taking the time to write up your trip report and to include so many photos.
Hope to see more trip reports from you in the future.
P.S. Did I see a turn table and tube amps in the background? Audiophile?
-TonyFeb 17, 2011 at 8:49 pm #1698139
Dan DurstonBPL Member
Wonderful pics Scott. Thanks for sharing.Feb 18, 2011 at 3:06 pm #1698471
Wow. Great trip and what cool timing for my own South America adventure. Our scope is rather larger, at a full year from July 2011- July 2012. We're (we: myself, g/f and 15yr daughter) landing in Ecuador and making our way South to Tierra del Fuego before yo-yo'ing back North flying out of Ecuador. I've begun gathering ideas for the classic backpacking/camping parts of our trip in addition to the euro-backpack traveling we'll mainly be doing between the WWOOF'ing.
congrats on a wonderful adventure!
Mind if I p/m you with some logistical questions?
-MichaelFeb 18, 2011 at 7:34 pm #1698569
Thanks Tony, I thought about doing what you do with your trip reports and posting the photos in a gallery.. considering how many I tend to include in mine.
Have a great time at the BPL get together.
The Burn's narrow and not very deep, so definitely no bear canisters, but it's pretty tall. My food was all dehydrated, no bagels and peanut butter (fresh food), that's why it probably all fit in there. And I ate a couple of meals in camp, so it's probably more like 6 and half days.
About the audio gear, stay away if you haven't already been sucked in. It's like entry level audio-fool, but I don't even want to discuss what I paid for my record needle. But yeah, those two silver boxes are a Prima Luna II tube integrated amp and Monarchy tube DAC, and Michell Tecnodec turntable.
Michael, bon voyage on your trip. Feel free to PM me, I try my best to help.Feb 19, 2011 at 5:07 am #1698673
Ike JutkowitzBPL Member
@ikeLocale: Central Michigan
Scott- those pictures are sick! Thanks for sharing them.Feb 22, 2011 at 7:38 pm #1700243
Nick TruaxBPL Member
@nicktruaxLocale: SW Montana
Truly great TR Scott. As others have stated – one of the better things I've seen here on BPL in some time. Many thanks!Feb 23, 2011 at 9:30 pm #1700855
@tacksman99Locale: So Cal
Holy Crap….. an adventure of a lifetime. Thanks for sharing.Feb 23, 2011 at 10:19 pm #1700870
Steven ParisBPL Member
@saparisorLocale: Pacific Northwest
Outstanding photos and TR!
Just amazing. Sounds like a rewarding trip on so many levels.Mar 2, 2011 at 1:11 pm #1703560
John ToppingBPL Member
@johntLocale: Peak District
Great job on the report and photos. Really enjoyed this and brought back great memories. I was in the area at the end of 2005 with my wife and after one windy day we had clear skies and no wind for seven consecutive days. We daren't go back as it could never be that good again!
I note your aspiration to get on the GR54 in the future. Highly recommended and if you want any more info feel free to PM.
Thanks again for the report.Mar 2, 2011 at 3:09 pm #1703619
haha.. excellent. Actually that's perfect, it was your trip report in particular that got me interested in the GR 54 (Tour of the Oisans, France. Or maybe even Scotland (saw that one too). Your photos and report style were excellent.
I should have some vacation days in early-mid September or early June. Thanks for the offer to help John, I'll definitely take you up on it.Aug 9, 2011 at 6:02 pm #1767642
Hi there – your post is really helpful. I'll be heading through Torres Del Paine in December. I'm hoping to dehydrate food at home before going but I've read that the Chilean border patrol are strict about which foods can cross over from Argentina. Should I scrap the home-dehydration plan and stick to brand named, packaged foods? Any insight would be greatly appreciated.Aug 9, 2011 at 6:59 pm #1767658
Hart –BPL Member
@backpackerchickLocale: Planet Earth
I have done Torres del Paine Circuit (Loop) and the side trips that compose the W. It is a fantastic walk!
In general, how much hassle you get at the Argentina frontier depends how much of a pain in the ass the soldiers are inclined to be on any given day. (If you have tight time constraints, avoid a land crossing — both sides are known to occasionally hold buses up for days just to annoy each other. As you probably realize, this is a very sensitive crossing.
However, if you are traveling by air to Chile, beware…they are harder core about food and dirty gear than even New Zealand immigration! There was an army of dogs in the immigration hall in Santiago (I got caught with a bit of food while awaiting my baggage.) My vegan freeze dried backpacking food in its original packaging (I declared it of course) was not an issue. Note: once the dogs are onto you (this applies everywhere!), you and your gear will be scrutinized with extra care. Contrary to what some guide books say, there is a well stocked mid size supermarket in Peurto Natales with a good selection of appropriate food. There is some packaged food sold on the trail. The refuges offer meals. If it is a concern, screw top propane/butane canisters are readily available at refuges and campgrounds along the track.
BTW, Chile is said to be the one country in South America where you don't bribe the authorities.
I suspect home dehydrated food would attract the attention of authorities (which can be time consuming. How's your Spanish?) and may well be confiscated. However, I highly doubt you will be arrested as long as the items were accurately declared on the required forms.
I see that someone here reported that they had no problem with their home dehydrated food in Santiago. Still, I wouldn't go to too much time, effort, expensive ingredients! If you can explain to officials what it is and they are willing to take the time to listen, you may have no issues. However sometimes, it is easier for officials to just confiscate things.Aug 10, 2011 at 3:37 am #1767763
I had the same concerns as you, and was fully prepared to have my food taken away at the border and just cross that bridge when I came to it.
I flew into Santiago (it's $150 Visa bought at the airport if you arrive by air, no visa needed if by coming by land) and went into Argentina by land and then came back into Chile by land (no food by then though) to fly home out of Santiago.
Expect a pretty lengthy process (2 hours during their summer/high season) crossing the border by land. Though, not sure if it's luck or what but they didn't ask any questions regarding what I had in my bags in both country's land crossings, didn't even notice the food. Just stamped my passport, no idea why it took 2-3 hours.
As for the airport border guys in Santiago, they did find it (I can't remember if I had to declare it on the customs form but I DEFINITELY would if it asked). I took it out, explained what it was (cooked etc for camping). The guard scrutinized it, waved his colleaque over who took one look at it, shrugged and let me keep it.
I assume this is a case of YMMV, but since it's cooked I don't see why they'd take it away from you.
Hartley is right though, there is a supermarket and other stores in Puerto Natales where you can buy foods (pasta etc) for backpacking. I'm sure there are stores in town that sell actual Mountain House type foods, though I can't say for sure.
BTW, as mentioned in my report, everything you'll need is within blocks of each other in PN. Especially on Manuel Baquedano. If you want actual local knowledge, the people at Erratic Rock Hostel can answer your questions. The single room there was quite satisfactory for $25.
The Erratic Rock sells isobutane canisters (eg. Pocket Rocket etc). The only place I saw that had it on the trail (but I wasn't looking) was at Grande Paine (one end of the trek/Catamarran dock). I'd buy it in town so that you can decide at the last minute which end to start from. Bird in hand kinda thing.
Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.Aug 10, 2011 at 3:51 am #1767764
@b-g-2-2Locale: Silicon Valley
Years ago, a bunch of us flew from Miami to South America after a big peak. We landed in Santiago with our monster duffle bags full of all kinds of freeze-dried food and stuff. However, we did not clear customs there. We stayed in the transient lounge for a couple of hours and then caught a hop on Lan Chile over to Mendoza, Argentina. When we landed there, we had to clear Argentine customs. Well, our expedition leader knew those ropes from before, so he got out ahead of the rest of us in line. He had some interesting stuff in his duffle, but when he got to the inspector/agent, he just started asking lots of loud questions in English and generally making an ass of himself. The inspector got a little annoyed and waved him on. Then, as the rest of us approached in line, the leader motioned to us about what to do. When each of us got to the inspector, we simply said "Aconcagua!" and pointed upward. The inspector waived each one by instantly. Then, when in Mendoza, we found a supermarket and bought any remaining food items that would be useful.
A couple of weeks later, we were crossing by land from Argentina back to Chile, and the inspectors had full tour buses lined up waiting, so the pause there was very brief as well. Of course, what would we have from Argentina that we needed to take into Chile anyway?
–B.G.–Aug 10, 2011 at 6:00 pm #1767995
Hart –BPL Member
@backpackerchickLocale: Planet Earth
Hiking alone? Official park documents at one time, stated that hiking alone is not permitted. I signed in alone but if confronted, I was going to register with a guy I met on the bus.
Leaving supplies at the park entrance for further walks in the park. Officially, NO. However, I found it possible. Don't count on it!
I specifically remember fuel canisters being available in campgrounds on the back side of the circuit. The W is dominated by refuges (in one glaring case the taj of refuges) and hotels. I suspect there is gaz to be found though I can not confirm.
Map — the best map is available in Puerto Natales! You could easily walk this with no map but as a matter of principle… It is brilliant and waterproof. If i remember correctly, info is given in English.I bought it at a gear shop in town.
Chile visa not requ for all nationalities. UK citizens (and some others i'm sure) don't need visas for stays of less than 90 days :)
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