While it’s still fresh in my mind I want to write about my experience hiking the W trek in Patagonia. There is a wealth of information already online and at times it felt as if there was too much information.
Love at first sight is real, but for me it applies only to places. I was browsing through Lonely Planet’s Chile guidebook, and once I saw a photo of Las Torres I knew nothing else about Chile in that book was going to interest me. One photo was all it took to override everything else covered in the Lonely Planet guidebook. Thus began my obsession with the W. Very quickly I realized the W was not a quick side trip from Santiago – it was an entire trip by itself, with a minimum 5 day backpacking experience. Oh boy!
I won’t write about what you should or shouldn’t do… just what I did personally. It’s also how I planned – I took advice from some websites and disregarded others. In the end I knew my style and planned accordingly to my likes and dislikes. Hopefully some part of it might be useful for your trip.
I decided to do the hike West to East in 5 days – 2 nights in Paine Grande (A), 1 night in Campamento Italiano (B), and 1 night in Campamento Torres (C).
I spent 2 nights in Paine Grande (A) so I could do the Grey hike as an out and back. Unless you’re doing the full circuit, you have to come back to Paine Grande anyway… so why carry your pack up there only to lug it back down? Plus this way I had a tent already set up for me at the end of my Grey hike. You also have the option of doing a day hike along Lake Pehoe on your first day.
Now, why did I decide to give myself a long hiking day between Italiano (B) and Torres (C)? Simple: No campsites between them are free! Also, some of the campsites (Chileno and Cuernos) are trying to phase out camping, so even if you bring a tent, you have to pay for the meals there – 42,500 CLP or 65 USD!! – which is expensive compared to the 6,000 CLP or 9USD camping fee at Paine Grande! To simplify my life I decided I’d just do the long hike between the free campsites and avoid them altogether. It was a long day but it is doable if you’d like to save money.
There is a wealth of information already online and at times it felt as if there was too much information. My research strategy was to focus on reading individual blogs that described their camping experience. I steered clear of any websites offering tours as the information offered there was geared toward spending money. The 3 main blogs I used were:
Adventure Alan – The most helpful blog for me. Really detailed information about routes to help me estimate my own pace and route.
Steph and Ben – Their maps helped me visualize and understand the W. Lot’s of maps show the W, but not the W separated by days.
Steve Hanich – Great route ideas for 3, 4, 5, or 6 day treks. Also, has updated links to the free reservation website as well as costs for the paid sites.
Offline I used the Lonely Planet Guidebook.
1 person tent with footprint
Inflatable sleeping pad
0 degree sleeping bag
Sleeping bag liner
2 garbage bags
Ziploc bags, freezer and quart
|Food – Brought from the USA
GSI Pinnacle Soloist Cookset
1x backpacking stove
1x 1L Nalgene
1x disposable water bottle
1x Annie’s macaroni
1x thai fried rice
1x tuna packet
1x ramen packet
Chocolate covered cashews
8x mini Jimmy bars
5x Trader Joe’s chia bar
5x Trader Joe’s dark chocolatealmond sea salt bar
Sesame stick mix
Solid insect repellent
|Food – Purchased in Chile
1x cured ham
1x block of cheese
1x chocolate bar
8x hard-boiled eggs
1x kuky biscuits cookies
1x fuel (220g)
1x long sleeve base layer
1x rain shell
1x hiking pants
1x jersey snood
1x sports bra
1x knitted hat
1x baseball cap
1x sock for hiking
1x sock for sleeping
1x pair of gloves
First aid kit : wipes, bandaids, neosporin
Sunglasses strap holder
Day 1: Leave USA on evening flight to Santiago
Day 4: Arrive around 12PM to Puerto Natales. Check into hostel (22USD). Enjoy a full hearty steak lunch. Go to Erratic rock at 3pm for their W trek talk. Go grocery shopping for bread, cured meats, and cheese. Cook dinner at hostel. Go for walk along the water. Start reorganizing final pack for the W trek.
As you can see… you need a good 4 days BEFORE you are able to begin your Trek. This is no “fly in and day hike” trip – a lot of preparation is needed to just get yourself to the trailhead.
Day 5: (1st day of hiking) Take 7:30AM Bus to Laguna Amaraga (15,000CLP round trip). Watch video and enter park (21,000CLP – cash only). Continue on bus to Pudeto and take 10:30 boat to Paine Grande (18,000CLP one-way cash only). Arrive around 11:30?, check into Vertice Camping, and set up tent. Eat lunch and rest. Do an out and back day hike along Lake Pehoe and return to camp for dinner and sleep at Paine Grande.
Day 6: (2nd day of hiking) With a daypack, do an out and back day hike up to Mirador Grey, Refugio Gray, and the suspension bridge before turning back and returning to Paine Grande for dinner and sleep.
Day 8: (4th day of hiking and the most strenuous) Pack up tent and hike with pack to Campamento Torres, with breaks at Cuernos and other spots along the way (2000CLP for a pack of cookies at Cuernos. Worth it.). Arrive, set up tent, eat dinner, sleep. I remember leaving Italiano at 8:30AM and arriving at Campamento Torres around 5PM.
Day 9: (5th day of hiking) Wake up at 4:30 am to meet with people for 5AM hike to the base of Las Torres. Day pack and head lamp. Hike up, watch sunrise, hike down to camp and pack up tent and eat breakfast. Break down tent and pack everything. Begin the descent with entire pack to Hotel Las Torres. Enjoy real meal at hotel. Take bus to Laguna Amarga (3000CLP one way, cash only). Take Bus to Puerto Natales. Go back to hostel for shower and pick up belongings in storage. Repack again for travel, disposing of trash carried down from Las Torres. Grab 6:30 PM bus back to Puntas Arenas. At Puntas Arenas airport… wait until 3AM.
Day 10: 3am flight to Santiago. Arrive around 7AM. Pay storage fee to leave bags at airport (12,000CLP for 2 bags? I forgot), then explore the city (3,000CLP round trip) until about 4:30 PM. Catch bus back to Santiago airport, and leisurely clear security and wait for evening flight back to the USA.
You can be as social or anti-social as you’d like. There are tons of other solo hikers who are happy to talk and hang out. Or, if you don’t want they are happy to talk to other people and leave you alone. Whatever you want out of this trip, you’ll get. But I do suggest making friends. A camera full of landscapes and selfies is a bit sad in my opinion. Plus you might find hiking buddies for future trips.
Whatever hostel you stay at, they’ll be happy to hold your non hiking belongings for you during your hike. I stayed at The Singing Lamb and they had lockers for you while you hiked. The bonus is that when I went to pick my bag I also snuck in a quick shower before my bus. What’s fun is that you keep running into people you’ve met. I divided my “new friends” group into hostel friends, erratic rock talk friends, and bus friends. Trust me, you’ll see people over and over as likely they have a very similar itinerary to you as well.
The cooking areas in the park are very restricted, even in the campsites. There are specific areas in each campsite where you are allowed to cook, and it can get crowded. But everybody’s cooking sets are tiny so you’ll squeeze in just fine.
Water really is plentiful and I had no stomach issues drinking it straight from the source. Of course I always went a few meters upwards when collecting. There are opportunities to refill your water often, so really, one 1 liter bottle is more than enough. A water bladder is extra weight and difficult to refill from the streams.
Poop. Nobody online talked about this!! There are pit toilets at the campsite, and impressively, some are even flush toilets! So, no need to bring a shovel as you should be able to hold it in between campsites.
A hat without a strap is useless. The winds are strong, and I gave up wearing my baseball cap because the wind would flip it off my head. Even with a ponytail threaded through the back, I spent quite a bit of time chasing my hat. In the end I stopped wearing it and grumbled about the useless weight I was carrying. Thankfully my snood doubled as a head covering so I used that for sun protection although it did give me a bald silhouette.
It is better to underpack than overpack your food. This is why my food list may seem a bit scarce. But I figured if I didn’t have enough food, I could always just buy a meal at a refugio. I’d rather carry extra cash than heavy unnecessary food. I did cave in and buy a pack of cookies. It was worth it! I suggest doing the majority of your food shopping in the USA for non perishables. You know what brands you are familiar with and you know what you like to eat. This way your grocery shopping trips in Chile will not be overwhelming. Also, you can pack smaller amounts and leave what you don’t need at home. Just make sure you don’t bring any dried fruit, dried meat, or honey into Chile. My favorite dinner by far was the night I ate an entire box of Annie’s Macaroni and Cheese for dinner (if you look closely at my planned chart I only meant to eat half of it for 1 night and save the other for another… nope. I ate it all in one sitting).
I didn’t use my insect repellent at all. I finished the hike with no bites on me. Your call… I still will always carry it with me, but I had no issue with bug bites on this trip. Plenty of insects flying around though, but they aren’t too interested in you.
I packed meat, cheese, and bread to make lunch sandwiches. However as I hiked, I saw dandelions everywhere. It being early spring, knowing that dandelion greens are edible, and trusting the distance from polluted cities…. I ate the dandelion greens by adding them to my sandwich. Fresh salad! I turned out okay, but no guarantees what will happen if you eat them. I may just have a particularly strong stomach too. FYI they become bitter later on in the season.
Unless you really like collecting maps, there is no need to purchase one. When you pay your entrance fee the park rangers will give you a copy. The trails are well marked and super obvious, so if your map gets blown away by the wind (it happens…) you’ll be fine. But then you’ll meet someone who is ending their hike and will hand you their copy so you’ll be fine. And you’ll be sure to keep the map in zippered pockets only.
Poles. I have a nice pair, but I decided to travel only with carry on bags for this trip. I didn’t want to risk having to check a bag, so I decided to rent mine from Erratic Rock. They were 3500CLP for a pair per day, so for 5 days it came out to 17,500CLP. Although I actually had them for 6 days, but they don’t charge you for the day before your hike, which is nice. I saw plenty of people without poles, but personally, I loved the stability they give me while hiking.
Clothing. Okay. I subscribe to the mindset of “you should be able to wear ALL the clothing in your pack at once.” That I why I packed 4 layers on top (shirt, sweater, puffy, rain shell) and 2 on bottom (leggings and pants). During the day I’d wear the shirt and rain shell, bringing out the puffy when I rested as I’d quickly become cold. I’d wear just the pants only during the day, except for the day I began hiking at 5am where I wore both pants and leggings. For sleeping my leggings, shirt, and sweater were enough to keep me warm in my sleeping bag. And yes… perhaps TMI, but I packed only 1 pair of underwear. I also packed pantiliners and a ziplock bag to keep it clean. My hike was 5 days, I figured I could handle being smelly for that long. My clothing list may be small, but I used everything and never felt too cold or hot on my hike.
Hotel Las Torres is at the end and while 300$ a night is not in your plan, it is worth it to enjoy a meal there at the end if you do your trek West to East. I had the lamb stew and the local berry cream dish. I finished hiking my last day around 11am and the bus back to town wasn’t until 2pm. You could sit outside in the cold for free and wait or go inside to comfortable couches with the purchase of a drink. You know what I picked.
This was my second ever backpacking trip. I’m mainly a car camper or day trip person. My previous backpacking trip was a 2 day trip. It’s a great beginning backpacking trip because if you run into any trouble, there are enough people doing this hike who will be around as well. You don’t need any navigational skills and it’s difficult to get lost. If you don’t pack enough food or decide halfway through you decide you hate your tent, there are beds and warm meals waiting for you if you have the cash. The views are stunning, the skies dramatic, the water plentiful, the hills not that steep, and the fellow hikers friendly and fun.