Ask Me: Trekking Patagonia’s Torres del Paine
This is great and thanks for sharing. How difficult would you rate the “W” trek [in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park] for a beginner? I will be going with five other friends and want to make sure I have enough time to finish it safely.
Also, what type of rain paints would suffice? Do you recommend something like Gore-Tex or a water-resistant pant? We plan to go in Jan/Feb.
[Originally submitted as a comment at thebigoutside.com/patagonian-classic-trekking-torres-del-paine]
I think you’d find the “W” trek in Torres del Paine National Park, in Chilean Patagonia, moderately difficult if you follow the itinerary I lay out above, and probably easier than the complete Paine Circuit around the mountains (although I didn’t do the latter). There are climbs and descents that are moderately steep and sustained, but also sections that ascend and descend gradually. The hike up the Rio Ascencio Valley to the Torres del Paine towers is gradual until the final mile, which climbs steeply through switchbacks. The French Valley is similarly gentle at first, then grows a bit steeper. The trail beyond Refugio Grey gets strenuous, but also is one of the more exciting and scenic legs of the “W.” (See photo below)
I wore soft-shell pants that block some wind and repel water, with waterproof gaiters, a system I prefer because I tend to overheat in waterproof-breathable rain pants (like Gore-Tex) in moderate temperatures; plus, the on-and-off rain and drizzle of Patagonia gives those pants a chance to dry out (as you hike).
But someone who gets cold easily may prefer waterproof-breathable rain pants, in part to help trap more heat and block the wind better, because the wind is almost constant. More than that, prepare for chilly conditions made more difficult by strong winds. I’m accustomed to hiking and backpacking in northerly continental U.S. mountains, and I found that late summer and early fall in Patagonia (when I was there, the equivalent of mid- to late September in the Northern Hemisphere) felt like October in northern New England or the Pacific Northwest.
But even when I’m wearing soft-shell pants in the rain, I want a hard-shell rain jacket to keep my dry and prevent hypothermia.
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See also “My 10 Rules of Adventure Travel.”
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