Patagonian Classic: Trekking Torres del Paine

In Backpacking, International Adventures, National Park Adventures   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   |   8 Comments

By Michael Lanza

We march upward through innumerable switchbacks on the steep and dusty last mile of trail to the Torres del Paine. Small stands of Patagonia’s ubiquitous, twisted lenga trees cling to an otherwise barren mountainside of dirt and rock, earth overturned by glaciers and continually rubbed raw by the abrasive wind.

The whitewater roar of the Rio Ascencio fades as it slips away below us, replaced by the moan of gusts that grow stronger and colder as Jeff and I climb higher. In these last days of the austral summer, we’re suited up as if for winter in warm hats, gloves, and waterproof-breathable jackets over fleece.

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8 Responses to Patagonian Classic: Trekking Torres del Paine

  1. Fred Chan   |  March 11, 2015 at 5:47 am

    We just returned from TdP (late Feb 2015) and would like to report some recent changes in CONAF regulations. Camp Brittanico in the Valle Francais is now closed, probably permanently. More importantly, to camp at Camp Torres, a reservation is required. This is not commonly known or reported in guidebooks or any website. The reservation can be made at Laguna Amarga or Camp Italiano only. We were almost turned back by the rangers until they took sympathy for our wives and let us camp in the “barrio”. Fortunately, Camp Torres was not crowded that night. And make sure you take a good tent. We have a high end lightweight tent that got flattened (literally!) 3 times when we camped at Paine Grande.

    • MichaelALanza   |  March 17, 2015 at 9:08 am

      Thanks for that useful update and the advice, Fred. Very helpful for other readers.

  2. robertarmstrong   |  January 16, 2015 at 12:09 pm

    Regarding shoes – do good trail shoes suffice for the W route or do you really need full fledged hiking boots? We’re planning on staying in the refugios so our packs should be pretty light and I assumed my salomons would be adequate and that the comfort and weight would make them the better choice. Thanks!

    • michaellanza   |  January 18, 2015 at 5:38 pm

      Hi Robert, the W can be a very wet hike, and while lightweight shoes may provide adequate support for you, if that’s what you’re used to hiking in, you may find the persistent rain and wet trailside vegetation soaking through your shoes (even if they have a waterproof-breathable membrane). If you’re fine with wet feet, or wear waterproof socks, then that’s not an issue for you.

  3. Rick   |  November 29, 2014 at 11:48 pm

    This is great and thanks for sharing. How difficult would you rate the “W” trek for a beginner? I will be going with 5 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 GoreTex or a water resistant pant. We plan to go in Jan/Feb.


    • michaellanza   |  November 30, 2014 at 9:40 am

      Hi Rick, I think you’d find the “W” trek moderately difficult if you follow the itinerary I lay out above, and probably easier than the complete 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 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.”

      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); 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 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.

  4. Sebastian   |  September 12, 2014 at 2:55 am

    Wonderfull insight! can you please tell me in which season you went to torres del paine? and which clothing you took there and considered enough so i dont overpack? i wont be having too much space in my pack and im trying to decide when would be best to go, thanks!

    • michaellanza   |  September 13, 2014 at 6:52 am

      Hi Sebastian, we visited Torres del Paine at the very end of the austral summer, in the second half of March. As my story mentions above, I recommend a warm hat and gloves and good, waterproof-breathable jacket, boots, and gaiters. I would bring layers for temperatures that could be comfortably cool, but also below freezing, or often just above freezing with a lot of wind and rain.

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