Tag Archives: Patagonia

Torres del Paine Full Circuit (9 days)

amazing views of Grey Glacier

Grey Glacier from the John Garner Pass

During the end of January/beginning of February ORP took a tour to trek the Torres del Paine Full Circuit (often called the “O”).  We had an amazing time, were led by (mostly) incredible weather, laughed constantly, and kicked some serios trekking butt.  Below are the notes from the trip, to give you an idea about what this whole “O” thing is all about (and why it is the ABSOLUTE best way to see the entire Torres del Paine park!)

Day 1: Seron

This day should be called “The Margarita meadows,” in honor of the endless fields of white and yellow margarita meadows that spread in every direction, all waving in the breeze that had picked up. We passed a group of several dozen horses as we walked to where we ate lunch by a  beautiful river that ran down an open wooded area perfect for a picnic.   As we stood to leave, suddenly appeared all of the horses, who followed us to the river where we had been not 30 seconds prior, and watched us start down the trail. Seron has a small cabin it uses as a refugio for meals (serves breakfast, lunch and dinner), and a nice campsite on the edge of a giant wildflower meadow which sits between camping and the river Paine.

Day 2: seron to Dickson

We woke to intense rain in the morning, with a rainbow over the campsite promising sun. By the time we headed out, the rain had subsided and the sun was breaking through. First we rounded the corner at the river Paine, then started the uphill march to reach the windy pass, about 30 minutes or so from seron. Out of breath but enjoying the view, we turned the mountain pass to views of the lake Paine, and started a descent along the side of the mountain with views of condors swirling above our heads. The descent starts out exposed to wind and elements until it dips down at the western shore of lago Paine and into wooded conaf lands. You will walk upon a conaf station called coiron, with domes for CONAF staff and 2 toilets. The trail evens out from here, taking you through margarita meadows until you reach ‘the dead marshes’ (for those Lord of the Ring fans). Wooden planks and walkways span parts of the trail, other parts you must navigate through mud and swamp, killing Mosquitos as they swarm. About 45 minutes of walking through the marshes and the trail opens up to a view of lago Dickson and the Refugio on its shore. To finish you must climb up then down a steep cliff until you reach the open grassy fields of refugio Dickson. The Refugio is small and cozy, with 2 long tables and a small sitting area. Immediately after arriving the rain storm came, and threat of continuous rain haunted us through the night.

Day 3: Dickson to Perros

The day was threatening rain from the beginning, so we decided to take it easy and leave around 11:00am. The hike immediately starts climbing a muddy forest for about 30 minutes, then continues to climb more gradually up a forested valley. We were lucky with the weather, because although it was apparently super cold and stormy, we were protected under the canopy of the Lenga forests we were walking under.  Closer to Perros we hit the open rocky area, which we followed around a glacier lake at the bottom of Perros Glacier, just in front of the campsite and before you have to cross the pass. Two of us decided to get a better view of the glacier, and scampered on the loose boulders until we reached the end… however by this point the blizzard was upon us.  We returned to camp soaked through all our layers, which happened to be all of our dry clothes 🙂 Dinner of mashed potatoes, peas, and chorizo and off to bed with a blizzard on and off throughout the night, just before we are to summit el paso.

Day 4: Perros to paso

What luck! We woke to a sunny, beautiful day as we prepared to cross el paso! It was t he perfect day to summit the John Garner pass, with sun and few clouds, light wind and clear visibility. Leaving the campsite at Perros we immediately started the uphill scramble, trying to keep our shoes clean as we hopped on fallen branches and sunken rocks along a mud filled trail. In rainy weather the trail would have been a slippery disaster. About an hour later, we broke out onto an open rock slope.  Behind us the valley we had just climbed up and in front of us loomed the mountains that held our beloved pass, gently dusted on top with a layer of fresh snow from the previous day’s blizzard. The climb was constant but not strenuous, and as we reached the summit the view of the grey glacier opened up in all directions. This magnificent, awesome 300km glacier stretches as far to the left and right as you can see, set with striking mountains and forest above its monstrous path. This is part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Cap, home to the world’s 3rd largest source of fresh water, and my favorite part of the circuit.  After crossing the pass we started the steep downhill descent to arrive at Paso campsite (simple and cute campsite set under the trees).

Day 5: Campamiento Paso to Refugio Grey

It rained all night, relentlessly pounding on the tent and dripping from the trees.  By the time we woke and rose, the rain had subsided and we began to eat breakfast and get our packs ready. We started walking along the ridge above the giant grey glacier through dense forests. After about an hour of wooded climbing we hit open fields. For the next 2 hours we walking was up and down, rounding the mountain, and climbing metal ladders. We stopped at several lookouts to views of the side of the glacier, getting closer to grey with every step. The forest starts wet and green, and finishes open and warm, less dense with tall trees making soft light on the canopy below. We arrived at grey on a beautiful, sunny day.

Day 6: grey to Paine grande 3.25hr


Rainbow at Paine Grande

This is a short, 3.5 hour hike around Paine massif to the shore of lake Pehoe. A storm chased us the entire way, rain flicking our faces until we sped our pace up to feel the warm sun on our backs. We arrived early at Paine grande, ate lunch, and enjoyed a relaxing afternoon off. The wind blows strong at Paine grande, but fortunately our trusty porter arrived early to reserve a protected camp site.

Day 7: Paine grande to Cuernos


Los Cuernos

We started the day early in order to take the time to hike to the French valley. At 8:00am we were on the road, a slower pace at day 7 of hiking. The path is relatively flat and uneventful reaching Italiano, but the wind was up and the weather cool. By the time we ditched our bags and we’re heading up the French valley, it was overcast and cloudy. We made it to the first lookout after an hour, then headed back down again as visibility was poor.  The trail to Cuernos has been rerouted in order to advertise the new Refugio Frances that Fantastico Sur is building.  Once at cuernos, we rested throughout the afternoon underneath the mighty stone mountain.

Day 8 and 9: Cuernos to Chileno, Los Torres del Paine to Puerto Natales


Sunrise from the base of the Towers

We started our last full day to rain, which followed us to el Chileno. For the first 2.5km we climbed uphill from the Refugio, then dropped down for 2 km before branching off to take the trail up to el chileno. We left at 9:40 and arrived around 2:30pm, with a lunch break but otherwise very little stopping. We decided to hike up to see the Towers as sunrise, so rested throughout the afternoon and went to bed early.  In the morning we woke at 3:30am, dressed and started the steep climb to see the towers in the dark. Headlamps ready, we climbed throughout the early morning, sweating and out of breath for 1.5 hours until we reached the Torres (45m chileno to camp, 50min camp to Torres). It was cold and the clouds rolled in covering the towers, but the sunrise was beautiful and illuminated the sky with orange.  We arrived at the base to catch the transfer to Puerto Natales, incredibly happy with our adventure.

Summer Solstice in the Patagonia


We welcomed the summer solstice on December 22 in the most organic experience for the Patagonia: a bonfire in the woods and watching the sunrise over the Strait of Magellan.  We felt night’s darkness embrace us for 2 hours before the dawn broke and filled the air with the quiet sound of the forest.  Then the birds began to sing.

La Reserva Magallanes Mid-November

Garganta AltaWe put on our rain jackets, hiking shoes, and a hat and heading into the beautiful Reserva Magallanes.  The Reserva Magallanes, or Magallanes Forest Reserve, is located a mere 7km from Punta Arenas, yet holds 20,878 hectares of protected forest.

There are two main entrances to the Reserve, one is located up in the hills near the entrance to Club Andino while the other is below at Rio de las Minas (River of the Mines).  We took the high road on sunday in order to take in the views of the giant gorge, Garganta Alta (High Throat), and of the Strait of Magellan, Punta Arenas and Tierra del Fuego.


First we drove to the Garganta Alta trail head and set out to see the gorge.  Remember, when the strong Magallanes winds blow down the valley and out to sea, make sure you hold on to your hat because it might just blow away!

Next we headed back towards the park entrance to meet up with the trail “Mirador Zapador Austral.”  We shed layers as we hiked through the protected Lenga forests, climbing the 2.2kms to the lookout.  At this time of year, spring had arrived: the berries were in blossom and the canopy held a soft, filtered light which descended on the forest floor.

The Reserva Magallanes, like other hidden jewels in the region, intertwine the yin and yang of life in the Patagonia: the softness of a delicate native orchid growing near the twisted, crooked trunk of a native tree, doubled over from the harsh winds.  The land, like its people, have adapted and transformed to combine these soft and harsh realities.  Everyday brings something different, so being prepared for whatever life throws your way makes the Patagonia a hearty soul.  And remember, hold on to your hat!

Fort Bulnes in early Spring

ORP took their first trip of the season to visit Fort Bulnes at the end of September.  Evidence of the fading winter was visible only in the brown hues of the  grass and the mostly bare branches.  However we found signs of spring emerging through green leaves  budding on trees, the retreating snow line, and the minimal quantity of layers we had to wear for the day.

Fort Bulnes offers fully guided tours through the park led by local guides knowledgable about the history of the region’s first settlers.  We learned how the people lived, learned and eventually migrated to Punta Arenas, leaving a forgotten town that went virtually undiscovered for many, many years.  Today the park is beautifully reconstructed using traditional architecture and materials and offers several kilometers of hiking trails which weave around the dramatic landscape.

3 Things to Do in Punta Arenas in Winter

The summer months in Punta Arenas are overflowing with travelers from every corner of the world.  However, as the days turn shorter, fewer people visit.  Sure, it might be harder to access some of the sought-after destinations in Torres del Paine, however if you find yourself traveling in the end of the world and winter is coming, join it!

Here are a list of fun activities for wintertime:

Club AndinoSkiing in Club Andino:  During the summer On the Road offers trekking tours on this ski mountain, with views of the Strait of Magellan, Tierra del Fuego and the surrounding wilderness, not to mention all of the flora and fauna to glimpse.  In the winter, this area turns into a winter playground with skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and much more.  People often just come up to drink hot cocoa in the lodge and look out towards the end of the continent!

DSC04998Sarah Braun Municipal Cemetery:  Whatever the weather, this cemetery is gorgeous.  Ancient tombs of settlers from Croatia, England, Spain, Ireland, Chileans, and Indigenous monuments are spread out between towering hedges that line the gravel paths. In winter, the cemetery takes on a new look as snow topped grave stones rest under the cold Patagonia sky.

Torres del Paine

Full-day Torres del Paine: You can still access much of the park on full-day tours of Torres del Paine.  Tours leave

Punta Arenas around 6:00am and return after 10:00pm.  Highlights include the Milodon Cave, Laguna Azul, Views of Los Torres del Paine, Cuernos del Paine, Pehoe and Nordenskjold Lakes, Salto Grande and Glacier Grey.  In addition, abundant wildlife can be observed throughout the trip, including guanacos, ñandu, and condors.