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
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
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
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.