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The Towers of Paine February 11, 2007

Posted by Cheryl in Chile, Patagonia, South America, Travel, trekking.

I’ve got to confess, I’m kinda tired of walking around for hours on end with a huge backpack on my pack, but unfortunately some things in this world can only be viewed from your feet, so it was with some trepidation that I once again donned my 20kg backpack for our jaunt around Torres Del Paine National Park ten days ago.

Torres Del Paine (appropriately named The Towers of Paine) is part of a small but spectacular mountain range in Chile.  The sheer white granite towers that in some cases are topped by a black cap of softer metamorphic rock make for some pretty dramatic scenery.  Our idea was to do a ten day hike right around the range which also included going up some of the valleys between the groups of mountains for a closer look.

Torres Del Paine at sunrise 

Our first night was camped at the base of the monolithic towers of the Torres Del Paine which give the park its name.  We woke at 5am for an early morning assault to the lookout an hour and a half above us for sunrise (and before the arrival of busloads of daytrippers).   The sunrise was perfect – just the right amount of cloud in an otherwise clear sky and the first sun on the rocks turned them a beautiful red.  The clouds above rolled in to make a moody picture.  The icy wind tore at our clothes and we crouched behind rocks to take a zillion photos with the light changing every second.  Eventually the need for a hot drink tore us away and we headed back to the tent, the wind clean bowling us off our feet at least once. 

From the camp here (Campamento Torres) we explored further up into the Valle Del Silencio (Valley of Silence) where pretty much nobody else bothers to venture.  It was equally as beautiful, perhaps more so as we had it all to ourselves.  On the return to the camp, I managed to twist my ankle and could barely walk on it the next day, so we stayed here an extra night for it to recover.

The Valley of Silence

The next 2 days involved walking nearly 20km a day with a heavy pack.  Although there were refugios along most of the circuit where you could hire a bunk bed and buy meals, these are notoriously expensive (38 dollars for a bunk for a night!) so we were carrying our tent and as much food as we could.   It still cost us 7 dollars each just to camp!  My feet ached and I coveted the smaller packs of some of the daytrippers or even those carrying a lighter tent than ours – we needed five-season gear for the conditions we expected on Aconcagua, but in lesser climates I do long for a lighter tent and sleeping bag!

Refugio Lago Dickson with glacier in the background

As we approached Refugio Dickson on the Northern side of the mountains, we were greeted with the most amazing landscape of a huge glacier in the distance across a beautiful azure lake.  The campsite was on the shores of this lake and a beautiful spot.  From there it was onwards and upwards towards the John Gardner Pass which is the highest point of the trek, passing the Glacier Los Perros as it calves off into a lake.  The Northern side of the circuit is much quieter then the Southern side where most people hike the ‘W’ circuit, and because we were slow getting up in the morning, we mostly didn´t see anyone else all day.

The weather was pretty treacherous climbing up towards the pass at 1,241m and we had to stop and put on full waterproofs as the wind lashed rain sideways into us and made it most difficult at times to make any progress at all.   It is not recommended to go over the pass in bad weather and a few times I wondered if this was bad enough weather, but we soldiered on and the view that greeted us at the top of the pass took my breath away.  As you come over the pass, all you see below you is the most massive glacier stretching out below you as far as your eye can see.  It was quite unbelievable – I had never seen anything like this.  The sheer size of it, and the amount of ice and snow blows your mind. 

Glacier Grey

For the next 2 days we walked down the side of this glacier until its snout where it calves off into Lago Grey.  One night we made camp on the edge of the forest and the front door of our tent looked out onto the glacier.  I couldn´t get enough of looking at it, at sunset we climbed down onto the rocks below, close to the ice and watched as it got dark, such a huge expanse of ice, constantly moving, and so powerful, it gave me renewed respect for Mother Earth or PachaMama as the South Americans call her (I love that name!).

The following night we camped at Refugio Grey which was our return to the crowds where every man and his dog come to hike the ‘W’ – one of the touristy “must-dos” of Patagonia.  The campsite here was also in a beautiful spot just near to where huge chunks of icebergs that had calved off from Glacier Grey beached themselves. 

The highlights on the Southern side of the park were the Cuernos Del Paine (Horns of Paine) which were equally as spectacular as the Torres, the sharp contrast between their white shafts and black tops was very striking. Also, the hike up the Valle Del Frances where it opened up into a huge cirque with incredible views of the mountains in a circle all around was very rewarding.

Cuernos Del Paine

Although the park was very busy, and quite commercial with a few big hotels, especially on the Southern side, it wasn´t quite as bad as I had envisaged and the scenery more than made up for the amount of people.  The hiking was pretty tough, and we saw a lot of people who looked like they were in even more pain than me.  All in all though it was an incredible trip, but I have to say I was quite relieved to see the Hosteria Los Torres which marked the end of the circuit for us.  I knew a decent meal couldn´t be far behind.

More photos here….



1. Joanna - March 2, 2009

Hi there, just a random passerby who is also planning on doing the W circuit. Curious if you felt it was worth doing the paine circuit vs the W? And also how much time did it take you at the end to complete the paine?


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