Destinations, Patagonia, South America

Torres del Paine: The “μ” Trek

March 11, 2012

Torres del Paines’ recent forest fires altered the face of the landscape and changed the availability of Refugios and campgrounds along the common trekking routes, prompting us to explore Chilean Patagonia’s 598,338 acre natural wonderland on an alternate to the Park’s famed “W Trek.”

The traditional “W” is commonly traveled in five days, four nights from East to West or West to East, depending on preference, and includes trails up and back to three main points in the park: Grey Glacier, The French Valley, and La Torres.

Since Refugio Pehoe on the West end and Campamento Italiano and the in-lying campsites in the French Valley were closed and temperamental weather dealt us clouds on day designated for the middle fork, we let go of the French Valley trail and created our own “μ” Trek.

(Okay, we’re nerds. In case you hadn’t picked up on that tidbit. Ted and I both studied κοινὴ Greek in high school, and Mu is the twelfth letter of the alphabet. The symbol was curiously derived from the Egyptian hieroglyph for water, though it would have been much more fitting for purposes of describing Patagonia had it been the hieroglyph for wind.)

Upcoming posts will highlight adventures in the Park, but just in case you get lost along the trail, here’s our “μ” Itinerary:

Day 1: Arrive at the park mid morning via two hour bus from Puerto Natales, ferry across Lago Pehoe, and kick off early afternoon from the Refugio Pehoe trail head. Hike 11.5 kilometers through terribly burned wild-lands, whipping winds and rain, pay a visit to the Glacier and spend the night tent camping at Refugio Grey.

Day 2: Backtrack the 11.5k route to Refugio Pehoe (closed entirely due to fires), continue on past Campamento Italiano (one of the previously free campgrounds which now is also closed, due to negligence and abuse by campers), continue through rain and wind to land a tent spot at Refugio Los Cuernos after a solid 24 kilometer push. (Note: camp facilities inside the French Valley were completely closed during our visit.)

Day 3: (Ted’s 30th birthday!) Toy with the idea of backtracking for a day hike into the French Valley and conclude that a)  low-hanging clouds would keep us from enjoying the epic views and b) continuing 15 kilometers East would afford us the opportunity to enjoy a Refugio-cooked meal for a birthday celebration and a less strenuous fourth day’s journey. Trek along Lago Nordenskjol, take the shortcut route to Refugio Chileno, set up camp, and kick back with dinner and dessert.

Day 4: An easy 8k+/- day. Hike a few short hours from Chileano to Campamento Torres, pitch the tent, leave the heavy bags, and make the afternoon trip to visit the iconic Las Torres peaks.

Day 5: Wake while the stars shine and return forty-five minutes back up to the base of Las Torres for a pre-dawn seat to the sunrise show. Return to camp, pack the bags, descend the remaining few hours and kilometers down to Hotel Las Torres, shuttle to Guarderia Laguna Amarga, catch the bus to Puerto Natales, and celebrate with a restful night’s sleep.

There you have it!

The 30,000 mile view of the course. Adventures on the ground are just around the corner…

This piece is second in a series following our boot tracks in Chilean Patagonia from Puerto Natales to the little known “μ” Trek at Torres del Paine National Park, through burned out beech forests, past color-charged lakes, up fantastical mountains, and into snug-as-a-bug sleeping bags in a cute little tent in the woods. Follow us on Twitter (@twoOregonians), like our Facebook page, and stay tuned for more photos and stories from the trail…

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  • Reply Kim March 11, 2012 at 10:08 am

    Wow, looks amazing. Even with the charred landscape it is still stunning.

    • Reply twoOregonians March 12, 2012 at 6:14 am

      Absolutely. It’s a different kind of beauty. The new black figures against the water in the lakes is especially impressive.

  • Reply Stephanie - The Travel Chica March 12, 2012 at 4:01 am

    When I went to the 3pm Erratic Rock Talk, they joked that you can pick pretty much any letter and hike that trail. Looks like that’s true :-)

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  • Reply David Johnson February 8, 2013 at 10:16 am

    Thanks for posting this trip. I had a quick question for you. Did you have to reserve a campsite at Refugio Grey or could you show up and pay/camp? The reason I’m asking is because online at they say that the campsites at refugio grey are full, which is a major problem in my planning. Just trying to see if there is free camping nearby.


    • Reply Ted February 10, 2013 at 1:08 pm

      HI David,

      We did not have a reservation to tent camp at Grey, we just showed up and payed a small fee. There is usually ample tent camping available, especially at Grey where there is ample room. However, the lodging at Grey (and the other lodges along the route) do fill up very quickly. I took a quick look at the website you referenced, and I believe they are a third party company booking in advance. Long story short, if the park lets you in to hike, there will be someplace for you to tent camp at each official stop along the W, including Grey. You may not get a lodge room, but you’ll get a tent spot. (side note, you aren’t allowed to camp outside of the official camping sites).

      Have fun and good luck!

    What say you?