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…