Thought maybe I should call this post “W trek”, which is what this part of O circuit is better known as. However, I decided to be boring and go with “Part 2”, which turned out to be a very different experience from what I wrote about in my previous post.
Day 5 – Paso to Paine Grande
I had such a lovely time at Paso and I wasn’t in a rush to leave, but I knew I had a long day ahead of me. The map was suggesting nearly 9 hours of walking, but after a good rest the day before, my legs felt ready for the challenge. The morning was very peaceful, the air was fresh but not cold and the views along the way were magnificent. I was enjoying every minute of this easy life of putting one foot in front of the other.
I soon had to challenge my fear of heights and cross couple of suspension bridges. I don’t know how, but even with all the rock climbing I’m doing these days, my fear of heights is still present and make my legs shake whenever I’m facing situations like this. My jelly legs eventually carried me over the suspension bridges and after a few more enjoyable miles, I was at Guarderia Glaciar Grey, where I stopped for lunch. I was happy to see some familiar faces there and take a few decent photos of each other (travelling alone leaves you with a pile of selfies).
It was slightly mad how quickly the atmosphere changed from there. Up until then, everyone you’d meet on the trail would say hello, smile and maybe even have a chat with you. From Guarderia Grey, people were hiking in both directions (you can start or finish your W trek there), they were walking in big groups carrying day packs, wouldn’t say hi and most definitely wouldn’t move out of your way even if they saw your heavy backpack.
Despite the crowds, hiking was still extremely scenic and pleasant. I was slightly sad leaving Glaciar Grey behind, but I heading towards the stunningly turquoise Lago Pehoe and my world felt complete that afternoon.
I was absolutely knackered when I got to the campsite and couldn’t believe the enormity of it. Among the crowds, I spotted familiar smiles of people doing the O trek and was glad to share moment from my day with them. By that time, a group of us had bonded and would spend evenings cooking and chatting – that was probably my favourite part of every day.
Maybe another thing to mention here is that up until day 5, I was very careful about filtering my water, even if I knew it was safe to drink it from any stream. I was dragging around my beloved water filter with me anyway, so I thought I’d better use it. On day 5, I was a bit fed up with everything, especially people staring at me strangely whenever I took my filter out, so I decided to ditch it and never looked back. I really hope that water quality in the park will never change, there are so few places in the world where you can just drink water from the stream (and not get sick)!
Day 6 – Paine Grande to Frances
The beginning of the day felt a bit spooky, especially seeing all the trees lost in the forest fires which happened in 2011. I am not surprised at all why the fires were caused and why now people are only allowed to cook in designated areas inside the campsite buildings. The night before, while cooking at chatting, somebody set their stove on fire, but thanks to quick reactions of a few people, nobody got hurt.
I arrived at Italiano pretty early, dropped off my bag by the Guarderia and only took a smaller bag with valuables and food for my trip up to Mirador Frances and Britanico. It was so strange to walk with such a tiny bag, I was getting used to moving slow and carrying heavy weight. With the tiny bag, all the ascent I had ahead of me was melting like a chocolate teapot.
I got to Mirador Frances pretty quickly and it was amazing to just sit there and listen to a rumbling of ice breaking off and falling down. There was a bird of prey which clearly loved posing to all the tourists, as it was sitting in front of well photographed mountain peaks.
As I carried on towards Britanico, the scenery became more and more dramatic. Eventually, it felt like there was a fence of mountain peaks surrounding me. It was peaceful, but very windy, so I eventually gave in to the cold and left Mirador Britanico.
On the way down, the sky started clearing and made me wish I stayed up a wee bit longer. On my way to Frances campsite I got to see enormous woodpeckers, which made me wonder if they were as big in Europe too. I honestly couldn’t remember.
Day 7 – Frances to El Chileno – Mirador de los Torres and back to Chileno
The seventh day on the trail was extremely scenic. I spent my morning admiring Lago Nordenskjöld, which was an absolute treat (despite the masses of people).
The path then slowly headed north and started climbing towards the famous Torres del Paine towers. It was a relatively tough climb on such a hot day, but I was enjoying it.
I arrived at El Chileno early afternoon, built my tent on a premium platform (right in front of the path) and decided to head up to the towers. I had a little bit of time before they closed (oh yes they do get “closed” at 4pm or so) and didn’t fancy sitting around the campsite.
I was so excited, that I was flying up the path. It was hard to do “fly” though, since there were TONNES of people heading down and some parts of the path were narrow enough that you had to wait for people to pass before you could continue. The crowd was full of little kids, older folk, people who probably never really hiked before or just annoying teenagers blasting the music out of their smartphones. I’m not saying hiking is only for experienced, but it was painful to deal with the crowd, especially after the peacefulness of the first half of O trek.
I arrived at the towers half an hour or so before they “closed”, so had a bit of time to admire the views. I walked around and tried to take a few photos. The guard then announced that the viewpoint was closing in 15 min and shortly after that I spotted a guy dropping on his knee to propose to his girlfriend. It was funny and amusing at the same time and thankfully she said yes (very long way down otherwise).
When I got back to the camp, I found my French friend Ant there, so we spent an evening chatting and drinking super expensive beers (no wonder they are expensive when it’s so hard to get them up there).
Day 8 – Torres del Paine Towers and back to Puerto Natales
We had an early start the next day and my head torch died just after leaving the campsite, so I was glad Ant was there to save me. It didn’t take very long to go up to the towers and we found the rest of our group there, very much frozen. They all stayed in the campsite close to the park entrance, so they had a very early start to get up to the towers for the sunrise. I took out my sleeping bag and we sat there for a bit sharing my sleeping bag, chocolate and pre-sunrise peacefulness. We dropped some chocolate on the ground but by day 8 everyone’s food supplies were basically non existent, so the chocolate got picked up from the ground and eaten in no time!
The sunrise turned out to be absolutely spectacular. It wasn’t so much about the sun itself, but it was rising behind the towers, painting them bright orange colour. It lasted shorter than I wished, but it was magnificent. Eventually, the cold won and we headed down back to the camp. I packed up my tent and joined everyone in the cafe there. Everyone around us were having breakfast, but we didn’t have anything pre-booked, so had to be happy with a cup of tea. Eventually, the waiter took pity on us and gave us leftover eggs, bread and couple of oranges. After a week of not eating any fruit or veg, those oranges tasted like heaven!
The trip back to Puerto Natales wasn’t too exciting and it felt so strange to have a signal on my phone again. I couldn’t force myself to read any of the messages I got from the outside world, I kind of refused to accept I was back. I did my laundry (it was amazing to have some clean clothes again) and bought loads of fruit. The group was arranging to meet up for celebratory meal, while also boasting about who bought and ate more fruit. It felt good to be alive.
That night, we couldn’t believe it was dark when we headed back to our hostels after the meal. All the evenings when hiking the O trek, we’d be in beds by 9pm, when the sun was still up. It was nice to have that simple rhythm in life when walking, eating, sleeping and sharing experiences with people were all the things that mattered. I wasn’t ready to let it all go, but I had more adventures waiting ahead, so I closed my eyes that night, very tired and happy, ready for whatever the next day was meant to bring.