The realities of the W trek in the Parque Nacional Torres del Paine

The night before we start the W trek, while we were frantically packing our 60L backpacks with our camping necessities in our hostel, three British travellers return from their five days in the wilderness of the W trek. “The worst five days of my life.”

A good way to hit us with reality, or maybe just prepare us for the worst. But really what we learnt was that it all came down to the weather. We could be extremely fortunate and face five days of sunshine and happiness, or like these three British boys we could face snow-filled, disruptive winds and temperatures below 0 every night. A lot depended on the weather. (However, we made talk of the weather taboo during our six days in the park to not jinx the outcome.)

The day of our pre-departure we spend an intense two hours running between ‘camping gear hiring shops’ to find the best deals and hire all the equipment we needed before they closed. Our pre-depature day sounded something like: Get off the bus once at Puerto Natales, attend a briefing at 3:00 about what to expect in the National Park from a worker of our Hostel, Erratic Rock, check out the gear hiring shops around town, set up tents to make sure all parts were included, hire our equipment, buy all our food for the next five days, prepare a few lunches, pack our backpacks, line our backpacks with plastic bags and maybe get into bed before 3am.

That was probably too much to read in one hit, which is exactly what the day was like. Probably too much to do in a little amount of time. The key is to be organised.

Our first day in the park is probably the toughest as it’s a continuous uphill climb. But once at the top the view is well worth it! I would happily do a climb three times that length to see the sites around me. There’s a 360 view of pure paradise. Lakes and valleys and hills below you and in front of you snow peaked mountains and rivers and a sun escaping behind the hills. From there onwards it just keeps getting better. Our camping site for the night is tucked away in the midst of the bright autumn trees with a flow of water running through the site supplying us with a water source. Another beauty about the park is you can drink straight from the running water, anywhere in the park at all.

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Our second day in the park was probably the longest, as after three hours of walking we realised we had barely just walked 3km and had so much more left. Our morning started with a trek up to the Torres to watch the sun come out in the morning… Well we waited for the sun to come out, but instead we felt the cold gentle patter of snow fall onto our skin and watched a heavy fog settle over the three Torres.

The rest of the day was spent … walking. The scenery is amazing to look at, but so is the company. Between the seven of us, we had three cultures, a range of career paths in science, business, teaching and journalism and diverse upbringings. So out comes the stories, the games and the songs as we’re walking along.

Perhaps now is a good time to segue to a few quotes from our quote book (aka my mobile phone) over the five days:

Hannah: I don’t know what to do with all my feelings.
Pedro: Have you got our sandwiches?
Rafa: Tres dos, tres dos compadre.
Mel: oh my butt hole.
Me: Where’s my other glove?

The third day we powered on to Italiano and relaxed a little too long before trekking up to the Miradors in el Valle Francés. This valley is incredibly beautiful. A spectacular view encompassed our vision wherever we turned. We walked for a good two hours searching for the Mirador Britanico but never quite made it. We stopped in what we called the ‘Creepy Place’ when we realised we wouldn’t have much time left to return with good light. Unfortunately we had a reason for calling the place ‘the creepy place’. More than 16,000 hectares were destroyed by a fire in 2011. Apparently the Britanico lookout was a little further but we were short on time. We did get caught with a setting sun on the way down, which was both a joy with the beautiful colours and a concern scrambling around rocks with little light.

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The fourth day…well, we had gotten the hang of a day full of walking: our pace had a rhythm, our speed had picked up and we had clear blue skies. From Italiano we hiked two hours to Paine Grande a.k.a Lago Pehoe where we prepared a warm lunch of soup to compliment our sandwiches. I also brought a relatively cheap hot chocolate to reward myself for my enduring efforts. At this point I had all my tasty snacks left and interesting dinners which I had been saving for the later half of our trip. For our remaining nights we had freeze-dried meals. Although not the healthiest options, they would offer better variety (two curries and a lasagna) than the pasta we had been eating with the soup powder as sauce the previous few nights. We took the remaining 7.5km walk to Glacier Grey where we spent our coldest two nights. (The tents were quite hard with frosts when we eventually had to take them down.)

The fifth day was my favourite and was comparatively slower. I spent an hour sitting in front of the glacier and barely realised where the time went.

Pedro’s science facts: So a glacier is a solid right? Which is more dense than a liquid? But water is a liquid? So why does such a huge landmass float?

Let’s break it down.. literally. A water molecule is made of one oxygen molecule and two hydrogen molecules that stick out like horns. When these molecules are floating around they bump into each other and move around however they feel like. When the temperatures drops and the water begins to crystallise these water molecules move slower and align, oxygen molecule to hydrogen molecule. Picturing the water molecule with the two horns of hydrogen, this means they can’t pack as closely as when they are tumbling around in liquid state, but they spread out and line up. Thus they are less dense and can float and we have the incredible scene of Glacier Grey. Pretty cool right?
[TBH Pedro explained it to me in half Spanish and half English, so I still needed google’s help.]

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While I had my hour of alone time looking at water and ice, I hear a crack and a bang and quickly try to scout out the source of the noise. Far below me, just meters from the end of the glacier a piece of ice is rolling and rotating around in the water causing large ripples to undulate from its centre. Eventually the ice settles but the noise continues for a good ten minutes longer. Most likely the cracks and changes are continuing below the surface of the glacier, altering its condition.

Our final day we packed up our frosty tent early, had our last oatmeal-and-powder-milk-in-a-bag breakfast and headed back down to Lago Pehoe to catch the catamaran back to civilisation.

So our reality of the trek wasn’t as bad as the British boys. However, I still lost my 30 dollar hired gloves, wore out right knee, accumulated a bunch of random bruises and pushed myself past my walking limit. But in the scheme of things it was well worth it and definitely accomplishing. Now that the trek’s over I can talk about the weather and proudly state: OMGASH WE WERE SO LUCKY WITH THE PERFECT WEATHER. There was no rain over my head for the whole six days (apart from the snow in the morning of our Torres del Paine.)

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