It was time. Time to test everything we have learned during the past year of traveling and camping. And hiking.
This time we would not be bringing our newly acquired Target duvet or pillows to fight the cold. This time we would not be kneeling down to cook our morning oats.
Both of us would be wearing our matching (yes, matching, but only by accident) hiking pants that have seen it all from New Zealand to Guatemalan highlands and to Colombian mountain ranges. Richie’s walking sticks were up for a true test - would the other one finally break? Would he fall into mud in slow-motion when the sticks would fail him? (Almost but more of that later.)
Patagonia so far had been a beautiful, albeit a bit chilly, and a very, very expensive stint. Hiking to Mt. Fitzroy in El Chalten is by far the best and most beautiful hike we have ever done. It was going to be hard to top that one but Torres Del Paine national park in Chile would try its best.
Torres Del Paine is quite a popular place. By “quite” I mean thousands of tourists walking the trails every year and the park sure knows how to do business. You could pick your lodgings from sleeping in your own tent to a tent that is waiting for you there, or sleeping inside the refugios on a bed (bed $30 USD, if you want to add sheets it’s another $30 USD!) to luxury accommodations.
You can choose to do day-hikes, the W-Circuit (4-5 days) or the full O-circuit (7-8 days, although some moutain goat we met was doing it in 4). Luckily I wasn’t having one of my moments where I think we can do anything, I mean anything, and didn’t try to talk Richie into doing the O. The W-Circuit with 5 days would be quite enough for us.
Of course we’d be doing it the cheap way which means carrying your tent, food and cooking equipment. You want to know how much the cheapest way cost us?
$560 USD for five days.
As I said they know how to do business. Just pitching your tent on the first two camping sites cost $8 USD each and $16 USD each at the last two stops. Add renting the gear, getting to the park and back by bus and catching a 30 minute catamaran for $30 USD each. And buying a lot of nuts and stuff to make your own trailmix. We are still eating that trailmix a week after finishing the hike.
Most popular time to visit Torres Del Paine is during the summer months. April is definitely the shoulder season as it is getting colder. But also it means less people and awesome autumn colors! And a giant -15 degrees celcius sleeping bag you have to carry on your back for five days. The weather forecast really loomed over us, promising rain and/or snow for every day with lovely temperatures ranging from -7 to +4 celcius degrees. Can’t wait!
During the five days we visited countless lookout points, got seriously bored of eating nuts for lunch every day, got to experience the true Patagonian weather with horizontal rain that maked us soaking wet (but only on our left side), laughed, witnessed pro-hikers throw bad looks and pitiful comments to people who they think have never camped before, threw someone’s food away as it was hanging from a tree where we wanted to pitch our tent (amateur campers…), battled a challenging swamp that almost claimed Richie and half-claimed our friend Stewie, swore never ever to hike again, and made it to the Torres lookout just when the clouds went away for couple of seconds! You might think hiking is a solitary thing but it was actually quite the social experience since you see the same people every day and this ended up being one of the most fun things we have done thanks to the company.
We are not quite sure how much we walked at the end because apparently no-one at the parks deparment knows how to count. Each map displayed different distances and even the markers on the trail were telling vastly different stories on how long it would take to get somewhere. I counted 76km, maps.me says 96km. I’ll take the latter as we can round it up to hundred and that’s something!
We can sum up the experience with Stewie’s words from the fourth day: “Hiking is like flogging yourself.” It sucks but afterwards you feel kinda good. You’ll never do it again until you have forgotten the pain the last time caused you. It’s been a week now and I find myself thinking about the mountains in Peru. Maybe once more…