The W Trek – Torres del Paine

Contrary to what it seems, I’m not that huge a fitness nerd. I make it a point to stay fit enough to be able to run a comfortable 10km anytime I want to because, apparently, I’ve learnt that I’m quite vulnerable to spontaneous calls to adventure. That is the story here.

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Casually-placed mountain on the trek

While in South America, I had plans to make it to Ushuaia which claims to be the southern-most city in the world. Somehow, I ended up on Puerto Natales where every vaguely outdoorsy person sojourns to trek the Torres del Paine. The W-trek, a 5-day circuit that covers most of the scenic spots, is touted as one of the most spectacular treks in the world. After talking to a bunch of people, I found myself caught up in their excitement and decided that since it’s not every day I’m in Patagonia, I should definitely be trekking too! Carpe diem!

Everything that I would need could be rented or bought in town. I bought a fleece jacket from a thrift shop for $5 because it never occurred to me that Patagonia could be cold and the supermarkets had all sorts of dry or long-keep foods. This was supposed to be my last stop before heading into Argentina so I was running quite low on Chilean Pesos and park admission, lodging and meals are quite expensive. Luckily for my penchant for spontaneity though, the lodges with warm beds and covers were sold out months in advance and my option was to indulge in the full camping experience.

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SAVE SAAVE SAAAAAVE!

I’ve never gone self-supported camping in my life nor have I ever trekked ever but hey, that’s the magic of it, no? I have however walked a lot with a backpack before (when I’m classically lost) and from that, I’ve learnt that I want to pack the bare minimum. In fact, I went further and thought it was a great idea to complete the trek in 4 days instead just so I don’t have to lug additional food around. My entire packing list was something like this:

  • Breakfasts – Cereal, milk, nuts. Protein, fiber and carbs to get me on the road.
  • Lunches – Bread or biscuits, ham and cheese. I want something light and stuff I can eat while walking. Also I’m going to be snacking a lot so this isn’t an important meal for me.
  • Dinners – Instant mashed potatoes, nuts, milk, chicken stock (for flavor).  Carbs, some protein. I know I’m going to be starved but I didn’t want food that took a long time to cook or require lots of cleaning up(ie pasta, rice). Also, I wanted lean foods that would keep me filled to the next day because I’m not an early breakfast type of person.
  • Snacks – Nuts, pureed fruit (the type for babies), dried fruit, chocolate, biscuits. I’m usually a pretty big eater but I’m also deathly afraid of carrying too much weight. I wanted motivational food that is high in sugar and also I needed vitamins and more protein to work my way through the day.
  • A container of vodka – to make friends, to keep warm, to sleep well and to forget how awful trekking in the cold is.
  • Clothes – a fleece jacket, an outer shell for rain, 3 tees, a pair of comfy pants, underwear, flip-flops, an extra pair of socks, shorts for nights, towel, paracord bracelet <- If you haven’t been bringing this on your trips, you should because they can be used for everything, from securing your slippers to hanging your clothes in the shower.
  • Toiletries – shampoo, bar soap, facial foam
  • Rented tent
  • Rented sleeping bag
  • Rented gas cooker
  • Gas unit, portable pot, mug, spoon – all for cooking dinners and breakfasts
  • Torch and batteries
  • iPhone 5 as a camera

If you’re wondering about the lack of water, you’ll be walking through glacial streams every half an hour or so and you’ll never be short of quality water. My backpack weighed in at about 12kg which is quite incredible since rented gear isn’t exactly the lightest.

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Heroes in a Half Shell

The first day started with an early morning pilgrimage to the bus terminal followed by a bus ride, then a ferry ride to a drop-off point. The entire scene reminds me a little of some survival movie where the ‘fit’ folks would be doing their stretches and warm-ups while indulging in their healthy breakfast of apple and PB&J. There’s the occasional stressed-out person who would mumble about how he/she thinks he/she’s over or underpacked and then there’s people like me who’re trying to figure out how to stay awake with the wind gently caressing our faces. Well, ok, ‘gentle’ is kind of comparative.

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Camp Site

I couldn’t get on the first boat which delayed my start by a couple of hours. After setting up camp at the foot of the mountain, I packed some snacks, my mug and a jacket and bounded up the mountain. Like I’ve said, I’ve never trekked in my life so everything was new to me. Every few kilometers greets you with new sights of glaciers, mountains and misty green lakes. It’s spell-binding.

I think I got back to camp just before 9 and scrambled to cook some dinner before crashing for the night. Some of the guys who I met along the way stayed a bit too long and found the kitchens closed.

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Just the odd scenic point

Day 2 was horrid for me. It was the longest day with lots of climbs and sights paled in comparison to Day 1 AND it started raining just before lunch. I tagged along with 2 other guys who were moving at a much slower pace than I’d like so that might have made things worse for me. It wasn’t their fault, I’d later find out. They shared a tent but were carrying something like 20kg of load each because they really like food. I could totally relate and am glad that I like food less than I like lugging 20kg of food around. They’d later stop at an earlier camp site and I trekked an additional few kilometers to save me some pain for Day 3.

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Clouds, pre-rain

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I’d put my face into the stream and drink it all up

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Even a fallen tree looks artistic

There was quite a bit of rain during the nights. Rainy nights are horrid because it means you’ll be lugging tent and mud along with wet clothes around in your bag and this adds a LOT to the weight. It rained too during the day and the camp site on Day 3 had a weighing scale which registered my back as somewhat close to 13kg still, despite having finished the bulk of my food. It’s depressing. Day 3 also involved gaining a lot of elevation along the side of a mountain face (I see this is a recurring theme in my travels…) on a dirt-and-loose rocks track. I walked with a very cheery teacher from Santiago who was travelling with his dad. I hope I still have knees when I’m 60.

No matter how many days you intend to do the trek in, your first and last days are certain to be half-day affairs. On the first, you’ll be at the mercy of the ferries and how familiar you are with your equipment when you’re setting up and on the last, the only bus leaving the area leaves at mid-day.

The ultimate destination of your trek is really to view the Torres; the Towers. When you google for how they look like, you get spectacular pics like this.

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If only my eyes had Instagram filters built in…

That’s not necessarily far from what you’ll see though. I’ve seen some photos from fellow travelers where the Torres are bathed in warm golden sunlight and I daresay some of that is more beautiful than what you’re seeing on the Google results. However, if you’re like me and are trapped in the middle of rainy weather – which I hear is very common and that it’s highly unlikely you’ll not encounter rain during your short trek – you’ll be rewarded for your hours spent walking with this beautiful sight.

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The Torres… if you squint

That is the story of how I trekked the Torres del Paine.