Torres del Paine: W-Trek
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We spend a few days in Puerto Natales, making our final preparations and organizing our backpacks before taking the bus to the national park and the Lake Pehoe pier. Under a bright blue sky and sunshine, we board the shuttle boat that takes us to Refugio Paine Grande. This is where we will begin the W-Trek the following day. This journey itself is already a first highlight of this adventure.
This iconic Patagonian trek takes us four days and over 72 km inside the Torres del Paine National Park, following a W-shaped itinerary. The weather is great, which is far from usual for this trek. Immersed in unspoilt nature, we enjoy days filled with memorable experiences, surrounded by glaciers, mountains and lakes. We cross beautiful valleys and forests, meeting friendly people along the way.
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The first day of our four-day trek takes us from the Refugio Paine Grande to the Grey Glacier. After our breakfast at the refuge, we are ready to embark on this 23 km stage.
Shortly after starting the hike and completing the first climb, we reach the Laguna Los Patos and the vast Lago Grey soon comes into view. The hike is not too technically demanding. Mostly on open ground, the trail is slightly elevated along Lago Grey and occasionally crosses some forest sections. Caution is advised on two or three steep passages over rocky terrain, especially when the ground is wet.
After approximately 11 kilometers, we reach the Refugio Grey, which is beautifully nestled in the forest. From here, it is only about one kilometer to the spectacular viewpoint that overlooks the Grey Glacier. A perfect spot to enjoy our picnic while admiring this surreal and mighty glacier, with its two arms plunging into Grey Lake.
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The second stage of the W-Trek takes us from the Paine Grande refuge to the Valle del Francés, and finally to the Los Cuernos refuge. We follow the itinerary to the east of Skottsberg lake. The magnificent Skottsberg trail offers a breathtaking view of the majestic Cuernos mountains. We then cross a beautiful plain with wooden pontoons until we reach the entrance of the Francés valley.
At Camping Italiano, you can leave your backpack before embarking on the challenging five-kilometer climb to the Británico viewpoint. We climb up to the Francés viewpoint. From here, we already have a fine view of the Francés glacier, the Cuernos mountains and the valley towards Lake Nordenskjöld. As the wind intensifies and gusts become more powerful, we decide to turn back and not ascend further into the valley.
The trail to the Los Cuernos hut continues a little further. Towards the end of the hike, we pass some lovely sections alongside the lake. If you have some spare time, it is a great spot to relax. After a final short climb, we arrive at the charmingly rustic Refugio Cuernos.
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Heavy rain is forecast for the third stage of the W-Trek. Fortunately, we are quite lucky as it only rained lightly in the morning. The sun also emerged, and a magnificent double rainbow adorned the sky over Lake Nordenskjöld for over an hour.
The rain gradually dissipates as we continue this stage mainly along Lake Nordenskjöld, without getting too wet. The landscape is undeniably beautiful, but rather monotonous. The true highlight of this stage is undoubtedly the moment we enter the Ascencio Valley, especially the breathtaking view from the pass. We spend the night at the Refugio Chileno, a rather small but extremely charming mountain hut nestled at the bottom of the valley.
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Our final stage brings us the highlight of the W-Trek: the ascent to “Mirador Base Las Torres”, the viewpoint overlooking the three striking and emblematic peaks of Torres del Paine National Park. We set off early in the morning from the Refugio Chilenos. It is better to start this stage early in the morning. This famous trail quickly becomes overcrowded with day hikers, and the weather can change rapidly.
The path initially ascends moderately through the forest. We cross rustic bridges and pass from one side of the Río Ascencio to the other multiple times. The final kilometer to the viewpoint involves an elevation climb of approximately 300 meters. At this point, the trail becomes steeper, more demanding and more technical. But it is well worth the effort. The view of the Torres – Torre Norte, Torre Central and Torre Sur – rising behind the glacial lake is truly impressive. We are fortunate to enjoy this magnificent scenery almost without wind. This is rarely the case here, as gusts can easily reach 100 km/h. It is essential to check the weather report beforehand.
After experiencing this highlight, our trek comes to an end. We descend to the Refugio Torre Central, where we spend our last night and conclude our adventure, tired but with many fond memories, before returning to Puerto Natales the following day.