Patagonia, the very name conjures images of dramatic, awe-inspiring peaks rising out of an open, barren landscape. Considering that this almost mythical region covers the southern expanse of both Argentina and Chile, it is of little surprise that there are numerous trekking opportunities available for the visitor. Unquestionably some of the areas most famous trails are to be found within the world famous Torres Del Paine National Park in Chile.
The 'W' route begins after a brief boat journey to the Lago Grey refuge and campsite. Here it is advisable to pitch your tent or leave any surplus equipment in the refuge before an easy day hike to a viewpoint looking towards the icy facade of Glacier Grey. It can be difficult to fully appreciate the size of this glacier which forms part of the Southern Patagonian Ice-field although if you take the time to marvel at this natural wonder, you will probably witness a sight-seeing boat dwarfed by the glaciers towering pillars of blue ice. If time allows, it is recommended that you continue approximately three hours past the viewpoint towards the Campamento Paso where you will be rewarded with magnificent views looking across the ice field towards the distant mountain peaks. Retrace your steps to return to the Lago Grey refuge where you can spend the night sleeping next to a glacial fed lake complete with floating icebergs.
The next day begins with a steady walk alongside the Lago Grey as you head towards the Lago PehoÃ©. If you are lucky, the frequent peak hugging clouds will clear to give you a fine view of the jagged heights of the surrounding Paine Grande mountain range, dominating the landscape with a grandeur that far exceeds their elevation. Upon reaching the PehoÃ© refuge and campsite, the trail double backs on itself and you will soon be rewarded with a view of the convoluted massif of the Cuernos del Paine, a land-mass that is symbolic of the Patagonian region. These are the stereotypical Patagonian peaks that have been reproduced in magazines and books throughout the world. The track continues towards the range, alongside the picturesque Lago Skottsberg, where on a rare still day the Cuernos del Paine can be seen reflected in the crystal clear waters of the lake. Upon reaching the Campamento Italiano, a worthwhile side trip is to head down the Valles Del Frances for impressive views of the Cuernos del Paine and the Paine Grande range. Alternatively, continue on the main track which is a gentle hike towards the azure colored lake of Lago NordenskjÃ¶ld and the refuge and campsite at Los Cuernos.
The pen-ultimate stretch of the route continues to follow the length of the Lago NordenskjÃ¶ld, with the track undulating across a sun drenched land-mass typical of the Patagonian steppe, sandwiched between the Torres range and the lakeside. The surreal form of the Almirante Nieto dominates the skyline as the track follows the outline of the massif before joining the Valle Ascencio. Now the landscape and terrain begin to dramatically change as the route slowly begins to ascend towards the Torres del Paine, finally reaching the Chileno Refuge and Campsite.
The final day of the hike is both the most arduous and most rewarding. However, it should not be undertaken in poor weather or during the winter months. It is recommended that extra days are taken into account when planning your trip to allow you to wait at Chileno for more favorable weather conditions. As you leave Chileno the track sharply climbs away from the Ascensio river until it finally rises above the tree line and into an open mountainous landscape. Now the route starts to become somewhat more of an endurance test as a vast expanse of huge boulders have to be navigated and climbed to reach a small tarn under the eastern facade of the Torres del Paine. From here the views of the Torres and the surrounding Patagonia landscape are unsurpassed. The Torres themselves are impressive granite towers that appear to almost pierce the skyline, 2800 metre high pinnacles dramatically rising from behind a small alpine tarn. After allowing some time to immerse yourself in the environment, it is a steady descent finally following the Ascensio River until you reach the Hosteria Las Torres and the end of your Patagonian adventure.
Jason Friend is an award winning travel and landscape photographer based in North-East England. His words and images have been reproduced in numerous worldwide publications including the Australian Geographic, New Zealand Wilderness, and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Jason is also the author of ten books, which showcase his words and images. To view more of his published articles and award winning landscape photography, please visit jasonfriendphotography.com.
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