Classic Destinations

Not to be missed in Torres del Paine

Friday, July 31, 2009  
Kayak en el Grey Grey (Photo:Jorge Lopéz)

- The best places of Torres del Paine
- Torres del Paine

- Preparation guide to trekking Torres del Paine

Walking the Torres: There are a large number of trails that penetrate the park, both for one-day excursions as well as for over a week-long trips. The most popular of these are:

- “W”:  Of medium difficulty and average hike duration of 4 - 5 hours per day. It connects the Las Torres Hostel area and the Gray Lake shelter in three or four days. The trip includes remarkable areas like the Las Torres lookout, the Italiano camp with an ascent to the Valle del Francés and a fantastic view of the Paine mountain range and Grey Lake, with hundreds of ice floes from the glacier walls that border the lakeshore. This is fast hiking with a large number of people on the trails.

- “Grande”:  At least seven days are needed to complete this circuit, which in addition to passing through the sights included in “W,” adds the attractions of the area of Serón, the Dickson shelter, with striking views of lakes and glaciers coming down from snow-covered hills and the famous John Gardner pass. This last place is the hardest part of the walk, since you have to ascend almost 1,000 meters of moraine, but the effort is well worth it. From the top, and before beginning the descent, you have one of the most powerful views in Chile: the Southern Ice Fields extend as far as the eye can see. The blue cracks that mark the separations between ices are the great prize for those who adventure on this trekking.

Both circuits require all the items needed for a long walk amid nature: a medical kit, sun screen, durable shoes, and clothes for the cold and the water. The rest is to respect the rules of the park and the enjoy the magnificent scenery of the local mountain range and its classic mountains like the towers, three granite pinnacles, or the Cuernos del Paine.

Kayaking on Grey Lake: An invitation to ply the waters of the lake aboard kayaks that, while they do not reach the southernmost walls of the Ice Fields, do pass through enormous intensely blue icebergs. The only sound is the strained breathing of the person rowing and the silence of the lake. With luck you will be able to go in and observe the intricate and beautiful internal architecture of these frozen faults.

Several companies offer kayak lovers services for other areas, ranging from crossing lakes or descending rivers like the Serrano or the Tyndall. The hydraulic power created in Torres is the best feeling of all.

Through the Park on Horseback: Horseback riding is only allowed in certain sectors of the park. However, the local gauchos have traveled the Paine trails in their unmistakable gear for decades and are now the main guides on this sort of tour. It is a great experience for getting to know other places in greater detail more quickly.

Climb the Paine: One of the Park’s extreme challenges is to ascend one of its peaks, which average between 2,000 and 3,000 meters in height. The challenge is in the uneven terrain, the ever-changing weather, and the winds, all conditions that make it a world-class challenge.

There is a lot to choose from here: Paine Grande, 3,248 meters; Fortaleza, 3,000 meters; Aleta de Tiburón, 1,850 meters, and Sur, 2,850 meters, all good for mountain climbing and freestyle climbing alike.

The challenge is not an easy one. The walls of the Towers were first climbed in the 1950s and 1960s. In addition to the Towers are the tremendous Horns and the sheer vertical walls of Fortaleza and Escudo. But there can be no doubt that the biggest milestone is Paine Grande, a sporting challenge that was first climbed by an Italian team in 1963. For non-climbers, there are options that take you to the base camps very close to the summits: the Británico camp in Valle del Francés, and the Japonés Camp in Valle Ascencio.

Sight Pumas and Huemuls: Though these mammals are very scarce, they can be sighted with patience and good luck. They are visible in their dens on Sarmiento Lake and nearby. However, prudence is advised.

Huemuls can be found near Grey Lake. They may be photographed; they avoid human contact only when it becomes too close or invasive.