Preparation guide for hiking Torres del Paine national park
A list of things to bring with you to maximize your enjoyment as you hike through the UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.
Monday, February 14, 2011
Salto Grande waterfall and the Paine massif. (Photo: Clare Bevis)
Torres del Paine in Chile’s southern Patagonia offers up breathtaking views, bringing visitors up-close to nature on some of the world’s most spectacular trails that can satisfy both the experienced hiker and the first-timer.
More than 140,000 people every year visit the UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, encompassing around 242,242 hectares of protected land.
However, not all of them arrive properly prepared. Lian Hayes, owner and operator of adventure company Blue Green Adventures, tells us that some common errors include underestimating the time it will take to get from camp to camp, not bringing enough clothing and showing up with brand new boots.
This is Chile asked Blue Green Adventures, who offer a range of travel services throughout Chile, for some expert advice to help you plan your trip to what is arguably Chile’s standout natural star.
Where to go
While there are many ways to experience the park, including horseback riding or boat trips to the base of the majestic Grey Glacier, the majority of people hike either the W trail or the Circuit.
The W, which can reasonably be done in four to six days, takes you along one side of the famous Paine massif, from base of the famous Torres, past the startlingly blue Lake Nordenskjold, through the granite encrusted French Valley and to the Grey Glacier.
The longer Circuit continues round the lesser-known back side of the massif and takes trekkers to impressive sights such as an incredible view from the John Garnder Pass over the Southern Patagonian Ice Field.
What to wear
Packing for these hikes, especially if you are planning to camp, can be a tricky proposition. You will not want to weigh yourself down during your hike but you’ll need many layers of clothing to be prepared for the unpredictable weather. During our visit, we spent one day in short sleeves with cargo pants rolled up, followed by a day in storm jacket, scarf, wool gloves and cap. The wind was powerful enough to knock us off balance more than once.
Blue Green Adventures' kit-list for hikers includes:
Waterproof and windproof jacket and pants
Wool cap or hat
Sunglasses and a sun visor
Refillable water bottle (you can fill up at streams or refugios)
Comfortable, well broken in hiking boots are a must and waterproof boots are a plus, especially if you plan to hike over a number of days, when the last thing you’ll want is to stumble along with blistered feet in wet socks. The paths, while well marked, are littered with stones and the trail winds up and down consistently, putting constant pressure on your feet, particularly while going downhill.
Many travelers swear by trekking poles, which can be bought in Puerto Natales, Punta Arenas or the Refugio Las Torres, to help in the long descents and keeping your balance during gusty winds.
Food and equipment
You can choose to camp or stay at refugios, which are pricey but comfortable, and allow you to carry less equipment. Ideally, says Hayes, carry between 10 and 15 kilos on your back, depending how much camping and cooking gear you’re taking with you. There are certain junctions of the hike where you can leave packs at camping sites or refugios, making the hike up the French Valley much easier, for instance.
Campers will need a tent, a four-season sleeping bag, cooking equipment, a small towel, and personal hygiene items. A lot of camping gear, including cooking kit, can be rented in Puerto Natales. A basic first-aid kit is also a good idea, with blister supplies and painkillers for muscle pains.
There are limited options to buy food in the park at the Las Torres camp, the administration building and at Lake Pehoe, Hayes says. Refugios also offer a meal-only plan for those wishing to camp but eat inside. There are no cash points and credit card facilities are limited, so bring sufficient cash if you want to purchase snacks or drinks at the refugios.
And, of course, don’t forget your camera and plenty of batteries to capture every moment inside this beautiful park.