Highs and lows, fire and ice in Torres del Paine, Chile

About one year ago I just started my temporary job at the university and I wanted to pick a nice desktop picture for my computer. We already knew we’d by going for a long-term trip around South America and one part I was already very excited about was the Torres del Paine national park in Chile. This park has some of the most amazing nature I’ve ever seen and a picture of the view from the Valle del Francès was so beautiful it became my wallpaper for the whole time I worked there.

10 days ago we made it to the park: we would start hiking the grand circuit, the trail that leads you to the Grey glacier, Valle del Francès and the Mirador del Torres! It would take us about ten days so we packed our tent and sleeping gear and brought enough food to survive the entire trip.

Day 1: The weather is beautiful and we decide to start with the Mirador del Torres now that the sky is still clear. Normally we’d end with it, but we didn’t want to take the risk of the weather being really bad 10 days later. To reach the Mirador you have to hike uphill for about 4 hours. You take the same path to come back. We pitched our tent at the base so that we only had to carry our lunch and rain clothes for when the weather became bad after all. The hike was beautiful, but took more energy than we thought it would. My knee had a difficult time climbing uphill, something that never bothered me before. The view at the Mirador was amazing, however, and we raced downhill to be at the tent before 8 pm to start cooking diner! When we go to sleep, we notice that one of the mattresses we rented has a leak. Luckily we also brought the lightweight mattresses we got from Kim and Igor, two amazing Belgians who we met at Puerto Madryn.

The Torres

Day 2: We’re tired from yesterday, but today should be an easy walk. We start walking rather late and follow the trail to the next campground. The last few kilometers seem sooooo long. The fact that every map or sign shows different time and distance information doesn’t help either. The campground is basic but nice and since its Christmas eve, we put our Christmas hats on and decorate our tent. We cook up a nice meal (trout with tomato cream sauce, all from the can or powder obviously) and share some hot chocolate milk and cake with a Belgian couple.

Christmas eve in TdP

Day 3: According to the map today might be a long day. We get up early and start walking around 8 am. We love starting early, at this time nature is beautiful! We walk and walk and walk and again there seems no end to this trail. My feet get really sore in the new shoes we had bought and I have a very hard time finishing this track. Once we arrive at the campground we have a beer with some Americans and it turns out that everyone felt like this track had no end. My feet are still very very sore however and when the zipper of our tent begins breaking down, very inconvenient with the very aggressive horseflies around here, I start wondering if it wouldn’t be better to turn around and do just the shorter version of the trail…

Day 4: We decide not to give up and continue the grand circuit. The walk becomes a lot nicer, with parts through the woods and beautiful sceneries! We arrive nicely on time at the campground, which turns out to be swamped with mosquitoes and horseflies. Some Americans decide to continue walking and look for a spot further down the trail. We decide not to try our luck since it hasn’t really been on our side so far.

One of the many glaciers.

Day 5: The next morning we’re glad we stayed at the campground, since we cannot see a decent camping spot for at least 1,5 hours down the trail. Today we pass the great John Gardner Pass. It’s all everyone talked about along the trail and we were very curious how hard it would be. Turns out it’s really not bad, I don’t mind hiking up steep hills since that’s when my feet don’t hurt that much. Just when my knee starts hurting really bad, we seem to have made it: We get an astounding view of the Grey glacier and the mountains surrounding it. Boy is this beautiful! It seems tradition to leave something behind so we do: we leave a little teddy bear Christophe gave me for Christmas many many years ago. May the power of nature be with him.

On top of the John Gardner pass

We are invited by an Israeli couple to drink some tea with them and soon an Australian couple joins us, including their rhubarb liquor (a local specialty) to warm things up a little on the cold pass. Within 10 minutes it starts raining and with the Patagonian winds that blow here, it soon feels like it’s about 5 degrees out. The descent is very steep (no zigzags here, just straight down without excuses – long live hiking poles) but we make good progress. The scenery is unbelievable!

Grey glacier

We make it to the second campground where it is our turn to share our hot chocolate with the Israeli’s at the viewpoint over the Grey glacier. Amazing times! We feel great and start to really enjoy our trekking. We go to bed later than we’re used to on this hike.

Day 6: We wake up pretty tired and start hiking with a sleepy head. Today will be a tough day, we say to each other. About an hour later we arrive at the Refugio Grey, which we normally would just pass by, but there’s a note that says: due to fire no one is allowed to proceed walking past the refugio. No one really knows how bad it is and information changes every minute and with every person we speak to. At first we were told we had to get out by boat, which would cost us 50 euros per person since it’s in fact a tourist boat trip and the park itself has no boats there… We decide to wait until things get more critical, and hope that we won’t have to pay when it becomes an obligatory evacuation. A little later we are indeed informed that everyone has to leave and at 8.30 pm (‘only’ 10 hours after we got there in the first place) a boat picks us up, after it having done all its scenic stops with the tourists – a lot of furry hats there! – to the glacier.

Brave men!

On a small boat, on an icy lake...

It’s a bit surreal to know that this organization just continues doing its business while at the coastline a huge fire is destroying the park.

Fire and ice

After another 2 hour-long bus ride, we arrive at Puerto Natales at half past midnight, with no place to stay. Luckily we find an owner of an hospedaje who has a room for us. Lying in the soft, clean, warm bed I keep thinking I should be in my tent now. We should be finishing the hike that we started…

We never got to see the Valle del Francès, I never got to see what the picture on my computer looked like in real life. We did however see amazing things in this amazing park. It really hurts to know that because of a careless tourist a large part of this park is being destroyed. Maybe nice to know: today it started raining really hard and there’s practically no wind. This is good news, because the firefighters really had no chance against this fire…

Categories: Chile | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “Highs and lows, fire and ice in Torres del Paine, Chile

  1. Emilie

    Hey Jolien en Christophe!

    Wat een prachtige ervaringen daar! Jullie foto’s zijn super!
    Goed fototoestel precies ook, welk gebruiken jullie? (Want ik ben van plan om ook één te kopen voor onze zomervakantie naar Canada)

    Geniet er nog van: spotten dat wildlife, inspannen die benen, en een gelukkig nieuwjaar voor jullie!


    • Merci Emi!! We genieten er keihard van.

      Ik heb een Nikon D3100 gekocht en ben er zeer tevreden van! Het neemt wat meer plaats in dan een bridgemodel (ik had eerder nog een panasonic FZ28, die leveren ook mooie beelden op) maar ik hou van de vrijheid die ik heb met mijn DSLR. Moest je er nog vragen over hebben stuur je maar een mailtje 🙂

      Canada staat op onze wishlist, dat wordt een schitterende reis die jullie gaan maken!!! Gaan jullie BANFF en Jasper doen?

      Groetjes en ook een gelukkig nieuwjaar gewenst!!!

      • Emilie


        Ik zal je bij tijd en stond dan wel is een mailtje sturen als ik aan het vergelijken ben voor een toestel, bedankt alvast!

        Ja we gaan banff en Jasper zeker doen! En ook Vancouver Island, Yoho NP en Waterton NP… en nog veel meer… Kijken er al enorm naar uit! En omdat Juli nog zo ver weg is, droom ik nog even verder door jullie blog te volgen! Echt perfecte ontspanning! Doet me zin krijgen om ook te vertrekken! Super wat jullie daar aan het doen zijn!

        Nog veel plezier & say hi to the penguins for me! 😉


  2. Steve Chiu

    We appreciated you did it, though an incomplete W, next time you guys are still young.
    I am over 60, time is limited. But I Survived the W. Don’t be discourage, by you knee pain. We had a over 70 adorable gentleman who did the same. He will continue to hike in June to Poland.
    SAD to know you cannot go to the W of the French Valley.
    Even SADDER to see the Camp Italiano was gone.

  3. Ria, Jacques en Vincent

    Prachtige foto’s, schitterende omgeving … om jaloers op te zijn ! Wens jullie nog een leuke reis verder en geniet van de ervaring. Samen veel beleven en afzien zijn een prima cement voor een goede relatie.
    Oh en Christophe: het baartje staat je goed

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