How to get there: Bus from Reykjavik, app 4-5 hours. Several companies, such as Trex (leaves from Adalstræti, outside the Tourist office) or Reykjavik Excursions(leaves from the Reykjavik Bus Station). Both companies accept online bookings and have several departures daily in summer. Landmannalaugar is accessible roughly from end of June to September, and only by 4WD (the last 40 km). Even with a 4WD skills the road is not straightforward to drive.
Facilities: Camping, toilets, shop selling maps of Laugavegurinn trek as well as gas (screw) canisters. Credit cards accepted. Hut accomodation also available (advance booking needed).
Activities: 1. Plenty of day/half-day hikes to do. Maps available in the small service shop. 2. Natural hot springs. The landshape formations around Landmannalaugar are quite exceptional (see photos below).
I was there: On July 17th, 2016 traveling by bus (Trex) from Reykjavik to Landmannalaugar, departing Reykjavik at 8 am, arriving at Landmannalaugar at 1 pm. I did a half-day hike and spend the night camping before commencing the Laugavegurinn hike.
1. The Torres del Paine Circuit trail itself only moderately difficult, the most challenging section being the John Gardner pass. There are no issues with route finding and even moderately experienced hikers will have no issues hiking the full circuit without a guide.
2. Hiking times are estimated very conservatively in most online/printed sources. For even moderately experienced/fit hikers the Circuit may easily be hiked in 6-7 days and the W in 3 days.
3. Pack for four seasons as snow may be encountered at all times even in summer, and use lightweight gear. A full backpack including four-season gear, food and camping equipment, need not weigh more than 10 kg. Unfortunately high-quality lightweight gear is not cheap.
4. No need to carry food for the full eight days as food (both meals as well as supplies) may be bought at all the refuges. It can be difficult to get food into Argentina from Chile, thus the safer option to stock up in Puerto Natales. I had no problem with my freeze-dried meals at the land border, however.
5. Use sunscreen even in cloudy weather. The sun is very strong.
6. No need to carry more than 1 liter of water as water sources are abundant and clean.
7. Lonely Planet Hiking in Patagonia (from 2009) is very outdated as well as out of print. The Cicerone Torres del Paine guidebook may be preferred. The National Park provides up to date maps.
8. The biggest challenge for hikers in the park is the wind. Tighten your backpack. Even backpack cover may blow away in the Patagonian wind.
9. The main challenge of the Circuit is crossing the John Gardner Pass. On the other hand it is the greatest day out of the entire circuit: Technically it is straight-forward, however snow and strong winds may be encountered at all times. In brief: 1. During the ascent you can see the pass high up. If you loose the markers, just walk in this direction. If the pass is obscured by snow or fog: Wait it out! 2. The winds on top of the pass may be ferocious. 3. The descent may be slippery, however ropes are provided.
10. Two sets of vertical ladders have to be climbed crossing two ravines a couple of hours before Refugio Grey. The most difficult moment on the hike, in my opinion, and the only moment with exposure on the entire trek.
What I did: Solo-hiked the Torres del Paine circuit including the W hike with full camping gear (10 kg) over Christmas 2014, with the following itinerary:
El Calafate (private bus)-Laguna Amarga-Refugio Las Torres-Puesto Serón-Refugio Lago Dickson-Campamento Los Perros-Refugio Grey-Campamento Italiano – Valle del Francés (return)-Refugio Los Cuernos-Campamento Torres-Torres del Paine Lookout (return)-Refugio Las Torres-Puerto Natales (bus)
Start: Memurubu End: Gjendesheim Distance (km): 15 km Ascent/descent: 1100/1100 m
Time used: 8 hours with a 15 kg backpack.
Difficulty (1-5): 4.
Walking season: June-September. Depends on snow levels. Both public transportation to Gjendesheim and the boats on Gjende lake are seasonal and run approximately between late-June and September. Information via DNT.
Accomodation:Huts: At both trail ends Gjendesheim (DNT hut) and Memurubu hut provide accommodation. Several additional accommodation near Gjendesheim. Camping: Wild camping is permitted everywhere. There are several prime spots on the trail as well as close to both trail ends.
Description: Stony trail, however significantly less stony than other trails in Jotunheimen. Very well-marked. On the Besseggen ridge itself, there is a very short (2 min * 2) section of light scrambling. The trail may be walked either from Gjendesheim (thus walking from Gjendesheim and taking the boat back from Memurubu) or from Memurubu (taking the boat from Gjendesheim to Memurubu and walking back). Most people take the boat from Gjendesheim in the morning and walk back. Othes spend the night at Memurubu. In either case, in high season up to 500 people may leave Memurubu at approximately the same time, crossing the ridge between 10-12 am, causing significant traffic jam on the ridge.
Important points: Up to 55.000 walk the Besseggen ridge every year. The Gjende boat may not be booked however boats leave in the morning from Gjendesheim as long as there are people. In high season the traffic jam on the ridge around midday is considerable and the biggest hazard of the hike.
Highlights: Climbing the ridge.
Low points: To be stuck in a crowd on the ridge.
Avoid the crowds either by a) a very early (7am) start from Gjendesheim, b) spend the previous night in Memurubu and start around 7 am or c) camp on the trail (which I did). At 10 am I was alone on the ridge. At 11 am the ridge was overcrowded.
Prepare for all sorts of weather. I encountered a sudden snowstorm 300 meters above Memurubu in mid-August.
While the ridge may look narrow and exposed from below, it really is not. 55.000 passes the ridge every year and noone has ever fallen down from it.
Start and end: El Chaltén, Parque de los Glaciares.
General information: Parque de los Glaciares is located in Southern Patagonia in Argentina. This section of Parque de los Glaciares is famous for the mountains of Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre, both of which attract world-class mountaineers every year, occasionally creating controversy. This 3-4 day hike goes into mountain lakes, glaciers and offers great views of both Fitz Roy and Cerro Torres, weather permitting. Hiking here is quite easy, and even easier than in the moderate Torres del Paine. The major concern for hikers is the weather, especially the winds (see below). The route suggested below may also be walked as day hikes from El Chaltén.
Day 1: El Chaltén to Campamento Poincenot. 12km. 3,5 hours. Day 2: Day trips from Campamento Poincenot to Laguna de los Tres(famous view of Fitz Roy) and Laguna Pedros Blancas. 3 hours per trip. Day 3:Campamento Poincenot to Campamento Agostino. Walk around Lago Torreto Mirador Maestri (famous view of Cerro Torre). 15 km. 4 hours. Day 4:Campamento Agostino to El Chaltén. 10 km. 3 hours.
Total distance: 35 km + day trips.
Time used: 4 days (two full, two half-days) – could easily be shortened into 3 days.
Difficulty (1-5): 2 for main trail. 4 for side trip to Laguna Pedros Blancas (scrambling section just before arriving at the lake).
Short description of the trail: Easy walking along well-marked paths. No exposed sections save some light scrambling at the Laguna Pedros Blancas side trip.
Accomodation and food: During the hike: Designated (free) campsites within the national park. Facilities: Latrines only. No food sold inside the park. No huts in this area, however both Laguna de los Tres and Lago Torre may be done as day hikes, returning each evening to El Chaltén. Water may be taken from the streams, no need for filtering.
Equipment: No special equipment. For overnight camping, four-season equipment is needed as snow and heavy winds may be encountered at all times.
Guidebook/map used: Lonely Planet: Hiking in Patagonia. Not updated since 2009, and now apparently out of print. Many practical issues outdated, however general info and maps still relevant. I used a PDF of the relevant chapter as well as a map available at the national park office in El Chaltén. Combined with resources available online , one could well do without a guidebook.
Important points/concerns: The weather is notoriously unreliable in this region, even in summer (Dec-Jan). Be prepared for very strong winds and snow. I have not seen winds like in Patagonia anywhere in the world.
The view of Fitz Roy from Lago de los Tres.
Scrambling up to Laguna Pedros Blancas where a magnificent glacier disappears into the water.