Tag Archives: hiking patagonia

10 tips hiking the Torres del Paine circuit

Torres del Paine Circuit
Torres del Paine Circuit between Puesto Serrón and Lago Dickson

The 10 tips:

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.

Grey Glacier
View over the Grey Glacier

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 Lonely Planet Hiking in Patagonia (from 2009) is very outdated as well as out of print.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.

Gardner Pass descent
The descent from the Gardner Pass

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.

ladders Torres del Paine
Climbing the ladders on the descent from the Gardner pass

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)

The complete photogallery of this trip is available on flickr.

General information on the Torres del Paine Circuit and W:

Adventure Alan provides comprehensive practical information for both the Torres del Paine circuit and W trek.

El Chaltén hiking circuit in Patagonia

Laguna Piedras Blancas, Patagonia
View across the lake at Laguna Piedras Blancas, a couple                       of hours walk from Campamento Poincenot

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.

The hike:

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 Torre to 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.

Walking season: December-February.

Dates walked: December 19-22, 2014

Mount Fitz Roy, El Chaltén, Patagonia
View of Mount Fitz Roy on the way to Campamento                                                           Poincenot

Transport to/from the hike: Multiple daily buses (3 hours) from El Calafate to El Chalten, all of which stop at the National Park office just outside El Chaltén. From El Calafate there are numerous daily flights to Buenos Aires, as well as buses to Puerto Natales (for Torres del Paine) or private tour operators going directly from El Calafate into the Torres del Paine National Park.

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.

Laguna de los Tres with Fitz Roy, El Chaltén
The classical view of Mount Fitz Roy across Laguna de                        los Tres. The area is notorious for bad weather.

Online ressources including maps:  All sorts of info including maps on El Chaltén webpage, as well as the official page of Los Glaciares National Park.

Online trip reports from others include: Swoop Patagonia, besthike.com, Lonely Planet

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.