|Hiking||13.46 Miles|| 7 Hrs 53 Mns ||2.10 mph|
|3,617 ft AEG|| 1 Hour 29 Mns Break||6 LBS Pack|
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||no linked trail guides|
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|Hiked Torres del Paine with Victoria. This was our last hike in Torres del Paine national park and we saved the best for last.|
Torres del Paine National Park is located in southern Chile, about 150 kilometers north of Puerto Natales which is where we started our day. There are several bus companies that offer transportation to the park from Puerto Natales. It is essential that you get your bus tickets for the round trip in advance, you cannot (at the time of writing) buy return tickets once inside the park. You will need the early morning departure in order to have enough time to complete the hike. For the return trip, if you are very fast, it is technically possible to get the 2nd to last return bus back to Puerto Natales. The safer bet is to book on the last departure so you don't get stuck if things take longer than you expect. For bus companies I recommend any but Turismo Zaahj (more on that later).From the buses, once in the park, you will transfer to shuttles (which charge an small additional fee) that take you from the main road to the trailhead. You will need to present a permit to hike Torres del Paine at this point which has to be purchased online in advance and either downloaded to a cell phone or printed (there is no cell reception in the park). You do need to have the permit in some form with you to get in (this caused a lot of trouble for people who didn't know this and showed up without a permit). The shuttle will drop you off at the hotels/lodges near the trailhead, the hike starts from here. If you have a car you can drive all the way to the trailhead, there seemed to be a good amount of parking available there although you will still need to present the relevant permits at the guard station where the bus riders transfer to shuttles.
The park entrance permit costs $32 (21,000 CLP) during the high season, The permit for the Torres del Pain trail costs an additional $9 (7,300 CPL), the shuttle is ~$3.50 (3,000 CLP), and round trip bus from Puerto Natales varies but is around $30.
The hike to Mirador Torres del Paine is a challenging trek that takes about 8-10 hours to complete round-trip. The trail is well-marked and easy to follow, but there are some steep sections and rocky terrain that where the path is less obvious. There are generally enough people hiking the trail that the route is generally apparent. Refugio Chileno is along the way and provides an approximate half way mark for the hike.
Time Limits and Ranger Closures:
It is important to note that there are time limits for hiking to Mirador Torres del Paine. The last entry to the trail is at 3 pm, and the trail must be completed by 8 pm. This is to ensure that all hikers have enough time to complete the trek and return to the trailhead before dark. There are signs as you progress upwards indicating the latest hour that you may pass and the hour you must return by. These start after the refugios (which I think are available to trekers at all hours). The last portion of the ascent is also monitored/patrolled by rangers who, from what I heard, are quite strict about enforcing the rules. After a certain hour, rangers close the end of the trail to ensure that everyone gets back down before dark.
The weather in Torres del Paine National Park can be unpredictable, with strong winds, rain, and snow at any time of year. It is recommended that you dress in layers and bring rain gear and warm clothing, especially during the winter months. The 1st and last portions of the hike are exposed and subject to the sun near the bottom (which can be baking) and high winds at the top (which can be freezing coming off the ice and water). While we were there it was both; I started (and indeed finished) the hike up in shorts but after reaching the mirrador quickly put my pant legs and jacket back on. Once we had descended below the treeline on the way back, I reverted to shorts again.
The trail to Mirador Torres del Paine is in good condition, with some steep sections and rocky terrain. The steepest portions of the trail are at the very beginning and the summit. There were also several muddy sections where treking poles would have been useful but were not strictly necessary. The trail passes through several ecosystems, including forests, meadows, and glacial valleys, and offers stunning views of the Paine Massif. Refugio Chileno is at the half way point for the trail. The refugio offers overnight accommodations for those who want to break up the hike into two days. This and other refugios are stopping off points for backpackers doing the W or larger O trek. They will camp here and leave the heavier gear behind while making the ascent to Torres del Paine. The refugios also offer refreshments (although steeply priced) and bathrooms that day hikers and trekkers alike can make use of.
General Comments and Musings:
There is a reason that this hike is the namesake of the park; it is unparalleled. We saved this route for the very end of our trip and as a result ended up (somewhat by accident) seeing the best the park has to offer in order of increasing impressiveness. This was great because it made every hike seem even better than the one before and they were all spectacular.
We also lucked out on the weather. When we arrived in Puerto Natales, we ran into tons of trekkers in the hostel that had just come down from Torres del Paine and other trails that had heavy cloud cover and nonstop rain. So their hiking and camping conditions were miserable and they could not see or photograph any of the famous views. The weather was breaking just as we arrived and we had views of the the Torres passing in between small cloud formations with some snow still on the summits. It was absolutely stunning.
This is also a challenging hike from both the distance and elevation perspectives, it is not terribly technically challenging but your endurance will be tested. That said, it is not signifigantly more challenging than some of the other famous hikes in the park (the French Valley we did the day prior and is similar in stats) so this trail is by no means the exclusive domain of athletes.
On the subject of busses; Turismo Zaahj endeavored to give us even more of an adventure than we bargained for. On the way in, where we were mostly sleeping, the bus we were on began to experience a mechanical issue (it sounded like a leak from the pneumatic system). The issue was apparent enough that another bus driver from a different company actually pulled over and flagged down our driver to point out the problem (apparently it was visible from outside the vehicle). After hearing about the problem (whatever it was) the driver continued on and got us to the ranger station and shuttle busses like normal and we thought nothing further of it until the return trip. On the return trip the busses (from all companies) were over an hour late, and our bus or indeed any bus from Turismo Zaahj was not among them. After making some inquiries, mostly by talking to some acquaintances from the hostel that happened to be hiking the Torres on the same day as us (who were far more fluent in Spanish than I) we found out the following: The mechanical problem with the Turismo Zaahj bus apparently resulted in a breakdown of the vehicle and it was not able to make the return route to take the day's passenger's out. Rather than act on this problem (which they knew about effectively first thing in the morning when we were flagged down on the way in) by sending in another bus to pick up their passengers who had already paid for the ride out they decided to do nothing at all and basically leave us stranded inside the park without transportation or accommodations (they could in theory have booked lodgings inside the park as an alternative to transportation). There was not even any notice of where our bus was (we only found out by taking to the drivers for the other bus companies who operate on the same route). It turned out that the reason all the busses were an hour late was that the other bus companies had been voluntarily giving up their unused seats to stranded Turismo Zaahj passengers along the way back. As we were the last stop the busses were absolutely packed and there were almost no seats to be had anywhere. Victoria and I were fortunate enough to find a seat (at all) and even more so to find 2 on the same bus (being friends with someone who could translate more technical language paid off in spades). By the time everyone figured out what was going on everything was full and some people were either unable to find a ride at all or forced to sit in the bus isles (where the driver was willing to overlook safety regulations) for the bumpy 2 hour ride back to town. The icing on the s*** cake that was the bus transportation experience came the next day when we complained about the poor service at the ticket counter and tried to get a refund for our tickets. The customer service rep refused to refund our tickets and referred us to the main office email. After much back and forth with them they agreed to offer a refund for the tickets but would only do so by direct deposit into a Chilean bank account (which we obviously did not have). So long story short if you are going to Torres del Paine do not us Turismo Zaahj to get there!
Despite the bus journey challenges this was a phenomenal trip and a great way to finish our adventure in Torres del Paine.
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