Important note about my frequent travel: these are my experiences and observations I share eagerly and enthusiastically. I receive no compensation in cash/kind/discounts, etc. of any kind from any business/locations I’ve visited. None of the businesses paid for my travel expenses or offered any free services.
This is our first full day in Patagonia. I’m so excited! We woke up a little before our alarm at 5 am because of rain and high winds. The sound was so loud and scary that it woke us. We were scheduled to leave the Chile Tour Patagonia guest house at 6 am and start the drive to Torres Del Paine (TDP) National Park. We packed everything we needed in two hiking back packs the night before. We had breakfast and coffee at the guest house. We were introduced to Andres and Rodrigo, our tour guide and driver.
Because of the heavy rain, we had to do some last minute re-packing. We put everything we were taking with us for 4 days in a plastic bag and put that bag in the hiking backpack to make sure things stays dry. We finally left the guest house at 6:30 am and started driving to TDP. The drive from Puerto Natales to TDP is 2 hours long so we had a chance to get to know Rodrigo. Turns out, he is also a scallop diver. Rodrigo didn’t speak much English but Andres did.
It was very dark when we started the drive. Roads were mostly clear until we got close to TDP but we had an excellent driver. Rodrigo didn’t take any unnecessary risks and knew the roads very well. The sun didn’t rise until 9 am. That’s insane! We were at about 52 degree latitude. I’ve never experienced such late sunrise. This was also the year when Mars was closest to earth on July 28th and since we were in Chile from August 2nd till August 19th, it looked HUGE. Also, We could see Mars until 8:45 in the morning!
During our 2 hour long drive, Andres warned us that weather in Patagonia can change suddenly so we should be prepared to have our itinerary changed last minute. Our plan for the day was to hike the base of towers however, as of now, the weather doesn’t look promising. He told us when we pay the park entrance fee we’ll get more information from the park officials. If the weather is bad, the hike might be closed.
Our first stop was just before the park entrance, at beautiful blue lake Amarga. It was cold, cloudy, and windy but this was our fist view of the park and we had to stop. It was breathtaking and TDP is full of such beauty. After a few minutes, we drove to the park office. If the base of the towers hike is open, the sooner we start the better. They asked us for our passports and PDI forms. PDI form is basically tourist visa given when we landed in Santiago. We paid the $17 park entrance fee and were pleasantly surprised to find out the base of the towers hike is accessible.
We started our hike around 9:15 am, just as the sun was rising. The weather was cloudy but the forecast said it should clear up late morning/early afternoon. We crossed a few narrow, walking bridges along the hike. Andres, our guide, kept us moving along since the hike is long. Ideally, we’d want to get to the base of towers by 2 pm so we can take a short 15-20 minutes break to enjoy the view and eat lunch. Since days are short in winter, we want to be back in the car before it gets dark. Hiking this trail in the dark isn’t safe.
All the breaks we took were maybe 5 mins long. The only time we took a longer break was for lunch and even that was about 10 minutes. There are no facilities on the trail during winter so we just went a few feet off trail, behind a tree or bush. We didn’t come across too many other people on the rail. At the start of the hike there wasn’t too much snow but as we gained elevation, the snow also increased. About an hour into the hike, it started to snow a little. Initially the snow was light but than it increased.
We crossed a few glacier streams along the hike so make sure to wear water proof shoes. The view along the entire hike is just unbelievably beautiful. We were surrounded by rugged mountains, glacier streams, snow. Everything was gorgeous. There was a small section of the hike where you are very exposed to the elements so we needed to get through that part quickly but carefully. Since its along a cliff and it can get very windy, Andres suggested no pictures (need to concentrate). The sooner we get to the other side the safer we’ll be.
Soon after that narrow path,we came to a camping site, Refugio Chileno. It was closed until September. It took us more than two hours to hike to the camp site and this is the halfway point to the base of the towers. Since the campsite was closed, so were their bathrooms. There are a few picnic tables. We brushed off the snow and took a short 5 minutes break to eat some snacks. Most of the hotels/lodgings/camp sites in TDP are closed in winter. They usually open some time in September. There were only 1-2 hotels open from May through August.
The snow was getting heavier and more constant. The weather forecast was clearly wrong. It didn’t look like the weather is going to clear up. Until this point, the hike was challenging but the hard part was yet to come. I had been hiking all summer in preparation for this but I wasn’t sure if I was actually ready. We’ve already been hiking over 2 hours and the hard part hasn’t even started. Then we have to hike all the way back down! The snow was getting heavier.
After we left the camp site, we crossed another glacier stream. Andres filled up his water bottle directly from the stream. He assured us the water was safe to drink. It’s purest, cleanest water because it’s coming directly from the glaciers. Normally I can’t tell the “taste” of water but this water definitely tasted refreshing. For the first time I could actually taste water and it was great. This was one of the coolest things we did on the hike. It was an unforgettable experience.
We also hiked through a forest and at the end of the forest, took another short break to eat a snack. The snow and wind were slowing us down so we weren’t keeping the pace we needed. We had to take less breaks if we wanted to make it to the base of towers by 2 pm. The last 25% of the hike is the hardest. It was like Bull Hill hike but with a lot more snow and wind. At this point, I decided to put my phone away because the hike was challenging and the wind was really picking up. It was even more challenging in the snow and bad weather.
About 100 feet from the base of the towers, the visibility dropped. We were above the tree line so there was no protection from the weather. Given the low visibility, we weren’t going to see the towers. I could hardly see 10 feet in front of me so there’s no way I was going to get a view of the towers. At this point, I didn’t think it was a very smart idea to continue hiking in the direction of such bad weather. We were about 35 minutes from the base of the towers when I decided to turn around.
On the hike down, I slipped and fell at least half a dozen times because we had to hurry. We had to stay ahead of the bad weather. Luckily, falling on snow isn’t very painful as long as I don’t twist my ankle. The hike down is harder. Once we got to the forest on our way back, we stopped to eat lunch quickly. Andres had a thermos with hot water so we had some hot tea. It really helped warm us up and gave us some energy to continue. Since we needed to stay ahead of the bad weather, our lunch break was less than 10 mins.
During our short lunch break, we met a couple who made it all the way to the base of the towers. They couldn’t see anything and didn’t stay more than a few mins because the weather was so bad. Their faces told us exactly how bad it was. They were in no mood to stay and chat with us. They were done dealing with this bad weather and just wanted to get somewhere warm. On our return trip we made very few stops. But the one stop we had to make was at the glacier stream to fill up ALL the water bottles we had.
Whenever we turned around to look behind us, we could see the wind was so strong it was blowing snow up from the ground. Here’s a short video. Hiking in such condition would have been very risky so I’m glad we turned around. As we got closer to the bottom sun came out for a few minutes in front of us. We had beautiful views and I wanted to take a short break but Andres said we needed to keep moving. The wind and snow were still coming our way from behind us. It’ll be dark soon and we need to get to the car before sunset.
Snow had stopped falling so that was a relief. However, towards the end of the hike, wind gusts were so strong it was hard for me to keep my balance. He told us to push our walking stick hard into ground, hold on to them, and get down on the ground. After about 30-45 seconds we got up and hurried down. I’ve never been outside during such heavy wind. I’m glad he was there to tell me what to do. Andres kept telling us to move faster.
I didn’t realize until we were almost done with the hike that my socks were very wet. I think during my many falls, some snow must have gotten inside my shoes. My feet were starting to feel very cold. I was so happy to see Rodrigo waiting for us in his truck. Even though we didn’t get to see the towers, it was a long, fun, and challenging hike. By the end, we had hiked about 13-14 miles and climbed 4,200 feet. Needless to say, we were tired and ready to go to a warm hotel room.
All along the hike, there are sections where wind is very strong. As we experienced, the weather can change suddenly so it’s definitely a good idea to go with a local guide, especially in winter. Having someone who knows the terrain, what to do if weather suddenly changes, when to turn around is important. They’ll keep the hike fun and safe. Andres was amazing. He kept us on track, entertained and educated us for 10 hours.
Chile Tour Patagonia had reserved us a room at Hotel Lago Grey. On our drive to the hotel we saw hundreds of guanacos. The sight we saw from the car was nothing short of spectacular. I’m so happy we have a few more days at TDP. Once we checked in, the first thing I did was take a hot shower to warm up. The hotel only offered WiFi in the lobby but luckily our room was close enough to the lobby that we had a weak signal. Just enough to check messages.
We were ready for a hot meal and a drink. We had a relaxing dinner at the hotel restaurant which included pumpkin soup, salmon ceviche, llama meat, eel and scallop soup, dulce de leche crepes, and calafete creme brulee. Andres told us calafete berries are local to Patagonia and legend says whoever eats these berries is sure to return to Patagonia. I know I definitely want to return to TDP in summer. Our dinner voucher from Chile Tour Patagonia also included 1 drink each. We both had to have calafete sours. It’s a drink we’ve never seen on any menu in NYC.
After a nice, hot meal and a drink, we were ready for a good nights sleep. Needless to say we were very tired. Tomorrow we get to visit an actual glacier. Super excited! More pics of the hike.
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