Patagonia part 4: The O circuit of Torres de Paine

Day 1 to camping Seron

Up at 6. Already pretty well packed. A light breakfast then taxi to the bus depot. Bus packed. Gradually the mountains got closer.

1hr 30 later we were dumped at the park entrance. A brief orientation, no fires, keep to the paths, etc. Then a speedy signing of a waiver and on to the next bus to the main lodge and entry point to the trails. All very smooth done. Soon I was on my way.

After an hour a took off my top and went bare chested, after another hour I shed my long pants for shorts, but put on a short sleeved shirt to avoid over doing the sun. I was getting quite warm. Plenty of flowers along the way,

as well as horses.

A beautiful day. Easy hiking , following a river upstream

, and only 13k so I got to the camp site before 2. Shown to my tent. Dinner at seven. Before that chatted to various others, washed socks, discovered I had left my shampoo/detergent at the hostel.

This campsite is buzzing, I reckon about 100 people here. Most in rented tents, but a fair number in their own. No ultra light equipment to be seen. Most campers are cooking for them selves.

Taken before all the “own tent” campers arrived.

Also here a group of 5 from Calgary/Bambff.

Dinner ok. Pea soup, beef, rice and begs and a yellow dessert.

Sat next to a couple from Toronto, and a Dutch couple. He had also done bits of the Lycean way.

Noise level increased as people began talking to each other.

Started cooling off around 5, but I was still in shorts when I went to bed around 8. A clear still night with lots of stars.

Feb 6. Seron to Dickson

Breakfast at 7. Left at 8.15. A cool, could see breath, but still and sunny morning. I started in shorts and my vest. Took a time to warm up enough for me to shed the vest. Again relatively easy hiking, up the valley.

One large up and over to cut a corner. About half way there was a ranger station checking everyone had reservations etc. Once round the corner another set of mountains and glaciers appeared. Very pretty.

Six hours got me to my campsite for the night. The final approach was very steep and had a lady ahead of me head over heels. Fortunately no injuries. Another super organized operation with lots of tents to tent. Mine was number 4!

Even had a welcome drink which was very welcome.

Shower, water not as hot as advertised, laundry and then went down to the beach for a while. Very relaxing.

This the last of the easy days though tomorrow is meant to be only 4.5 hours, it is a steady climb all the way. After that is the monster.

Strava says 21k and an elevation gain of 590m

Fitbit says: 26k, 1700 ft vertical and 4900 cals

Feb7. Dickson to Perros

Heavy dew overnight which got into the tent so everything was slightly clammy. My phone which had been lying on the floor, when I picked it up the underside was wet and the was a wet rectangle where it had been lying. Not good. The morning was over cast, probably warmer than the day before, when on could see ones breath, but it did not feel so. I decided on long pants and a hoodie and a vest.

Started off at nine. Straight into the trees which were the feature of the day. A bit of an uphill to start, bring me to the first look out of the day after about an hour.

Then the was a river crossing and the trail leveled out for the next 2 hours, enlivened only by a couple of river crossings.

The trail had also been used by horses which had left their mark both in copious droppings and in leaving deep pools of mud at frequent intervals.

Then there was the final kick up to the finish and a great view.

Also discovered that the sky had cleared and it was now a nice sunny day. I heard bits falling off the glacier but could never see from whence they fell.

View back down the valley I had come up
View up the valley to tomorrow’s pass

A final half k brought me to the camp site at about 1.30.

Usual check in shown to tent given meal times. But no hot water so no shower.

Camping amongst the trees

On the other hand had a very nice pisco sour as a welcome drink.

Strava was screwed up again. I thought to check where I was using ViewRanger, no I found I had not missed a turn, but after that Strava was incapacitated.

Later in the afternoon it clouded over again so I retired to my tent to write this and nap. After nap walked out to the river and again found brilliant sunshine and much warmer than under the trees. Cooled my feet for a while in the stream.

Then returned to my tent and applied a couple of comped. My toes are not looking pretty.

Dinner and a chat with two lads from Washington DC. Including a description of power system planning. Dinner soup, beef and lentil stew, and canned strawberries. Another walk out to the stream to catch the last of the sunlight and then bed. Fitbit is sulking and refusing to sync, it misses its internet connection, but watch says 25300 steps, 20k and 1700 ft vertical, 3900 cals.

Saturday February 8th. Perros to Grey

Spectacular day, best possible weather for it, but hard on the knees. Got going at 7.30am, just light and still cool. However half and hour uphill thru the trees warmed me up enough to strip down to shorts and a flowery shirt.

2 and a half hours to the pass, including hourly stops and photo ops.

View back from close to the top
Almost there
Side valley on the way up
Coming to the pass

Magnificent view of the Grey glacier from the top and all the way down.

The way down started easy , but once I hit the tree line it got nasty. Big steps, and steep descents, occasionally helped by ropes or railings.

4.5 hours got me to a ranger station and a long( 45 min) break for lunch.

Our packed lunch today was unsatisfactory. It included a self heating meal. I declined that part of it and stole extra cheese from the breakfast table instead and raided my extras that I brought with me.

Another long section, punctuated by three enormous suspension bridges and numerous lookouts for photo ops of the glacier.

The end of the glacier
There is a cluster of Kayakers in the middle of all those icebergs

I was tired so just cruised on, finally arriving here at Camping Grey at 4.15 . So just under 9 hours while guide says 11 hours. I can see in less ideal conditions than I had today, 11 could easily be needed.

The camping area
Dining room

Here we meet the main W trail, and it shows in the number of people here and in the quality of the facilities. There is TV in lounge! No wifi though. Hot water in the showers! Pisco sour before supper, not cheap but very enjoyable. Food ok. Bed by just after eight. Wrote up blog and read for a while.

Fitbit says 32k. It lies, I was just taking a lot (40100) of very short steps. Map says only 15k. 3120 vertical ft up, much more down. 5500 cals ( to 8 pm)

Feb 9. Grey to Torres Grande

Only meant to be a 3.5 hr hike, so got up slowly. One can go kayaking here among the ice flows if one wants. This one didn’t want, but went and checked out the facilities. Looked good. Dry suits provided, neoprene gloves. Single or double kayaks available. Safety boat in attendances.

I don’t think I could have sat in one, my knees and hips not being designed that way. After this I went to another look out, to see the glacier from lake level, it’s not impressive from above.

Finally left at 10. Overcast morning and a shade cooler than of late. Ok hike. Many more people on the trail, and going in both directions. Surprised to see this bed of fox gloves.

It tried to rain on us, but gave up the attempt after getting us into rain jackets.

Not much to see along the trail. Increasingly distant views of the Grey glacier for the first 2 hours,

interspersed with dead trees. Trees all white but on close examination one could see fire damage. Must have been some major fire twenty(?) years ago. After 4 hours got to the Refugio / hotel/ campsite,

It’s a big place

and finally a view of the high mountains.

Checked in and decided on a nap in my tent. Immediately there was a heavy shower for about 20 minutes and since then we have had a mix of sun and clouds. When the sun comes out it is really quite warm, baking in the tent.

The camping area

A boat delivers people here to start the W hike and takes others away in the evening.

Boat leaving, probably with my poles.

It’s a big place and busy. 5 sittings for dinner and for breakfast.

Bit strange here. After 4 days hiking either the same small group, suddenly that has ended. Many decided to have a rest day today, so they are left behind. Others opted for different meal times. So a quiet evening. But I did buy some internet access so was able to assure Tina I was Ok, and post my blog etc.

A bit of wind for the first time this evening. All the tents have little wind breaks. Forecast for tomorrow is ok, after that they expect a day of rain.

One buggar for the day, somebody has stolen my hiking poles. I left them beside my tent when I first moved in. Come dinner time I noticed they had disappeared. I thought perhaps I had left them somewhere while I explored, but I hadn’t taken them with me. I had thought my tent was very convenient, right in front of the cafe. But obviously a relatively public site. I guess the poles are gone by boat.

Feb 10th Paine Grande to Cernous with a small side trip up towards the French lookout.

Nice sun rise

Off about 7.30 after a final hunt round for my poles and advertising the fact a lot. A still quiet morning, relatively easy hiking so motoring along nicely. Lots of dead trees which gave a wintery feel to the landscape.

Got to turn off point for trip up to viewpoints in good time. Had a small snack, left my pack with all the others and headed up. Pretty steep going. I gave myself a 12.30 turn around time, but it never got to that. I ran out of steam 2/3 of the way up to the first lookout. Not that there had been bad views till then. I got to where the trail was very close to the river whose valley we were following up.

Looked round the corner and saw another steep ramp continuing up and said to myself enough is enough, I will only have to come back down it. Fairly fed up with myself so I sat down for 10 minutes, had a good snack and lots of water, then tried again. Same result, so started gingerly back down.

Nice views out of the valley on the way down.

Once down, picked up bag and continued for 1/2 hour to next camp site where I had my sandwich, and then for another 2 hours, mainly down hill, through attractive countryside under the towering crags

down to the lakes edge

and then along to here. If Colin were with me I am sure we would have stopped for a dip. Me I just want to get a shower and a beer.

Funny little campsite and hostel. My tent is at the bottom of the site,

My tent for the night. Nice high platform made a nice seat and it easy to get in and out of the tent

the lodge is half way up and the toilets and showers are at the top. No way I will make it up there in the middle of the night. Also warned not to leave anything outside the tent – foxes. Got here just before 3.

Showers are meant to start working at 3. Of course they don’t. Also only 2 out of 4 claim any functionality. Complain to the receptionist and am allowed to use the lodges showers. Amazing lack of hooks, stools, privacy. Still the water is hot. Rinse socks and underwear. Shirt has gone thru at the shoulders, shoulder strap wear I guess.

Beer and good chat with David and his missus. A recently retired farmer from Leicester. Then back to tent for a lie down, a short nap and to write this. At least my tent, like most, is under trees so it is not acting as a green house. Pre dinner drinks, One couple very interested in my Turkey experiences. Dinner with the posse. Very short walk to local waterfall then bed.

I should say that I got lots a sympathy for my lost poles and many offers of loans, but being a stubborn cuss I decline all the latter.

Feb 11th. Cuernos to Torres Central.

Left about 8.30. Most of the posse going to a different campsite tonight, but I expect to see them again tomorrow on the trek up to the towers. An overcast morning with rain forecast, and sure enough, after 2 hours it caught up with us.

Here comes the rain

Not heavy but enough to be glad of rain gear.

Looking back at Cuernos as I leave

Easy walking, between lake

and mountains.

Subdued colours. Many more burnt trees. 4 hours got me here. Checked in, but tent not available until 2 so went to the Refugio and spent the afternoon there, lunch with beer, sorted out logistics for tomorrow, wrote this blog, paid for internet and caught up with the world and added more photos to the blog. Mountain tops hidden on clouds. Hoping for better tomorrow.

While up in the night saw the southern cross!

Feb 12th. To Mirador Torres and back

7.00 breakfast and on the trail by 7.30. Just as the sun came up. Still lots of clouds over the mountains and a forecast of rain later on. ( totally wrong ). Only carrying half a my pack weight, the rest left at the Refugio to be collected before catching the bus this evening. Bus at 7.15 so I have plenty of time. A couple of large groups ahead of me, having had a specially organized even earlier breakfast.

Looking back from early on
Looking ahead from Windy Pass ( fortunately not living up to its reputation

Made good time to the half way point, Refugio Chiliano.

That’s Refugio chiliano down in the woods

Stopped there for a break and to say hallo to those of the posse who had stayed there last night. They had all already been up to the viewpoint and now we’re having a second breakfast before heading down and out.

Then onwards, the next hour was straightforward, more or less following the river

then the trail kicked up and got serious. Finished up going over a boulder field

before arriving, at the viewpoint.

First view
View from the waters edge

A spectacular setting, unfortunately the Torres were hidden in swirling cloud. Stayed a good while while the sun came in and out, the wind gusted coolly about and the Torres teased us but never fully revealed their beauty.

That’s about the most I saw of them

Coming down was complicated by the late breakfasters making their way up.

View down the valley from the boulder field

A constant stream of humanity.

Looking down at someone coming up

At the half way hostel I again stopped for a snack, water, and three Tylenol. My knees were getting quiet tired, and I was getting tired of all the youngsters hopping and skipping past me. Not that they stopped the latter.

People weren’t the only ones on the trail. This convoy was taking two barrels of beer, among other things, to Refugio Chiliano

Back at the Refugio by 4.15, so nice 9 hour day, fortunately not all of that on my feet.

Chatted to an older man and his daughter from Origon. He had thought that, at 73 he was the oldest on the trail, at least he had not met anyone older. I had to disillusion him. Cake and tea, then beer while waiting for the 7.15 shuttle and bus out of here.

And that’s all folks

After thoughts:

Being prepared for better than expected weather was valuable. I was walking in shorts and one of my trademark flowery shirts most days. Not at all what I expected. In normal gear I would have melted.

You would think that after 15 years of hiking I would know enough to avoid blisters. It seems not. I mean merino wool socks, keeping feet cool, large toe box shoes, well trimmed toe nails, but still they happen. Not usually painful or bad enough to stop me walking, but still! Recent examples are between the little toe and the next one, one the front/side of my big toe, those on my right foot, and another on the side of the left bigs toes toe pad.

I really need to work on my flexibility, it is hard to work on blisters if one can barely reach ones toes.

Another annoyance is old mans bladder syndrome. It’s ok on the trail, but at night, having to struggle out of the tent three times a night is a pain. On the plus side I do get to see more of the night sky.

I do seem to be much more able to take my time and enjoy my environment. I am still fairly driven to get the hike done quickly and safely, and being late on the trail has always seemed to me to be a recipe for disaster. But while I may not hang around long, my head is usually up and enjoying the experience, and taking photos to share.

4 thoughts on “Patagonia part 4: The O circuit of Torres de Paine”

  1. I’m really enjoying your blog and the spectacular photos, Mike,
    while recognising that I could no longer do that hike myself. Just shorter ones for me.

    I’d have thought that campsite shops might sell stuff like blister creams and spare poles, bottles , midge cream etc etc.

    Re old man’s bladder : get your prostate checked when you get home; I did and caught the cancer in time 🙂


    1. Thanks Stu. You’re right, the larger campsite did sell some things, but actually pretty limited. Re blisters I had plenty of Compeed with me so treating them was not a problem. Re poles, with only 3 days to go I was sort of content to wait to get home and get the hitech ones I prefer.
      Prostate is checked regularly. So far so good.


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