Racing the Sun

On the final day of the “W” trek in Torres del Paine National Park, my girlfriend Kalyn and I raced the sun. Our goal was to hike up to the famous “towers of Paine”, or Las Torres, at the butt crack of dawn to catch the sunrise hitting the massive granite rocks. The sunrise hike to the towers is the classic ending to the “W” trek that we read so much about before our trip, so we structured our trek to make sure we did just that. However, we ran into a few hiccups along the way that put this ending, the pinnacle of our trek, in total jeopardy.

One thing we knew about hiking to the towers was that if the weather wasn’t good, meaning cloud cover, then we wouldn’t be able to see shit. And because it rained all day the day before, we had some serious doubts about getting up super early, humping it up a mountain, and staring at some clouds. Additionally, we felt like we totally botched it in terms of our campsite. We had hopes and dreams of camping at the foot of the mountain at the Torres camp site, which would put us a measly 45 minutes from the towers the next morning. The camp site we wanted was full, so we had to settle for a spot at Refugio Chileno, about 1.5 hours away from the trailhead up to the towers. So that would mean we had just over two hours of hiking the next morning to see the sunrise at 6:30am.

Fortunately for us, the weather began to clear up that evening at Refugio Chileno. With our hopes beginning to rise for good weather the next morning, we were totally un-stoked about how early we would have to get up to start hiking in order to beat the sun. While cooking dinner that night we talked to a Chilean named Martín, who told us he was leaving at 4:30am the next morning to head up to the towers. Me and Kalyn looked at each other and realized this was not going to be a super fun ending to the trek. On top of that, we were half way through a box of wine, which probably wouldn’t do us any favors in the morning.

Our plan was to wake up at 4:30am, check the weather to make sure it was clear and try to head out from our tent at 4:45am. We had our hiking stuff together the night before so we could just wake up and go. If we left at 4:45am, it would still be quite the haul to reach the mirador by 6:30am. I remember at like 3am I got up to take a piss and noticed how clear the night sky was. I was confident that we would have an awesome view of the towers if we made it up there in time. Our alarm went off at 4:30am, and naturally, we snoozed it for 15 minutes. At 4:45am we began to roll around and get awake. It was pitch black outside, but we could tell from the stars the sky was totally clear. Right on plan (not at all), we were ready to rock at 5:15am. With our headlamps on, we hit the trail practically running. We had no clue if we were actually following the trail because it was still dark. Our only hope was following somebody else with a headlamp just ahead of us.

We started hauling ass. We passed one hiker, then another, then 5 more. Within 45 minutes, we reached the Torres campsite and trailhead up to the towers. We absolutely flew through the first stretch of the hike, in total darkness. Dawn was beginning to light up the sky, but the sun hadn’t peeked out yet. We had 30 minutes to reach the top, on a trail straight uphill, climbing roughly 1,000ft. And guess what, we frickin’ crushed it. We beasted a 2+ hour hike from Refugio Chileno in just 1 hour and 15 minutes. We raced the sun, and we won.

Here’s how it went down:

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The crack of dawn, beginning our ascent.
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A little more light…
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The Ascencio Valley beginning to light up.
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Our first peek of the towers.
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Looking back, the sky was beginning to ignite.
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Then the sky lit on fire. So close to the top! Hurry!
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Just feet away as the sun began to hit the towers!
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We made it to the top! The towers were pink and sun hadn’t quite hit yet…
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Then an absolute explosion of light smacks the granite towers with a red hue.
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Looking back at the other hikers watching the sunrise.
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From pink to red, and now yellow.
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Yellow to a light orange.
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Feeling quite accomplished!
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The final stage of sunlight, stone cold grey.

 

 

 

The “W” Trek in Torres Del Paine National Park

I returned from Patagonia a week ago, and I haven’t written any posts because, well, I’m just sad I’m not there anymore. My girlfriend Kalyn and I had an incredible time exploring both the Chilean and Argentinian sides of the region, and for a majority of the time we enjoyed spectacular weather.

Getting to Patagonia was a haul. After a 9 hour flight from Dallas to Santiago, Chile we tacked on another 3.5 hour flight down to Punta Arenas, Chile. From Punta Arenas, it was a series of lengthy bus rides from destination to destination. However, one destination stood out above the rest on our trip: Torres Del Paine National Park. Now, everywhere we went in the region was different and beautiful, but our 5 day/ 4 night trek in Torres Del Paine was the highlight. (Trekking around El Chalten, Argentina, home to Mount Fitz Roy was awesome and a close second. Check out my Instagram for pictures!)

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The Straight of Magellan in Punta Arenas
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My homeboy Magellan, not Modern

As you may remember from my trip itinerary, our trek in Torres Del Paine was called the “W” because of how the route shaped through the park. The launch point for the park was in Puerto Natales, Chile. We got to Puerto Natales by taking a 3.5 bus ride from Punta Arenas. We spent the night in Puerto Natales at an awesome hostel called Tin House Patagonia (and we would stay there again after we completed the trek). Because so many people head to the national park from Puerto Natales, the town has everything you need for your trek. We purchased all of our food, fuel, and some random equipment for the W-Trek the day before we headed out. Something that made our lives a little difficult was that we arrived in the city on a Sunday, and a majority of the stores were closed. We ended up finding everything that we needed, but it turned out to be a trek in its own right (upon returning to Puerto Natales on a Friday, every store was open and sold everything we could have needed).

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After shopping, we strolled down by the water in Puerto Natales, which was a sweet little town.

 

We spent the evening at the Tin House organizing all of our food and supplies and dividing them between our two packs. Now because we had packed for two weeks, we had a bunch of additional items we didn’t need for the 5 day trek. Luckily, our hostel let us keep a bag of stuff behind to claim upon our return. After getting our bags loaded up, we cooked up a nice dinner, split a bottle of Chilean red wine, and got to bed too late for our 6am wake up.

The next morning we took a bus around 7am to Torres del Paine. The bus ride was about 2.5 hours, and while that may seem like a perfect opportunity to grab a couple more hours of sleep, I stayed awake with anticipation. We entered the park at Laguna Amarga, where we payed our entrance fee, got a quick tutorial from a park ranger, and hopped on another bus that would take us to towards our starting point. I also caught a glimpse of the famous Las Torres, which I would see up close and personal on the last day of the trek. The transfer bus dropped us off at the catamaran (ferry) stop at Lake Pehoe. The ferry was stuffed with backpackers heading to the trail head at Paine Grande to begin the adventure. The ferry ride was also gorgeous. Lake Pehoe was an otherworldly color of blue, and it offered splendid views into the park.

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Waiting to board the catamaran
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Stunning views from the ferry ride

 

Now I want to show you what the trek looked like each day. So enjoy the pictures and make sure to read the captions. Here is another look at the map of the the trek:

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The W-Trek, source: stephandben.com

Day 1- Paine Grande to Refugio Grey

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Leaving Refugio Paine Grande
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Let’s begin! Heading to Refugio Grey for night #1.
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First beautiful view from the trail, Los Patos Lagoon
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Another lake, another shade of blue….or grey. Here is Lago Grey.
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Taking in the Grey Glacier as it pours into Lago Grey
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The trail to Refugio Grey- totally scenic.
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Campsite at Refugio Grey. That night was the windiest experience of my life. Every 5 minutes, the tent would cave in on us from the high winds. We were surprised we didn’t lose any parts of the tent. We lost all of our sleep however.
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An evening stroll to the Grey Glacier. We sat here for 20 minutes, with wind blasting in our faces. When you realize the glacier is moving, it’s like watching a real-time movie.

Day 2-Refugio Grey to Refugio Francés

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On the trail the next morning, heading the other direction.
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Lake Pehoe coming into view once again.
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Almost back to our starting point at Refugio Paine Grande.
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Turning away from Paine Grande and headed in the direction of Camp Italiano.
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The trail leading us toward the French Valley, which is in between the two mountains seen here.
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Approaching the valley, and the mountains of Los Cuernos del Paine.
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After attempting to stay at Camp Italiano, which was full, we hiked another 30 minutes to Refugio Francés. On the way we got some sweet views of the Francés glacier.
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Water so clean you can drink straight from the stream!
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The view of Lago Nordernskjöld from Refugio Francés.
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Camping at Francés on a platform. Luckily we were in the trees this night, shielded from the heavy winds.

Day 3-Valle Francés to Refugio Los Cuernos

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Woke up early at Camp Francés, broke down camp, left our bags at camp, and started hiking up the French Valley to the Británico Lookout.
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Starting the hike up the French Valley….without packs! That felt great.
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Epic views were beginning to come into sight.
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Getting real close to the French Glacier and watching mini-avalanches happen. Every 5 minutes we would hear cracks of what we thought was thunder. Instead, it was hunks of the glacier snapping off and echoing across the valley. As the hunks broke off, snow would tumble down the mountain face.
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With the French Glacier on the left side, Los Cuernos del Paine bordered us on the right side of the valley.
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The Británico Lookout at the end of the valley. Absolutely incredible view.
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Here’s a panorama from the lookout. This was a highlight of the “W” trek.
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The view heading back down the valley.
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We grabbed our packs back at the camp and headed back out on the trail towards Refugio Cuernos.
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Before we knew it, we were hiking along Lake Nordernskjöld. Best trail section of the whole “W” trek. So naturally, I had to skip some rocks…

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After a rock skipping break, back on the trail.
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Hiking along the Cuernos del Paine. These mountains were just beautiful.
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After reaching Refugio Cuernos, it was time for beer. Well deserved after our longest day of hiking.

Day 4-Refugio Cuernos to Refugio Chileno

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Waking up at Refugio Cuernos to some rain and a raindbow
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Our first day of crappy weather. The hike featured off and on rain.
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On the trail to Refugio Chileno.
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Crossing a sweet rope bridge.
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Entering the Ascencio Valley after a long hike from Cuernos.
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Sitting at the bottom of the valley was Refugio Chileno, our stop for the night.
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Not a bad camp spot for the night. Heading up those mountains on the left in the morning.

Day 5- Sunrise hike to Las Torres and hike to Hotel Torres for pick-up

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Since we didn’t stay at the campsite closest to the towers, we had to get up early to catch the sunrise up there. We left at 5:15am and hauled ass.
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Heading on up the slope, valley starting to light up.
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Getting our first peak at the towers on the hike up.
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Then the sky started to fire up. We needed to hurry!
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We made it to the top with minutes to spare!
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A most glorious sunrise hitting the towers.
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Feeling quite accomplished of the scramble to the top.
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After the sunrise hike we went back to camp, broke down our stuff, made a quick breakfast, and headed out of the valley. All we had to do was walk downhill for about an hour and the “W” Trek would be complete.
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Nothing like a beer at 11am. Trek complete, hiking boots off, Chacos on.
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Our final capture of Torres Del Paine.

The “W” Trek was one of the greatest experience of my life. Each day was like hiking through a postcard. We trekked about 12 miles per day didn’t shower once. The last morning sunrise chase was the perfect way to cap off the trek.

Hope you enjoyed the visuals of my trek in Torres del Paine! Stay tuned for some more posts on my adventure in Patagonia. Explore on!