Rugged. Remote. Untouched. These are words you’ll often hear associated with Patagonia, a region located in the southern tip of South America. One of the most beautiful places in Chilean Patagonia is Torres del Paine National Park. Arriving in Torres del Paine requires two flights, two buses, and a catamaran ride, so it’s no destination for the faint of heart. However, if you’re looking for breathtaking landscapes, you’ll definitely find them here.
During American Thanksgiving in November, I decided to take a few days to hike the W, which is the shorter of Torres del Paine’s two famous treks. You can actually do several of these stops as day hikes in Torres del Paine, but I decided to go for the full, immersive trekking experience.
While there, I experienced something completely transformative. Disconnecting completely from my life at home enabled me to soak in the sheer power and beauty of nature. My five days in Torres del Paine, carrying my life in a backpack, taught me more about the world than any classroom ever has.
Stop 1: Grey Glacier
Oh, Grey Glacier. What a breathtaking view. I’d seen glaciers before during my short time living in Alberta, Canada, but none were as blue or as vast as Grey Glacier. The first leg of my hike led me to several views like these, where I got to admire this incredible sight. It blows my mind to think that over thousands of years, this glacier has been carving a valley through the mountains with its fortitude.
Stop 2: Paine Grande
After spending the night near Grey Glacier, my next stop was at Paine Grande. On one side of this mountain is a rocky, dry formation that glimmers in the morning sun. The other side boasts a wall of glaciers and ice. Somehow, all of the above photographs are part of the same mountain, just different sides of the coin. It’s amazing how different the two sides look; just a shot walk between them brought me to a completely different landscape.
Stop 3: Mirador Francés y Britânico
Arguably the most beautiful panorama in all of Torres del Paine is the Mirador Britânico, which surprisingly, not everyone chooses to visit. It’s a long hike from the nearest campsite, and the end of the hike requires a pretty steep rocky scramble. However, the reward was more than worth the pain. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a 360-degree view quite as spectacular as this one before. I’m not sure I’ll ever see another one, either.
Stop 4: Los Cuernos and Lago Nordenskjold
One of the most peaceful stretches of the W trek was between Camping Italiano and Camping Chileno. Though it was the longest day (nearly a half-marathon worth of hiking), it did boast a few lovely views of Los Cuernos mountains and the teal, glacial Lago Nordenskjold.
Stop 5: Valle Ascencio
Despite the fact that this view is very pretty, this was one of the most difficult legs of the hike for me. Since I’d already been trekking close to 8 hours when I took this photograph, I was feeling both the weight of my backpack and the strain of my feet. The view did help my agony, but at this point I was pretty desperate to kick off my shoes and relax.
Stop 6: Mirador Torres del Paine
My last day in the park consisted of a 3:30 AM wake up call to catch sunrise at our final landmark, the Torres del Paine viewpoint. We packed up our tent hastily, ate a quick breakfast, and dropped off our large backpacks at the campsite.
In the chill of the night, we hightailed it through wooded, gravel trails and plank bridges to the base of the mirador. Bundled in layers on layers of clothing, the breeze still cut through our coats in sharp gusts. On our way to the top, we passed just one other group of hikers on the trail. The views of Torres del Paine from the mirador were well worth the hustle!
Stop 7: The Beginning
One intriguing lesson I learned from my time on the W trail was that the end is the beginning and the beginning is the end. While this view marked the end of my trip, many people were just starting off at the exact same point. In this same sentiment, I ended my trek with a lot of thoughts and goals for my own personal life that I hadn’t thought about before I began. This adventure transformed the way I relate to and view my environment, and it’s definitely one I will never forget.
Although my experience caused me to feel somewhat conflicted about the state of our environment, I ended my trek feeling like I could take the things I learned and apply them to my daily life. Although I had to say goodbye to Torres del Paine this time, I knew I’d be back one day to experience its awe-inspiring beauty again.