Known for it's rugGed beauty, vast emptiness and challenging Antarctic climate, Patagonia is a once in a lifetime destination that lives up to every bit of it's reputation. It is wilderness at it's purest form. Travellers should arrive ready to explore a land that is cut off from the world.
If you haven't already read it, Chatwin's in Patagonia is a must for this trip!
Hear the Perito Moreno Glacier Rumble
One of the absolute must see, and hear, experiences is the Perito Moreno Glacier, Easily accessible from El Calafante. Perito Moreno is one of the only glaciers that's actually still growing! Read our piece on shrinking glaciers here: Perito Moreno. The wall of ice is breathtaking and feels alive; it constantly creaks and rumbles and if you're lucky you might spot a chunk of ice break off. We arrived early in the morning and we were glad we did because there was an hour with only a handful of people, by lunchtime it was chocka block with icy wonderers!
There other ways to experience the glacier; boat trips can get you very close or you can join an expedition to walk on the ice, wearing crampons and safety gear, expect to spend quite a bit of $ on this! you must book ahead if you're travelling in high season.
Trek the 'W' in the Torres Del Paine National Park
This trek was by far the most memorable, challenging and beautiful few days I can remember. Made all the more special being the spot where Mark proposed to Ali, and became Mali!
We made our way to Torres Del Paine via a coach from El calafante to Puerto Natales and then another coach from Puerto Natales into the national park. This will take a whole day so leave a day either end of your trek.
Of course it's called the 'W' because of the shape of trek, this is isn't completely accurate as walkers can attempt the 'O' which is a 10 day trek that encompasses the whole national park, you will need stamina of steel for this. The 'W' can be started from several places, this means you either walk it from right to left or vice versa. We opted for right to left starting at the Laguna Armaga Park entrance, it normally takes between 4/5 days. At the Laguna we watched a safety video; the summary being that all cooking must occur at refugios because a huge section of the national park burnt down due to neglect from a fire. The video also warns about wild pumas, the tip is to stand your ground initially and then walk away slowly! We were pretty excited about seeing a puma, unfortunately we didn't. After having paid for entry ($35 each) we trekked towards the Chileno refugio.
We met many friendly folk on our trip and travellers really get together in the mornings and evenings at refugios. The average day consisted of breakfast and then a walk up to one of the peaks of the 'W' before returning to camp for lunch. At which point we walked to the next Refugio. You can decide how long you want to take, just go at your own and pace. Expect the weather to change quickly on the Torres del Paine, alas mountains create unpredictable weather! Be prepared to change gear if you feel the weather turning and be equally ready to pop some cream on if the sun is on full beam.
When you booked your coach into the park the company will give you times for pick up. Make sure you are organised and on time or you may have to pay for an extra coach or camp out for another night. We finished at Administration via a 6 hour walk across a grassy wilderness. Many people skip this route and get a boat from Paine Grande to the coach pickup. We would recommend the walk to administration as you will get the route to yourself which was quite rare on the 'W'. We found the landscape to be very different the rest of the trek and more memorable for it!
As you can see we travelled pretty light on our trip. Here is a list of the absolutely key equipment for this trek.
Outdoor Jacket / walking boots / walking socks / snood / packet pants / hat / quick drying clothes, underwear / backpack we had (70L / 40L bags) /3 season tent / 3 seasons sleeping bag / roll mat / pillow (although we didn't have them) / water bottle(s) / Hob / Gas/ mess tins / cups / knifes & forks / toileteries / food of 5 days / coffee & milk powder/ camera / water purifying tablets / painkillers/ ear plugs / sun cream
Purchasing a high quality water and windproof jacket is a must, ideally Gortex. The seasons change so quickly that having a good jacket with a peaked hood and lots of pockets is super useful. Snoods are handy for quick coverage during a snow storm and they can be left around the neck the rest of the time. Hat and gloves are essential as it can get very chilly in the evening or at the top of the mountains. if you are trekking during their summer (Dec-Feb) 2/3 season kit will assure comfort when needed. If you travel anytime near the southern hemisphere's winter (Jun- Sept) then 4 season would be required.
We brought packet pants, waterproof trousers, which we definitely used a couple of times, keeping those pins dry! Lest we forgot, decent walking boots that are comfortable and waterproof. We were also big fans of synthetic shirts / long sleeves tops as they dry very quickly.
Just to get it out there you don't need to bring your own camping equipment but in which case you will need to book cabins or pre arrange tents. During high season this should be booked months in advance as the routes and accommodation can be very busy, many american tourists do the routes during high season..
We went old school, as do most other trekkers, and bought our own 3 seasons tent, roll mats and 3/4 season sleeping bags. We paid extra for lightweight, effective kit and it was worth it. We especially loved our Berghaus Tent which stayed rock solid during windy nights, it was also super quick to take down the next day.
Another very useful piece of kit was our gas hob and stainless steel pots. You will need to buy gas when you arrive locally, it's easy to find, with camping shops in El Calafante and at every refugio on the 'W'. But if you are a risk taker, you crazy cat, then you maybe lucky enough to find spare gas at refugios, there was plenty knocking about when we got to Chileno.
To pole or not to pole? we aren't talking about the antarctic here. Some say that walking poles degrade the human made paths used for the treks. They make a good point as many of paths have been made larger by excessive holes made by walking poles. Personally we are on the fence as the huge weight on Mark's knees could have been alleviated with poles and by the 4th day of the trek he was using tree branches to prop himself up on downward paths, we will leave this for you to decide.....
Prepping food for a 5 day trek can be tricky as you will need to live with those decisions, potentially very heavy decisions! We opted for taste of home in the mornings; porridge seasoned with sugar, milk powder and cinnamon. During the day we snacked on Kendall mint cake (pure sugar) and fibre and nut based energy bars. Clearly climbing mountains is tiring so having little breaks and energy boosts are key; small and often was our motto. All the water on the 'W' and Fitzroy can be drunk from the flowing streams which makes life a lot easier having water so accessible. Coffee and tea seem like imperatives in the early morning, forget them at your peril!
In regards to the evenings, we opted for a dried pasta dishes with lots of milk powder, which was fine, but we saw some great concoctions from fellow travellers; a french couple simply fried up loads of garlic and an onion, mixing it together with pasta and plenty of olive oil, it looked pretty tasty and at least it had some vegetables! We booked ahead on one day to have dinner at the next refugios which was pretty tasty. We also got to enjoy some well deserved, and locally made, Malbec. The refuges and their hosts are super helpful, they can sell you food stuffs (at a high rate) and book you in for food at the next campsite.
Being a world heritage site they are very strict on cooking, you must only cook at specific parts of refugios. The fines are colossal for anyone starting a fire!
At night time it is best to hang your food from a tree so that you don't have any furry friends trying to get into your tent!
Also it is well worth noting that it is against the law to take many food items into Chile, your bags get checked by sniffer dogs on entry to the country. This is to protect the natural environment and to prevent any major changes being made by foreign food contamination such as seeds and dairy. It is therefore perhaps worth organising your snacks and meals once in the country.
Bring a good camera as the landscapes are some of the best you will ever see, you will want to capture everything. We took a Pentax SLR and point and shoot digital camera which did the job well.
Mount Fitzroy and El Chalten
Mount Fitzroy, so named after a English Captain who charted Patagonia in the 19th Century. For you to do your own chartering of Fitzroy you will first need to get yourself over to El Chalten, which is a 3 hour coach from El Calafante. As with all routes you should book ahead if its high season.
Trekking to Fitzroy was a much more tranquil voyage in comparison to the 'W' as it felt flatter and we were far better practiced!
Sip On A Pisco Sour In El Chalten
Drinking on mountains cannot be recommended but when you've just finished climbing a mountain there's no better way to celebrate than a piece of pie and Pisco Sour! Pisco is a Chilean spirit that tastes like a fragrant vodka. The Patagonians' like to whizz it up with lots of fresh lime, egg whites and sugar, finished with fragrant bitters and a sugared glass. Absolute heaven. We found an amazing little place in El Chalten which had a very relaxed, hippy, vibe. The perfect place to reflect on your experiences. We loved Patagonia and we think you will too!
If you liked this article then why not Pin It! so you can find it again?