This article is the first in a series of five detailing each day of the W-Circuit trek in Torres del Paine National Park. The trek was completed starting with the Glacier Grey leg and going west-to-east, though it can be completed in the opposite direction as well.
The first step in your Torres del Paine trek is actually getting to the park. There are several bus companies that run from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine, all of them will leave in two waves at 7:00 AM and 11:30 AM. The bus ride takes 2 hours so you should catch the 7:00 AM bus to give yourself enough time to hike on your first day. Bus tickets should be bought at least the day before. You can purchase tickets at the bus station in Puerto Natales or at Erratic Rock's equipment rental store (I would highly recommend their daily talk on Torres del Paine treks at 3PM).
The park entry fee is $21,000 Chilean Pesos and must be paid in cash. You're officially required to have already made reservations for your stay in the park at campgrounds or refugios to gain access to the park, in practice they were not actually checking people's reservations. This could change at any time and it is up to you if you want to risk it but it seemed unlikely they would turn anyone away. Even at the peak of high season they were plenty of vacancies available at refugios along the way, and given the fiasco that online reservations turned out to be with Fantastico Sur you might be better off turning up in person. As of 2017, credit cards are accepted at all of the refugios along the W-Circuit. There are no ATMs so you should carry some cash with you as a backup in case the network cannot connect or if you have to make a payment at a campground. You'll also have to pay for your catamaran ticket in cash.
Some of the buses will continue to Pudeto. If you're starting your trek with Glacier Grey you'll want to head there. Once at Pudeto, you will board a catamaran ($18,000 one-way) across Lake Pehoé to Paine Grande. You'll be treated to spectacular views of the Cordillera Paine range as you cross the lake. The view from the outside deck is worth dealing with the cold wind on a clear day.
Refugio Grey is approximately a 4.5 hour hike from Paine Grande. Patagonian weather patterns can be chaotic. You may encounter sunny 70-degree weather shifting to sleet blowing in your face within a 10-minute window. You should have warm gloves a rain poncho ready at all times. Hiking poles are also a necessity to brace yourself against the wind. The trail will take you along a ridge above Lago Grey.
The refugio and campgrounds are sheltered and not directly on the lake but are only a brief walk to lookout points where you can see the ice sheet.
There are spots where you can climb down to the glacial water itself. The water can be safely drank without filtration.
This article is the second in a series of five detailing each day of the W-Circuit trek in Torres del Paine National Park. The trek was completed starting with the Glacier Grey leg and going west-to-east, though it can be completed in the opposite direction as well.
The second day of the W-Circuit is a fairly short one, you'll backtrack along Lago Grey to Paine Grande and stay there for the night. You may encounter very high winds in the pass between Lago Grey and Lago Pehoé as there is a bit of a wind tunnel effect.
The Paine Grande refugio and campground can be seen below.
There is a trail nearby Paine Grande overlooking Lago Pehoé. You'll probably have some time to kill in the afternoon so this is a good option.
This article is the third in a series of five detailing each day of the W-Circuit trek in Torres del Paine National Park. The trek was completed starting with the Glacier Grey leg and going west-to-east, though it can be completed in the opposite direction as well.
The third day of a five-day W-Circuit trek will be your longest regardless of which direction you choose to tackle it in. You can expect an average of 10 hours of hiking on this day. You'll spend around 2.5 hours hiking from Paine Grande to Campamento Italiano, the base of the French Valley trail. Heading up the French Valley and back takes another 3-6 hours, this can vary quite a bit depending on your physical fitness and weather conditions. Italiano to the Cuernos campground and refugio takes another 1.5 hours, you can also choose to camp at Italiano and bypass Cuernos the next day by continuing on to Torres Central. You should leave Paine Grande shortly after dawn so you don't feel rushed later in the day.
Lago Skottsberg is along the trail from Paine Grande to Campamento Italiano. You'll see the aftermath of the 2011 fire that burned the forest in this area and was responsible for the open flame restrictions in the park today.
The French Valley can be prone to inclement weather that will block your view of anything. You may want to skip it if this seems to be the case. The staff at the refugios will have weather forecasts on hand. The valley is the middle leg of the "W" and if you follow it to the end you'll have a panoramic view of the mountains.
You'll follow the river for much of the French Valley ascent and will see glacial water pouring down from the surrounding peaks.
Mirador Británico is the final outlook in the French Valley.
An interesting beach with black and white rocks is located on the shore of Lago Nordenskjöld along the way to Cuernos.
This article is the fourth in a series of five detailing each day of the W-Circuit trek in Torres del Paine National Park. The trek was completed starting with the Glacier Grey leg and going west-to-east, though it can be completed in the opposite direction as well.
Getting from Cuernos to Torres Central takes approximately 4 hours. It is fairly flat and you'll follow along Lago Nordenskjöld most of the way.
The lakes in Torres del Paine are really tiers of cascading glacial water flowing all the way to the ocean eventually.
Torres Central is the only stop on the W-Circuit with road access outside the park and has the most services.
I had time to kill in the afternoon after getting to Torres Central. I headed east partway up the trail to Seron, which is the next stop along the O-Circuit, after I left most of my gear at the refugio. There are some great views back towards Torres Central from this trail and an abundance of wildflowers and meadows.
The path to Seron is densely forested compared to the W-Circuit routes. The 2011 wildfires did not reach this part of the park.
This article is the last in a series of five detailing each day of the W-Circuit trek in Torres del Paine National Park. The trek was completed starting with the Glacier Grey leg and going west-to-east, though it can be completed in the opposite direction as well.
The Base las Torres are one of South America's most distinctive natural landmarks and the most visited sight in Torres del Paine.
The trail from Torres Central goes through the Valle Ascencio and then up a steep ascent to the base itself. If you've summited a 14er before, it is a comparable hike. You can also camp at the Chileno campsite which is much closer to the base. Head out early in the morning to give yourself enough time. While many plan to take iconic sunrise photos of the Torres, in practice it is extremely difficult to reach the base before dawn and visibility is far from guaranteed.
Unless the weather is truly adverse to the point that ascending is treacherous you should continue up. Don't get discouraged if visibility is poor and assume you won't be able to see the Torres, weather conditions can shift rapidly and there is no telling what you will encounter at the top. I ran into cloudy weather that lifted around 10 minutes after reaching the mirador.
The mirador sits along a small lake that has formed at the base of the torres. It can get a little crowded in the early afternoon.
One advantage of ending the W-Circuit at Base las Torres is that it feels like more of an accomplishment and a capstone to the trek.
You'll want to make sure to time your descent back to Torres Central to catch the shuttle bus back to the park entrance in time to catch the bus back to Puerto Natales unless you staying the night.