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Backpacker Magazine – March 2009

Hiking Chile's Torres del Paine Circuit

Trek through the earth's wildest mountain range.

by: Kelly Bastone

Stop at Lake Pehoe for this view of Torres del Paine. (Tom Bol)
Stop at Lake Pehoe for this view of Torres del Paine. (Tom Bol)

The Perfect Circle: Hiking the Annapurna Circuit | Chile's Torres del Paine Circuit | Corsica's GR 20 | Peru's Inca Trail to Machu Picchu | Italy's Alta Via 1 | New Zealand's Milford Track | England's Pennine Way | Tanzania's Mt. Kilimanjaro | Everest Base Camp, Tibet | Tour du Mont Blanc

Classic cred  With apologies to Grand Canyon's Grandview Point, Rainier's Disappointment Cleaver, and Mt. Whitney's summit, the Torres del Paine circuit will give your eyeballs a whole new gauge for "the best view you've ever seen." Here, blue glaciers saw into the earth, exotic animals–like the llama-esque guanacos–dot the hillsides, and the mountains themselves take on wild, seemingly impossible shapes. The 52-mile, 10-day loop, which sits 1,500 miles south of Santiago, encircles the Torres del Paine–8,000- to 10,000-foot granite monoliths that twist and curl like frozen waves of rock above glacial lakes studded with icebergs. Go ahead, linger at each pretty spot: The sun doesn't set until 10 p.m. in summer.

Beta  Fly into Punta Arenas, on the Straights of Magellan, the world's southernmost city. Then bus it three hours north to Puerto Natales, the park's gateway town. Forgo the crowded huts in favor of camping (sites are next to each hut) and follow the trail's orange markers counterclockwise to conquer the biggest climbs early. From the trailhead, you'll follow the Rio Paine to Lago Dickson, and see spiky peaks coming into view as the trail skirts Dickson and Los Perros Glaciers. The descent from 4,000-foot John Gardner Pass, the circuit's highpoint, deposits you at the edge of Grey Glacier; camp here to watch crumbling ice thunder into the water. Cold winds blow all year, but December through March offers your best weather window, with highs in the upper 50s and the lowest chance of precip all year.

Local's tip  Pre-hike, crash at the Erratic Rock Hostel (erraticrock.com) in Puerto Natales, where $14 buys you a bed, shower, and a Trekker's Breakfast of eggs, potatoes, and nuclear-strength coffee. It's three blocks from the park information center.

Plan It  Get Trekking in the Patagonian Andes (Lonely Planet, $20) for trail descriptions and insider advice. Guides and permits aren't required, but for the comfort of an outfitted trip, go with BikeHike Adventures (bikehike.com). It offers nine-day treks with an overnight at the new EcoCamp, where the geodesic lodges and dining hall are all carbon-neutral. Pick up a free trekker's map at the park entrance.

Cost  DIY: $ // Guided: $$$$




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Reader Rating: -

READERS COMMENTS

Star Star Star Star Star
Nepal Trekking and tour opreator
May 10, 2013

There is no substitute for personalized attention. I traveled to Nepal to visit Everest Base Camp. I traveled alone and had certain trepidation about traveling on my own, but I also knew I wanted to escape the pressures of trekking in a large group. Altitude and safety are paramount on mountain treks and I did not want to end-up hyperventilating trying to keep-up with faster, fitter, trekkers.
Even though, I have altitude experience, I relied heavily on my guide's advice regarding what to eat, pace, and hydration. I have climbed and summitted Mt. Kilimanjaro, so I was confident I could complete this trek, but nothing can prepare you for the terrain of the Hymalayas. it is truly a humbling experience.
Mr. Adhikari came highly recommended by other trekkers, who were only too willing to write positive and detailed letters of recommendation. I found that all their recommendations were more than true. Mr. Adhikari has been to Everest Base Camp more than 50 plus times, as a woman traveling alone, I found his level of professionalism refreshing. I cannot count the times, Mr. Adhikari truly saved me from my inexperienced trekking self. Anything from ensuring I would.
not be run over by a Yak, horse, or donkey to keeping me focused on the difficult terrain, and somehow ensuring I stopped long enough to enjoy the scenery (in spite of my exhaustion). I shudder to think what my trek would have been like if I'd been just another trekker in a large group. I have to comment that I have never been so healthy-stomach wise at altitude.
Mr. Adhikari explains that when organizing for larger groups, he makes provisions for trekkers like me who tend to walk at a slower pace. I thought for sure that, this time, my ambition had superseded my ability, but thanks to Mr. Adhikari, my long time dream of seeing Everest Base Camp first hand came true. I was able to spend time in the rarified air and observe camp life, took plenty of pictures, and asked Mr. Adhikari numerous questions about his experiences around the area.
I was very aware of the economic implications of traveling with a Nepali Operator vs. a foreign trekking company. I wanted my trip not to only be a self-serving adventure, but numerous travel books suggest that traveling with a Nepali Operator does ensure more of the money goes and stays into the Nepali economy. I was unsure how the whole experience would unfold, but I am staying here and going to Annapurna Base Camp with the same operator. Mr. adhikari seems to be grounded on the mountain community ad well as in Kathmandu. It was reassuring to see he has good and long standing relationships with other guides and the mountain community.

Visited April 2013.
email-:sanjib-adhikari@hotmail.com

Star Star Star Star Star
Best Guide in Nepal Trek
May 10, 2013

There is no substitute for personalized attention. I traveled to Nepal to visit Everest Base Camp. I traveled alone and had certain trepidation about traveling on my own, but I also knew I wanted to escape the pressures of trekking in a large group. Altitude and safety are paramount on mountain treks and I did not want to end-up hyperventilating trying to keep-up with faster, fitter, trekkers.
Even though, I have altitude experience, I relied heavily on my guide's advice regarding what to eat, pace, and hydration. I have climbed and summitted Mt. Kilimanjaro, so I was confident I could complete this trek, but nothing can prepare you for the terrain of the Hymalayas. it is truly a humbling experience.
Mr. Adhikari came highly recommended by other trekkers, who were only too willing to write positive and detailed letters of recommendation. I found that all their recommendations were more than true. Mr. Adhikari has been to Everest Base Camp more than 50 plus times, as a woman traveling alone, I found his level of professionalism refreshing. I cannot count the times, Mr. Adhikari truly saved me from my inexperienced trekking self. Anything from ensuring I would.
not be run over by a Yak, horse, or donkey to keeping me focused on the difficult terrain, and somehow ensuring I stopped long enough to enjoy the scenery (in spite of my exhaustion). I shudder to think what my trek would have been like if I'd been just another trekker in a large group. I have to comment that I have never been so healthy-stomach wise at altitude.
Mr. Adhikari explains that when organizing for larger groups, he makes provisions for trekkers like me who tend to walk at a slower pace. I thought for sure that, this time, my ambition had superseded my ability, but thanks to Mr. Adhikari, my long time dream of seeing Everest Base Camp first hand came true. I was able to spend time in the rarified air and observe camp life, took plenty of pictures, and asked Mr. Adhikari numerous questions about his experiences around the area.
I was very aware of the economic implications of traveling with a Nepali Operator vs. a foreign trekking company. I wanted my trip not to only be a self-serving adventure, but numerous travel books suggest that traveling with a Nepali Operator does ensure more of the money goes and stays into the Nepali economy. I was unsure how the whole experience would unfold, but I am staying here and going to Annapurna Base Camp with the same operator. Mr. adhikari seems to be grounded on the mountain community ad well as in Kathmandu. It was reassuring to see he has good and long standing relationships with other guides and the mountain community.

Visited April 2013.
email-:sanjib-adhikari@hotmail.com

Star Star Star Star Star
Ralph Alcorn
Mar 04, 2013

A fantastic trip. Sandra is right on distance - closer to 80 miles, depending on how far up the Valle Frances and up the valley to the Towers you go. There are some additional guidebooks now. Moon puts out a high level guide, Cicerone puts out one of their highly detailed day by day guides. We put out Patagonia Chronicle, which includes a guide with distances, accomodations, elevation profiles, etc, but also Susan's journal based story, and quite a bit of regional history. backpack45.com for details.

Star Star Star Star Star
nykeiko
Mar 03, 2013

Here's my little review/guide that can help other trekkers! This was my first trek ever and it was fantastic! http://www.nykeiko.com/2013/03/mini-feature-travel-guide-torres-del.html

Star Star Star Star Star
t.bannapurnatree.@yahoo.com
Jan 10, 2013

My name is trekking guide john adhikari (t.b)As an independent trekking guide and tour operator in Nepal, I would like to introduce myself to you.

I was born and grown up in the rugged and remote district in the Central Himalayan region. I started my career in the adventure tourism at the very young age after completing my high school level studies, working for different trekking companies for se.

ven years in different capacities sometimes as porter, assistant guide and now working as an Independent trekking guide. I have already obtained trekking guide license from the ministry of tourism, government of Nepal.

I have guided many international groups especially from Europe, USA, Canada, Australia in Everest, Annapurna, Langtang, Mustang, Dolpo, Kanchanjunga, Makalu, Manaslu, Ganesh Himal and Helambu regions in Nepal and Mt. Kailash, Lasha in tibet also Ladak and Sikkim in India and have thus gained diversified experience and extensive knowledge o.
n geography, religio.
n, culture, local flora and fauna and on environmental issues in the areas where I personally organized the treks. My first experience on many trekking routes has made me an expert on making unique trekking itineraries as per the tastes, interests and budget of the western clients. For those international trekkers who want to climb high mountain passes and peaks, I can also organize this challenging and rewarding adventure. My experience in adventure tourism includes climbing to Mera peak, Island peak, Kalapathar, Gokyo peak, Tseryo ri and I have led expeditions across many high passes in Nepal, Larkye pass, Ampulapcha Pass, Chola pass, Renjula pass, Tashilapcha pass, Ganjala pass, thorong pass, Tilicho pass, (Mesokantola pass).

There are many types of treks available in Nepal, ranging from relaxed easy trekking where you can experience Nepalese Culture and Village life staying overnight in local lodges (tea-houses) in popular regions, to remote and restricted areas trekking that are off the beaten track and seldom visited by foreigners. All treks offer spectacular scenery and a good experience about Nepalese culture. If anyone wants to have tailor made treks, I can meet their requirements.

From time to time I keep upgrading my skills and knowledge by taking refresher trainings on safety, sanitation, first–aid, emergency rescue, hygiene and cooking. I am fluent in English, Chinese and computer literate. I can explain all tourism related topics to the best of my knowledge.

My clients have been very pleased with my professional guiding services, and you may read some of their comments on my email...........Please contact me at the email address listed.........(t.bannapurnatreek@yahoo.com)(Adhikarit.b@hotmail.com)....... first you come to Nepal I help for you below..........if you have any questions or would like to discuss a directly you contact for my email or you ask for me.... I am waiting for email and contact........all my gust......... if you coming in Nepal if you join with me, going to the trekking if you have going to the mountain any problem I help for all gust.... by the way if you can go Everest mountain good accommodation good price not so expensive all of gust contact for me...........
Hotmail: Adhikarit.b @ hotmail.com.
Email: t.bannapurnatreek @ yahoo.com
web site : www.subindra.com

Star Star Star Star Star
Annie Swann
Dec 06, 2012

Near the end of the Circuit, don't miss the incredible side trip into the Valle del Frances - rivals (and some would say 'beats') Yosemite for the sheer granite walls. And if you can manage it at all, choose the Circuit over the over-appreciated 'W', which teems with day-trippers using boat shuttles.

Nick
Oct 29, 2012

Are you allowed to backcountry camp here? Or is it site only?

sandra
May 20, 2012

I believe the 8-10 day "0" circuit is closer to 72 miles. 52 miles might be the "W", which is done in 4-5 days.

Patrick
May 20, 2012

I did the W Circuit in April 2012, 5 days. excellent weather , my host was antarespatagonia.com local tour operator, great service.
Patagonia Rocks!!!!!!

lynn anderson
Feb 11, 2012

If you travel that far, don't miss Fitz Roy, every bit as dramatic as Torres del Paine.

Diane Goettlicher
Jan 14, 2012

I'm going to Torres del Paine this March and April (2012)--what is a good stove to take? I'm wondering about fuel possibilities.

Roger
Jun 02, 2011

I was hoping to head to Chile for this one based on various recommendations, but found it very difficult and expensive to get into Chile. Instead I went to the north part of Parque Nacional los Glaciares in Argentina. You bus up to El Chalten and hike around Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy. You can get pretty much free reign to wander, and the river water doesn't even need to be treated since hikers haven't polluted it yet. Definitely recommended!

Anonymous
Jan 28, 2011

Great photo of Torres by Bol. Wouldn't expect anything less.

Paul Filby
Jan 26, 2010

The Circuit's a fantastic trek. I've posted about the first few days <a href="http://blog.wildvista.com/starting-the-paine-circuit-trekking-in-patagonia/">here</a>. Plenty of photos to give a feel for the awe-inspiring surroundings.

Paul Filby
Jan 26, 2010

The Circuit's a fantastic trek. I've posted about the first few days <a href="http://blog.wildvista.com/starting-the-paine-circuit-trekking-in-patagonia/">here</a>. Plenty of photos to give a feel for the awe-inspiring surroundings.

Michael Silverberg
May 04, 2009

Let's just get our names right. Those twisted peaks with black shale over lighter granite are the Cuernos (Horns) del Paine and they make the most recognizable vista anywhere. The Torres del Paine are three granite spires that you get to by going up the Rio Ascencio. And the large chunky mountain in between is Monte Almirante Nieto. Just for the sake of accuracy - so if you go you don't play the role of ignorant foreigner.

Jeff Salvage
May 03, 2009

I've been systematically trekking the best hikes in the world and this is one of my favorites. You can check our my review, which includes descriptions, photos, a story, a map, and elevations. You can see this at http://www.greattreks.com/greattreks/TopTen/AnnapurnaCircuitHome.asp

Jeff

Tammy
Apr 23, 2009

I highly recommend this route - went there in December and did the "W". I was there in December and the winds were strong and it was rainy, so still make sure to pack the right gear.

The Chilean residents are great and will answer any questions you have. Many speak English.

Leal Grant
Mar 24, 2009

There is a big myth that Torres del Paine is seasonal. Puerto Natales is open all year, and the weather is calmer than in summer. Colder, but calmer.

Bodie Venton
Mar 24, 2009

I was just in Torres del Paine and Erratic Rock offers a free info session everyday! They know what their talking about.

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