When: 04-Apr-2019

Summary

We will have an almost near death experience, unexpectedly testing the limits of our gear. More than once will I be speechless at the wonders of this fascinating part of the world. At least as many times will I be forced to my own limits.

One of the lessons we will learn is that Patagonian weather forecasts very much differ from what we were used to before. But that is not the only life lesson we will learn from this trip.

We, that is my fellow hiking companion Christian and I. We hiked the O-Circuit in Torres del Paine in Chile in April, 2019. Before this, none of us had ever done multi day trekking like this. We walked up to mountain huts for overnight stays but that was about it.

Let me take you on a journey that tells the story about an experience that still remains one of the most memorable to me. Giving you an insight in some of our naive mistakes to hopefully prevent you from doing the same. Or at least put a bit of a smile onto your face.

Location

Difficulty rating for entire multi day track

The overall difficulty rating for this multi day track is (with 10 being the hardest): 4.1 / 10
This is the average of all single days this track is made up of.
Check out each individual day (links here) if you want have a detailed overview of the rating.

The Basics

In the following paragraphs I’m giving you an overview of how and where to book campsites. I'll also get a little into preparing yourself for the track.

It is mandatory to have all your overnight stays booked in advance. They will ask you at the entrance of the park for your reservation receipts. This means you won't be able to enter if you can’t provide this proof.

In the location map above there's a marker pointing to the Welcoming Center of Torres del Paine National Park. That is where we parked the car and started the track. The CONAF tourist office, where you can buy the entrance tickets, is located about 7 km before this.

There you can also get a paper map and check out the weather forecast. Additionally, there should also be daily updated weather forecasts in each camp.

 

Treks Overview Map in Torres del Paine NP Welcome CenterTracks Overview Map in Torres del Paine NP Welcome Center

 

The entrance fees were 21,000 CLP for adults from nations other than Chile and 6,000 CLP for Chilean citizens. This information is from 2019. Be aware that the prices are usually increased every other year. You can find more information here. The park’s official website is this. Make sure to check it out beforehand to be well-informed.

As a little side note: We did the whole track only having our reservations and the wee little paper map. No GPS tracking via phone or digital maps. The entire O-Circuit is very well marked. That being said, I always recommend taking an additional tracking device with you.

Making reservations at the camps

In addition to CONAF there are 2 companies that manage refugios (mountain huts) and campsites in the park: Fantastico Sur and Vertice. Both of them are private and, let’s be honest, super expensive. Camping outside of authorized areas is forbidden, so basically you have no other choice.

Please be a sensible hiker and don’t do the track if you plan on ignoring the restrictions and doing wild camping. There are sheltered sections for cooking at the campsites. You won't have these when camping in the wild. Huge parts of the park have burned down in the past because visitors underestimated the winds and ignored restrictions to start with. A little spark can turn into a disaster. Don’t take a chance.

 

View of the Torres del Paine torres from the road into the park

View of the Torres del Paine torres from the road into the park

 

Fantastico Sur owns campsites at Central, Cuernos, Chileno, Serón, Frances.

Vertice owns campsites at Paine Grande, Dickson, Grey, Los Perros.

The campsite at the Paso ranger station is owned by CONAF and free.

The W-Track and the O-Circuit are very popular tracks, the O-Circuit being far less crowded. I’ve heard from people having to book online 6 months in advance to get spots on the campgrounds.

We arrived in Puerto Natales, a little village about 120 km away from the park, 2 days prior to starting the track. We didn’t do any online booking. We basically decided to do the O-Circuit instead of the W a few days before that.

We went into each of the offices in town and booked our camps. During the first part of the track, we met 7 additional hikers who all, except for one, hiked within a different time schedule. We had the first days of the track almost entirely to ourselves. To me, this was a major part of the experience. Everything felt a bit more remote.

Once we came into the parts that make up the W, campsites and paths became super crowded. If you want to make sure to get spots as you like and don't want to take chances, I'd suggest to do the booking online. This is a page where you can do all at once. I’ve never used any of the booking web pages though, so I can’t tell you anything about user experience, etc.

In general, April is kind of out of season for tourists. The weather is said to be more moody, temperatures are colder, there are higher chances of snow and rain. Visitor numbers tend to be fewer. Perfect for hikers and those who don’t care about uncomfortable hiking conditions.

Getting prepped and ready

We originally planned on doing the hike in 8 days, 7 nights.

These were the campsites we booked: Dickson, Los Perros, El Paso, Grey, Paine Grande, Frances, Central.

Camp Serón was closed due to maintenance. So we had no other choice than skipping that camp and intending to do over 30 km the first day. As mentioned in the beginning, we ended up doing the track in 9 days. We didn’t get as far as 30 km on the first day either. We also never put up camp at Frances. But more on that later.

We bought all our food and did the packing in Puerto Natales, a day before heading to the park. Our food packs included breakfast, dinner and snacks for 2 people for each of the 8 days. Check out my food and gear packing lists for suggestions on how or what to pack.

Make sure to pack enough clothing. I can recommend, at least, a second set for the campsites, so the rest can dry if it gets wet throughout the day.

Getting there

Quick break on the way to Torres del Paine National Park

Quick break on the way to the park

 

There are regular buses between Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine NP.

I had a car, so we just headed to the park the day before and slept the night in the car. We parked it in the major parking area by the Welcome Center (see map above) and left it there for the time we were gone. Parking was free.

Before we finally got to the parking area, we went into the ticket office at the park entrance to get the tickets. I’ve already mentioned the weather forecast that was displayed there. I remember exactly the moment looking and "analysing" it...

90 to 100 km/h winds, a mix between sun and clouds, heavy rain. That’s what it said for the following day. The first day of the very first actual multi day track we ever attempted. It even had little drawn pictures and numbers, just in case. What I also remember from these moments is how I looked at and said to an understandably doubtful looking Christian: “It won’t be that bad. That’s probably just the worst case scenario.”

These moments....

When you look back and your present you just wants to look your past you in the eyes, shaking your head saying “What an idiot you were”...

That weather forecast was far off from a worst case scenario. But let’s get to that.

Step by Step

I’ve summarised facts, difficulty rating and personal stories of each single day on the following sub pages:

Sub Tracks

Day 1

Welcome Center Parking – Camp Séron – Emergency Camping Spot Day 1 of the O-Circuit in Torres del Paine. What we thought to be a nice start to a multi day hike turned into a little disaster. One that humbled me and taught me more than one life lesson.

Read More

Day 2

Emergency Camping Spot – Coirón Ranger Station – Camp Dickson With Day 2 of the O-Circuit we're getting a glimpse of how many facets Patagonian weather can have. The terror of the night before seems lightyears ago. Filled with gratitude we embrace the continuation of our big little adventure through Torres del Paine.

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Day 3

Camp Dickson – Camp Los Perros Day 3 marks the day I'm sighting a glacier for the first time in my life: Los Perros glacier. The more we walk the more remote we seem to get.

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Day 4

Camp Los Perros – Camp El Paso Following a couple of days with nice weather we're reminded once again that the saying "4 seasons in a day in Patagonia" exists for a reason. Today we will also see the Grey glacier for the first time. A sight that leaves me utterly humbled and in awe.

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Day 5

Camp El Paso – Camp Grey 1-2. The pattern Patagonia weather seems to follow. 1 nasty day followed by 2 mostly sunny days. On day 5 of the O-Circuit we're gifted with a cloudless, blue sky. Giving us the opportunity to enjoy the views while we walk along the Grey glacier and lake.

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Day 6

Camp Grey – Camp Paine Grande Day 6 overwhelms me with a hangover from our celebration the night before. Leaving remoteness behind the track gets more and more crowded. Fields of burned down and dead trees mark the landscape of this section.

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Day 7

Camp Paine Grande – Mirador Británico – Camp Los Cuernos Today marks the longest day for us with regard to walking distance and duration. We take a detour up the Francés valley to the Británico lookout to take in some beautiful views. On the way down the valley, amongst the crowd, we even meet the hikers again who arrived after us at Dickson on day 2.

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Day 8

Camp Los Cuernos – Camp Central When the circuit becomes a circuit: Today we arrive back at our starting point. A spontaneous shortcut reminds me once again where I am and to stay humble.

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Day 9

Camp Central – Camp Chileno – Mirador Base de las Torres – Camp Chileno – Camp Central We head out early for sunrise views of Las Torres we will never get to see. Still this will be one of the most beautiful hikes. Walking through a winter wonderland I learn once more to appreciate the simple things in life.

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