Guide: Hiking the “W” Trail – Torres Del Paine, Chile

Hiking the ‘W is a must do for all backpackers who manage to make it that far south. In our opinion, most do it in a way that is either more expensive or more work than necessary. Below is what we did, then some suggested changes to our path to maximize your enjoyment and minimize your time and expense. Doing this trek in 5 days, if you are a regular hiker, to me, is downright silly.  If you want to do a longer hike, with less people, do the circuit.
Access: To Puerto Natales there are daily buses from Rio Gallegos and Peritto Moreno (El Calafate)in Argentina. From Puerto Natales there is a twice daily bus, making the several hour trip from town to the park, the first leaving in the morning around 8am and the second leaving around 2pm. Both buses pick hikers up for the return trip from the park to town.

Our time in Torres del Paine:

IMGP3275Day 1: We arrived on the morning Puerto Natales bus and made it to the start of the trail around the middle of the day. We set out immediately hiking all the way up the first leg of the ‘W’ to the Torres themselves and then back down again and almost to the second leg of the ‘W’. We slept that first night in Refugio Los Cuernos.  Many would do this portion over two days but traveling with minimal gear we were able to make it with relative ease. Camping there and using the hut’s supplies rather than our own cost a couple of dollars extra but given that we didn’t need to rent equipment in town, this balanced out. It is important, even during low season to have a reservation if your planning to rent equipment.  We made a reservation and they still didn’t have enough sleeping bags to go around! Plan ahead!

IMGP3247Day 2: We had planned to get up early and hike either the second or the third leg of the ‘W’ and get to the ferry to return to the bus to return to town in the early afternoon. As I’d started the trek with a cold we decided to just walk to the ferry at Lodge Paine Grande, but this was only because of my failing health, not lack of time. Had I started the trek healthy and we gotten up and began our walking at first light we would have been fine to do at least another leg of the W.

Other options:

IMGP3230One Day Hike: Not as hard as it seems. Take the afternoon bus from Puerto Natales and overnight at the first camp, staying comfortably in their lodge or huts. Begin walking before first light and you’ll have more than enough time to do the whole trek and make it to the Lodge Paine Grande camp at Laguna Azul before dark, spending a second night there and either taking the ferry the next day or walking to park headquarters to catch the bus back in the morning. This could be done in reverse as well.  This is for seasoned hikers only who know what they’re doing.  If there is a sudden change in weather you will likely need to alter your plans dramatically and you need to be prepared for that.

Two nights on the Trail: This is probably the best option for doing the entire trek with minimal time, expense, and discomfort. If you do your first day as we did above, then you can make an easy second day viewing the second leg of the ‘W’. Get up early the third day to visit the final leg or make a longer second day and do both legs there. Whichever way you divide the final two legs, plan to spend the second night at camp.  Had I been healthy we would have gone with this option

You can pay to stay in the huts or in the hut campsites. Equipment is available for rent within the park for camping, more expensive than in town but you don’t have to carry it, or just stay in the dormitory or the refugios. Full board can be purchased at each hut as well so if you don’t want to carry your food either, you don’t have to. When we were there everything for purchase was cheaper if paying with U$D rather than Chillean Pesos so ask in town before departing. All itineraries above can be done in reverse.

Be sure to take care of yourself while there, use the long days to pack in extra miles but don’t forget to go to sleep. Here’s a picture of the Torres del Paine National Park Topo hiking map:


Review: Kayak Pucon (Pucon, Chile)

We chose to do our Chilean whitewater kayaking with Kayak Pucon for a few reasons, but mostly because it was owned and operated by locals. We actually didn’t know it existed originally and walked into another whitewater shop in Pucon only to be turned off by the rather cold, business-like attitude of the proprietor. Had we not literally stumbled onto Kayak Pucon, we would have skipped kayaking in Pucon all together.

For starters their gear was some of the best we’ve rented in our travels, (we’ve had awful) complete with everything we could want for cold water paddling with the exception of gloves…but we didn’t want those anyhow. We had our choice of boats and aside from our guide we were the only ones on the river. Our guide, the owner, spoke his native Spanish as well as fluent English. We not only chose which river we wanted to run, but also which section and how much time for warm-up we wanted. In short, it was our own, privately tailored trip all for less money than that original gringo wanted to charge us. We had a great time on the river, no incidents to report despite the unusually high water, and hope to kayak with them again someday.

I do really want to stress the quality of the equipment. This was the first time we were in cold water and with were provided with farmer john neoprene wet-suits as well as dry suits. Several times on this trip we’ve kayaked in cold water with none of this made available to us.

Foodie Friday: Perrito Caliente

Sure, yesterday was thanksgiving and we made  it back to the States in time to celebrate but featuring turkey just doesn’t seem right to us, given that it is virtually impossible to find anywhere south of the border.  Instead, in honor of Turkey Day, we figured we’d offer our readers a taste of another USA treat.  One we know and love that just hasn’t been the same south of the border: the hot dog.

There is an expression sometimes uttered in Washington, that the two things you never want to see made: sausages and  laws.  I don’t disagree.  So we’ll skip the creation process of these encased little snacks and instead focus on the different varieties we’ve tasted.

Guatemala– the rather tasteless cheveres scared us a bit and we generally shied away.  Only available after dark on the street they always smelled a bit foul and the fixins were never particularly appetizing.

Colombia– we had our first taste of the South American version of the hot dog, where it was actually called a perrito caliente (little hot dog).  It was smothered in smashed up plantain or potato chips, doused with an army of sauces and covered with onions.  The chips were really what separated it from the NYC variety, that and that in Colombia the one we had was microwaved instead of flame cooked or boiled in water. 

Brazil– I don’t remember what they called it, but we ate it at a stand in Cuiaba. It was on a toasted bun with cheese, ham, hot dog, lettuce, ketchup, mayo, crunchie fries and tomato.  It was by far the greasiest piece of meat we’ve eaten in our entire lives.  We felt sick afterwards.

Bolivia– Instead of just a hot dog, Bolivia is a fan of salchipapas (also common in Peru), cut up hot dog on french fries.  The hot dog isn’t the highlight, but with all that grease on one plate, it can’t taste bad.  Plus, they always had ketchup.  Yum.

Argentina- had in my opinion, the most fun with the hot dog called a Super PanchoIn these the dog was usually about a foot long, if not longer, and didn’t come close to fitting inside the bun.  The number of sauces piled on top (ketchup, mustard, mayo, golf sauce) is rather unsettling and these are almost never sold in street side stands and instead are sold in small Super Pancho shops.  The best part is that like Colombia and Brazil, crunchy potato sticks are put all over the top.

Chile- very similar to Argentina except that the sauces we tried were all… unsettling.  Also called a pancho, and the one we tried in Santiago, well we did have video, but trust us you wouldn’t want to see it.

In truth though, nothing comes close to a good Sabrett or Hebrew National dog from a NYC vendor, covered in ketchup (a rarity anywhere but the USA) mustard, onions, relish, and maybe some onions and if you’re really lucky some chili sauce.  In fact, just thinking about the late night dogs we used to get in college from Manouch has me salivating.  Washington, D.C.’s specialty is the half-smoke, a plump and short spicy beef dog served on a plain bun or better yet at Ben’s served smothered in chili.  Since we haven’t been up to New York (or even Washington, DC) in awhile we had to ask a friend to fine one to enjoy for us…it wasn’t too difficult to convince him to do it though.

(Jill’s Editors Note: Danny was raised by a New Yorker, so he’s completely biased. This post is clearly wrong.  He has left our the best hot dog on the planet- the Chicago Char-Dog.  A char-broiled beef delight covered in ketchup, mustard, onions and kosher dill slices served on a poppy seed bun. Hmm… it just makes my mouth water. Anyone know where I can get one of these on the east coast before mid-december?)

Torres del Paine

To call ourselves hikers and not go to Torres del Paine National Park in Chile would be the fastest way to loose our credibility. So despite the awful weather, we crossed yet again into Chile arriving in Puerto Natales in the middle of yet again, another snowfall.

Famous for its rock structures (the torres or towers) the park is covered in hiking trails through the mountains and around the turquoise glacial fed lakes. One of the most famous of these hikes is called the “W” which takes 3-4 days to complete and not surprisingly makes a W path around the major points of interest. Without the proper camping equipment and fearing that Florida boy Danny would turn into a popsicle with more than one night camping next to a glacier, we opted to do a modified “W”, which really looked more like a “U”.

Blame it on our adventure racing, but we’re pretty goal oriented when we hike. So when our bus from Puerto Natales arrived at the park later than expected, we charged up the mountain like a pair possessed, determined to make it our original goal for the day. The constant damp, cold weather that’s been following us the last few weeks finally caught up with us as Danny hacked, coughed and sneezed his way up and down the trail. By the time we got within sight of the mirador, we were a classic case of tortoise and the hare. The steep trail had become in my mind practically vertical, and I had no motivation to continue.  And then a french woman on her way down came sliding into me like a baseball player sliding into base fueling my displeasure even more. I complained as we crossed the snowline, which we didn’t expect to cross.  As we hauled our tired bodies over the final set of boulders and arrived at the mirador I was umm… disappointed. While Danny thought the view was incredible, it took a while to grow on me.

The moment we arrived the clouds seemed to part allowing sunshine to bathe the towers.  It was still cold and windy, but somehow the sunshine made it better.  As the professional photographer next to us snapped nearly his entire memory card of pictures, we took our requisite pictures, enjoyed the view and decided we’d had enough of the freezing cold. As we turned to pick our way down we heard a rumble next to us. Ice had been falling off the towers since we arrived, but this was a deeper rumble and before I could process what was going on, Danny shouted “avalanche!”  While the view of the torres in the end won me over, no view can ever compare to watching an avalanche no matter how small from out of harms way. It was a humbling experience.

We had along way to go before our campsite so we headed down. Because of our late start, we hiked literally until dark, hauling our tired bodies into the campground a little before sunset. Thankfully we found our rented tent had already been set up, but unfortunately the “reservation” for two sleeping bags and mats was a joke, and only one of each was available. Thank god the guy at the desk took pity on us spending the night in our lightweight fleece sleeping bags, which we had intended to use only as bag liners, and gave us a comforter off his bunk bed to use.

We’re pretty far south now, so sunrise is about 5:45 a.m. And sunset is around 9:15 p.m. With so many hours of sunlight we figured we’d get up early the next day and complete our modified trek in plenty of time to catch the last boat back to the bus stop at 6 pm. Our haul the day before had taken a toll on our bodies, specifically Danny’s head cold. Couple his inability to breathe well with the hurricane like winds and it was an easy decision to take the “early” boat back at 1pm. The park itself was beautiful, and despite the steep entrance fee, $30 per person, we would definitely recommend to anyone to come in better weather and spend a week hiking the trails.

Foodie Friday- You Thought Airline Food Was Bad

After spending so many hours this week on a bus we figured it was time to pay a tribute to some of the most…adventurous food we eat on a regular basis. Half of me wants to just put some pictures up and let them speak for themselves but first a little background.

When we started our trip, there was no such thing as bus food. Twice in Mexico we were given a can of soda and a small ham sandwich and were quite beside ourselves with excitement…until we bit into the sandwich…and then were thankful for the soda. Generally the food on the buses in Mexico and especially in Central America (Mexico is in North America…never EVER confuse that) is provided by locals who jump on the bus at every opportunity to sell you whatever it is they might have. If this is fried chicken, it might have been cooked last night. If this is fruit, it might have been cut last week. If this is a soda and a bag of chips you are safe but you can only make so many meals out of soda and a bag of chips. They were either indigenous with a giant food basket or a bit more modern with a special vest that a Delta Force commando might wear to hold all their guns and ammunition…only these people are loaded with sodas and frito-lay products.

We’ve come a long way from this down here in South America. Our last bus was a cama bus, only $3 more than the semi-cama and the hours were a bit better, and this meant that wine (much better for sleeping than a cup of coffee loaded with sugar) was included with dinner. Some of these buses like to play “dinner music” as the meal is served which is generally a mix of bad 80’s music videos. The most recent had Jill offer me (a child of the 80’s) an 80’s themed 30th birthday party if in exchange I would agree to provide the entertainment (with some friends, any volunteers?) for a NKOTB (That’s ‘New Kids on the Block’ for those of you who aren’t in the know) party for her 30th birthday. Assuming I can find 4 other able bodied gentlemen to assist me, each of our 30th birthday’s has been planned.

But really, this is about the food. When we do receive it there is often a “prepackaged” portion which we usually save to eat as breakfast, as well as a “fresh” portion; sometimes cold sometime hot, usually some sort of strange ham/cheese combination, or weird congealed pasta. Sometimes the meal is never identified.