Top 10 Mountain Treks: (#3) Torres del Paine

I’m getting towards the pointy end of my list of favourite mountain treks…and quite literally with this entry. Chile’s multi-pronged Torres del Paine are one of South America’s pin-up images, with the massif’s sharp peaks rising as bent and broken as a fisherman’s fingers.

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The lake at the base of the eponymous towers

I hiked through the Torres del Paine near the beginning of last year, in the days following a mighty bushfire that scorched more than 17,000 hectares, burning right across the trail, adding drama to an already dramatic landscape.

There are two main treks in the Torres del Paine: the circuit and the more popular and densely scenic W Trek, which traverses the foot of the range as well as burrowing into the gorgeous Ascencio and Frances valleys (thus forming a W shape) that split the massif. The walk through the Ascencio Valley rises to a lake pooled at the base of the very towers that give the massif its name, while the latter valley skirts the Frances Glacier to an outcrop ringed by a defensive wall of summits. When I trekked here, I added another arm to the route, veering off-track into a secondary valley beside the ‘cuernos’ – the massif’s horns – rising past a climbers’ camp and continuing through a mass of scree until I could touch the main escarpment. It was a side trip that somehow turned into a rock pilgrimage; I just had to touch that escarpment.

The winds around the Torres are as fierce as the scenery and provided perhaps my most enduring memories of the place. One day, as I rose over a ridge, a tent flew over my head, tearing on branches as it went. The nearest camping area upwind was more than 10 kilometres away.

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Wind-blown rainbow on Lago Nordenskjold

Another day, as I hiked along the shores of Lago Nordenskjold, wind gusts charged across the lake, gathering water as they came. Curtains of water rose up to 50 metres into the air, transforming into rainbows. As each gust hit the shore, hikers dropped to the ground – I tried standing up to one gust and finished up about five metres away – and a wall of water was dumped over them.

I was hiking that day with a guy from nearby Puerto Natales and when I asked him about the wind speed, he suggested it was probably around 140km/h. He also shrugged as if to say it was just another summer day in those parts. Patagonia is not a subtle place.

* The adventures continue across at Facebook.

6 thoughts on “Top 10 Mountain Treks: (#3) Torres del Paine

  1. Wow! I love the places you take us, and those photos are simply spectacular!! Though I have so much in my own backyard to still explore, you’re giving me a thirst for more, someday.

  2. It was 11 years ago next week that I visited Torres del Paine and if I shut my eyes I can still vividly remember the wind in that beautiful windswept landscape. I felt it blow all the cobwebs out of my soul and I came back to Australia a changed person (I always maintain I left part of my soul in Patagonia and have to go back one day to discover it again!). Magnificent place. But you do need to wear sunglasses every day even when cloudy to keep the wind out of your eyes.

    • You’re right about Patagonia – it’s still my favourite place on earth. The difficulty with the sunglasses is that mine blew off my head and down a mountain on one of the really windy days…

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