Day 7 – Campamento Italiano
Map (link) | Distance: 7.5 km + 5 km | Time: 1.75 hours + 3 hours
The hike from Paine Grande to Italiano is one of the shortest hikes in the park, designed so hikers can enjoy a “day hike” past Italiano to a pair of mountainside lookouts (Francés and Británico) which make up the middle leg of the “W”. Knowing this, we set out before sunrise hoping to maximize our daylight hours for the day hike.
The hike to Italiano was fairly straight forward: we left the windy peninsula of Paine Grande and headed East across hillsides and streams, stopping periodically to admire a lakeside view. We arrived at camp fairly early (before many campers had even woken up), set up our tents, and checked in with the Ranger. The Ranger gave us some tips and directions, but informed us that the second lookout, Británico, was closed due to poor weather.
The day hike is bit awkward: it travels along the mountain side so the footing is tricky, full of rocks and inclines. We reached Francés Glacier after an hour and rested a minute to appreciate our fourth glacier of the week. Then we actually continued on, hoping to see more (the weather in Patagonia changes so frequently that we hoped the trail would clear up, contrary to the Ranger’s recommendation). Unfortunately the wind and rain only worsened so we turned back before getting lost (or worse) and had warmed our hands drinking tea and cooking dinner to rest up before a long hike to Chileno the next day.
Day 8 – Chileno
Map (link) | Distance: 16 km | Time: 5.5 hours
The hike to Chileno was an exhausting day. We got on the trail a bit later than usual (I slept in) and paid for it with a long hike through the middle of a hot afternoon. We started off in hilly lakeside grassland and forest, which were actually delightful in the morning hours (some of the lake views were incredible, and we passed the oft-photographed Cuernos).
However, we left the forest just as the sun was reaching its peak and began a 4-hour hike uphill through open grassland. Many stops for water and sunscreen later, we started to see the mountain range surrounding los Torres which helped to put a spring in our step and push us up the final hill to Refugio Chileno.
After checking in we set up our tents, which involved a new twist for our last night. Because the campsite is built on the side of a mountain, every tent gets erected on a wooden platform using a hammer and nails instead of stakes!
The campsite and lodge are beautifully nestled between a stream and mountain, under the gaze of los Torres. Dinner that night was included in our reservation, so we enjoyed some salmon, rice, and salad (real food!) before watching the sunset (what a view) and heading to sleep.
Day 9 – Our Final Hike
Map: (link) | Distance: 4 km + 2 km | Time: 2 hours + 1.5 hours
Over the course of eight days on the trail we grew into a pretty standard sleeping pattern: sunlight = awake. So we had fine tuned our ability to fall asleep and wake up early, but our last night really pushed us. Researching for the trip we learned that a must-do activity in the park is watching the sunrise at the Torres del Paine. Which means starting your final (2-hour) hike to the Torres well before any daylight arrives. For us, that meant setting an alarm for 4:45 am, sleeping in our hiking clothes, and eating a Cliff bar on the trail (no time for breakfast).
The hike was a little tricky: everything was pitch black outside of our headlamps’ paths and we were navigating climbing switchbacks through a forest. Fortunately the trail markers contained reflectors, so we only got lost a couple times, and we made the summit fairly quickly. We were actually the very first group to reach the top! So we settled into our sleeping bags and broke out our celebratory chocolate.
Truthfully we were hoping for a more dazzling display of light, but even in overcast weather it was a treat to watch the Torres greet the day. And what better place to sit and reflect than a peaceful glacial lake surround by mountain tops? Looking back, it was a quick week in which we’d graduated from being hiking rookies, bested the elements, and lived more than a handful of post-card-worthy moments.
The rest of the day was a mostly wrap-up. After lunch at Chileno we headed downhill to the trailhead, celebrated with a beer, and boarded the bus back to Peurto Natales where hot showers and fresh food awaited. From there we enjoyed a couple great celebratory meals (Angelica’s is highly recommended) and began our journey back home.