[Patagonia] Torres del Paine: Post - O Circuit (Personal Thoughts/Anecdotes)
I just completed a 7 day, 6 night circuit trek through Torres del Paine National Park, or better known as the O, which is backpacking around the entire park. It was one of the most physically and mentally challenging thing I have ever done. I am so glad to have made the decision to tackle the entire park but I am ready to not sleep in a tent for awhile. I loved it; I hated it; I embraced everything about it. Over 85 miles hiked with a 25 pound backpack for 7 consecutive days and sleeping on the ground for 6 nights while wearing the same set of clothes every day. So here's my personal thoughts and anecdotes from my trek:
Let's start off by saying that Patagonia / south of Chile and Argentina, where Patagonia runs along is EXPENSIVE. I thought I would be saving money coming to South America but boy was I wrong. Chile and Argentina have prices almost equivalent to the US. For these reasons, I didn't have Patagonia on my must-visit list because I didn't think I could swing dropping all of this money for only a few weeks. Most people who I've met down here have been planning to come for months so they have the luxury of splurging while they're down here, which in turn hurts backpackers like myself who are trying to keep expenses to a minimal. Anyway, once I finally got into South America, I kept seeing pictures and meeting people who went down south and loved it. And how could I have gone to South America without visiting the almighty Patagonia? I wouldn't be able to live that down!
When I met up with my friend Mel, he had just completed it and raved about how amazing the sights were and even helped me plan out my trek and other logistics. So it was determined at the beginning of January that I would make my way down south. I was able to find a cheap flight from Punta Arenas to Santiago on February 9th. That gave me a timeline of about 3.5 weeks to head down south, visiting a few cities along the way and spending about 2 weeks in both the Argentinean and Chilean side of Patagonia.
I had a major problem (or problems)... I didn't have any hiking gear and hearing stories about the crazy tempered weather, the different terrains, etc, I was not at all equipped to head into Patagonia. I left my hiking boots at home because I didn't want to carry about the extra weight and didn't know how much I would use it since I was traveling to so many different places and not all of them were for hiking. I did have my tennis shoes and I contemplated for a while to just do everything in my tennis shoes. Others have told me that they were able to do the rest of South America treks in tennis shoes and they were fine, but they didn't do Patagonia. Mel did it in tennis shoes and he said his feet were soaked and was pretty miserable hiking hours a day in damp socks and shoes. I didn't want to drop the money... However after reading tons of forums, blogs, and talking to my mom, I decided to buy a pair because I rather spend some money upfront and have a more enjoyable time as well as protect me from any potential injuries in the future, which would cost a whole lot more. I also bought other random camping and hiking gear such as waterproof hiking pants, trekking socks, headlamp, spoon-fork-knife-utensil combo thing that's amazing, gloves, etc.
So most of the planning was day a few days prior to heading out on January 30th. I was able to secure a camping spot for the first leg of my circuit for that date so that was what I had based everything off of. I go into Puerto Natales, the city right outside of Torres del Paine on the 27th and just hustled those few days to get everything squared away. You can read more about it in my previous post: Hangout out in Puerto Natales and Planning TdP.
Finally, It's Here!
All the anticipation, planning, mental preparation, and dealing with hell that is the new reservation system lead up to this moment. It was finally the morning of January 30th. I was ready to head into the park, disconnect from the outside world (and totally forgetting all of the Trump Immigration Ban bullshit), and put myself to the test of conquering this on my own. I have never done anything like this before, let alone this long or by myself, so I was still a bit nervous even as the day approached but I woman up and I totally conquered that bad boy. But like I mentioned, it wasn't all rainbows and unicorns... there were some moments I absolutely hated. Here's a breakdown of my mental thoughts and condition throughout the 7 days.
- "Oh yeah this is awesome, I can't believe I'm in Patagonia. It's a beautiful day and my pack isn't as heavy as I thought. I AM SO EXCITED!!!"
- Of course the first day I'm stoked to be there and I feel like wonder woman, nothing can stop me. I was made to do this.
- During hour 4, I was starting to feel the pack get a bit heavier but since it was a short hike day, it didn't hinder my spirits.
- I pitched my tent then some instant rice and threw some salami inside and called it a day. It was still pretty early and I didn't really know what to do... I hadn't made any friends on the trail yet since I saw about 4 people the entire 4-5 hours I was hiking.
"Let's do this again to head to the next campsite! The weather's amazing so nothing can hold me back."
- The first day was great! Hiked, camped, slept okay, and the sun was shining so I still feeling pretty good for day 2.
- Hour 5... "WTF, when did my bag get so heavy? What's this stinging pain on my left shoulder that running down my left arm? Okay my legs are getting a bit tired, how far away are we? Omg another hour? FUKKKK."
- I was doing pretty good until the latter part of the hike, around hour 5. Everything was starting to hurt and my pack was definitely not as light as I had thought it was yesterday.
- "Whoa this campsite is so beautiful!! I'm hauling ass down this mountain right now."
- Camp Dickson is amazing because it's surrounding by water and mountains with horses roaming the area. I'll add a photo here once everything gets edited, which will hopefully be soon or idk who knows.
- I became friends with a group from the US and Panama so hung out with them during dinner and stayed up chatting. So no Netflix tonight!
- Day 2 was good, towards the end of the hike was a bit painful and sleeping in a tent on the ground didn't feel as great as the first night but it was very manageable.
- "Two days of food have already been eaten so this pack has to be a bit light."
- It wasn't so bad the first hour of so but after that first hour, everything just went downhill
- "Omg why is this bag so heavy??? Do I really need all this food? Humans can survive 7 days without food right? or was that water? How about a tent? Do I really need a tent? I have another 5 days of this? WHY DID I DO THIS TO MYSELF? WHY GOD I ASK WHY"
- Okay, so as you can see day 3 was the worse for me. My bag still had most of my food in it, so it was pretty damn heavy. We hiked the past 2 days so my legs were a bit wobbly and not to mention sleeping on the ground isn't the most conducive to improving one's physical condition.
- "UGHHHHHHH!! AHHHHHH!!"
- The good thing about the back side is that there's really no one around you to hear you scream and curse everyone before you who said this was a good idea. So you better believe that took full advantage of that and potentially scared some birds out of trees... if you get that image.
- My bag was getting a bit ridiculously heavy... I was just not having it this entire day.
- It didn't help that the campsite was filled with mosquitos and was not looking forward to sleeping in a tent AGAIN. And also knowing that I had a 10 - 11 hour day waiting for me. So I went to bed unamused and set my alarm for 5 am.
- The only good thing was that I hung out with the group I met at the last campsite and they were super cool and fun!
- This is the dread "John Gardner's Pass" Day aka the hardest of the park and the highest point to get to, not to mention the longest day because I was skipping the campsite in between, which most people because the campsite sucks.
- "Ugh I am not looking forward to this. And why has my bag NOT gotten any lighter? I've already eaten 3 days worth of food. It's fucking dark and I can't find the trail anywhere... this is going to be a long fucking day."
- I left the campsite around 6:15am and it was still pretty dark out since we were tucked away in the forest. I could not for god find the damn trail. There was another person before me who was also stuck and couldn't find it. I started to head down to try again and rain into a few people from the group who went up the wrong way too. They should really better make this especially since a lot of people leave when it's still dark out.
- "Wtf is going on?? Again I again WHY DID I DO THIS TO MYSELF. Okay once I make it to Grey I can potentially hop on the catamaran and head out of the park tonight. I can totally do that and just skip the rest and come back and do Torres another day."
- he first 6 hours of the day was hiking over the pass along Glacier Grey. Don't get me wrong, it was absolutely beautiful and wasn't as all as hard as everyone made it seem to be. I kept getting warnings about how difficult it was and how windy and hard it was going to be at the top, but I didn't notice it at all. Maybe I was lucky and caught it on a good day. However, I was still dreading the walk and kept counting down the hour until the got to my first stop. I was also counting down the days until it was over and thanking myself for not trying to do this in 8 days or more.
- I took an hour break at the next campsite for lunch and then took off again. I thought we were heading towards the harder part of the trek but I had actually already completed it! I was so shocked at how relatively easy it was... or maybe I just siked myself out so much it just didn't live up to my expectations.
- "Okay this isn't so bad. This is actually getting pretty easy. My legs are like two machines just moving and nothing feeling anything. This isn't so bad after all!"
- The second part of the day, things turned a corner. I didn't know what happened but all of a sudden everything was so easy. My bag wasn't as heavy, my legs were now used to the constant walking, and I just felt like I was made to do this. Seriously 180 degree turn.
- I also lucked out that when it did start raining, or lightly raining, it was about 45 minutes after I had already gotten to the campsite so it didn't bother me at all, except when I was walking outside in my Birks and slipped on the mud... EMBARRASSING lol
- It also helped that instead of sleeping outside tonight, I had a bed in the Refugio (to be fair, it was the only thing open so I didn't have a choice). I was soooo looking forward to not be sleeping on the ground that day.
- I woke up feeling like a million bucks! It was the best sleep I've had in awhile. I guess it also helped I had some wine and rum with the group I was hanging out with. It was their last night so they were celebrating and drinking away but I was only about half way through so I was in bed by 10:30pm, which was pretty late for me and I was so tired.
- I didn't really have many thoughts going through this day because it was such an easy day. I was finally getting used to the routine of hiking 5 - 10 hours a day, then setting up my tent, eating dinner, chit chatting, then going to be around 10pm. It was also a beautiful day and I really didn't have any complaints.
- The only issue I had was that I didn't have reservations for this night because everything was booked out. I just forged a fake reservation to get me through the ranger stations and was just hoping to wing it...
- And it worked! I walked up to the reception and asked if they had any open spots and they originally told me 19,000 CLP, which is about $30 USD, and a ridiculously insane amount for a campsite nor did I have that much money on me.
- They then looked at me again and asked if it was just for me and I said yes and they said I could camp for free. Whoohoo! I gave them 2 snickers bars and was on my way! That was a lot easier than I had expected...
- Frances was another beautiful camp spot with the water and mountains surrounding us.
- "I am so cold!! Sleeping bags are not made for side sleepers. Ugh I'm so uncomfortable!"
- This was the worst sleep I've had the entire time. I think I got about 3.5 hours of actual sleep. I was freezing for one and and I'm also a side sleep and sleeping bags are designed for back sleepers. I was just waiting for the sun to come up so I was get warmer...
- This was my last officially day of moving campsites and trekking with my backpack so I took my time and really tried to enjoy it. I think it took me about 6.5 hours to get to the campsite instead of the listed 5.5 hours.
- I stopped at the beach and tried to skip rocks for a bit, found a nice place to sit for lunch overlooking the valley, and even took a nap on another big flat rock by the water.
- As you can see I just took my sweet time and really enjoyed my last full day of hiking.
- I set up my tent, made dinner then headed to the Refugio to buy come Cola for the rum I had packed. I sat outside under the beautiful sun and read and watched Netflix
- "This is what life's all about. Nature is so damn beautiful. Everything was so peaceful and majestic. I just took it all in."
- I went to be around 8:30pm because I had to get up at 1am to head out for Las Torres at sunrise.
- "Get up Christina. You have to get up! You missed sunrise at Fitz Roy and you can't miss it here. What if I just hike up later? Do I have to get up now? Ugh"
- My thoughts as the alarm on my phone rang 1:15am. It was still pitch black outside as I slowly changed my clothes, thank god it was the last day of wearing them, put my contacts in and brushed my teeth.
- I boiled some water to bring to the top with me and around 2:15am, I was off.
- "Omg this sucks. Why am I doing this? I can't see shit and I haven't eaten anything. I want to go back to sleep."
- 4 hour hike to reach the top... only crazy people did this. The first hour and a half was pretty damn tough. I hadn't fully woken up yet and it was still dark out so I could only see about 3 feet in front of me.
- "Alright these people need to either hike faster or get out of my way."
- Aka I got into a grove and was just tearing it up the mountain. I sped through and just overtook everyone in front of me.
- "OH MY GOD I MADE IT I'M HERE!!"
- Saw the sighting of Las Torres, the pinnacle of Patagonia and I finally made it! The sun was starting to peak it's head behind me and I found a nice spot on a rock and tucked myself into my sleeping bag and just awed in all of mother nature's work. It was absolutely a sight to be seen!
- "It's on fire, it's white, it's red, it's orange, it's everything!"
- Without a doubt, I am so glad I forced myself up the mountain at 2am and caught the sighting of the Torres change colors and reflected against the water as the sun rose.
- "Can I walk any slower? Probably not... But I guess this is the official last hike down in Patagonia so might as well take my time and enjoy it."
- So you bet I was walking at turtle speed coming down the mountain. The last stretch as I saw tons of people heading up took a lot longer than it should've but hey, I can do whatever I want. I've been in the park for 7 days now so I basically own this place.
Final Moments & Thoughts
I had a return shuttle at 2:30pm but I didn't want to wait that long. For heaven sakes I just wanted to shower and get out of these damn clothes. So I did what every veteran backpacker would do, I hitchhiked back from the park to Puerto Natales. I've done it before to shorter distances but it was extremely easy. I got picked up within 15 minutes and a nice Argentinian couple took me right to the city center.
I was the happiest girl once I was clean and in different clothes and finally laid down on a bed. TBH I didn't even care to connect to wifi right away. The 7 days disconnected to the outside world was really nice! There wasn't a moment when I was craving to check social media or my messages. It was a really nice feeling to be removed from everything to just have time for yourself, your thoughts, and truly appreciate being there. I just couldn't believe I had conquered the O circuit by myself. This might not be the hardest thing to some, but it was for me. Pushing myself to hike miles and hours everyday, being responsible for my own being, living out in nature, and being totally engaged in the moment, was one of the best combination of things I could have done on this trip. All the terrified feelings I had leading up to this trek, wondering if I could do it on my own, all flew out the window and I'm so damn proud of myself.