The W trek is THE trek in chilian Patagonia. It’s a mythic trek and now that I did it, I understand why. The landscapes are marvelous and worthwhile. In this article, I’m going to give you all the pieces of information you need and how I lived this famous trek.
Introduction of the W
Which direction to go?
The W trek can be done in several ways according to your wishing and obligations. You can do it from East to West or to West from East. Honestly, there is no “better” way. The landscape is the same (if you are able to turn your head to watch it) and the difficulty is also the same (especially after 4 days walking). What will force you to choose are the reservations of the refugios and the campsite.
This is the most difficult part of the trek and will condition your trek. You have to book months in advance so you can choose the type of accommodation you want. You can have all the possibilities you want: camp with or without the tent and sleeping bag rent, meals included or not (breakfast, lunch and/or dinner), individual room or dormitory, etc. It depends on your budget, the comfort you’re looking for and most of it the availabilities. I really insist on this last point because you have to book in advance to chose or even to have a chance to have accommodation.
To book the accommodation, you have to be patient too. Two companies share the refugio and campsite. Here is a map where you can the separation:
The company Vertice takes care of the refugio and campsite Grey, refugio and campsite Paine Grande, campsite Italiano, and the campsite Britanico.
The company Fantasticosur manages the refugio and campsite Cuernos, the Refugio and campsite Chileno and the 2 refugios and campsite in Las Torres
Each company has its own website to book the accommodation. So, take a calendar, a map your patience and book it.
By the way, don’t forget to bring with you during the trek your passport and PDI (the ticket they give you at the Chilean border). You will need it each time with the booking proof. If you don’t have, you’ll have to pay 19% more.
If when you arrive in Puerto Natales, you still have questions/concerns about the W trek (like me), there is a free information meeting at the Erratic Base Camp (in the Puerto Natales city center) every day at 3 pm. It lasts 1h30 and is organized by persons who did the treks (W and O) several times. They will answer all your questions and give you all the pieces of information you need for the trek.
If you’re not in Puerto Natales, here are my pieces of advice I can give you to prepare the W trek:
- Bring clothes for every weather: rain, strong wind, warm and cold. The weather in the mountain can quickly change and is mostly unpredictable. I advise you to have clothes you can use for different weathers. A famous phrase says: “during one day, you can have the 4 seasons in the Torres del Paine”. Bring hiking clothes, especially for the wind (a wind jacket), for the hot and cold temperature (technical clothes). For the rain, there’s nothing to do. If it’s raining for a long time, you’re going to be wet even with a waterproof jacket. If it’s raining for a few minutes, you’re going to sweat and so, you’re going to be wet. To sum up, if it’s raining, keep walking and pray the rain won’t last all day.
To finish with the clothes recommendations, choose and take 2 outfits: one for hiking during the day (this one may be wet if it’s raining and will stink after 2 days) and one outfit for the evening when you’re at the camp or Refugio. After walking all day (with or without rain) you will appreciate wearing clean clothes. The day after, when you walk, it doesn’t matter if your clothes still stink or are wet (even if it’s really uncomfortable I agree).
The best way to protect your belongings from the rain and the wind during the trek is to use plastic bags. Let me explain why: the noise of your rain protection is really annoying if the wind blows for hours (if it doesn’t fly away). The other solution is to put your belongings (especially all your electronic devices and clothes) in plastics bags. Then, you put them in your backpack. Thus, you can walk quietly (and you have more chance to see animals) and if it’s raining, your belongings are still dry.
walking sticks or not? My answer is simple: yes, if you’re used to walking with them! Personally, I don’t use walking sticks and yet I finished the W trek. But, if you’re used to them, take it with you they might be useful!
Take a “big” backpack and a “small” backpack: Some days, it will be possible to leave your big backpack in a campsite or a Refugio, hike for hours or even all day, and take it back later. In particular at Refugio Las Torres to go up to Torres, at the campsite Italiano to hike to the Valle Francès and at the Refugio Paine Grande to hike until the Gray glacier. To do this, I advise you to have a small bag and take just what you need (water, food, etc.).
To arrive and to leave
From Puerto Natales there are 2 buses per day, one the morning à 7h30 and one the afternoon at 14h30. The round ticket costs 15 000$CL/pers.
If you start the trek at Refugio Paine Grande, you have to get down at the second stop (Pudeto) and take the catamaran (21 000$CL/pers) until the Refugio Paine Grande.
If you start at Refugio Las Torres, you have to get down at the first stop (Laguna Amarga) then take the shuttle (3 000$CL) until the Refugio Las Torres.
Once you finished the W trek, you just have to take the same transport according to where you are (catamaran or shuttle and then the bus).
The catamaran and the shuttle schedules are linked to the bus schedule. This means, if one of them is delayed, the other transport waits for you.
The W trek
Now that you know everything about the preparation, let’s talk about the most interesting and important part: how was my trek? I tell you everything below this picture. But first, you can see what and how long I walked each day on this picture:
Day 1: Mirador Las Torres
Start: Refugio Las Torres
Arrival: Refugio Las Torres
Estimated time: 8h (Roundtrip)
Real Time: 6h (Roundtrip)
Height difference: ± 800m
The first day of the W trek, we start with the Mirador Las Torres. The start is at the Refugio Las Torres. So, we begin to walk around 8 am, with the rain and the covered sky. According to the weather forecast, the wind will blow around 12 am and will clear the sky. Thus, we have a chance to see Las Torres when we’ll arrive.
The beginning of the hike is more or less flat and in a valley. Then, after 20-30min, we start to go up sometimes in the forest, sometimes exposed to the wind and the sun. The climb is a bit steep and steady until the Las Torres campsite. From there, it gets harder. We see a sign which warns us, there are 45min left. The path goes very steep while and we have to step over rocks. This 45min is long and painful but we reach the top after 3h of walk instead of 4h. Yet, it’s 11 am and the view is blocked because of the clouds. We can’t see Las Torres at all. The wind is rising (as scheduled) and so we decide to wait and hope. After waiting for 1h30 in the wind, we finally see them! The 3 pics, the Torres del Paine symbol: Las Torres! We are frozen so we hurry up to take pictures and we start going back to warm us up. The return is long and boring. We already know the landscape and especially and the distance left until the refugio Las Torres. After walking 3h, we arrive at the refugio.
All in all, we walked 6h instead of 8h. It’s the first day, so we are fit but we are still proud and happy to begin this mythic trek.
Day 2: Los Torres – Los Cuernos
Start: Refugio Las Torres
Arrival: Refugio Los Cuernos
Estimated time: 4,5h
Real Time: 3h45
Height difference: ± 180m
Today is a small day. We have only 4,5h of walking schedule. We leave late the Refugio, around 8h30 am but with our big backpacks this time. We leave the Refugio by the same path as yesterday for the Las Torres. Except for this time, instead of start climbing, we don’t turn on the left and stay on the flat path. We walk along the lake and stop to enjoy the landscape and rest a bit (especially our back and shoulders in fact). The hike is not difficult but walking with the backpack add a challenge to it. After walking 3h45, we arrive at Los Cuernos. It’s nearly 1 am when we eat our lunch at the Refugio. We enjoy the landscape and rest all afternoon. Indeed, tomorrow will be the hardest day of the trek: 11h walking scheduled!
Day 3: Los Cuernos – Valle Francès – Paine Grande
Start: Refugio Los Cuernos
Arrival: Refugio Paine Grande
Estimated time: 11h
Real Time: 8h
Height difference: ± 800m
It’s definitely the hardest day of the trek. We plan to walk 11h with +/- 800m of height difference and the backpack during the half of the hike. So we leave as soon as possible, which means around 7h30 am. The first step of the day is to reach the campsite Italiano. It’s the entrance of the Valle Francès but also where we drop our backpack before climbing to the valley. The climb is in the forest, along the river. We cross a glade where we can see the damage of a huge fire, years ago. The walk is long but 2h after we left campsite Italiano, we arrive at the Mirador Britanico, at the valley bottom. We have a nice view of the mountain chain which closes the valley and huge stones where we can sit, rest and eat our lunch. We even take a nap there. We leave the place around 1 pm to go to Italiano and take our backpack back. It takes us 2h to reach the campsite. After a quick rest, we take our backpack and start walking until our arrival, the Refugio Paine Grande. From this moment, it gets hard. The wind blows and we are tired because of the 2 lasts days and the distance we already walked today. The hike is long. After 2 more hours, we finally arrive at Paine Grande and fortunately because it starts raining. In total, we walk 8h (instead of 11h scheduled).
Day 4: Glacier Grey
Start: Refugio Paine Grande
Arrival: Refugio Paine Grande
Estimated time: 7h
Real Time: 5h
Height difference: ± 200m
For the day of the trek, the awakening is rude. I have muscle soreness at my legs and my shoulders, but we prepare our small backpack for the Grey glacier. Other hikers warned us, there are few heights difference (± 200m) but we will go up and down all along the hike. So, we don’t hope an easy walk anymore, but we still go to the glacier. Indeed, we go up and down all the time and until the Refugio Grey. The hike is long and with the fatigue accumulation of the lasts days, we look forward to reach the glacier. The path is between the lake and the river. We can enjoy the view, but we are also exposed to the wind. We reach the mirador after walking for 2h45, under the rain and the wind. We rest at the glacier few minutes, but we leave quickly as we get cold with the wind. We eat our lunch at the Refugio Grey (at 500m from the Mirador). We leave quickly because we want to catch the catamaran at 5 pm and we plan 3h to go back to the refugio Paine Grande. Finally, we are so in a hurry to arrive mostly because of the wind and the rain, we arrive after 2h15. All in all, we walked 5h.
We are exhausted but so proud and happy to finished the famous W trek.
So, the W trek, hard or not?
The trek in 4 days in achievable if you’re used to hiking, even a little (in average we walk 15-20km/day with height difference) and the necessary equipment. Proper hiking shoes are mandatory and technical clothes too (cotton is your enemy). Another important point to take into account is how you sleep and eat. If you chose to sleep in the refuges with the meals included, the trek is easier than if you chose to camp with your own meals. Indeed, you will sleep and eat more or less but your backpack will be more or less heavy according to your choice!
If it’s your first trek, I advise you to limit as much as possible your backpack weight (eat in the refuges, rent the tents in the campsites, etc.) and especially to test all your equipment before the trek (shoes, backpacks, etc.).
The W trek in 1 day
If you run of time, or if you couldn’t book the accommodations, it’s still possible to do some pieces of the W trek in 1 day. You just have to leave and come back to Puerto Natales in taking the bus in the morning (7.30am) and the last bus at Torres del Paine (7 pm).
For the 1 day hike, you have 2 choices: Las Torres (my day 1) and the Grey Glacier (my day 4). The round is easily achievable in one day, even if you enjoy the landscape and rest for Las Torres and the Grey Glacier. Personally, I liked both sites and I won’t recommend you one in particular. The two sites are really different and beautiful. However, I recommend you to check the weather forecast. Even if the weather changes quickly, you can see the tendency and know if you will able to see what you’re looking for.
I hope you have now all the information you need to do the W trek. Did you do the w trek? What other advice would you give?