By Marinel De Jesus
When we think about multi-day treks in Latin America, there are a few countries that come to mind. One of them is Chile because of Patagonia, specifically the Torres del Paine National Park. I completed the “O” circuit in Torres del Paine many years ago, and in January of 2020, I was able to complete the circuit again, this time by leading a group of trekkers through my mountain trekking social enterprise, Equity Global Treks.
It’s not easy to get to Torres del Paine National Park. One must fly to Santiago and then take a bus or flight to Punta Arenas from which you still have to take a bus to the town of Puerto Natales. From there, a bus will take you to Torres del Paine National Park where you can choose from a number of trekking options to enjoy the Patagonian landscapes. Our group did the “O” circuit which took us a total of 8 days. Instead of staying in the luxurious huts, we camped every night. To lighten the load in our packs, we opted to purchase and eat our meals at the huts.
Day one is a good time to prepare the body for the challenging terrain ahead.
Glacier fed- lakes and snow-capped peaks make Patagonia a world-class trekking destination.
The starting point for the O circuit can vary. Our itinerary started at the trailhead that leads us to the Seron campsite. We finished our trek in Torre Central where people can do a day hike to see the famous towers. The trek began gently as we walked on flat terrain on the first day which became more challenging as we reached Los Perros campsite. From there, we had to do the most difficult part of the hike - the climb up to Gardner Pass, and then the descent to Refugio Grey. This entails a long day of hiking, and depending on the weather, it can be brutal at times. The first time I hiked up Gardner pass we were stuck in a snowstorm; however, this time we had amazing weather with the sun out and no sign of rain or snow the entire day. Hence, at the pass and on our descent, we indulged in the beautiful view and immensity of Grey Glacier in the Patagonian Ice Field.
Along the way, there are glacier lakes to enjoy.
Making it to Gardner Pass with the view of Grey Glacier.
Once you reach Refugio Grey, the trail becomes easier although in January windy conditions are common. During the rest of the trek, we did encounter some windy conditions that slowed us down as we had to carefully navigate the narrow footpaths on the side of the mountains. Once you get past Refugio Frances, the walk to the end becomes quite more pleasant as the terrain becomes gentle without much elevation to contend with.
Enjoying Grey Glacier on the way down.
From Refugio Frances, the gorgeous peaks come into view.
The “O” circuit is a dream come true for many backpackers. It certainly can be challenging but the good news is hikers can select the level of difficulty for their trek and the park provides hikers with various options with regards to trip length, hiking style, accommodation, meals and guiding options. As an example, to lighten the load, you can book your stays and meals at every hut. That way, you hardly will have to carry anything in your pack except for your change of clothes and personal items. If you wish to carry less than that, you can also hire porters. Local people work as guides and porters in Patagonia so by hiring porters you are supporting the locals in that sense. The treks in Torres del Paine can easily be done without guides. We opted to have guides on our trek which I recommend because the guides can certainly give you insight on the park's history and its flora and fauna. The guiding aspect adds more meaning and substance to the trip as you’re learning while hiking. You can choose as little as one day to hike in the park or you can go beyond 8 days as there are other routes to explore within the Torres del Paine National Park.
For us, the “O”circuit gives the best means of immersing ourselves in the beauty of Patagonia. It’s long enough to really come out of the trek feeling much more appreciative of the region and gaining a genuine sense of why Torres del Paine is rated as a world-class outdoor destination in the first place. A second time around on the “O” circuit only means one thing - that I will be back yet again to do more hikes in Patagonia.