Day 1 of the W Trek: 22 km (13.5 miles) Round Trip to the Blue Towers from Refugio Torres Central
On Friday, Nov. 9, we were picked up by our private transfer van at 6:30 am and driven up to Refugio Torres Central, which is by the northern entrance of Torres del Paine National Park. We arrived within two hours and saw some ucos (llamas) along the way, grazing the grass before the park entrance. After dropping off our backpacks for storage and only carrying our daypacks and trekking poles, we started off for the long hike at 9:05 am.
The weather forecast predicted by Mountain Forecast was pretty reliable. I checked the forecast every day until we arrived in Puerto Natales and it called for a calm, sunny weekend with temperatures ranging from the 40s to high 50s. To have NO wind is pretty incredible as this area is know for its forceful winds. In fact, when we stopped to take pictures of the valley early on during the hike below, our guides mentioned it’s usually too windy to stop here for pictures.
Our hike started off flat before ascending up through a gravelly trail. The halfway point of the one way route to the towers was at Refugio Chileno and we stopped there after a couple of hours of trekking for a snack and to fill our water bottles.
After passing through some valleys and the refugio, we came upon the forest, which was the easiest hike of the trail and a much needed ‘break’ as this part was mostly flat. Along the way we crossed a few suspension bridges and filled our water bottles at the glacier streams.
I was really hesitant to consider drinking from the streams but honestly it was the best water I’ve ever had in my life! No one got sick from drinking the water straight. The water is so clear. I initially bought sanitization tablets but didn’t end up bringing them anyway. I really miss drinking this water. My water bottle did have a carbon filter on it but that’s about it. There aren’t really any animals in the wild here except for pumas (which we never saw) and hares and smaller wildlife.
We reached the base of the towers at noon and from there, it was about an hour hike through a rocky path to the top. This was the hardest trail of the trip, especially after you’re already walking for hours! My trekking poles really helped me get up there. It was exhausting but not impossible to get up there. I hadn’t really eaten much of a breakfast which was a poor decision on my part as well. You will be burning tons of calories on this hike! I got an Apple Watch for this trip and based on my height (I’m 5’2”) and weight (not telling!) I burned about 2000 active calories on this hike and over 1500 resting calories. So not eating much in the morning really hurt me since I was so tired from lack of food.
The views up here were picture perfect though and the first thing I did when I got up here was whip out our packed lunch and eat everything! The trail was busy but not overwhelmingly crowded. Although to our guides, they found it to be too busy but I’m a New Yorker and didn’t find it to be that bothersome. I would say about 75-100 other people were up here when we there. Everyone was spread out so getting pictures without people in it wasn’t a challenge. The sky cleared up and no wind made it even more magical as that’s the only way you’ll also see reflections in the water (as seen above at the top!).
We stayed up here for about an hour before heading back down. Going back down was tough as your limbs are already tired and everyone is heading down around the same time too. However, I didn’t think it was that bad in terms of a crowd (compared to how it is at the popular upstate NY hikes!). Obviously starting earliest in the day is better to beat the rush. In addition, if you don’t get to the base of the towers by 4 pm, they won’t allow you to continue up for safety reasons (the sun goes down in November after 8:30 pm).
We left round 2 pm and passed through the same way we came, with a brief stop at Refugio Chileno again. All trash you bring into the park you’re expected to carry out (or throw it away in the bathrooms at the refugios!).
We finished the hike at 5:45 pm. I remember as we headed back down that I must have blacked out during parts of the ascension up as I did not remember some of the areas we passed through! It was the longest hike I’ve done so far in one day. While I love the outdoors, I’m a city girl at heart and although I worked out and ‘prepared’ for this trip all year long, I still found it difficult (but not impossible).
The views of the turquoise lakes all around were beautiful and after we got back to the refugio, we did a LOT of stretching for our tired muscles. Overall it was a beautiful day and a beautiful hike. My friends will find it impossible to believe but I think this was my favorite HIKE of the trip (but not my favorite day since I was hangry half the time, but that was totally my fault!).