Day 2 W Trek Recap: 13 km (8 miles) from Refugio Torres Central to Refugio Los Cuernos
Day 2 was my favorite day of the W Trek mainly because I woke up energized and ready to tackle the day. Part of this exuberance stemmed from these electrolytes that were laced with caffeine but who cares, I’ll take it! My muscles were sore and stretching them the night before and the morning of really helped. Breakfast at the refugio was nice but very basic (eggs, ham, cheese, cereal, bread and yogurt). We started our hike at 9:30 am and had to retrace some of the trail we took yesterday before it splits off to Los Cuernos vs. Mirador de Torres del Paine. After about a half hour, we reached ‘new trail’ and off we went.
We had another brilliant day of warmer weather, sun, and no wind. The hike was not super easy but definitely easier compared to the day before. There were a couple of intense steep uphills for 20 minutes but overall this trail was a gradual ascent and descent throughout. After about an hour after we started, we came to this gorgeous view. I love how these two lakes are completely different tones of blue.
We hiked alongside Lake Nordenskjold for most of the trail and it was a brilliant, clear aquamarine. I remember thinking how beautiful this part of the trail was and I couldn’t imagine seeing anything more beautiful. Pictures don’t really do the views justice, everything is magnified in person.
Even the guides remarked how still the weather was. Generally due to the winds, you’d see ripples and waves on the lake, not a perfect reflection. In the two years one of our guides has been doing this trek, he said he’s only seen it like this a handful of times, when the weather was gorgeously calm.
This is the main reason why I would never do the W Trek again. I can’t imagine my experience being better than what it was with the incredible weather we had. Although I braced myself for wind and rain, we luckily only experience one day of it.
Our initial plan was to hike all the way to Domo Frances, which would’ve been another two hour hike after Los Cuernos and this section of the trail is steep. However, when we arrived at Refugio Los Cuernos for a break, our guides checked with the lodge and they had space to take us! Apparently a lot of tour companies may block off rooms but I guess there was a cancelation. The lodge allowed us to switch (although Domo Frances and Los Cuernos are operated by two different companies, I guess they work together somehow and allowed it to happen). I was relieved as Domo Frances has pretty crap reviews, even though it’s one of the newer ones. Thus we ended up finishing the day early before 4 pm and just hung out and relaxed around the lodge. You can even hear the avalanches from the French Valley here (I heard a couple in late afternoon!).
Day 3 W Trek Recap: 17 km (10.5 miles) from Refugio Los Cuernos to the French Valley to Refugio Paine Grande
This day was TOUGH and might have been even worst than the first day as it felt much longer than the 8 hours it took. We left at 8:30 am and finished at 4:30 pm. I woke up super early at 5:30 am as I wanted to see the sunrise hit the mountains and exude the sky with red. However I just missed the golden hour and only caught remnants of it (I should have skipped brushing my teeth and headed out then!). The other days were cloudy in the morning so there was no other chance.
From Refugio Los Cuernos, we hiked a very pebbly path to the beach by the lake. At the end of this was the start of an uphill climb towards Domo Frances and Refugio Italiano. We got to use decent bathroom facilities near the campsite of Domo Frances (we never saw Domo Frances as you need to go down a different pathway) and then continued on to Italiano Campsite to start the roundtrip hike up to the French Valley to see glaciers and listen to avalanches.
The hiking along this portion of the trail seemed rockier and it was definitely steep but not as steep as the very first day. Once in a while I would look up to see the views behind us but for the most part it was just go go go.
We reached the Italiano Campsite (no refugio here, just tent camping) at about 10 am and dropped off our large hiking backpacks (everyone does this but don’t leave anything important just in case!) and switched to carrying just a daypack to the French Valley. It took about two hours to get up to the overlook and we had our lunch up there while admiring the view and listening to the crumble of avalanches. This picture below doesn’t capture all of it—it’s much wider and grander in scope. We stayed up here for about 45 minutes before heading back down to pick up our bags and continuing on to Refugio Paine Grande.
After getting back to the Italiano Campsite, we headed westwards towards Paine Grande and it started to get really hot and sunny. It didn’t help that there was zero shade. In Dec. 2011 an Israeli backpacker set this forest on fire by accident and it burned for two months, destroying wildlife and a lot of this area of the park. He has since been banned from the country but the damage is brutal. Due to the damages, there are quite a few boardwalks around here instead of trails. By this point I was really tired and had to start singing songs to myself to get through the hike and make the time go by quicker. In total it took us about 2.5 hours to get from Italiano to Paine Grande but it felt way longer than that. During the last 40 minutes, the bottoms of my feet began to feel like they were burning, which I’ve never felt before when hiking.
This view below of Los Cuernos though was the highlight of my day. I’ve seen a bunch of glaciers already (New Zealand, Alaska, Iceland) and so to me, the terrain of mountains, lakes and valleys are more appealing to me. I remember sitting here and staring at this and it looked so unreal even though it was right in front of me.
As we moved closer to Paine Grande, the wind REALLY picked up and apparently this area of the park is the windiest. We were so hot and sweaty though that the gusty winds helped invigorate us to get to the end. I remember feeling a small ounce of joy once the refugio came into view from afar. As I mentioned in my Refugio post, this was my favorite place to stay because I loved the scenery around it. It was a great relief to kick off our shoes and enjoy the warm windy evening outside by the lake and watch the sunset.
Skipping stones and chatting with everyone else from our tour group here was my favorite evening of the trip.