Trek O is a loop in the Chilean National Park – Los Torres del Paine (The Towers of Pain). This trek is very famous and it is often referred to as the most beautiful trek in South America. It is usually run in 8 days with strict supervision of the stages. It should be noted that the Trek W which only covers the southern part, is done over 4 days.
The text below is a description of the Trek O path in the manner of the travelogues of explorers such as the famous Ernest Shackleton and his team. In addition to the journey, this text tells the story of beautiful encounters. This text was written every evening, at the stage in tent for me (nb: it was then reviewed for corrections of typos and simplification, thank you Lise).
It is up to you, dear and dear reader, to imagine this path and these encounters, you will discover the version in pictures in a few days.
Trek O, D1 – From Central Camp To Seron
From Puerto Natales, a bus takes us in two hours to CONAF – Torres Del Paine National Park. The Patagonian pampas are both captivating and monotonous, grass and small trees, fences, sheep and a few cattle all with low density. The Amargon Lagon marks the arrival at the park, pink flamingos surprise in this place. The park’s famous towers that give it its name are prominently displayed. We continue to the Welcome center.
Seron is the objective of this first day of walking. It is very mild, I would say 18-20°, the sun (in the north, sic) is there from time to time. There is no wind. The route is oriented due north. The path goes up and allows you to have a view from the balcony on the Amargo Lagoon then quite quickly on the Azul lagoon which bears its name today (azul=blue).
The Rio Paine is at the very bottom. On the other side of the valley, the hills are to the south and are therefore with very poor vegetation, to the north the forest is very dense and beautiful. To the west, the mountains are streaked with snow corridors, no skiers in sight (joke).
I never get tired of this balcony view. The lunch bag is more international than Chilean. My mindfulness meditation ends in a nap on a very comfortable sedom bed. He won’t remember my passage, it’s so dense (I would like the one in my bike garage to be as thick and flowery).
The descent near the torrent changes the landscape which becomes that of a wet meadow punctuated with thorny one or two meters. Surprisingly, dandelions litter the meadow. The songs of birds have changed between the heights (about 300m.) and the valley, they are much more dense and varied at the bottom.
What had to happen happens, suddenly, around 2:00 p.m., beautiful gusts of wind sweep the valley, the temperature drops by at least 10° in a few minutes, Seron Camp is 2 km away, I go.
Trek O, D2 – From Seron to Dickson
After a good night’s sleep, it’s sweet to get back on the road. The Rio Paine valley is active, the birds are having a great time. The weather is a little chilly, no wind or rain, clouds on the heights.
The path is oriented NON (North-West-North), it goes up to a balcony which offers beautiful views of the meanders of the Rio Paine and the peaks to the east. Some waterfalls are heard, it is an opportunity to wet the shoes. The vegetation often varies depending on the yoyo of the path. There are emaciated trees there, covered with moss and which seem to be suffering, and further on, very perennial shrubs. The path turns 90°, WSW orientation, and reveals the superb Lac Paine. Shrubs bearing very bright red flowers line its edges WOW, what a sight!
Later I will come to know that these red shrubs are Embothrium coccineum endemic to Patagonia.
The path meanders in a balcony with small climbs and descents. The valley has widened, wet meadows border the lake and groves have settled on the foothills to the west. The CONAF maisonette is supposed to control the compulsory permits at several points of the loop but there is no one there. CONAF has installed descriptions of some trees with the name in several languages including Latin, great. You will discover them on video.
A huge glacier appears in the distance, the clouds are horrifying because they hide it and uncover it constantly at full speed. It is either in a thick mist or so bright that it becomes all white without contrast. Information taken at the Dickson camp, these are the Dickson (1750m) and Cubo (2240m) glaciers further north. Perhaps we also saw the famous glaciers of the Park Nacional Los Glaciares which is Argentina and which I will tell you about in a future episode. On the south side, towers look like the Torres des Paine, the shape and color of the rock are similar, these are the Escudo towers.
Lake Dickson appears after a last short steep climb. The view is great and Camp Dickson looks great. The climatic conditions alternated almost equally between sun, cloudy weather, light showers, what gusts of wind. They reminded me that I was in Patagonia.
At no time during the day did I worry about the distance traveled, the time spent or a potential arrival time. This will be a constant in the rest of the trek.
Trek O, D3 – Dickson to Los Perros
The night was mild, cool and punctuated by strong gusts of wind for at least an hour. The birds ensure a singing alarm clock although a bit familiar, a bird that looks like a robin comes to make a long parade 1 meter from my tent.
The first kilometers of this third day are incredible in terms of diversity of vegetation. Stunted shrubs alternate with straight and perennial trees of about ten meters. Their density leaves little light for vegetation near the ground. And then follows a forest of small, suffering trees. A very beautiful peat bog has formed in a small lake, it is ocher in color, it looks like laterite (with a little imagination).
CONAF had the good idea to inform about wildlife. It is of course quite rare on the path which is, in this season, daily taken by about 60-80 people who have obtained the permit to enter the park. In the absence of fauna, two saddled horses pass at a brisk pace, they are followed by a park warden who leads them to the Los Perros camp with equipment.
We then enter a beautiful forest of trees of about thirty meters which benefit from the exposure to the North. The path approaches the Rio Los Perros which is pumped up. The path passes from one bank to the other of this valley which rises in altitude and narrows. The back of the Los Torres can be seen depending on the vegetation.
At a detour, the Las Perros glacier appears, it is very impressive. It changes appearance very strongly depending on the lighting. Its blue ice, the densest, only appears clearly with a veil of cloud, which requires patience, which I do not lack.
The arrival at the Los Perros pass is superb, the glacier falls into the Los Perros lake which is milky for the best effect (I will enlighten you a little later on this milky aspect). The environment has become very mineral. The wind is blowing hard at the pass. Camp Los Perros is minutes away.
Along the way, I made friends with Shu Huei Chen Barrios and Juan Carlos, a young couple of Chilean physiotherapists. Seeing that Shu is carrying a very (too heavy) bag, she and I conclude a deal: I carry her a few kilos of luggage and she will offer me a tea in exchange (it seems to me that she is very winning).
Trek O, J4 – From Dickson to Gray
The path starts on a fairly steep slope strewn with tree trunks in all directions. The branches are slippery and the holes filled with water, making your way through them with a headlamp (departure at 5:30 am) is, shall we say, “special”. Gradually daylight illuminates the path and makes it more pleasant.
The day breaks at the exit of the grove, the conjunction of light and a horizon radically changes the atmosphere. Of course the wind is now felt in gusts. The shrubs have replaced the trees and the ground and level, strewn, here and there, with patches of sedom.
The pass, the summit of the day, is due west and largely covered with snowfields which I don’t really like (the snowfields) (see the video on the Grande Traversée des Alpes). The environment is becoming more and more mineral and provides high mountain sensations (say equivalent to 2500-3000 m. in the Alps), this is Patagonia! The snowfields must be crossed with care. I am the first to pass this morning and I am trying to make a good mark, Hélène B. may be proud of her precious lessons. I left so early that I am alone in the mountain, I see another hiker in the distance but at least 20 minutes walk behind me.
For the arrival at the summit, I apply Vincent Munier’s approach, namely arriving at the pass or at the summit with infinite precautions not to disturb any animal, and why not a Puma? Poles put away, on tiptoe I cross the pass and in the absence of fauna, I discover the famous Gray Glacier which “impress me”. It is huge, it goes back very far to the North, more than 100 kms.
The gusts of wind are erratic, during a lull, I decide to add a layer of clothing in anticipation of the descent. I take off my Gore-Tex jacket and find myself with only one light layer. Suddenly a huge gust, I’d say 70-90 km/h and 2-3 degrees, sweeps over the pass, I’m petrified and freezing the time to put on my down jacket and my jacket. I’m upset that I was taken in like this and of course I’m cold and it will take me a while to warm up.
I approach the glacier on what constitutes a kind of natural watchtower. In the cold, I have to wait for another hiker for a series of photos and videos that will give an idea of the size of the place. Whew, a hiker from Malaysia, I have my role model and also a photographer for more grand views than selfies.
The glacier slopes gently over more than 40kms at about 10 centimeters per day, in fact it is in the southern continuity of the Argentina Glacier Park. He is completely active because he calves (yes, that’s the right term) regularly in Gray Lake. This is the case under my patient eyes, I hear a detonation, it is too late, the block has tipped over and turned into an iceberg, I only capture the eddy.
Its contemplation leaves speechless as it is chaotic. The path continues on a balcony in a forest where the wind is kept away by the tallest trees, what a calm.
The points of view are numerous and each time different facets of the ice appear. The light is changing depending on the clouds. From a distance, it seems that some seracs are covered with water transformed into ice. The shades of blue are endless and subtle.
At one of the watchtowers, a group of 4 Chileans joined me. They thought they were the first and are surprised to see me there preparing a video shoot. Incredulous, they think I come from below. Time-stamped photos in support and precise indications of my place of departure, the father and the son get used to the idea that I am indeed the first. Remember this father and his son, it’s a very beautiful story that starts.
The descent to Camp Gray is long and steep, with each bend new viewpoints. These watchtowers are very popular with father and son. Little by little, the 3 of us take photos and videos together and more or less of each other. A special watchtower is located just at the level of the last cliff of the glacier, it is 5 km wide which is immense.
We are now walking in 3 which is more reassuring when a gust arrives without warning in a vertiginous balcony path. The final point of arrival are the intense blue icebergs that have taken their freedom and are sailing on the lake. The passage of a small tourist boat with about ten places allows us to measure its gigantism.
Trek O – D5 – Gray to Paine Grande
The stage is indicated as the shortest of the tour, breakfast drags on in conversations with Ben and Gillian, a young Irish-British couple. The path climbs again in a balcony with beautiful views of the glacier which is now behind us. Icebergs that have calved are deep blue.
The rock is very red, its appearance looks like sandstone but allow me not to be more precise. The vegetation burned a few years ago due, it is said, to a hiker who wanted to burn his toilet paper without worrying about polluting the environment. It missed ! The vegetation did not recover from it for several kilometres, the trees were either burned, or lying down, or of an intense white which is very graphic. Many watchtowers are marked and invite you to take a break.
I had a moment of vagueness in my soul: groups of noisy, compact and rough hikers go to the spot that is the Grek glacier. It was just a bad time to pass, calm returned and positive thoughts chased away this temporary annoyance.
It should also be noted that Father – Son passed by, stopped and that we shared our comments on the paths as well as some food. Father is called Gregory Gabriel and Son is called Gregory Ignacio, remember these names well. The blocks of red rock have widened, the landscape has a lunar side. Ponds have settled, they would please Pascal R. who pays homage to them with beautiful sung texts. These ponds offer beautiful reflections that call for shots.
From slow walks to contemplative breaks, the day passes in great tranquility, especially since the god Aeolus seems to be on a break today. The path branches off to the east and leaves Gray Lake calm. It descends into a deep valley that leads to Pehoé Lake and the aptly named Paine Grande Camp.
This is a beautiful day that started badly and which has been pleasantly transformed.
Trek O, D6 – From Paine Grande to Frances with Mirador Británico
The stage is quite long, the start is early. The sun is in its place, the wind has not invited itself and the air is fresh. The path runs along Lake Pehoé for a while, which is oily. The landscape of the day before continues, large red rocks, shrubs in red flower, a path that winds down small slopes. The path runs along the Scottsberg lagoon and offers very beautiful views.
The walk is easy to Camp Italians. The CONAF offers here to drop off backpacks for a climb to the Mirador Britànico. There are already about thirty bags of piled up.
I find there Gregory Ignacio and his father Gregory Gabriel. It is the third day that we are talking on the way to the many watchtowers and we have agreed to hike together today. We enter a valley due north, it is dug by the powerful river Frances (France). The path is marked out but the steps are sometimes high and delicate.
The Frances glacier appears quickly, on the west face, it is formed of strata of ice clinging to the steep walls, small avalanches are triggered and make it both alive and disturbing. On the slope where we are, the small shrubs give way to a more majestic forest, we are on a plateau that will lead us to the Britànico viewpoint. There are fewer hikers, the majority have stopped at the Mirador Frances.
I’m slower than my friends who left their heavy backpacks downstairs. We enter a circus in the middle of the park, it looks like Gavarny or even the Annapurna sanctuary but with a little more imagination. The emblematic towers of the park dominate with majesty, in addition to their shapes they are distinguished by their light color.
I have the great honor to be the guardian of the siesta of my two friends; installed that we are on a rocky outcrop, I request silence to all those who come to take pictures and it works great. This will earn me some recognition.
Like kids, with Gregory Gabriel, we struggle on the descent. At a break, I discover that Gregory is from the famous Mapuche ethnic group. It is the most numerous ethnic group of the first peoples of Chile. The Mapuche held firm, their culture is very much alive and their community fiercely defends its rights. It is moving to discuss with Gabriel about his parents and ancestors (I will come back to this during a longer interview, patience). The Chileans have a lot of humor, in the descent we have fun with a Chilean guide who can no longer stand his group of walkers who stop every 50 meters.
My two Chilean friends find their bags and their sandwiches that we share, they had made fun of me because I was going up with my bag but had been delighted to find food, water, down jacket, … The arrival at the camp nestled in the trees is fast.
The farewell party is very happy and packed, it even seems that my tent has moved in my absence. What a beautiful day, which combines two kifs: mountains and long conversations with Chileans!
Trek O, D7 – From Camp Frances to Camp Central
Most of the path runs along the north of Lake Nordenskjöld which stretches for more than 20km in the ENE direction. The path passes in the middle of the Cuernos camp. It is on a balcony and meanders between the edge of the lake and a few heights, it will surprise you but the landscape is a bit monotonous which opens up more room for inner thoughts.
The lake has become milky and, for some reason, no reflections appear anymore, it is like frozen, it seems very artificial. Later, I had the explanation of this phenomenon which is called Lèche Glacaria (Lèche=milk). These are very fine sediments that are suspended in the water and give it its color and prevent reflections. The water is drinkable, I taste it with pleasure. A good nap in the sun is very pleasant, it is almost too hot, the sun is beating down.
Arriving almost at the end of Lake Nordenskjöld, the path branches off towards a small lake and a wetland. I observe a huge rabbit (it was introduced by the Europeans and has very bad press) and terns attacking me to defend their brood, my sticks allow me to keep them at bay. To clarify, in Svalbard I had been attacked by arctic terns which had largely bloodied my skull, I became cautious.
The path leads to the central camp, the circle is complete.
Trek O, D8 – Las Torres Mirador
For this last day, the path leads to the viewpoint on the towers which are perched in the center of the park. The path backtracks for a few kilometers before turning due north. It follows the powerful torrent Torres which descends the mountain.
I am surprised on the way by the two Chilean friends who accompanied Gregory Gabriel and Gregory Ignacio, they come back from the watchtower and are inexhaustible on the beauty of the sunrise over the towers. After a very arid passage, the bottom of the valley is wooded and walking is pleasant.
Around a bend, I discover that the park agents are just closing the only trail. They don’t give any details. I negotiate with them, take photos and videos of the construction site. For some unclear reason they invite me to pass on the condition that I am back to the point where we are in less than 4 hours. I’m off without asking for my rest. This is a little challenge that I enjoy a lot.
The slope becomes more and more steep as you approach the towers and the end of the path requires you to put a few hands on it. The towers are really in majesty topped with clouds. The decor is of course exclusively mineral, the wind is present but not gusty.
These are some very beautiful long climbing routes that would make Fred B. and Henri B. happy, it does not seem to me that they are equipped. In such a place, I make a small conclusion of the trek that you will discover in the video.
The descent is fast and very pleasant with a 5 liter mini bag. I am early for the meeting, the park agents offer me a coffee, we have a good chat about their work in the park, the seasons, the behavior of the tourist groups and exchange our Whatsapp.
The return to base camp is slower, I try to capture the maximum of sensations, it’s the end and the bus is late in the evening. Coming out of the shower, I meet Gabriel Ignacio, he and his father have just arrived from the previous stage, for the sake of reservations they had stayed there 24 hours. We all three have time and we chat quietly. Gregory tells me about his marriage to a young woman of Spanish origin (Lopez) and not Mapuche. of what and I understand it sounds like a mixed marriage as we call them. Gregory tells me he participates in Mapuche gatherings in northern Chile. We talk more about the Mapuche movement but I will not write more about it on this public blog.
NB: I have decided not to publish the table of distances, altitudes, D+, duration of the walks, … The reason is simple, these metrics would only make sense with a very detailed description of the weather conditions which are extremely variables. The main data that seem invariant to me are the distance traveled which is 141 km and the D+ of 6038 meters.
As a reminder, the video is available by following this link: https://youtu.be/ccp2ESa3bLQ
or directly here (switch to full screen mode):