Location: 45 km south of Punta Arenas, Chile
Length: ~70-80 km (bus or thumb)
Duration: 4-5 days
Special Requirements: Take a tides chart for timing your crossings of the last two rivers
Potable water: Yes, but watch tides, as rivers back up with saltwater during high-tide
Camping: Plenty of sites along the Trail, though some are kind of dirty with human trash and waste
Trail Etiquette #2: When you are adventuring through the Naturaleza, please be sure to pack out your own trash! I know burning it in the fire might get rid of it too, but plastics and cans are a poor choice to burn, as they release truly toxic chemicals into the environment. Remember to pack out, what you pack in, and leave it better than you found it!
There are two frequently used ways to get to the start of the hike.
Backstory & Reasons For Going
Waiting in the hostel for my job in Torres Del Paine to start, I met a group of young travellers at the “Independencia”. They wanted to do a hike known as Cabo Froward. A 5 day trek around the southernmost mountains of the South American continent. My ears perked up. Interested, and restless, I was itching to go on another adventure. In the end, the three attractive females and only one guy odds sent me on the reckless journey, leading to the delay of me starting my volunteer work in the park. I finally committed to the group the night before the trek, as I still holding out for an email from the my new boss--no such luck! So I headed back the wilderness--well worth it!
The views of the Magellan's with glaciers lying top island mountain chains across the ocean and inspiring a desire for further exploration. While the incredible stony beaches fading from clarity at the fart point of its many bays and beaches seemed infinite. Whale tail’s and many dolphin fins became happy distractions. I really enjoyed the fallen trees blocking parts of the path and coastline, and the spine-like layers of rock jutting from the from the ocean with spaces to jump, crawl, and bound between really brought out my inner parkour. Two of the three river crossings provided a touch of cold excitement and got some girls half naked at the same time--nice perks! In a few places, ropes hung on steep muddy cliffsides with clawed, muddy marks streaking the cliff face. It ended with a mix of soggy/muddy hillside and worn wooden framed steps, and several white anchored ladders at the summit of the Cabo. The final hill also had some creepy poles with framed faces of Jesus along the trail--maybe he climbed it first or something--I didn’t care to find out.
The return home came much faster than the way there, and before we knew it, the trail was done, the pisco was gone, the rivers crossed and we hitched a ride with some really friendly locals. They were kind enough to introduce us to the local Calafate Berry that grows wild in these parts. They are typically kind of bitter, but make great marmalades!
So I walked to the end of the world on Navarino Island, Chile, and I don't recommend it!. This hike challenged me almost every way a hike can: Cruel, muddy temperate rain forest trails with scary steep slippery slopes with mud pits as deep as the knee. Snowy passes from mid-calf to waste deep, with streams and hidden rocky landscapes waiting below the surface. Chilly, windy, and often rain driven nights, with freezing cold mornings. Wet, spongy peat bogs (Torbas), with water gushing under each step. River crossings in cold lake fed waters. Disappearing trails leaving you guessing and second guessing your location and where it begins again. After 7 nights in this beautiful wildery hell, I was entirely too ready to warm my bones, and dry my feet byu the fire at the hostel.
If what I just described sounds of interest, here is how it’s done.
Plane from Punta Arenas
DAP Airlines only offers flights during the busy season, and it is often better to just stop by their office in Punta Arenas to schedule your flight. It is also likely the cheapest and most reliable route to Navarino, the plane lands just 5km from downtown Puerto Williams, where you can walk to the trailhead and back when you’re done. Cost was $185 USD for both flights.
Boat from Punta Arenas
The boat from Punta Arenas is 30 hours of floating through the Magellan's, providing the opportunity to see some pretty cool shit along the way--if the weather cooperates. The downside, if you want a seat it’s over $200 USD one-way to get a full reclining seat and a reservation. The half recliners are around $180 one-way and can’t be reserved until the day before departure, since the seats are reserved for residents of Puerto Williams. In my case, they gave me an 1.5 hours notice for a half reclining seat. This meant I needed to be there within a half hours notice since you’re supposed to arrive an hour before departure. With that kind of unsurety, I had already walked to DAP Airlines and booked a flight for the next day without all the waiting and guessing on weather.
Boat from Ushuaia
I didn’t consider this option as the cost of bus from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia was $25-45 USD, and the short ferry ride costs almost $125 USD. This brought the total cost $150 USD for a one-way trip, and included all the regular bother with exiting and entering the Chile on your route through Argentina. Fuck that!
Now that you’ve made it to the Island, there are 4 Supermercados throughout the town and the prices aren’t that different from Punta Arenas. They offer everything you need to take on your excursion, and many of the hostels in Puerto Williams have plenty of spare gas canisters from the loads of other tourists that came before you. Be sure to check Simon & Simon, and the other one across the street before you start to make your purchases, as they both carry some differeing items and have differing prices on things like trail mix and Couscous… If you can’t find something at one, check the other before settling on second best. I ended up eating noodles for days when I could have had couscous (a better alternative in my opinion).
Map and Camping
Los Dientes circuit has lots of camping along the way. However, just because there are campsites marked on the map, doesn’t mean they are great for all weather conditions. For example, Lago Salto (H11) was saturated in water, and (H13) was covered in snow, so I kept moving. Finally, at Lago Los Dientes (H17) I found dry ground. However, others had the same idea, and I was refused a spot next to the group of people that arrived earlier. Instead they pointed me toward some high ground without wind protection... Brings me to a good point.
Hiker Edicate: If you are a hiker in a remote place, maybe in a group, and you refuse one guy from trying to find a tent spot next to yours, with decent protection from the wind, you don't belong in the fucking woods. In the backcountry, it is important to be as welcoming and courteous as possible--leave your inner Trump at home!
Choosing a good location depends a lot on the weather. Keep the wind, and other weather related factors in mind when planning your route. Below is a list of locations I found with decent coverage from the weather (Not all were official, but all provided decent shelter from storms): H21, H25, H26, H27, H32, & H36.
Route Variances - Lago & Bahia Windhond
My route through Los Dientes contained a detour to Lago & Bahia Windhond to the south. This is done through Cumbre Bertinelli where the trail split just after Laguna Del Picacho. I spent three days at Lago Windhond in Refugio Charles, providing a day of rest before and after my day hike to Bahia Windhond (26-28 km round trip without a trail or snupies). This also gave me time to account for weather. There was also a good book with map and description of a campsite near the Bahia and around the lake that is said to take 2.5 days. However, without a real trail, and known river crossings between knee and waist deep, I decided not to attempt it. Below is a map I found at the Refugio, and some photos of where I crossed the river. Hope it helps those looking for it!
A hand-drawn map I found at Refugio Charles…
A Maps.Me Marker I dropped at the crossing...
Look for two stick making an A-shape on the far shore just after a bend in the river…
Here is what it looks like from the other side with the sticks.
If you’ve done the “O” or even the “W” at Torres Del Paine, and think this is going to be similar or just as easy, you are wrong! This hike is not for beginners or those without proper gear or wilderness skills. It also pays to bring a few extra days worth of food, in case the weather or your plans change. Have fun, and be safe out there!
Warning!!! YOU NEED RESERVATIONS FOR EVERYTHING, IT HAS TO BE DONE MONTHS IN ADVANCE, AND BOOKING IS COMPLICATED AS FUCK AS IT IS DONE THROUGH THREE DIFFERENT WEBSITES!!!
As for why one of Chile’s most prized national parks is so dysfunctional is beyond me. It can be confusing and frustrating to say the least, but totally worth the effort for the beautiful vistas and world class trekking.
Planning Your Trip
I won’t be covering how to plan your route, as I found plenty of resources already out there (I’ve listed a few below). Instead, I will give you the information needed to plan a successful adventure.
How to hike the W in Torres del Paine, Chile (Trekking Guide)
Trekking Guide: How to hike the Circuit in Torres del Paine, Patagonia (Chile)
It is easy to buy food in both Punta Arenas and Puerto Williams, since both cities have a Unimarc and plenty of food and booze to choose from. Once you’re inside the park, everything is expensive, and options can be limited.
Be sure to bring plenty of pesos with you as many of the tiendas and refugios in the park are cash only! Additionally, should you need to take the boat from Pudeto to Paine Grande (or vice versa) you will need 18.000 CLP per way (exception of two way tickets at discount).
For some reason Latam Airlines seems to be losing a lot of people’s luggage, so wearing your hiking boots and rain jacket on the flight might not be a bad idea. This ended up working out in my favor, after I met one unfortunate fellow that couldn’t complete his trek. He was also kind enough to give me his reservations, allowing me to complete the “O”... Thanks Dallas McClendon from Mississippi!
Reservations in the park are really tricky, and hard to get outside of booking online months in advance. However, if you find yourself here without them and want to see if it is possible, you can go Fantastico Sur or Vertice offices in Puerto Natales. They may be able to help you out… or at least explore your options.
Owns most of the campsites on the eastern side of the park with the exception of a few CONAF campsites.
Cost: $15.000 CLP p/p
Locations: Frances, Los Cuernos, Los Torres “Central”, Chileno, and Serón
Additional Information: While Fantastico Sur has some of the nicest campsites in the park (Los Cuernos & Frances), some with platforms for your tent, they are also the most expensive. They also have refugios where you can buy (with reservations) any meal of the day. As for adult beverages and snacks, you won’t need anything but money, but be prepared to pay a premium! For a real local treat, head to the bar at the hotel where they make their own beer, it is supposed to be super tasty! For those on a budget, you can buy a liter of wine for $5.000 CLP (the cheapest way to get hammered in the park).
Owns most of the campsites on the western side of the park with the exception of CONAF’s Camp Paso
Cost: $5.000 CLP p/p
Locations: Paine Grande, Grey, Los Perros, and Dickson
Additional Information: Vertice campgrounds are large fields with small or non-existent refugios. The price is reflected in the facilities and staff, a bit run down, and often jerry-rigged features. At Paine Grande and Grey it can be rather windy too, and I watched more than a few tents flatten out or break under the extreme pressure. Additionally, many of the tiendas don’t sell the boxes of wine, so you might have to sober up.
CONAF maintains several FREE campsites throughout the park, but since it is free the sites get booked out months in advance. In my experience, many people don’t end up keeping their reservations at these camps. Without cost or repercussion for not keep a reservation, it’s a fucking joke, and most wouldn’t think to bother cancelling if and when they realize they won’t be keeping their reservations.
Locations: Italiano, Torres, and Paso
Additional Information: These campsites are pretty-well kept, but without the luxuries of tiendas or showers. However, the locations are the best in the park. Camp Italiano is the best place to stage a day hike into valley Frances, Camp Torres is best for the Torres del Paine Mirador, and Paso is a beautiful spot close to John Gardner Pass with some of the best views of Grey Glacier just a few minutes outside of camp.
I hope this helps with some of the confusion going on in the park next year, as the season is half over, and likely mostly booked at this point.