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.
My last journey through the backcountry in the US, was with one of my best friends. And even though he often complains about the treks we take, I know deep down he really enjoys the wild adventures we share. In fact, all of my Olympic adventures have been with Bennett, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It may also be the reason the Olympics is one of my favorite places. From Chanterelle hunting, to drunken overnighters, and multi-day hikes along secluded beaches, this place is home to some really great memories for me!
After traveling to Port Angeles for reservations, our permit and a bear cannister, we hit the trail head later than expected. Sunlight was quickly fading from the beneath a canopy of old-growth forest and we knew we would be making camp after dark. The hike started with subtle ascent as we headed for Lower Bridge Creek (our first campsite). Along the path, I found several spots where small tart blueberries were waiting to be eaten… Yummm! We arrived in the dark, with the last mile being a steep rocky set of switchbacks. After a few nips of vodka we bunkered down for a night under a beautiful starry sky.
The next morning we woke and were greeted by some of the best trail guests hikers can have--a doe and its fawn. It wasn’t long before the fawn romped off followed closely by its mother, but the visit that left us filled with excitement for the day to come.
Heart Lake made for perfect first stopping point. We had a quick snack and took in some scenery before the morning sun broke the crest of the ridgeline above. From there, we pressed on to the High Divide trail which offered scenic views in every direction.
To the North was 7 Lakes Basin (which is odd given there are more than 7 Lakes, and one named Lake 8). To the south where amazing views of Mount Olympus, Blue Glacier, and the Hoh Rainforest (correctly named as it was filled with clouds below the ridgeline.
We ate lunch just after Bogachiel Peak, and about halfway to our site for the night, Deer Lake. The hike up was exhausting, and the trail was turning into quite the rocky mess. This nearly broke my feet as I limped into camp with several blisters on my left foot. However, I did take solace in the Huckleberries and blueberries scattered along trail into Deer Lake.
Once at camp, and as we settled in for dinner, we were again greeted by two berry drunk guests. One came so close Bennett may have pissed himself a bit--stepping back in fear. This startled the young stag, causing him to move to a more reasonable distance. However, both promptly returned to their feast in a wandering fashion.
We woke the next morning and got started early on the last leg of the hike. The steep decent and rocky trail continued to tenderize my feet, but I limped along until we arrived at Sol Duc Falls. Here the trail becomes less jagged rocks and more soft cool dirt.
Despite finishing my hike with bruised feet and some stingy raw blisters, I would do it over all over again for the views, visitors, and moments shared with my friend. Thanks for the awesome send off Bennett!
Mount Margaret Backcountry has the best views of Mt. St. Helens and the surrounding volcanoes I’ve seen! At times, Helens is so close I felt as if I could touch it. Being the closest mountain in range of the blast from the volcano, presented very real reminders of just how destructive the blast was--shown by the jagged stumps of giant pines, the barren hillsides, and the floating barges left drifting in the surrounding lakes.
My journey started at Norway Pass, halfway between Randle and Cougar, WA. The warm August weather was a near perfect temperature for the 6-miles of mountains I had to climb that day.
What I didn’t come prepared for was all the delicious offerings Mount Margaret backcountry had to offer. At half a mile in, I started noticing small bushes with little maroon colored buds… hesitating I continued on until I saw a person with a bucket just off the trail picking away. I soon broke down, and started to sample the goods. Salmonberries, Huckleberries, and Strawberries… I was in heaven! I immediately lost track of time and went into a frenzy of smashing them into my mouth by the handfuls. The blueberries and raspberries were less prevalent, and I ended up devouring the evidence in my berry drunk state!
After eating almost every berry in sight over a couple miles, I started thinking about the potential repercussions of eating too many on a hike. I didn’t want the shits on this journey, so I stopped the rampage and made for Margaret Camp. Without trees, and sitting on the ridgeline leaves little protection mother nature--that night had a few gusty blows that chilled me to bed a bit early.
The next morning came with surprises. I ran out of cooking fuel, and knew that the next few days were going to consist of cold oatmeal and ramen. I was also running low on water, and wanted to do some more hiking and exploration. The hike to Johnston Observatory provided the perfect solution, but at 14-miles and 1700 feet of elevation change one way, I knew it was going to be a long day. In the end it was totally worth it. The views, feasts, and my time spent at the observatory quickly became the highlight of the trip.
When Helens erupted it sent 300 mph wind racing towards Mount Margaret, breaking old growth trees like twigs in less than a minute! Nature can be scary, destructive, breathtaking, and a perfect example of how we should live life. Our lives can change in an instant. Like leaving a job, and adopting a new lifestyle. Change creates room for new growth as we adapt with each new experience. And rising from the ashes can only make us stronger in ways we never thought possible.
Arriving back at camp, I soon became aware of an elk across a short draw from me, when it started bugling. I watched it for some time, pacing in the same area before eventually wandering over the crest, and out of view. Dinner-time serenades are always great!
The next day was by far the easiest with only a 3-4 miles from Dome Camp to Bear Camp. I had plenty of water, cold food and berries galore. What more could a boy want! I got to Bear Camp early, found a small grove of trees to set my hammock up, got high, and did some leisure tapping on my computer until early evening. It is in these moments, making the wild my home, that I externalize my experiences. There is freedom in having less: No commute, no job, and no other responsibilities than to simply survive and be alive in such a beautiful place.
I awoke early the next morning to one of the best sunrises in recent memory. Though, a few of you may remember sharing another one this summer that was pretty fucking amazing too!
My hike out the next morning was finished in style with one more feast of berries--followed by a beautiful ride through the woods on my moto. While I was happy to get on my way to a hot shower and some awesome hospitality from some of my best of friends, I certainly would have stayed a few extra day to eat all the berries I missed the first time!
I started this hike with big dreams of hiking both Broken Top and South Sister. Sadly, I didn’t make it to South Sister, due to poor planning--lesson learned. Though a bit short, this hike was one of personal growth, adversity, and pure excitement!
Starting at Crater Ditch Creek Trailhead I made my way along a manmade ditch flowing from the lake at the bottom of the ancient volcanic crater. The trails gentle slope and beautiful open fields provide plenty of views of Broken Top, Three Sisters, and Mt. Bachelor. The early morning air was cool, even for August. A few miles in, the trails wiggles its way north as you round the ridges on the southwest face.
After crossing several small creeks formed by natural springs fueled by Broken Top’s run off, you arrive at the crystal waters of Green Lakes that lies between Broken Top and South Sister. There sits 20 or so campsites spread out over two loops around the lakes. To be sure I had a place to sleep, I quickly set up my hammock and began making my way to the summit.
This is where shit got real. The trail out of Green Lakes quickly turns into a steep rising b-line for a saddle to the north west of the ancient volcano. Soon after patches of snow started to dot the sides of the trail! Weee!
By the time I reached the top of the saddle to the left of the peak, I was really feeling the burden of my pack. It was here that the site of the peak and remaining trail seemed to loom and doom over me--instilling a fear of heights I thought I had conquered long ago. The broken slabby and loose rocks on the ridge didn’t inspire much confidence either. It was as if I was in Mordor viewing the vanishing trail dotted with only few small twisted trees amongst the otherwise barren, rocky, and hellish landscape. There I decided to jettison my pack for some snacks, water, and light pack.
From the saddle the trail quickly turns into several scrambling paths following the spine of the ridge to the peak. The fear of falling to one side or another never really subsided as plenty of the paths came to abrupt ends--causing me to backtrack in search of an alternate routes. Despite my fear, and constant struggle to find the correct path, I continued to ascend the steep slope of the sleeping beast.
Just before the summit I found this small reminder why we should never underestimate mother nature. It is crazy how something so small and seemingly delicate can survive in such an inhospitable environment.
I was the first to the top, and got to rest in solitude as I ate my snacks and took in the incredible views of Three Sisters had to offer! Look at those sexy ladies!
The trip back to safe ground was better than expected once I realized I could just jam my feet into the loose rubble to create easy footing. However,the way down still came with a knot in my stomach, as I now had to face the far off landscape below.
Once planted firmly on safe ground, I decided to spend the rest of my day basking in triumph and getting high while soaking in the lake. It was then that I realized the importance of my decision to set my hammock up to reserve my site. The lakeside trails were crawling with people looking for a site.
The next morning I hiked back to my moto. It was there I realized my mistake by not taking the direct trail to South Sister. I was pretty heart-broken when I reviewed trailhead map. It was there I decided to give up my dream--instead heading back to Bend for beers and a lazy day in the park. This did wonders for my soul, and put my mistake into perspective. While I didn’t end up achieving my goal of hiking South Sister, I still had an amazing and tough hike on a volcano… nuff said!
Key Trail Tips:
Trinity Alps is a backcountry gem. It’s lush, green, wild, full of scenic views, and will give you one more reason to love California!
Hiking in August made for a warm afternoon hike on the first day--lucky for me there is plenty of shade provided by various pine and fir trees. While the snaking glass-like river to the west came in and out of view.
The first notable change from the trees is the meadow at mile 9 where I was lucky enough to see a few deer doing very deerie things! The sun was setting early behind the great granite walls to both the east and west, so I set my hammock up in a dense crop of trees next to the trail--leaving me invisible to those outside. I was exhausted from the hundreds of miles on the moto and the moderate hike that followed, and decided to eat quickly and call it a night.
Sometime in the dark of the night, I was scared witless by something entering the tiny grove of pines where I slept. It started with slow branch-cracking steps, sniffing, and finally snorting that sounded merely feet away. My mind screamed black bear! There is nothing like the rush of adrenaline at 3am as you struggle with your natural instinct of fight or flight. I decided to stay very still other than the twisting of my head in an attempt to see the intruder. This caused an ever so soft “Swee” against my sleeping mat… The thunder of foliage being trompled by its hasty escape was still hopped up on my bodies natural drug for some time, making it hard to return to sleep.
The hike the following morning was mostly shaded by the granite walls--making for a cool ascent to Emerald Lake. Best sight of the morning came when I happened upon two nude women on the lake’s shore. They were facing west on the eastern shore of Emerald lake with the morning light peering over their shoulders. Two beautiful silhouettes with a granite mountain backdrop… Yipee! Not wanting to ruin their moment, I decided to continue on to Sapphire Lake.
Sapphire Lake is two more miles (14 total), but completely worth the early start, as I was the first to arrive. Nothing like a naked swim to wash the trail off you! And the lake’s temperature was perfect for a morning swim followed by an peaceful air dry on the beach… That was until a wasp stung my toe, turning me into a raging, naked ape on the shore as I tried to smash the little bastard! After that, my hopes and dreams of continuing on to Mirror Lake faded, as I watched my toe and hoped my foot wouldn’t turn into a stump!
Once I started to pink-en from the sun, I decided to abandon my scenic stadium for shade, meaning my time here was through, and finding a camp with some shade at Emerald Lake was my next priority.
I camped on Emerald Lake’s north shore, just off the trail to Sapphire. There I put up my hammock for the night, relaxed for a bit, then headed to the lake to watch the sparkling granite vista fade from the sun’s warm glow.
The next morning, I awoke early to be the first one to the shore where the beauties basked the day before. There I too got naked and enjoyed another swim/bath in the cool lake water before my descent into the meadow and the long stretch of western hillside the trail follows.
My last night was spent ~3 miles from the trailhead next to the river, where I took one last dip to clean the dust off and settled in for the evening.
My time in Trinity Alps was invigorating, exciting, scary at times, and full of breathtaking views. What’s more, it was a perfect place to escape from societal congestion and let my mind wander, ponder and put life’s problems into perspective. As my first real solo backpacking adventure, it checked all the boxes and gave me a taste of how therapeutic solo hiking can be.