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Torres del Paine: The O Circuit [Part 2]

27 Mar 15
Heidi Kumm
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2 comments

For the first few days of my experience on the O Circuit of the Torres del Paine National Park check out Torres del Paine: The O Circuit [Part 1]. Those were the rainy, cloudy, cold days of the trip…the days I spent wondering “why the heck did I fly half way around the world for this?!” because I knew I could find that weather in the MidWest on any given spring day! But things started looking up half way through Day 3 as we dropped down John Gardner Pass and spent the afternoon trekking along a glacier with the sun peeking around the scattered clouds.

Chile Travel: Lessons Learned || Packing + Planning || The O Circuit Part 1

Day 4: Refugio Grey to Camp Italiano

After a night of wine + laughter the 6:30am alarm came early…really early. But we are nothing if not determined so before the sun popped over the horizon [yes! we would actually see sun today!] we had packed up our tent and were on the trail, oatmeal + hot chocolate in hand! The sky turned bright pink as we left camp on a mission to arrive at Camp Italiano early in the afternoon with plenty of time to run up/down the French Valley, a “must see” stretch of trail surrounded by mountains, waterfalls and glaciers.

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As we hiked away from Refugio Grey we kept stopping to turn around. For the first few miles the landscape behind us was far more breathtaking than the trail ahead of us. The horizon offered us a view of Lago Grey, Glacier Grey and an angular range of snow-covered mountains. Every time we turned around it looked different, thanks to the rising sun and every changing clouds. This was the morning when I realized exactly why we spent 3 days traveling just to get here…it was finally all worth it!

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The 11km/7mi trek from Refugio Grey to Refugio Paine Grande went surprisingly fast and we knew we were getting close when we started meeting day hikers on the trail. We were officially on the W Circuit of the trail where we’d be meeting an interesting mix of inexperienced day hikers, dedicated tourists and full-blown backpackers. At the very least the people were entertaining…but not quite as entertaining as the crazies Seth + Tana met on their trek during the busier season last year!

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When we arrived at Refugio Paine Grande we were blown away by the setting. It was…impressive! First off, the buildings + bathrooms + everything was so fancy, and not just in comparison with the more rugged accommodations we’d grown accustom to…it was legit fancy! But it wasn’t the buildings that had us staring and drooling during our quick lunch break, it was our surroundings! These buildings were plopped down in the perfect setting! On one side the weirdly blue-green waters of Lago Pehoe stretched out for miles with a few bright blue ice bergs from Glacier Grey floating around. On the other side of the Refugio the mountains just rose up from a stretch of green prairie grass with the jagged edges of Punta Bariloche towering over us.

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After a lunch of salami, cheese and Pringles [an impulse purchase a the Refugio store] we reluctantly headed back onto the trail en route to Camp Italiano. We didn’t want to waste this awesome weather – the sun was shining and we actually got to see the mountains on the horizon rather than just a pile of rain clouds!

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Aside from a few encounters with a few obviously hikers that definitely needed a lesson or two in general trail etiquette our trek up to Camp Italiano was rather uneventful. We played in the mud, sweat in the sunshine and splashed through crystal clear streams. Before we even arrived at Camp Italiano we could hear the raging Rio del Frances, the river we’d be hiking along on our trek up/down the French Valley. Once in camp we were quick to choose a campsite, set up our tent and repack my Ultimate Direction Fastpack 30 with a few layers + snacks before heading up the valley.

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This was one of the many moments I was insanely thankful I was using the UD Fastpack for this trek! It was so light and easy to use on a quick afternoon hike up the French Valley. Heck, we even ran a mile or so UP the valley simply because it felt so good to move quickly, freely without heavy packs on our backs!

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The first mirador/overlook was less than an hour from the campsite and offered up a panoramic view of the mountains around us, the glaciers on the backside of Punta Bariloche, the Rio del Frances below us, the valley behind us and Lago Nordenskjold off in the distance. It was beautiful…and this was only the halfway point! Regardless, this was my favorite part of the French Valley – if you can only do a short stretch of this hike get to this point!

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If you hang out for a while and watch the glaciers + waterfalls across the river you’ll be able to see the glaciers calve massive icebergs over the cliff before you hear the thundering boom. It’s amazing. Even as we hiked upward we could hear the glaciers shifting and calving. It was like a distant thunderstorm without the threat of rain.

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An hour later we arrived at the top mirador where the mountains greeted us with nearly cloud-less views. It was impressive but we didn’t stay for too long, our stomachs were calling us back to camp and warm meals! On the way down the valley we ran…and it felt amazing. You’d think our legs would be exhausted after four long days of hiking but without our heavier packs it felt like we were running on clouds. Hopping over roots, bounding from rock to rock and splashing through runoff streams has never been so refreshingly fun! My mind + body needed this!

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Once we returned to camp we made dinner with a few trail friends than crashed into our tent – there would be no fun socializing tonight. Sure, we were tired but more importantly this camping area was not set up for socializing! The lean-to for cooking was tiny, dark and wet with the surrounding area less than accommodating so we just called it a night early like the lazy loser that we are. #sorrynotsorry

The best part of Day 4 was…the sunshine! And the thundering glacier in the French Valley!

Day 5: Camp Italiano to Camp Torres

Our morning was less than eventful. Camp Italiano was a wet, cold camp so we didn’t hang around for long. Heck, we even skipped breakfast + brushing our teeth in favor of bailing out of camp and into the morning sunshine sooner! Don’t fret, we stopped by Refugio Los Cuernos once we’d warmed up and pretended to be civilized adults!

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The majority of our trek up to Camp Torres was…up. Surprising, I know. While the stretch of trail was scenic it wasn’t mind blowing and aside from a few encounters with odd hikers it was very uneventful. Around lunch time we came upon a sign that said “Shortcut to Chileno” and did a little happy dance! The main trail had us dropping down the Torres Hotel than climbing up a busy trail to Refugio Chileno while this shortcut skipped the descent and just sent up straight up the mountain. Fun.

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After a quick lunch break staring off at the mountain tops, chatting with newfound trail friends we were back on the trail, heading up some of the steepest trail we encountered on the entire O Circuit. The trail seemed to drag on and on and on as we hiked up in the hot afternoon sunshine. I wasn’t quite stupid enough to complain about the sunshine but I was wishing my leggings weren’t black! Luckily we had plenty of mud puddles + streams to cool our feet in!

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We spent very little time in Refugio Chileno before powering on up to Camp Torres which would have us staying just an hour below the Torres mirador. Hiking up into this valley took us away from the open fields and through a weirdly cold, green jungle of trees. The campsites at Camp Torres were off the trail away bit, down in a cove of trees with a thick canopy that made it feel otherworldly. Don’t judge me, but it felt like one of the Night Elf villages in World of Warcraft. Okay, fine, judge me…I deserve it!

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Once we snagged a relatively flat campsite and set up our tent Logan headed up to the Torres to scope out the area for sunrise photos the next morning. I was feeling lazy and the hours of hiking uphill were starting to aggravate my Achilles so I opted for nap time with the promise of hiking up to the mirador in the morning. Logan was lucky enough to have the clouds part and give her a view of the Torres and I got in another much needed nap [apparently I’m a small child and truly need naps?] before we cooked up our last hot meal and set our alarm for 5:45am.

The majority of Day 5 was “normal” but the final stretch of trail up to Camp Torres was the best – so green + woodsy!

Day 6: Camp Torres to Torres Mirador to Hotel Torres

It was a restless night for me – probably because I spent all my “hard sleep” on an afternoon nap – so I was ready for the alarm to go off but I wasn’t quite ready to put on wet socks and get out of the tent. It sounded like rain as the trees dropped large drops of water on our tent and rain meant clouds and clouds meant no views at the mirador… But I hadn’t been up to the overlook yet so off we went.

As soon as we left the campsite area we realized the spitting rain was quickly turning into pelting snow. Oh, goodie. No, really…I was excited. I like snow, a lot! At first the snow only dusted the trail signs but as we hiked upward snow started sticking to rocks and really covering the trail. At this point we kind of gave up on a sunrise view of the Torres but we had left the sanctuary of our tent so we kept hiking.

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By the time we reached the overlook area we could see maybe 20 feet in front of us? We were basically hiking in a snow cloud with wet snow falling around us. Yup, no sunrise views of us! We joked with the other dedicated hikers that trekked up the mountain for a bit then headed back down to our campsite.

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When we returned to the campsite area the “sign dusting” of snow had turned into 3+ inches of snow all around us! Once we ducked under the canopy of trees protecting the campsites the snow seemed like a thing of the past…until the moment we pulled our rain fly off our tent. That was the moment the trees decided to do a little shimmy and dump ALL the canopy snow down into our tent and onto the tents around us. It was so cool to watch! Sure, our tent got wet but who cared, we were done camping!

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Packing up camp this last time was quick – we had almost no food in our packs and didn’t need to worry about any strategic packing since we would be sleeping in a warm, dry hostel that night. Yup, we were excited about returning to civilization, if only because we desperately wanted a hot shower and dry socks!

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I had a blast on our trek from Camp Torres to Refugio Chileno – I was surrounded by snow, ducking in and out of the dry forest and loving every minute of it. I was in my element! Torres del Paine sure knows how to tell a girl “thanks for visiting, come again soon!”. While I didn’t exactly love the cold, wet hiking earlier in the week I’d definitely return to the area in the dead of winter!

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After a quick stop at Refugio Chileno for a hot breakfast of oatmeal [the very last of our food] we made our way down the mountain and arrived at Hotel Torres before noon. We had done it! In less than 6 full days we had hiked the full O Circuit of Torres del Paine and survived with a smile! We made a quick stop by the Kiosko for snacks + ice cream for lunch then plopped down in front of the fancy, five-star Hotel Torres…feeling and looking like homeless hippies. We were happy. Tired but happy.

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The rest of our day consisted of a bus ride to Laguna Amarga then another bus ride to Puerto Natales where we headed into town to find a hostel. Logan has a reservation at Erratic Rock and I spent about 45 minutes wandering around until I found space at another hostel – it was a busy night for backpackers in Puerto Natales! After a hot shower with real soap Logan and I inhaled pizza at Basecamp then fell face first into soft, warm, dry bunk beds in our respective hostels.

…and there you have it, the final bits of my six days trekking around Torres del Paine on the O Circuit. It was an experience to say the least! I’d definitely do things a bit different if I went back again [see “dead of winter” comment above!] but overall, I’m really glad I went and got to experience this part of Chile and South America!

Chile Travel: Lessons Learned || Packing + Planning || The O Circuit Part 1

Torres del Paine: The O Circuit [Part 1]

25 Mar 15
Heidi Kumm
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I did it – I survived a bajillion hours on airplanes, a few naps on busses and 6 days of trekking around the Torres del Paine O Circuit! It was awesome. It was wet. It was beautiful. It was something I’ve never done before…and will probably never get to do again. I learned a few things about traveling in Chile and a lot of things about myself. And, of course, I returned to the States with a few photos + stories worth sharing!

Chile Travel: Lessons Learned || Planning + Packing || The O Circuit Part 2

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Logan and I arrived at Torres del Paine National Park on Sunday, March 8 after a little bus schedule snafu. Our original plan had us camping in Torres del Paine on Saturday night and starting our hike early on Sunday morning. Since we failed at scheduling our bus tickets far enough in advance [aka, not the day of] we arrived a day later than planned. Even though we weren’t starting our hiking until noon we decided we were going to go for it and do whatever we could to cover the full 28km/17.5mi that afternoon. We were optimistic…and successful!

Day 1: Refugio Las Torres to Refugio Dickson

When we arrived it was raining – a calm, steady rain. We pulled on our rain layers and headed up the trail dodging mud puddles with the naïve idea that we could keep our feet relatively dry. It didn’t take us long to realize we’d have to get wet…as soon as we came upon a stream we had to wade through we decided to just give in and embrace the mud!

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Our [revised] plan was to focus on getting to Camp Seron before stopping to eat lunch – we arrived at about 2pm when there was a much appreciated break in the rain clouds. After woofing down a salami + cheese tortilla roll we were off again. Camp Seron had the basics – bathrooms, a lean-to area for cooking and flat ground for tents. Little did I know this was one of the least accommodating campsites on the entire loop [rivaled only by Camp Paso]!

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The next few hours were spent learning the hard way that the signs/maps along the trails are lying turd burglars! One sign said we had 4km to go…then an hour later another sign said we had 3km to go. Yea, there is no way we were moving that slowly on flat ground! We knew Refugio Dickson was located at the base of a hill so every time we got near a hill we got excited, only to be disappointed when the trail veered away from it. The last 3km lasted approximately 243 miles! But when we got there? Holy gorgeous setting!

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We paid our camping fee, set up the tent and headed directly to the cooking area to start dinner. It was about 8pm and we were hungry! During dinner we learned that the John Gardner Pass was closed due to weather and it may stay closed for a while. After heading back to our tent we started brainstorming a Plan B should the pass be closed in the AM – we didn’t have the days available to wait for the pass to re-open! We ended up with a Plan B that had us backtracking to Refugio Las Torres [ugh!] and doing the W Circuit so we’d still get to see 90% of the park. But all that re-planning was unnecessary when the ranger told us the pass was open on Monday morning.

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My favorite part of Day 1 was when the clouds parted and we got to see the valley stretch out ahead of us – if felt very Colorado.

Day 2: Refugio Dickson to Camp Los Perros

On Monday we started the day a bit later than planned, leaving camp around 10am. I was a little nervous about this since our game plan was to cover close to 25km/15.5mi with a climb up and over John Gardner Pass. We arrived at Camp Los Perros just before 2pm and after checking in with he rangers we settled down for a hot lunch after hours of hiking in the rain. When we initially asked about the pass it was confirmed that it was open, but as our water boiled a ranger stopped by to let us know it wasn’t actually open. Rather than hiking up and over to Refugio Grey we were stuck at Camp Los Perros for the night.

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Honestly, at that point, I was happy. I didn’t think we’d be able to happily make it to Refugio Grey that day and I wasn’t quite ready to spend hours hating myself for flying half way around the world to trek in wet forests. Hands down, this was the roughest day for me and I was glad to have an excuse to set up camp really early and eat two hot meals! When I headed to the tent to dig through my pack and set up my sleeping bag I may have “accidentally” took a 3 hour nap…totally worth it, I clearly needed it!

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The rangers told us to be ready to leave camp at 8am if we wanted to go over John Gardner Pass. There was some hesitation from other trekkers about pace and being restricted by rangers. While pace was a valid concern we didn’t have any reason to fight the rangers decision and we wanted to continue forward on the O Circuit so we adjusted our game plan, again.

The best part of Day 2 was…my nap? It was a rainy, dark day and I was definitely on the struggle bus!

Day 3: Camp Los Perros to Refugio Grey

A group of maybe 40 trekkers left Camp Los Perros at 8am and headed for John Gardner Pass. The slower hikers were up front with the ranger then we spread out by pace, or that was the plan. While I thought the slower pace was kind of refreshing it didn’t take some people long to forge ahead. By the time we left the shelter of trees and the well-defined trail the group had spread out quite a bit, easily passing one another on the open scree field.

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It was chilly with wind pelting rain down on us so everyone kind of tucked into their hoods and hiked as quickly as they could to keep warm. Logan and I split up but with the open mountainside ahead of us we never lost each other. As we climbed the rain turned into snow but I managed to stay warm, even with feet soaking wet from the cold mountain streams we forged through. I gained a lot of confidence in my ability to layer during this trip – never getting too cold or too hot, even when the weather waffled around.

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The entire trek up the pass was windy but as we neared the top the wind kicked it up a notch. It wasn’t unbearable to me but I’ve survived some pretty insane wind at the top of 14ers so maybe I’m biased. Yes, you had to lean into the wind and the pelting rain/snow hurt my cheeks but the wind never felt dangerous. It was actually a lot of fun to stumble around in at the pass summit. With stronger gusts slamming into you it was impossible to stand upright – instead you’d stumble forward when the gust of wind let up and your balance was off kilter.

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As soon as we crested the pass we were greeted with cloudy skies and a massive field of white below us – Glacier Grey. Unfortunately our first view of this massive glacier wasn’t exactly breathtaking, the true beauty of the icy beast was hidden from us by clouds. I took off down the mountainside, frolicking over the scree and rocks with the wind slamming into me – I was having a blast! This was my kind of mountain life – up close and personal with the mountains and everything Mother Nature had to offer.

Shortly after dropping off the pass we left the scree behind and ducked into the woods for an extremely muddy descent to Camp Paso. Turns out this particular descent was MUCH more challenging than the climb up the pass. We saw very few switchbacks throughout Torres del Paine…and this was on stretch of trail that really needed them! After days of rain the trail was a mess of mud, slippery mud! Rather than zigzag down the mountain with control we sort of plummeted down slippery chutes between trees, trying to stay on our feet not our asses.

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We made a really quick [ie: less than 7 minutes] in Camp Paso to dig lunch out of our packs then we were off again. Camp Paso was, hands down, the least favorable camp on the entire loop – it was wet and cold [thanks to the rain + glacier] and very cramped with limited space for cooking or flat-ish campsites. I’m very glad we didn’t push over the pass on Monday as we may have been forced to stay at Camp Paso.

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The trail got a lot better after Camp Paso – it wasn’t nearly as steep or muddy and the rain was letting up! Heck, the sun was even peeking out from behind the clouds bringing out the stunningly blue crevasses on Glacier Grey. It was amazing to see how incredibly huge the glacier was! I have a new life goal – explore a glacier, on foot!

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Things were looking up and I was still having fun, hours into the day! We had initially considered pushing through to Refugio Paine Grande but called it a day when we arrived at Refugio Grey – we tired and happy, why push it when we didn’t need to?

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Stopping in Refugio Grey was the best decision we made on the entire trek, at least socially speaking. We got there pretty early, around 4pm, so we got dibs on the good campsites and then spent the rest of the evening/night socializing with other trekkers. On a trip to the camp store to buy a packaged rice meal for “second dinner” Logan discovered they took credit cards…and came back with rice, Twix and a box of wine. Needless to say it was a late night full of laughter and over sharing among our group of about 10 backpackers. Totally worth it!

My favorite part of Day 3 was the glacier – it was so much “larger than life”, so new, so undiscovered!

That’s all for now – for the sake of keeping my Torres del Paine stories short enough to actually read without taking a nap half way through I’m splitting this up into two parts. The next one will cover the three days we spent going from Refugio Grey to Refugio Las Torres with side trips up the French Valley and to the Torres.

Chile Travel: Lessons Learned || Planning + Packing || The O Circuit Part 2

Torres del Paine: Planning + Packing

23 Mar 15
Heidi Kumm
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3 comments

I pinky promise I’ll have full-blown recaps of my time in Torres del Paine and exploring the cities of Chile but I’m holding out for Logan to get home so I can snag some of her photos! Turns out I’m that person that stops taking photos after a few days…oops. For now, these are all the details on the planning + packing that got me there and back. This may be extremely boring for someone not planning a similar trip so feel free to scan through the photos, judge me for rambling and then coming back later this week when the real stories show up! I won’t hate you for it!

Chile Travel: Lessons Learned || The O Circuit Part 1 || The O Circuit Part 2

While I was planning this trip [heck, who am I kidding – Logan planned 99.9% of this trip, I just did a little Googling the week before we left!] it wasn’t exactly easy to get a lot of information on how the heck to pack! On top of normal “what to wear” questions we had the issue of airport security to contend with as we were not checking our backpacks. So, this is my attempt provide some helpful information about planning a trip to Torres del Paine and what to pack for a 14 day trip with 6 days of backpacking…all in a 30L backpack.

Planning

Like I said, Logan planned about 99.9% of this trip so I’ll let her share those details – she’s talked about putting up a post and I’ll link accordingly when she does. It started out as a running adventure and evolved into fastpacking and finally regular ol’ backpacking. We were a little hesitant to depend upon a foreign country to have the same accommodation as we are used to here in the United States so we didn’t want to be majorly under-prepared. Most [all?] concerns were invalid but it still felt good to know we were prepared to survive much harsher conditions if needed.

Transportation

Flights: Logan and I both used airline miles to book our international flights – that’s the only way this trip was remotely affordable for me. The domestic Chilean flight from Santiago to Punta Arenas was painfully expensive [$500USD from Santiago to Punta Arenas, $200USD from Punta Arenas to Santiago] – we had found mixed information on waiting until you got to the airport vs buying tickets in advance. My advice is to buy in advance, at least 4-6 weeks. We would have saved about $300+ if we had booked in advance and we were on full flights at purchasing tickets in the airport wouldn’t have worked. For the record SKY Airlines has legitimate meals, for free, even on 2 hour flights!

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My first view of Torres del Paine, from the bus…cloudy rain!

Buses: When we weren’t on airplanes hurtling through the sky we depended upon buses to get us from one city to another. We didn’t book tickets in advance because we weren’t 110% sure what dates we’d need to be on a bus and online booking wasn’t available. To get from Punta Arenas to Torres del Paine you need to take two buses with a stop over in Puerto Natales. If you schedule the buses correctly you can do all of this busing in just one day…unfortunately for us the bus we needed to do this with was sold out. We traveled with Bus Sur to/from the park and have no complaints, just book ahead of time! It cost us about $45USD per person for the bus from Punta Arenas to Torres del Paine.

Public Transportation: While I was in Santiago for 36 hours I depended upon buses and the metro to get around. Even in Spanish it’s pretty straight forward and cheap. From the airport to my hostel [San Cristobal Hill] it cost less than 2,000CLP and I never got lost or felt out of place. Even the ticket sellers at the metro were quick to point me in the right direction as soon as they heard me speaking English!

Lodging

Hostels: Throughout this trip I stayed in either hostels or my tent. None of my hostel experiences were bad, some were just better than others. My best experience was definitely at Erratic Rock in Puerto Natales, which wasn’t even on our original agenda! They were extremely accommodating and helpful, recognizing us immediately when we stopped by on our return trip from Torres del Paine. I paid roughly 12,000-15,000CLP per hostel night, which put me at right around $20-25USD/night…not bad, IMHO.

Honestly, I’d recommend staying at hostels marketed toward backpackers with an English host. It sounds very anti-culture because you’re not staying with locals but since we were in a country that spoke another language we were faced with a very real language barrier! While all the hostel hosts were very accommodating it was hard to really ask questions and get advice from the hosts that spoke very little English. And if you’re looking to do a lot of exploring in the area and want to feel confident about how your spending your time, what you’re doing and how safe you’ll be it’s nice to know the person giving you the advice truly understands what’s being asked!

DSC06095Up first, Campamento Seron. We didn’t stay there, but we did stop to snack on lunch when the sun finally came out!

Campsites: While we were in Torres del Paine we camped for a total of five nights in my Nemo 2-person tent. It worked out well and I had exactly what I needed to survive the wet, cold nights that dipped down into the low 30F’s. I do regret not having a footprint but beyond the tent was a great set up with room for Logan + I, our packs and a little wiggle room. I’d considered taking a Eno hammock and/or bivy bag and Logan had a tarp tent but in the end…the tent turned out to be the best option! A hammock would have worked, as would have a bivy, but it was nice to have a place to get ourselves + our gear out of the rain without be closed off from each other + the world around us.

Different campsites on the O Circuit of Torres del Paine have different fees, most require cash and prefer smaller denominations, so plan accordingly! I spent about 15,000CLP in the park for camping fees [plus the entrance fee of 18,000CLP]. Bring cash!

Eating

In Cities: I failed miserably at eating locally until my final day in Santiago with two Chileans I met while in Torres del Paine. Chile has good food, they just don’t have a lot of styles of food they are known for so I was happy to get a little local guidance. While in Santiago we went to a fish market and ate about 13 different varieties of seafood – mussels, clams, shrimp, loco, etc. It was delicious! Our next stop was at La Piojera, a very local Chilean bar. I had no idea what was being said 97% of the time but it was awesome to watch! There was a random sing-off and we had drinks with ice cream in them…exactly the kind of “local” I wanted to experience!

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Lunch breaks on the trails gave us an excuse to just sit, stare and soak it all up…!

While Backpacking: The food I packed for backpacking wasn’t specific to Chile in any way – it’s just what I’ve learned I really like having with me on the trail that’s also light enough to pack around easily. My dinners consisted of instant mashed potatoes + salami + Laughing Cow cheese and Ramen + chicken. My lunches were simple salami + cheese combos and my breakfasts were all oatmeal, some days with an individual packet of Justin’s Nut Butter mixed in. I also packed along snacks to munch on throughout the day. We ended up packing EXACTLY what we needed for food [with the exception of a few Twix plus a “second dinner” we bought at a Refugio] and arrived back at Camp Las Torres without even a snack leftover! It worked out perfected and we grabbed lunch from the Kiosko while we waited for our bus.

Packing

This was hands down the trickiest part of the planning [for me, Logan probably has other thoughts since she actually planned the trip] and I’m happy to say I did a pretty stellar job, if I may say so myself! I ended up using nearly everything I packed – food, clothing and gear – without really missing anything I didn’t pack. [none of the links below are affiliate, I’m just using them to better describe the gear I packed]

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Yes, it ALL fit in there…comfortably! Even I’m impressed!

Gear: Ultimate Direction Fastpack 30, Nemo 2 Person Tent, Thermarest ZLite Sleeping Pad, Montbell 30F Down Hugger Sleeping Bag, Kovea Eagle Camp Stove, GSI Outdoors Glacier Cookset, GSI Outdoors Infinity Mug [the mug, cookset and camp stove all fit together], Mini Sawyer Water Filter, 32oz Nalgene, Ultimate Direction 14oz Soft Flask, Butane Fuel Tank, Matches, Multitool, Spork, Sea to Summit 30-50L Pack Rain Cover, Headlamp + Lithium Ion Batteries, Flashlight, Global Compass, Torres del Paine Map

**We bought fuel tanks, lighters and a multitool in Puerto Natales because they are not allowed on airplanes, especially in carry-on bags! The fuel canisters and lighters are easy to find and many are left behind in hostels. The multitool cost us about 8,000CLP and was useful to have.**

Clothing: Saucony Xodus Trail Shoes, Zensah Compression Socks, Columbia Hiking Socks, Columbia Baselayer Leggings, Brooks Spandex Shorts, Montane Minimus Puff Pants, Columbia Storm Surge Rain Pants, Columbia Baselayer Long Sleeve [x2], Sports Bra [x2], Tank Top [x2], Columbia OmniFreeze T-shirt, Columbia Turbodown Jacket, Columbia Watertight Rain Jacket, Beanie, Neck Gaiter, Sunglasses, Liner Gloves

Food: Instant Mashed Potatoes [x2], Ramen Noodles [x4], Packaged Chicken [x2], Packaged Tuna [x2], Oatmeal [x10pkg, 2/day], Justin’s Nut Butter [x2], Candy [Swedish Fish, Sour Gummies, Fruit Snacks], Mixed Nuts, Granola/Protein Bars [x3], Hot Chocolate [x6pkg], Chocolate Covered Espresso Beans, Salami [x2pkg], Laughing Cow Cheese [x2pkg]

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The night before I left I unpacked EVERYTHING and repacked, again, with a checklist nearby…nothing was forgotten!

Miscellaneous: GoPro + Extra Batteries + Charger, Sony Point+Shoot Camera, First Aid Kit, Basic Hygiene Necessities [toothbrush, toothpaste, glasses + contacts, Action Wipes, sunscreen, tampons, concealer, mascara, Carmex, Kleenex], SPOT Tracker + Batteries, Bia GPS + Charger, Portable Chargers [x2], Passports + Credit Cards/Cash with copies/phone numbers, Notebook + Pens

We did leave bag behind at the hostel we stayed at in Puerto Natales [Erratic Rock] which worked out nicely. I left the a t-shirt, sports bra, tank top and pair of socks, along with the book I was reading at the airports. Had I known this was an easy option I would have packed a bit differently [an extra pair of leggings for “laundry day”] but it all worked out just fine.

What I Did Right + What I Would Have Done Differently

As usually with any adventure there are a few things that I did surprisingly well and a few things I’d do completely differently. First, I’m happy with the trip overall and I didn’t make any detrimental mistakes. No one came close to dying, no essentials were left behind and for the most part…everyone was comfortable!

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Gear: I think I was spot on with my gear! I had what I needed and didn’t truly need anything extra. The day I left I decided to leave my 15F degree sleeping bag behind, trading it for a lighter, smaller packing 30F degree bag. The temperatures dropped into the low 30F’s so this could have gone poorly for me but combined with my puff pants + TurboDown jacket + Nalgene with boiling water I was warm enough every night. I did leave the extra vestibule for my tent at home…and if I could do it over again it would have gotten packed! Having the extra 2 feet of “dry” space near the tent would have been nice.

Of everything I packed I used everything, with the exception of my First Aid Kit [which is a good thing!] and compass [super easy trail to follow, but map + compass is an essential for a reason!]. I did pack along a pair of booty shorts + extra long sleeve on my trek in Torres del Paine [rather than leaving it at a hostel with my book + extra socks] and while I never used them in the park I’m glad I had them, just in case I ripped something or needed an extra layer. I also accidentally packed ALL my chargers for my trek in Torres del Paine, had I been thinking I would have left all but a battery pack behind!

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Clothing: Going into this trip I was a little worried about how few clothes I packed. Sure, I packed layers and had some mix-and-match options but in reality I had one pair of wear-in-public pants, one t-shirt, two long sleeve shirts, compression socks and…outerwear. That’s it. For two weeks. The day back in Puerto Natales that was deemed “laundry day” had me wearing TurboDown + puff pants but it was a cold day so it all worked out. Looking back I would have added one more item to my bag – a colorful sundress or top [to pair with black leggings] and sandals for my days in Santiago.

If I could have added anything to my pack while in Torres del Paine it would have been Columbia Drainmaker Shoes and a pair of sandals [for in camp]. My feet were wet for days and I was constantly plowing through puddles and streams with my trail running shoes. I was happy to have running shoes, not hiking boots, because they drained + dried faster but there were many times when I wished I had the Drainmaker shoes which were made for hiking like this! I wasn’t prepared for hot comfortable I’d be with wet feet even when it was cold – but my feet still got cold in camp so it would have been nice to have better draining shoes!

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Food: While we did finish the trek with NO food it wasn’t because we didn’t plan ahead…it’s because we did plan for an extra day in the park and we ended up needing that extra day and all of the food set aside for it. Had I thought through my meals I would have put tuna on a tortilla roll earlier in the trek…not in my Ramen on the last night [eh, not terrible but…eh]. Otherwise, yay food! Even our accidental “omg, they take credit cards!” splurge at Refugio Grey wasn’t a necessity for calories so much as it was a great excuse to be social!

I’m going to say it again…I’m impressed [and quite proud] of the fact I did such a great job of packing and happily surviving with what I had. I was nervous about packing days before my actual backpacking trip without knowing much about the local feel/weather/whatever but it all worked out quite well!

So, there you have…possibly the wordiest, most boring post you’ll ever read about travel in Chile, my apologies! However, this is exactly the information I was looking for [and not necessarily finding] while planning + packing for my trip so I figured I’d throw all the information out there! If you’re planning a similar trip and have questions…email me at runaroundaroo@gmail.com! I’m happy to offer up whatever advice or experiences I have to share!

Chile Travel: Lessons Learned || The O Circuit Part 1 || The O Circuit Part 2

Chile Travel: Lessons Learned

20 Mar 15
Heidi Kumm
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5 comments

And just like that…two weeks have flown by and I’ve flown back to the United States! Some days seemed to drag on forever while others just disappeared. Needless to say I am not all that excited to be back in a cubical during the week. It’s a good thing I have a yurt trip planned for this weekend [and a disgusting head cold as an excuse to be lazy and anti-social].

Planning + Packing || The O Circuit Part 1 || The O Circuit Part 2

I have hundreds of photos to dig through [see “sick + lazy” as my excuse for not doing this yet] so there will be full-blown recaps and stories popping up soonly. My game plan is to post about our trek around Torres del Paine, exploring the cities of Chile and nitty gritty details on the packing + planning process. For now, I want to recap a few lessons I learned, sometimes the hard way, while wandering around southern Chile.

Rain = Mud

Astonishing, right?! Somehow I managed to plan for days of hiking in the rain but completely forgot that rain usually results in mud. LOTS of mud! When we arrived at Torres del Paine it was raining. Not a torrential downpour, just a steady rain with low hanging clouds hiding the mountains. We left the dry buildings covered head to ankle [not toe, I’ll get to that later] in rain gear and started trekking up, up, up and away into the wilderness.

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For the first mile or so we tiptoed around the puddles, hopped from rock to rock and probably looked ridiculous slipping around the mud to avoid getting our feet wet while rain plummeted from the sky around us! This all changed when we came upon a “trickling stream” that was trying to redefine itself as a “raging river”…we had to get wet. And as soon as we plunged into the cold river we found a new mindset – embrace the puddles! The rest of the day [and trek!] we gave in and had fun in the mud! Totally worth having wet feet for 6 days!

The Signs LIE!

We didn’t confirm this until a few days into our trek but the signs/maps along the trails lie! As in, do NOT depend upon them for a morale boost or base your lunch breaks around the accuracy of these signs…you WILL be disappointed! On our first day we had a 1km stretch of trail that took us over an hour to cover, according to the lying signs. On our third day we adjusted our camping plans because of another lying sign that said we HOURS to our next site when it was really 45 minutes away. Even the elevation profiles are deceiving!

Switchbacks?!

It didn’t take us long to realize that Chile [or at least Torres del Paine trail management] does not believe in the concept of switchbacks! Why bother zigzagging up a mountain when you can just plow straight up?! Sometimes this is nice – you get to the top of a hill or pass so much quicker by just powering up, up, up. But when you’re headed downhill? In mud? Switchbacks would have been nice…

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The trickiest part of the entire trek was the muddy descent off of John Gardner pass. As soon as we hit the trees it was a slick, muddy mess without any switchbacks….we just slide down the mountainside, grabbing at trees and roots for support. In theory the climb UP the pass would have been harder but slipping downhill was frustrating! Switchbacks are daunting but boy was I wishing for a few on this stretch!

Chilean Spanish =/= Spanish Taught in WI High Schools

Good grief – Chilean Spanish is HARD to understand! I’m not good with Spanish in general, with only a few years of Spanish classes and limited practical use I was relying on the English-based tourist setting to keep me in the loop. I know, very “pretentious American” of me, sorry! But even words/phrases I know were hard to pick up in Chile. They talk crazy fast and apparently love their slang! I was so thankful when I met a few Chileans on the TDP trail who quickly explained “yes, Chilean Spanish is crazy hard to learn!”…it wasn’t just me! They use a fair bit of “Spanglish” and drop the “s” in a lot of words simply because it’s faster. Crazy Chileans!

Slow Down, Take a Minute

At the end of the day…we were covering a LOT of miles a day on rather mountainous terrain with 30-45lbs of weight on our backs. We had to move with purpose to stay on track with our limited days in the park. However, the best parts of the trip were the moments when we stepped away from the mileage goals and let ourselves relax and have fun.

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Whether it was having fun with other people [like when we discovered the store at Camp Grey took credit cards and we polished off a few boxes of wine with a fun group of trekkers] or just taking a minute to stare at the world around us [like watching the glaciers in the mountains around the French Valley calve into waterfalls] or even an afternoon nap because my mind/body needed it [like the day I avoided people for a 4 hour nap – worth it!] take a minute and stare at the world around you! Remember to look behind you, be friendly with fellow trekkers and don’t let pressure to cover distance be the reason you miss the mountains!

And was it all worth it?! Of course! It wasn’t exactly what I had expected and I did return home with some inner turmoil about the rest of my life but it got me out of my comfort zone, into a new country + culture and gave me a reason to think, really think, about my life. So yes, it was 110% worth it! Now I’m off to nurse this silly cold…

Planning + Packing || The O Circuit Part 1 || The O Circuit Part 2

Checking Out: Chile Bound!

04 Mar 15
Heidi Kumm
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5 comments

I’m about to fly off the grid, literally. Tomorrow I’m headed to South America for two weeks of exploring in the Patagonia region of Chile. This entire trip was a crazy idea thought up by Logan and it’s actually happening! I’m going to another country, to run/hike/explore…just because I can!

I am semi-packed [do you have any idea how much space food takes?!] and mostly prepared. The “where you can find me if I don’t return” email is about to go out to a few special enablers and my game plan is kind of, sort of planned. I’m excited. I’m terrified. But most importantly…I’m ready to be 110% off the grid for two full weeks. Oh, and I hear the scenery is going to be pretty darn spectacular!

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