5 days W Trek – Torres del Paine in Patagonia

Every single backpacker in Patagonia recommended me the W trek in Torres del Paine National Park. Located right into Chile’s Patagonia region, it is known for its beautiful mountains, bright blue icebergs that cleave from glaciers. Its most iconic site is the 3 granite towers from which the park takes its name.

The best time to visit Chilean Patagonia is November to early March (summertime in the southern hemisphere). I went in October and it was perfect because not many people were on the trek and it was easy to book the refuges.

Itinerary and Map

Day 0
Arrival in Puerto Natales
Preferably arrive in the morning in Puerto Natales. If you arrive at the bus station, you can book your bus ticket to get to the national park (Puerto Natales to Pudeto) directly for the next day. Then look for your camping equipment in the city if you camp. Test your equipment and prepare your backpack. Prepare food for your first lunch in the night.Night in We are Patagonia Backpackers Hostel
Day 1 Puerto Natales to Grey7:00am – Take a bus from Puerto Natales to the Pudeto (the catamaran ferry stop). We booked a super cheap taxi to make sure we arrive right on time.
8:45am – The bus will stop at the park entrance when you first get into Torres del Paine to pay your entrance fee. Make sure you have $21,000 CLP in cash.
10:00am – You will arrive at Pudeto but you might have to wait one hour for the ferry.
11:00am – Take the ferry across to Paine Grande. It costs $21 000 CLP for a one way trip.
11:45am – Arrive at Paine Grande and get your lunch before starting to trek to Grey. The trail will go uphill right away and after crossing the 50% it will go downhill. On the way you will discover the beautiful Lago Grey.
4:00pm – The hike from Paine Grande takes about four hours so expect to arrive around 4pm to pitch your tent. If the weather is great, you can drop all your backpacks and head to the glacier and bridges like we did. The views after the second bridge are fantastic!
Night in Grey campsite https://www.verticepatagonia.cl
Day 2
Grey to Paine Grande
8:00am – Wake up and have breakfast.
9:00am – Leave your stuff at the campsite and return a few hours later to pack everything up. From the campsite, an additional one kilometre north through the forest brings you go two viewpoints lying over a kilometre from the glacier’s snout. From here, look out for enormous chunks of ice in the water. Continue a further 2.5 kilometres (around a one-hour hike) along the path along the edge of the glacier to reach a series of two rope bridges hanging over ravines. From here you get the best views of the glacier and, if you’re lucky and it’s a clear day, the Southern Patagonian Ice Field beyond. Return to Grey along the same path and back to Paine Grande.
4:00pm – You will arrive at Paine Grande at around 4pm, which is where you will spend the night. The facilities are great here, with a covered dining area for campers.
Night at Paine Grande https://www.verticepatagonia.cl


Day 3 Paine Grande to Frances
8:00am – Wake up, have breakfast and pack up your tent.
9:00am – Today begins with a flattish trek around Lake Nordernskjold to Guardería Italiano and the free, CONAF run Campamento Italiano. You can leave your bags here with the ranger before hiking up into the Francés Valley.
11:00am – The next hike up the Francés Valley is pretty long and difficult. This part of the hike marks the central section of the W and it’s all uphill. After an hour’s steep gradient up a rocky, slippery trail to Mirador Frances, look for Glaciar Frances as it clings to the mountainside in the west. This was one of my favorite viewpoint in the all trek. Continue climbing to Mirador Britanico (an additional 3.5 km each way; around three hours’ return), where you will view a ring of toothy granite peaks, including the park’s second most famous landmark, the three-horned Cuernos del Paine. It’s one of the park’s most stunning viewpoints—when the sky is clear. Luckily, the hike back is downhill to return to Campamento Italiano, where you pick up your backpack and hike the 30 minutes to reach Frances.
4:00pm – Arrive at Frances, pitch up and enjoy the views across the lake.

Night at Frances
http://www.fantasticosur.com/en/
Day 4 Frances to El Chileno
8:00am – Wake up, have breakfast and pack up your tent.
9:00am – Leave the campsite and begin the trek to El Chileno, situated about two hours from the bottom of the towers. This trek meanders alongside the lake, gaining and losing altitude as it goes, until you reach the start of the valley where it becomes all uphill. The views are incredible but if it’s sunny, it will be hot!
3:00pm – Arrive at El Chileno and pitch your tent. Get everything organised for the morning as you’ll be leaving early. Check with the staff what time sunrise will be the next morning.
We arrived quite early at the Chileno refuge and the weather was great with a perfect blue sky. So we decided to hike the towers right away. After 1h30, we had about 15 minutes on top before the park ranger asked us to leave. We really made it right on time.
7:00pm – Taste the great pizzas of El Chileno to get some strengths for the next day!

Night at El Chileno
http://www.fantasticosur.com/en/
Day 5
El Chileno to Puerto Natales
2 hours before sunrise – Wake up and take your day backpack with warm clothes and a snack to see the towers at dawn. Don’t forget your torch as the route is over rocks and can be treacherous.
Start hiking up to the towers.
8:00am – Leave the towers and return to the campsite. Pack up, have breakfast and start the long walk down.
12.30pm – Get the shuttle minibus ($3,000 CLP to take you to Laguna Amarga, you need to hike one kilometre down the road towards Torres Central/Norte to reach the Centro de Bienvenida/Ranger station. The shuttle usually leaves when it’s full.
1:00pm – Take the bus from the Ranger station back to Puerto Natales.
3:00pm – Arrival in Puerto Natales bus station!
Night in We are Patagonia Backpackers Hostel

Budget

Below is the budget we used for our 5 days trek for 2 persons. The rental equipment includes tent, sleeping bags, sleeping mat, cooking stove and a 50-60L backpack. We booked the equipment at Erratic Rock Equipment Rental Center (Manuel Baquedano 719, Puerto Natales).

ItemPrice (CLP)
Camping reservations106025
Entrance fee42000
Boat ticket42000
Rental equipment65000
Food, snacks, gas100000
Minibus shuttle6000
Buses30000
Taxi to get to the bus station2000

Pro tips

  • Camping will be a much nicer and cheaper experience than the refuges if you are ready for the adventure
  • Don’t book the bus return ticket to the park, it is easier and much quicker to pay the first available bus at the ranger station
  • Before starting to book anything, check all campsites availabilities
  • You absolutely don’t need a guide, the trail is well indicated
  • You can get a passport stamp at the park entrance
  • Electricity is available in most camping sites, same for showers
  • Get a small day backpack to carry only the necessary when you will leave all your stuff in the tent
  • Cook the night before leaving if you can, you will be thankful for a good lunch before starting the hike and won’t waste any time on the first hiking day
  • You can’t cook in the Chileno refuge, don’t carry food for that one
  • Don’t carry all the food with you, you will find mini-markets along the way with basics things such as noodles or rice or snacks
  • Many people leave their extra gaz to cook in the refuges that are located at both extremities of the W trek
  • Don’t trust too much the weather forecast above 48h, it changes very fast there
  • Most of the distance/time estimate signs were wrong, better to check it online
  • Some people bring their sleeping bag on top of the towers to wait for the sunrise

Conclusion

I hesitated for weeks before booking everything and did it at the last minute. Turns out, it was the best adventure of my 6 months trip in Latin America and I am so happy I decided to go. The park has everything you can wish for as an adventurer and it will most likely surprise you with its landscapes, fauna or flora!

Climbing Acatenango Volcano in 2 days

Climbing Acatenango was the highlight of my trip to Guatemala. Acatenango is a stratovolcano (volcano built up by many layers of hardened lava, tephra, pumice and ash) close to the city of Antigua. Acatenango is joined with Volcán de Fuego and collectively the volcano complex is known as La Horqueta.

The view over Volcán de Fuego is one of the reasons people attempt this climb. Fuego is also a stratovolcano but it is active. Fuego is famous for its small gas and ash eruptions that occur every 10 to 15 minutes. Its eruptions are beautiful and more visible by night.

View over Fuego from Acatenango Day
View over Fuego from Acatenango during the day

Route and timeline

Experienced hikers can do it over a day but it is worth staying longer to admire the spectacle during the evening. Many local tours offer lodging options in a refuge or a tent at the base camp to stay overnight. Not without mentioning the wine and marshmallows around the campfire.

We started the hike around 2,550 m. Two small camps were available along the way where you can get drinks, snacks and fruits from locals. Most people reach base camp at 3,660 m during the mid-afternoon. Guides usually start cooking and cut some wood for the campfire at 3pm. Dinner is served at 6pm. During sunset, the eruptions begin to become spectacular! The sound delay of every eruption will indicate how far you are from the volcano. Only 3 little seconds so 3 kms away. Not bad knowing that hot gas and volcanic matter can move at around 100 km/h and lava at 60 km/h!

For the complete route, the GPX file can be downloaded on ViewRanger.

On the next day we woke up early at 4am to begin the final ascent to the top to reach the 3,976 m. It took about one hour. We waited patiently in the cold and windy summit for a few minutes. Just the time to realise where we were standing: on a moonlike surface inside the volcanic crater. The sun came out really quick and released the first sunbeams over all the volcanoes surrounding us.

Getting ready

Be among the people who are prepared and aware of the challenge. It is a though hike and good hiking gear will make the difference during this adventure. 4 layers are recommended as the temperature can get below 0°C at the summit when there is wind. We were close to -15°C. Good shoes, headlamp, hiking poles (they rent sticks at the entrance) and a good backpack are necessary. You will have to carry 4L of water as per the park entrance instructions. Guides use 1L at the top to cook for you.

Tour companies

A few companies in Antigua offer this tour but we decided to go with Tropicana Tour for all the good reviews they have. It turns out they have one of the best located campsite with a perfect view on Fuego. Daniel and Osbaldo, our guides, were fantastic and told us many stories about the volcanoes. Spanish speakers will definitely get a better experience with most of the guides. Some companies propose to hike the Fuego on the first day to get really close to the eruptions but we decided to not take more risks.

Climbing Gran Paradiso and Mont-Blanc

Mont Blanc just after Dôme du Goûter

Climbing Mont-Blanc (4810m) was something close to my heart since I did Tour du Mont-Blanc last summer. It is something that must be planned ahead as you must find a guide (highly recommended) and book refuges (highly demanded). Our guide was suggesting several summits for acclimatation but we picked Gran Paradiso (4061m) in Italy which look vertiginous with an airy ridge at the summit!

With a good preparation, you will put all the chances on your side to make this dream come true. This preparation first starts at home throughout the year to maintain your physical form (running, cycling, hiking, skiing…). Both summits need specific equipment and knowledge of alpinism, don’t underestimate them. Prior to doing this experience I’ve heard and read so many different things online, I can tell you that both summit are not easy. You never climb the same mountain twice, the weather can change everything and altitude affects everyone differently.

Day 1 – Hike Lac Blanc, Argentière – 4 hours hike

We started the adventure with a hike to Lac Blanc, possibly Chamonix’s most famous walk. A perfect start to test some of our new equipment and warm-up for the intense week to come! After taking Flégère cable car, in about one hour we arrived at the lake. After couple photos in front of the frozen lake we took the direction to Argentière to slowly go down and enjoy this section of the TMB (Tour du Mont Blanc). Then, we took a train to get back to Chamonix from Argentière train station.

Day 2 – Hike Grand Balcon Nord, Grotte de Glace – 5 hours hike

Our original plan was to climb Mont Buet (3096m) but current conditions were preventing us from getting to the top so we changed our plan! A great alternative that we found was to hike Grand Balcon Nord and then explore an ice cave (Grotte de Glace).

The hike starts at the famous cable car “Aiguille du Midi” but instead of going to the top, you will stop at “Plan de l’Aiguille” (2,207 m) and begin the hike along Grand Balcon Nord to Montenvers via the Signal de Forbes and its extraordinary panorama. From there you should have a splendid view on the Mer de Glace, the Drus and the Grandes Jorasses. A few more steps down and you will be able to get to the famous Grotte de Glace. The ice grotto is cut into a living glacier. The grotto has to be dug out every summer since the glacier moves about 70m every year. It was fantastic to get inside with the hot weather.

Day 3 – Rest, enjoy Chamonix and get the rented gear

It was great to have a day to relax and buy missing items. We rented crampons and alpine boots at Sanglard and they did a great job at giving us tips on how to set everything up. Finally, Climbing World cup was also right in front of our hotel so we had no excuse to not go!

Day 4 – Mountaineering training – Aiguille verte – All day

We were very excited to finally begin the adventure with the guide! He brought us ice axes, helmets and climbing harnesses. Getting all that equipment on you will make you feel like a real alpinist. However only when we started to climb a very steep hill in the snow with the heavy boots and crampons we realized in what we were getting into. Objective of this training day was to give us an introduction to cramponing, progression in rope and elementary knots. After seeing another group climbing an ice wall we asked our guide to give it a try! It seems we did very well for a first time climbing an ice wall, first with 2 ice axes, then just one!

Day 5 – Drive to Gran Paradiso in Italy through Tunnel of Mont Blanc and climb to first refuge – 2 hours drive + 2,5 hours ascent

We started the day by a short drive from Chamonix to Gran Paradiso starting point: a parking surrounded by beautiful mountains. After about 2,5 hours of ascent we arrived at Refuge Federico Chabod (2750m). We spent the evening waiting for results of the world cup as France was playing against Belgium that night! Without any cellular network, everyone was riveted to the only radio available in the refuge.

Day 6 – Gran Paradiso summit day – 7 hours ascent/descent + 2 hours drive

This days was the occasion to complete our alpine training, develop our mountaineering, glacier travel and rope work skills! We started around 4:30am, right after breakfast and a short night of sleep. The route was easy at the beginning, but after about one hour it was time to put on the crampons, set the ropes between us and be very careful to avoid deep crevasses.

It was cold but the scenery was amazing, we were very excited to make it to our first 4000+ summit! The final ridge finally appeared and only a few people were thinking about launching themselves into the last few meters. This part is usually overcrowded, because it’s where a Madonna statue is standing. Without hesitating our guide brought us to the statue, passing everyone one by one we managed to get the statue just for us! 4061m! Our descent was easy if we don’t mention my friend’s sunscreen which made us half blind for couple hours! We used a different path to get to the parking and stopped at Rifugio Vittorio Emanuele.

Day 7 – Chamonix to Tête Rousse Refuge – 1 hour transport + 2,5 hours ascent

No time to rest, already time to continue the adventure on the popular Gouter Hut route! We took the Bellevue cable car (with couple hours waiting due to a power outage) from Les Houches and then took the Tramway du Mont Blanc to the Nid d’Aigle (2,372m). Only 2,5 hours to get to the famous Tête Rousse Refuge. This is where we slept. We would enjoy our successful booking of both Tête Rousse and Refuge du Goûter to make the ascent in 3 days.

Day 8 – Mont blanc Summit day – 10 hours ascent/descent

4am! I woke up without any difficulty: after months of training, the day to climb Mont-Blanc was finally here! I remember checking the weather outside quickly before getting breakfast and see the exceptional conditions. We had absolutely won the lottery for our 9 days in the French and Italian Alps. Of course the route is popular as I mentioned before, but it is also infamous for the Gouter couloir also known as “death couloir”. The key is to cross this section early in the morning. Hours which are the most critical are between 11am and 1.30 pm when stone falls occur. When I looked at the path to the Refuge du Goûter, I really thought it was a wall to climb because it was a strong 600m steep, close to vertical, section of rock. The truth is that it went very well and we climbed it in about 2 hours.

We did a one hour break at Refuge du Goûter and dropped some of the gear that we didn’t use on the final ascent (helmet, extra clothes, etc). We actually dropped hiking poles and other items along the way to finish with an almost empty backpack at the summit. What I will remember from this day is the physical and mental challenge that represents the latest 800m, it felt endless and even when I thought we were at the end of the mountain, there was another! But the best view comes after the hardest climb. Being on top of Europe is a unique moment, a lifetime experience.

Day 9 – Refuge du Goûter to Chamonix – 3,5 hours descent + 1 hour transport

With a smile on our faces and the motivation to get back in the valley, the descent went fast, extremely fast! We actually ran while laughing to get on time to catch the train at Nid d’aigle. Probably too much energy left, the long training before Mont-Blanc paid off after all.

Mountain guide recommendation

If you are interested into starting this adventure, don’t hesitate to contact me to get my professional mountain guide contact details.

Solo-hiking Tour du Mont Blanc

Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc was a great adventure! Not only for the beautiful alpine views but for the great people I met along the way. With a total of 170 km and about 10 kilometres of ascent/descent, it is better to be correctly prepared and equipped. This tour is usually done in 8 to 12 days between June and September.

Preparation & equipment

  • Buy a guide book with the minimum info to understand the tour and its signage. Most people on the tour had this one for French speakers: TopoGuides – Tour du Mont Blanc – FFRandonnée and this one for English speakers Tour of mont Blanc – Kev Reynolds
  • Buy a map, IGN maps are not needed if you have a guide book and a GPS you can trust in term of accuracy and battery in the mountains
  • Make a list of the required gear and pack your bag with the minimum. Remember that you will have water and food in addition. This list was the best I found.
  • Prepare and decide your route in advance, make sure you have the alternative routes available if you decide to take any variant from the official TMB trail or if the weather doesn’t allow you to take the variant for example.
  • I traced my route on View Ranger using the web version, exported it in gpx file and imported it into Gaia GPS which has one of the clearest design on mobile and was very easy to follow in the fog! All my gpx files are available here: [Download GPX TMB routes]
  • Forget about weather apps on your phone, only this website is used by locals and proved to have accurate weather reports: http://chamonix-meteo.com/

Planning

  • Planning should be done carefully based on the physical challenge you want to experience:
    • Less than 10 days will be a though challenge, but you can take the bus or use chair lifts to shorten the trek, it can be a good option if you are limited on time
    • 10 days should be good and let time for variants as I did
    • More than 10 days will be comfortable and let time to do extra trails
DayItineraryNight/RefugeRoute
DepartureHome ➤ Les HouchesChalet Les Méandres (ex Tupilak) 
Day 1Les Houches ➤ Les Contamines (Variant Tricot)Gîte le Pontet VR
Day 2Les Contamines ➤ Refuge Croix du BonhommeRefuge de la Croix du Bonhomme VR
Day 3Refuge Croix du Bonhomme ➤ Rifugio Elisabetta (Variant Col des Fours)Rifugio Elisabetta VR
Day 4Rifugio Elisabetta ➤ Rifugio BertoneRifugio Bertone VR
Day 5Rifugio Bertone ➤ Rifugio Elena (Variant Bernada)Rifugio Elena VR
Day 6Rifugio Elena ➤ La FoulyMaya Joie VR
Day 7La Fouly ➤ ChampexAuberge Gîte Bon Abri  VR
Day 8Champex ➤ Trient (Variant Arpette)Auberge Mont blanc VR
Day 9Trient ➤ Tre le ChampGite le moulin VR
Day 10Tre le Champ ➤ Chamonix (Variant Lac Blanc)Hotel VR
Return Chamonix ➤ Les Houches  ➤ Home All GPX files

Booking if sleeping in refuges

Booking can be easy if you go through an agency, many people get the best rooms in refuges by using an agency. It is also possible online thought http://www.montourdumontblanc.com/. And finally it can be done by phone but make sure you confirm a second time the reservation a week before with the refuge.