Not So Solo in Patagonia: Hiking Torres del Paine

Janice Waugh planned to go hiking in Patagonia alone, but made some life-long friends along the way.

A beautiful pink and purple sunrise over Torres del Paine, Patagonia Photo © Getty Images/Puripat Wiriyapipat

My time hiking Patagonia was fantastic. This park is like none other on earth. The mountains are like none I've ever seen.

Great towers of granite jutting into the sky at the top. Lush forests as you ascend the mountain. Semi-arid range below.

At every moment, there is natural beauty in every direction. 

Finding a hiking partner for the W 

When I left on this trip, I was prepared to hike in the park alone, but I suspected that it might not be the case. After all, I was taking the Navimag Ferry from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales, the town that gives you access to Torres del Paine. Four days on a ferry would surely present opportunities for travel friendships, and possibly hiking partners. Indeed it did. I met Noemie and we made plans to hike together.

I had a problematic knee. She was recovering from knee surgery she’d had just six months before. So, despite me being her mother's age, we were a reasonable match. Of course, she was ahead of me on the trail. Legs and lungs 20+ years younger did give her an advantage, but she was gracious with it and we had a wonderful time.

Camping and packing light

We were also a match in our approach to travel. Traveling simply and inexpensively was fine for both of us.

Thinking that I would be on my own, I had made bookings at the refugios for my bed and board before leaving. Noemie had not been sure that she would go into the park and, traveling for five months, had to be careful with her money. So we decided to camp. We rented the equipment in Puerto Natales and enjoyed night after night in a tent. I love camping and would not have preferred it any other way.

We also cooperated on packing for the park. Because she was on a longer trip, Noemie had a large pack. I had a smaller pack (40 liters) and a day pack. We reorganized our things, putting everything we didn't absolutely need in her large pack, and leaving it at a hostel so that we could go into the park with two small, lighter packs.

All this, and buying lots of nuts and fruits for the trail, was done quickly on the morning we arrived by ferry.

Hiking Torres del Paine

Before you get there, planning to hike Torres del Paine is confusing. Now that I've done it, I can't remember why but thank goodness for the travel bloggers who helped me (Jeff of Career Break Secrets and Paige of Tripeezy) by answering countless questions. They also confirmed that it wasn’t just me who found it confusing – this was a relief.

In addition to the help of Jeff and Paige, I had a surprise bonus. A cousin of mine (kind of) living in Santiago is married to a man who used to be a mountain guide. As luck would have it, he was one of the people who designed the W hiking trail. He described in great detail what would be involved. He set priorities in case my knee didn't hold out, and strategies in case the weather didn't cooperate.

So, with planning help from many people, Noemie and I hiked like this:

  • Hiked the right side of the W first. We went to the campground which was about an hour from the top on the first day. This took about 3.5 hours
  • The next morning we hiked to the end of the trail for a fabulous view of the famous Towers – something we would not have had the day before
  • Hiked down to the bottom again meeting many people from the ferry along the way
  • Took a shuttle bus from the Torres Lodge to the main road
  • Waited two hours for a bus that took us to Lago Pehoe
  • Took a ferry which took us to Grand Paine where we camped our second and third nights
  • On our third day, we hiked to the Grey Glacier
  • Our fourth morning was raining, so we left early by ferry and bus for Puerto Natales.

Parting ways

We arrived back in Puerto Natales around 5pm and quickly researched buses to our next destinations. Noemie was going to Argentina. I was going further south to Punta Arenas. As luck would have it, Noemie could grab a bus at 6:30. Again, a hurried repacking of our backpacks, and Noemie was on her way. After spending so many days with her, sharing wonderful experiences, it felt odd, but normal as well. That’s what happens with solo travelers. We are now Facebook friends and, who knows, we may meet again.

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