4 Big Considerations Before Planning a Trek in Patagonia

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I remember seeing Patagonia for the first time on a photograph years ago. It was a picture of towering peaks enshrouded by stormy clouds reflected perfectly in a pristine lake. It was so majestic. I was instantly hooked.

Heading towards Camp Italiano, a free campsite with very minimalist facilities, we found stunning vista in every direction. It was surreal. Tricia lead the way as I was stopping too many times taking pictures.

Patagonia is located at almost the southern tip of South America close to the Strait of Magellan. It straddles the border of southern Argentina and southern Chile. It’s a long way from our home in Seattle, Washington, but Tricia and I had no debate that trekking in Patagonia was how we want to spent our honeymoon in the winter of 2016.

We started our trip from Camp Gray which meant we had to take a catamaran across Lake Pehoe. Not a bad way to start the journey.

When we finally got there, standing in front of Torres Del Paine of Patagonia- in front of those jagged peaks and turquoise blue glacial melt lakes- we were both awestruck and ecstatic like two children set free in a candy store. It was place of natural beauty unmatched by anything we had seen.

Because it is such an amazing trek and it is so remotely located, you should make sure your plan is thorough. There are a few big items to consider before you jump in on this trip:

  1. What time of the year do you want to go?
Rounding the corner onto the O part of the trek. The terrain changed dramatically as did the weather. No more sunshine and it got cold quickly. Tricia was a champ and kept her spirit up the entire trek even in the worst weather.

We went on our trip at the beginning of November which is technically still the shoulder season. The benefit of going during the shoulder season is that you don’t run into swarm of crowds. Even on the W trek, we didn’t encounter a huge crowd. We booked our campsites as soon as the booking system was open.

The downside of trekking during the shoulder season is that the weather is unpredictable. We were lucky to have sunny days and beautiful sunrises while we were in the W, but the weather turned on us when we rounded the corner on to the O. I will get to that later.

There is price to pay to be at the end of the world. The winds were howling, tearing away at 40 miles per hour with gusts up to 60 mph, while we were trekking in the park. There are a few spots that were especially windy. This couple ventured out to a protruding rock overlooking Lago Grey. It was difficult to even stand up straight even holding each other for support.

Patagonia is a very windy place all year long. We encountered gusts up to 60mph. It was difficult to stand up straight at times and tiny grains of sand blew up in the air and stung our faces. Make sure you have eye wear and adequate clothing. I will get to that in my packing list post.

2.Which route to take?

Screen Shot 2018-02-19 at 7.43.47 PM
I outlined the “W” with pink. The pink line and the blue line combine to make up the “O”. 3-4 days should be adequate for the “W” and about 7 days are usually needed for the “O”.

There are many hikes around Patagonia. The most popular is the W, which is arguably the most beautiful segment of the hike.

On the other hand, the natural beauty is far better appreciated away from the crowds which makes the back side of the O an even better experience for strong hikers.

Since trekkers must camp or lodge at the designated sites according to the park regulations, you will naturally run into crowds at each camp site. In the campsites on the W, you see people touring the landscape in different ways: some people got to the camp on horses and a guide; some people hiked in with a small pack with a bottle of water and some snacks. Once you round the corner onto the O, you will more consistently encounter avid backpackers. These people are more likely to carry their own tents and food and navigate their own routes. You should choose your route carefully depending on your comfort level.

3. Is a guide necessary for you?

In my opinion, you do not need a guide for this trek, especially if you are only hiking the W. Hiking the O can be a little trickier since you need to go over a pass, but the routes were well marked and there are enough fellow trekkers at campsites to share hiking tips.

On the other hand, a guide can provide a sense of comfort for people who are not used to the wilderness. It’s a safety net that I don’t think you should hesitate to use if you have any doubts about your ability to survive in the wilderness or simply have no interest in planning a trip on your own.

Tricia testing out the wind strength by leaning forward into the wind. Did she almost faceplant? I’m not at liberty to tell.

4.How many days do you need?

We allocated 7 days of our trip to the O. We got unlucky that the pass of Los Perros was hit by a snowstorm the day before we got the there.

Since we had time constraint due to a pre-scheduled three day kayaking trip immediately following the trek, we had to reluctantly turn around from Camp Dickson.

In our calculations, if we attempted the pass and had to turn around (other hikers had told us that rangers had recently not let some trekkers pass because of stormy weather), we’d miss the kayaking trip as well. If we had planned in one or two resting/ buffer days, we’d have had the time to take the risk of getting delayed a day.

To complete the W, I think four days is adequate.

Oh hello Patagonia, we are here and ready to play! Camp Paine Grande, Day 1.

Once you have considered these questions above, I think you are ready to make plans for your trip to Patagonia. We took our trip in the winter of 2016 without a guide or a porter. We navigated the trek on our own. It took a lot planning, and it was worth every minute I spent looking up the details of the trip. Thankfully my wife, Tricia, did most of the planning for our wedding that summer, so I was able to focus on planning our honeymoon that winter. It was by far the most pleasurable item to plan that year.

Let’s talk about some of the logistics of this trip such as transportation to the park, booking campsites and our trekking itinerary in my next post. If you like my posts, don’t forget to follow me by putting in your email address below. 


Part 1: 1 3
Part 2: 1 2 3 4 5

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