Hiking, The 'W'
- Laguna Amarga Area
- admission high/low season US$17/US$8.50
Lonely Planet review for Hiking, The 'W'
Should one hike the 'W' or go for the whole Circuit? The answer lies in one's time, hiking experience and endurance. Doing the Circuit takes five to eight days, while the 'W' takes at least three to four. If you're not driving, figure another day or so for transportation connections. With the Circuit you will definitely see more and get further away from the crowds; however, the 'W' neatly packages the park's 'highlight' views into a tighter period of time.
The majority of trekkers start both routes from Laguna Amarga, although it's also possible to hike from the Administración or take the catamaran to Lago Pehoé and start from there. The treks are not without difficulty, and hikers have suffered serious injuries and even died. For this reason Conaf frowns upon solo trekkers (although you'll be lucky to find any real solitude on the 'W' outside the dead of winter). It is, however, always prudent to hike with others. Something as minor and common as a twisted ankle can be a real problem if you are deep into the park and by yourself.
Most people trek the 'W' from right to left (east to west), starting at Laguna Amarga, but hiking east to west - especially in the section from Lago Pehoé to Valle Francés - provides superior views of the Cuernos (which are otherwise to your back in that segment).
The moderate hike, the Refugio Las Torres to Mirador Las Torres, takes four hours one-way. This hike goes up Río Ascencio to a treeless tarn beneath the eastern face of the Torres del Paine proper. This is the closest view you will get of the towers - have your camera ready. The last hour is a knee-popping scramble up boulders (covered with knee- and waist-high snow in winter). There are camping and refugios at Las Torres and Chileno, with basic camping at Campamento Torres. In summer stay at Campamento Torres and head up at sunrise to beat the crowds.
The Refugio Las Torres to Los Cuernos is a hike of seven hours one-way. Hikers should keep to the lower trail (the upper trail, which is not marked on maps, is twisty and not recommended - many get lost). There's camping and a refugio. Winds can be fierce along this section during high season.
To Valle Frances is a five hours one-way from Cuernos or Lago Pehoé. This hike is the most beautiful stretch - in clear weather - between 3050m Paine Grande to the west and the lower but still spectacular Torres del Paine and Los Cuernos to the east, with glaciers hugging the trail. There's camping at Italiano and at Britannico, right in the heart of the valley. Don't forget to push on past Britannico to the lookout.
Mountain Lodge Paine Grande to Refugio Lago Grey hike takes four hours one-way from Lago Pehoé. This hike follows a relatively easy trail with a few bits of challenging downhill scampers. The glacier lookout is another half-hour's hike away. There are camping and refugios at both ends.
The five-hour hike, Mountain Lodge Paine Grande to the Administración goes up and around the side of Lago Pehoé, and then through seemingly endless grassy fields along Río Grey. This is not technically part of the 'W,' but after completion of the hike you can cut out to the Administración from here and avoid backtracking all the way to Laguna Amarga. Mountain Lodge Paine Grande can radio in and make sure that you can catch a bus from the Administración back to Puerto Natales. You can also enter the 'W' this way if you want to hike it east to west (although it can be disheartening to have to hike five hours before even beginning the 'W').