A Tale of Towers, Horns, & Wailing Winds ~ Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

08 March – 11 March, 2018

 The one national park we refused to strike from our “can’t do it all” list was Torres del Paine, Chile’s premier park, located about 70 miles northwest of Puerto Natales. I’d seen photos of her iconic towers bathed in golden sunlight and had vowed to see them for myself one day.

The stunning centerpiece in this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve national park is the Paine (PIE-nay) Massif, an eastern spur of the Andes, which consist of several main mountain groups: the dramatic Torres (3 Towers), incisor-shaped spires of smooth grey granite; the Cuernos (Horns), often mistaken for the Towers, ragged peaks capped in dark sedimentary rock, contrasting with a pale igneous base; and the tallest mountain in the park, the Cerro Paine Grande, towering ~ 9200 feet above the park floor. It is these iconic spires, along with glaciers and glacial-fed lakes of varying hues of blue that attract 250,000 visitors annually, half of them international travelers.

Pudeto, our drop-off point on day 1.

Torres del Paine has an extensive network of hiking trails, day hikes and backpacking trips as well. Many come to trek the 4-10 day ‘W’ or ‘O’ circuit, named for the shape of the routes.

Our initial thought was to do the ‘W’ circuit, the 4-5 day trek, staying at refugios in the park along the way. Even months before our arrival I wasn’t able to get all the lodging we needed, so if you are going and don’t plan to tent camp, get on those reservations early (dependent upon time of year you are going, of course).

Day 1 of our park adventure was a rainy one, so we opted for a shorter hiking day, particularly because we were staying in Puerto Natales and looking at a 2-hour bus ride to the park, standing in a long line to fill out paperwork to pay our entrance fee, and watching a safety video. Since I really wanted to photograph the Salto Grande waterfall, we opted to be dropped at Pudeto and hike to the falls and on to the Mirador Cuernos to see the horns, if the weather gods were kind, but they were looking rather grumpy.

As Terry and I were preparing for our hike, a young German woman approached, asking if we were hiking to Salto Grande. We said yes and invited her along. Even though the rains never subsided, we enjoyed getting to know Johanna, who was on holiday from her studies as a medical engineering student.

Me and Johanna on a soggy day in Torres del Paine.

The horns were ever-elusive during our hike and only peeked out after we were finished and ready to board the bus back to Natales. Temperamental weather is what Patagonia is all about!

A glimpse of the Paine Massif through the clouds, with the Cuernos (Horns) on the left.

Torres del Paine is probably one of the more expensive parks to visit, particularly if you are staying in Puerto Natales. You’ll pay for a bus to get there, a shuttle to many of the trailheads, and a pricey park entrance fee. The entrance fee does allow for three consecutive day visits, however.

If we had only one memorable hike in the park, we were hoping for Mirador Las Torres, a demanding hike up to the base of the towers. Since it is estimated as a 7-8 hour hike, there would be no dawdling, in order to catch the last bus of the day out of the park. We chose a day that looked promising weather-wise and went for it.

Breathtaking scenery unfolded before us as we traipsed up the mountain.

Unfortunately, as is often true of Patagonia, clouds moved in and before we reached the last half-mile boulder hop up to the towers, the rains came. Terry had a bit of a knee problem so after much maneuvering over large boulders he decided to turn around, to preserve his knees for another day, and I continued my push up to the top.

As I got above tree-line I soon discovered the unrelenting winds for which Patagonia is famous. I was blown away, literally, by a gust of wind as I stepped on a boulder. Luckily, I landed forward as backwards could have been disastrous for my camera or my head. As I stood I felt pain in my hand and a strange orientation to my digits. Gingerly removing my glove, I was shocked to see a finger at a 90-degree angle, turning blue at the second joint. Without any more thought I snapped it back into place, the pain immediately subsiding. I then realized Terry had the first-aid kit with him (oops).

It seems duct tape works for everything. 🙂

Tegan and Dale appeared and generously provided supplies so I could tape my fingers together. I was ten minutes from the top; it was raining; and the wind was howling but the towers were calling to me. Just then hikers descending from the top said the window had closed and the towers were hidden. My decision was made…down I headed. 😦

Two guardian angels in the form of Pauline and Anton from Holland arrived and would not leave my side the 5 miles back down the mountain. My protests of “you can go on; I am fine” were soon answered with a smiling “oh shut up” from Pauline. Their generosity knew no limits. My faith in humanity is never more restored than by those we have met during life’s travels.

NOTE: Credit goes to Anton Vinck for the next three photos. I would have had no photos of the Towers if not for him. Thanks so much Anton!

A bit about Puerto Natales…

We liked the vibe of this bustling tourist town, formerly a sleepy little wool and fishing port. It caters to the backpacker set, with hostels tucked away on many  streets and several outdoor gear stores lining the walkways. Although the sun was elusive for much of our stay, the old pier, Muelle Historico, is still a good place to visit, even if I wasn’t able to get that acclaimed sunset shot. Hard to capture without the sun.

Mesita Grande is the place to go for gourmet pizza and Café Kaiken is a wonderful little café if you are looking for a more sophisticated meal. It is where we had our first pisco sour, popular in this region of the world. And the Dried Fruit Guy is the only place in town to go for hiking snacks.

Next Up: Early bus to El Calafate where a glacier awaits!

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48 thoughts on “A Tale of Towers, Horns, & Wailing Winds ~ Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

  • Too bad you didn’t take a photo of the finger before popping it back in place 😉 The scenery on that hike looks incredible even in the rain! Sorry you didn’t get to finish but it’s fortunate your injury was not more serious.

    • Yes, that would have been a great photo but the couple around me willing to help, providing the tape, may have just walked away thinking I was crazy. They provided me with medical tape, which was soggy and dirty by the time I got back from the hike and a bugger to remove with a tender finger. Terry and I taped it again later with duct tape as there were no doctors to be had at 10:30 at night and we had an early bus out of Natales. The scenery pretty much everywhere is incredible Gayle.

  • I have one word to say about your descriptive finger incident…THUD! (The sound of my head hitting the floor as I passed out!) You are more woman than me! WOW! Can’t believe you are really “there” there! I know the weather is not ideal, but those snowy, misty, foggy photos are so dreamy! On to El Calafate — enjoy a good Malbec for me!

    • I think when I saw my finger at a 90 degree angle at the second joint, I may have been in shock I reset it so fast. I may have also been a bit more aggressive than I should have been but I was determined to reset it only once. Didn’t want to practice a second time. I read on the internet afterwards that when you dislocate a finger, pack in ice, and head to the doctor to let him reset it – ha!

    • I should have said that I still can’t believe we are here either. The locals are all so fabulous! You know, we booked a one-way ticket… 😉

  • Your photos are fantastic. The Falls photos took my breath away! The black and white are super.
    WOW…I knew you were the woman I want to be when I grow up, but putting your finger back in place had definitely added to why I want to be you. What a woman! What a fantastic journey your are on!

  • While the weather doesn’t look exactly pleasant, it sure did make for spectacular and dramatic photos. That black sky and jade green water is so beautiful together. Love the glacier flour filled waters! I can see why you wanted to get to the granite towers. So unusual and magnificent. So sorry you didn’t get there in time. What a gallant effort you gave it!! Way to rock it! But…ouch!! Your description of your poor finger made me shiver. I am glad some hikers came to your rescue and stayed with you. We’ve hiked with a lone hiker before. I hate to see someone alone especially in unpleasant conditions. Glad you are enjoying your adventure. Your photos are wonderful!! Be careful out there:)

    • I was disappointed in not seeing the towers Pam but I know that is Patagonia. The weather changes so quickly that a bright, sunny day can quickly change to rain or snow.

  • I can see why the Torres del Paine National Park remained on your must see list – it’s magnificent! The Salto Grande Falls and water color of the river is amazing and it sounds like both of your hikes were a success, injuries and all. Your Patagonia adventure sounds like it’s living up to and surpassing all your expectations and I love being a virtual visitor right alongside of you! Anita

    • Thanks Anita. Yes, even with my little mishap, Patagonia is living up to what I had been dreaming. I was wondering where you have been since I haven’t seen any posts from you show up in my email lately. Now that I type that, I wonder if I have somehow gotten removed from your subscription list. I will check as internet allows. We are now in El Chalten, where the internet is elusive.

    • Thanks Anita. Yes, even with my little mishap, Patagonia is living up to what I had been dreaming. I was wondering where you have been since I haven’t seen any posts from you show up in my email lately. Now that I type this, I wonder if I have somehow gotten removed from your subscription list. I will check as internet allows. We are now in El Chalten, where the internet is elusive.

  • You are Bad-Ass, LuAnn! I love that you reacted so quickly to put your finger back in place. Wow… you saved yourself a world of hurt. Enjoy the rest of your trip.

  • Ahh, the elusive Torres! I didn’t get to see them either, and we went the whole way up. 😦 We did get a nice evening view of the Cuernos, which was near the end of our “O” circuit trek and a nice way to finish after 8 days in tents and windy/rainy weather. Glad you got to spend some time in this beautiful park!

  • Sounds like you have to go back and try again, we always leave and excuse to return. Adrenaline is our friend and it looks like your finger is the beneficiary of yours. Your story is always such a treasure to read, thanks for letting us join you in your journey. Oh and try to stop falling and injuring yourself!

    • Yep, I do have an excuse to return, but with sooo many places on our travel list, that may not happen. I shall try and remain upright! 🙂

  • Dramatic and spectacular scenery, Wow! So glad you opted to go all the way despite a minor accident, Ouch! And I say minor because it was not your knee nor legs which would have hampered your trip. My knee accident sidelined me for a month.
    Am enjoying your adventure so far!

  • What a hike! Wonderful photos LuAnn. Hope your finger is healing. Too bad about the Patagonia weather. I remember the relentless wind that’s for sure, and our one glimpse of the towers. Sounds like you’re having a great time anyway.
    Alison

  • What an extraordinary adventure you two are having! The beauty of the landscape is almost surreal, and although the weather made your hiking more difficult, the stormy skies really add to the drama of your photos. OMG, your accident…you have such strength of spirit and presence of mind! I probably would have just been yelling “Ow, ow, ow!!” and other choice words. I’m very glad you met kind folks along the way to accompany you on your return journey (good people attract good people :-)).

    • This weather is even more wild at times than I anticipated. A gust of wind pushed me off that boulder in a split second. We have been meeting some amazing folks Laurel, kinda like when we are RVing. 😉

  • I can totally see why you were so determined to get there. It is stunningly gorgeous, even in the less than perfect weather. Yikes, the finger thing sounds painful. You are such a courageous adventurer to keep going, speaks a lot to your persistence.

    Isn’t it amazing how life minded fellow travelers (strangers) can become instant friends? It definitely is one of the joys of travel. Thank goodness you had someone there to help out. Love the use of duct tape. My sons swear by it (yes for everything). I used to travel with a roll of it, but had forgotten about that, time to get back to that, after reading this post.

    Your photos are fabulous. Can’t wait to read more of your trip….

    Peta (& Ben)

  • What an adventure! The weather is not being a friend to you but your pictures are amazing with that contrasting sky against the turquoise water! Ah-mazing!

    As for your finger… I would have freaked! YOU, my friend, are one tough chick!

  • Hi LuAnn, Wonderful to read of your adventures! I am guessing you will love “El Chalten”. Hope your finger heals fast! I remember you from my blogging days (twoscamps). We backpacked Torres del Paine six and a half years ago! What a fantastic experience that was! It is great to catch up on your adventures…. Maureen

    • Thanks Maureen! What an adventure that must have been to backpack Torres del Paine. So far we are loving El Chalten. And yes, I do remember you. What are you up to these days?

  • OMG, Luann, those are the most striking images yet! I’m so happy for you and Terry on your adventure. Also, you’re a rock star warrior, as the duct tape photos proves!

    • The landscape everywhere we turn is spectacular Lisa. I was lucky it wasn’t something besides my finger and thankful for some generous folks nearby.

  • This is such a contrast to your US national parks, I love the bleak feeling, open nature. I’m really enjoying your trip, although the finger thing made me nauseous.

  • (Make note to self: add duct tape to your first-aid kit.)

    So glad that you landed as gracefully as possible, and that there were plenty of guardian angels to dote on you!
    The photos are lovely, the landscape stunning, but very-cold temps and I don’t get along well – I think I’ll be fine just being a voyeur via your posts!

    • Duct tape should be in everyone’s first-aid kit, and they make it in such brilliant colors Lisa, which you would love! The weather has been very interesting here. I typically don’t like wind, in warm weather or in cold. I told myself to embrace the experience before we left for our trip and surprisingly, the wind hasn’t bothered me much, except of course, when I was blown off that boulder. 😉

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