3 Lessons I learned From Torres Del Paine National Park

Torres del Paine National Park has been on my bucket list from the moment my feet landed in Chile 7 years ago. Every year, I would say “I’m going, I’m going, I’m going” and I always had one dumb excuse after the next dumb excuse, so, I never went.

Well, in 2017 I finally said “no more excuses, I’m going” and I finally went. It was everything I imagined. Sort of. I will humbly say that I bit off more than I could chew. I wanted to do the W trek so bad that I didn’t really think about what it actually means to do Torres del Paine W trek. I didn’t have a horrible time, but I also didn’t have the time of my life. I enjoyed it, but I know that I could have enjoyed it much more. I thought I had prepared enough but throughout my whole experience, I kept telling myself “You know nothing, John snow” as I walked and walked, and walked. I learned 3 valuable lessons during my time on the W trek and I think you should know them too. Are you ready?

Lesson 1: Know Your Reality.

This hike is not for beginners. Don’t let me saying this keep you from trying it. I don’t consider myself an advanced hiker or even a semi-hiker at that but I have done other treks in Chile before coming to the W. I knew there were going to be moments where I wasn’t going to be able to breathe and I thought I was ready for that.

When I talk about knowing your reality, there are two parts to it. One is being physically prepared. This is pretty obvious as your going to be outdoors climbing in and out of valleys and go over mountains to reach glaciers and lagoons for several hours a day. When I arrived at Puerto Natales I could maybe run a mile. Ok, a mile and half. Mistake # 1. Anyone who comes here should at least be able to run a 5k without wanting to die. Remember your carrying yourself plus a pack. Whether it’s your full 60-liter pack or just a daypack. It gets heavy. You get tired. Your feet will hurt.

Secondly, and most important, is being mentally prepared. Your stepping into Patagonia and it’s no joke. You will feel all 4 seasons in one day and it’s a very remote place in the world. The mountains will challenge you and make you second guess every step you take. You may even want to quit when you’re exhausted but you have to keep on going because, like I said, you’re in a remote part of the world. There is no magical helicopter that will come and save you. (well, there is if your dying and in cases of extreme emergencies).

Everything took me 1- 2 hours longer because I wasn’t physically ready so my mental game had to be on point. There where plenty of times I would just talk to myself. Out loud. I would imagine myself being interviewed by Jimmy Fallon (My dream) or hosting my own travel series (another dream) or even going one-step further and questioning every single life decision I’ve ever made. Yup, I went there, and people thought I was crazy.


Lesson 2: Plan Ahead

Look at a map and study it. Look at the distances, and plan accordingly to what you’re capable of and not what everyone is doing. You can visit the park in one day or you can spend 7. You can choose to go it alone, with friends, your significant other or with a guide. You can choose to take your own tent and food or choose to stay in places where they give you these things. All of this will affect directly to how your time is spent and also the cost of your stay at the park. I will say that I did none of the above and just focused on keeping my costs low. Mistake #2. I also was in a rush. I tried to do the W in between two other work trips I had planned which left me with only 3 days and 2 nights to do the W. Most people and travel website recommend you do the W in 4 days, 3 nights as a minimum! I knew this, but I went ahead because I thought that I could beat the system. Nope. I couldn’t.

What I should have done was wait until I was done with both of trips to calmly come down to Puerto Natales and enjoy the park like I really wanted too. Lucky I live in Santiago so the next time I see a good deal on a flight I’ll have to book. Then I’ll have to look into reserving my stay, which is a whole different story you can read here.


Lesson 3: Don’t Rush.

There is a saying in Patagonia which goes like this in Spanish: “el que se apura en la Patagonia, pierde el tiempo” which translate to if you rush in Patagonia, you loose time. Let me tell you that this is the truest old wives tale that I’ve ever heard in my life. If you rush through your hike, two things will happen; 1: You will be exhausted and 2: you won’t enjoy what’s in front of you. As I mentioned before, my time was limited. On day two I walked X miles. Mistake #3. I was so over it by mile X that I didn’t care what I was looking at. I ended up falling asleep as soon as I arrived at the French Valley to try and recover whatever energy I could for the 3-hour hike that was in front of me to get to camp Paine Grande.

So like I said in the beginning…I have to come back. So that I can do Torres del Paine the right way. I feel pretty lucky because I’m only a two-hour flight away and getting here isn’t as terrible because I’m already at the end of the world, but imagine someone else (most likely you who are reading this) who won’t have another chance to visit.


Now with these lessons that I learned, it doesn’t mean that I had a terrible time. On the contrary, I absolutely loved it. I was angry with myself that I didn’t do it the right way. These lessons and my time in Torres del Paine gave me a better idea of how to tackle it my next time around. Plus I later found out that there are a bunch of additional hikes to do in the area that has motivated me to get into better shape so I can enjoy them more. Torres del Paine, I might be spending 10 times more with you next time. Get ready, because I will.

Remember when you give good, you get good.

 

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5 Comments

  1. I would most likely not do well on this hike. I would get the special ride out on the helicopter. Your photos are so beautiful though. Are there a lot of really steep places? Can you go super slow if you have the time? Is it safe to camp out in the areas where you are alone?

    1. anyone can do this hike, the important thing to remember is to go at your pace and not what everyone else is doing. I will say that Macchu Picchu was a harder hike than the W in terms of steepness and altitude. You can take all the time you want but you cant set up camp anywhere in the park. there are designated areas to sleep. It’s absolutely safe to go alone if you want. Good Luck! 🙂

  2. I have been wanting to get to Torres del Paine for SOOO LONNGG… I hope this year is the year. I always try to see as much as I can and tend to forget to slow down. Thanks for the reminder!

  3. I love hearing about epic hikes but I totally agree that you gotta know your reality! I hike in Alaska a lot and there’s this trail to a lake that’s the hardest I’ve ever done…my first time doing it I was SO not prepared! I made it but it could’ve been more enjoyable if I had planned ahead and knew what I was getting into lol

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