We woke up to perfectly clear skies, and all the angst from the last couple of days over the weather quickly vanished. With the Towers putting on quite a stunning display in the early morning light we couldn’t help but rush outside to admire the views and capture the moment.
At breakfast everyone was giddy and anxious to get on the trail. Around 9:00am we finally hit the trail and with the sun shining we couldn’t ask for a better start to our hike.
The trail started out flat and we set out at a leisurely pace marveling at the scenery around us before climbing uphill towards Refugio Chileno.
We continued up the main path maintaining a steady pace, the trail getting steeper the higher we climbed. At this point Sally went ahead of us but we would catch up to her when she got distracted and stopped to study some plant or rock. Eventually we reached a viewpoint where we got fantastic views of Valle Ascencio. Looking down the valley we were able to make out the red rooftop of Chileno, our accommodation for the night.
It was mostly downhill to Chileno from here. Along the way we passed a couple of workers fixing part of the trail damaged from the rains. Thirty minutes later we reached Chileno and dropped off our main packs and switched to day packs to complete the trek to the base of Towers.
We headed out again up the valley towards the Towers and after a mile in Sally, who was maintaining a faster pace, went ahead of us. We would meet at the top….(Spoiler Alert: She would be waiting for a while). The trail started out smooth, gently climbing through lenga forest. But the further we got the steeper, rockier and wetter it became. For a while clouds had developed and our more distant views of the towers were obscured. It seem our window of opportunity of seeing the Towers up close was quickly disappearing.
An hour and a half and a few stream and bridge crossings later we reached another viewpoint.
The sign at the viewpoint told us we were about 45 minutes away from the base of the Towers.
We were able to see some of the tops of the Towers and surrounding mountains but there were still lots of clouds threatening the view.
Rockway to Heaven
For a while the trail was a steep creek that we walked up. Once we were off the creek the trail got drier, eventually becoming a rock and boulder field. As the climb got steeper and more rocky the views got more impressive. The last part of the hike was the most challenging, a brutal steep scramble over huge boulders.
A few twists and turns and more elevation gain later and we were finally face to face with the Towers at last. The utter exhaustion we felt was absolutely worth it when we saw the Towers surrounded by beautiful clear blue skies.
We found Sally as she was starting to worry about us. (Yep we were that slow). She had arrived under cloudy skies thinking she wouldn’t get a chance to see the Towers but her patience was rewarded an hour later when the curtain of clouds parted slowly revealing all three Towers. By the time we arrived the clouds had completely disappeared. See, it pays to be slow.
We spent probably over 2 hours at the mirador having lunch and taking every picture imaginable. It was gratifying to see that G wasn’t the only idiot to drag a tripod up this trail.
The wind was picking up and clouds were starting to return. We took this as a sign to start heading back.
It was slow going back down as we navigated the steep downhill over slippery rocks and muddy trails. Sally jumped from boulder to boulder with the agility of a mountain goat and we lost sight of her right away. There were still lots of people coming up, some going fast and some really struggling with their heavy packs on. It was questionable if they would get to see the Towers up close as waves of clouds threatened to cover them up again. Along the way back, we spotted some huge waterfalls, flowing massively from the previous rains. By the time we made it back to Chileno the Towers were no longer visible.
Chilly in Chileno
We got to the lodge and checked into a bunk room that slept eight people. There were two sets of triple bunks and one double, and sleeping bags for bedding. Unlike the cozy and comfortable bunk room in Refugio Torres Central our room was really cold and felt cramped. Since we were the last to arrive we all had high bunks. Our bunk mates were a couple from Australia and three women from New York.
As we were accommodating ourselves in our bunks and getting ready to take showers we realized we did not have any bath towels. The staff at Chileno, who were completely disorganized and clueless, not only forgot to give us towels but our meal vouchers as well. When D went back to grab fresh towels they had run out. Luckily we brought our camp towels and used those instead.
The worst part was that there were issues with the sewer system which made the bathrooms smell like raw sewage. Every time we passed or entered the bathrooms we had to endure the intensely putrid smell and hold our breath to avoid gagging. That should have been reason enough to skip taking a shower.
It turns out the New Yorkers were part of a larger tour group that took over the small common area. The small common area had a small wood fireplace so people hung their wet clothes to dry in the room. When Sally went to hang up a wet shirt on one of the few open spots in the room they gave her a hard time about where she was hanging her shirt.
When we showed up for the 7:30pm dinner shift in the dining room there were no seats available. It turns our that everyone was given the 7:30pm time slot and like United Airlines the staff overbooked. (OK the United incident didn’t happen yet but couldn’t resist). Like I said the staff was totally disorganized. There were 8 of us that had to be “rebooked” for the 8:15pm time slot. Not letting them off easy we insisted on extra complimentary Pisco sours. Alcohol somehow makes things better. When our time slot rolled around we weren’t going to be denied again so we jumped on the best seats. We were joined by the nice Australian couple and an older couple from the U.K. Dinner conversation was lively as everyone shared stories of their day. It was a great day despite the problems at the Refugio.
Parque Nacional Torres del Paine
The only thing that this Refugio has going for it is the location. Located about half way to Mirador Torres this makes a convenient base to hike the trail if one is not up for camping or if Campamento Torres is full. The facilities were extremely basic and cramped. The front desk ignored us for a good 15 minutes tending to people ordering drinks or wanting to charge their phones. You have to take off your boots before you enter the Refugio so remember to bring an extra pair of shoes that you can use inside the lodge. Dinner service was disorganized. The sleeping bags in the room smelled musty and Sally woke up with bug bites. For the price we paid we expect better service and facilities. If it wasn’t for the convenient location I would recommend people to use Refugio Torres as their base and to skip Chileno altogether.