Chile, glaciers, Patagonia, South America, The W Trek, Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine, Day 2: Paine Grande-Italiano-Britanico-Italiano-Frances 19.5km


Paine Grande campsite at dawn

We wake to clear skies and vicious winds in Paine Grande. There’s no need for an alarm, as it would be quite difficult to sleep late. I stuff my clothes into my sleeping bag and do a little journaling while I let them warm up. I then give myself a little pep talk before getting dressed. My Paine Grande Morning Chat


Paine Grande bathed in early morning light

I call out to Simon in the tent next to me, and we head over to the kitchen to make breakfast. It’s 7am and a worker is just unlocking the door. As there’s nobody about yet, the large common area is cold. We find a picnic table and boil some water for oatmeal. I throw in some trail mix to spice it up a little and use the leftover water for coffee.


Paine Grande

After breakfast, we head back to breakdown our tents, but the morning’s sunrise insists I stop to go and take pictures. The sun is casting hues of orange, pink and purple over Paine Grande and Torres behind.

The wind is whipping, which makes it difficult to break down my tent, and even more difficult to convince myself to shed all layers down to just trekking pants and a long sleeve, but I know we will warm up once we get moving.

We leave the campsite at 8am, and the sun is strong and promises us a clear day. As we leave Paine Grance campsite, a park ranger sitting in an administration hut calls out to us, “Buenos dias.”

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Lago Pehoe, as seen leaving Paine Grande campsite


The views leaving Paine Grande

We begin a climb and Lake Pehoe is literally glowing in the morning light. As we turn away from the lake, Paine Grande is now sitting majestically in front of us. To our left is a waterfall feeding a small stream, where a couple of hikers have stopped to fill their water bottles. To the right of the path, large hares scatter at the sound of our footsteps. It’s one of those ‘pinch me’ moments, where the beauty is slightly overwhelming and I have to remind myself that I am actually here.

The wind is kicking up a force now, as we climb slightly higher and leave Lake Pehoe behind us. We are now walking parallel to a dark blue lake on our right, and the wind is so fierce, it’s actually creating whitecaps on the lake’s surface.


Whitecaps on the lake, due to such strong winds

As we enter another fire devastated area, the bare trees creak above us as they sway in the wind. It’s nearly impossible to set up my tripod and take pictures, and when I attempt a video, I have to hold the tripod to stop it from blowing over.


Frances Glacier

Soon, we enter a forested area and have a bit of shelter from the wind. We are walking next to a wide river when up on our right, we come to a suspension bridge. As we cross, we are afforded the most spectacular views so far today. A massive mountain covered in ice, snow and glaciers is feeding the river we just crossed. From the bridge, the rapids rush by just a few feet below.

We have reached Italiano campsite and happily shed our packs. We are now at the base of Frances Valley, which is a separate day hike that will take about 5 hours roundtrip (including time at the top for pictures and a rest). We pack a little day bag with some snacks, refill our water bottles in the stream, and set out for the hike.


Compacted snow and ice breaking away from Frances glacier

After about 5 minutes hiking under tree cover, we are now in the open air walking parallel to the riverbed. Every ten minutes or so, we hear claps of thunder as pieces of compacted ice break away from the glaciers and fall away from the mountain, creating a cloud of white dust behind them.


Lago Pehoe from Mirador Frances

1 ½ hours up a rugged trail, we reach the Mirador Frances. The panoramic views include the Frances glacier to our left, Los Cuernos to our right and Lago Pehoe behind us. Ahead of us is another 1 ½ hour hike to Britanico lookout, and Simon and I hike on, enjoying spectacular views the entire way.


Frances Valley

Most of the next hour is spent in forest, but suddenly, we enter an area of open, rocky trail, and we’re facing Los Cuernos head on. After another 20 minutes of trekking and a 200-meter climb up, we perch ourselves on a huge boulder and look down into the valley, taking in the views.


Frances Valley as seen from Britanico

It would be easy to sit here for hours, but we’re conscious of the sun slowly getting closer to the mountain peaks, so we have a snack and begin the return journey back to Italiano.

Firing up the stove for dinner.

Our packs are waiting for us, and we sling them back on for another 2 kilometers – the final, relatively flat 30 minute walk to Frances Campsite. It’s after 7pm when we arrive, and we pay for our camping and seek out two free pallet platforms for the night.

I’m exhausted, it’s quickly cooling off and hunger is setting in. After a quick lesson in setting up a tent on a wooden platform (rocks in each corner of the tent), Simon and I head down to the bathrooms, which is a cruel 300 meter hike downhill. We top up our wine supply at a little shop and head back to camp to prepare pasta with a sachet of crema de pollo. Simon digs into his pack and pulls out what were frozen mushrooms and we enjoy a feast. Despite being such a basic meal, in our eyes and after all our exertion, it tastes like restaurant quality. We scrape the pan clean, share some dark chocolate for dessert and retire to our tents for a dry and windless night of sleep. My End of Day Recap


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