While researching my trip I found that either people didn't have or weren't forthcoming with much information on their experience in Torres del Paine National Park. So I wrote a couple of things down while I was there (Dec '04).
This is a report of my experience of a 5 day trek on the W. I have tried to give information that will be helpful for others planning on doing this trek in the future.
We were lucky enough to get five days of warm sunshine and very little wind. This helped make our days spent in the park all the more enjoyable, and I hope everyone can be as lucky as we were with the weather. For anyone interested we visited the Park at the beginning of December 2004.
I should say at the beginning that we trekked with our own tent and our own food but didn't take a stove. So I have no information about the quality or price of sleeping conditions or meals at the various refugios.
We decide to hike from West to East as we wanted to see the Torres on the last day and this also means that you should have the wind at your back most of the time (theoretically). Hiking times given are our hiking times and include breaks and photo stops.
We spent the day before leaving buying all the supplies that we didn't already have. Food, drink etc. We also purchased sleeping mats (3700 pesos / $6.40) and zip off waterproof pants (6900 pesos / $12).
Return bus to the park cost 12000 pesos / $21. This was organised through our hotel and included pickup. May be slightly cheaper if you book in town.
Entry to the park costs 10000 pesos / $17 and includes a very good map. There is no need to buy an expensive one in town beforehand.
The bus left Puerto Natales at 7:30am and arrived at Lago Pehoe at 10:30. The catamaran leaves at midday (10000 pesos). There are some good photo opportunities of Los Cuernos from the top of the boat but if it is windy you will get wet from the spray as you head around the point.
We were off the boat and started trekking at 13:00. The hike to Camp Grey was 3.5 hours. You know you are halfway when you see Glacier Grey for the first time. You also cross 3 or 4 streams where you can refill your water bottle.
We were against a strong headwind this day (only day of wind we had). The walk is a combination of forest, lake, mountain and glacier views.
After arriving at Camping Grey it is a 15 min walk to the glacier lookout. I recommend walking all the way to the tip of the rocky headland to give you the closest views of the glacier.
This was our favorite campsite with icebergs floating right past our tent. Camping here costs 3500 pesos per person. There is no share stove available to campers. There is a price list for what is available (food / drink / equipment)at Camping Grey (and other refugios) below .
3.5 hours back to Lago Pehoe and then we stopped for a half hour lunch. It was a further 2.5 hours from here to Camping Italiano, crossed 3 streams with drinking water. This is a free campground that is just across the bridge. There is usually one guard here who is helpful and always happy to have a chat. This is a popular place for non campers to leave their packs while they hike up Valle del Frances.
The area around the bridge is a great spot to soak your feet in the water, enjoy the sunshine (hope you have some) and read a book or just relax. While we were there, condors were flying overhead and the sound of ice cracking on the glacier every ten minutes made a enjoyable afternoon.
Camp Italiano is split in two areas. The top section has the guard hut and campsites and the bottom section 100m away has more campsites and toilets (no shower).
It is a 1 hour hike up the valley to the Glacier del Francis lookout. If you wait you will probably see big chunks of snow and ice break off and cause avalanches as they tumble down the mountain face. If you are tired or short on time it isn't necessary to continue further into the valley, there are also great views back down the valley. If you do go further you will head into a beautiful forest where the trail flattens out. It is another 45 min until you hit a big clearing with a different perspective of the Cuernos. Camp Britannico is 10 min further on. We headed 5 min further up from here with the view changing but not really getting better.
After returning to Camp Italiano and packing our gear it was a 2 hour hike to Camping Los Cuernos. This section looked much easier to hike West – East. There is also a very picturesque black and white pebble beach.
Camping was 3500 pesos and there was a stove inside the refugio to cook food on for I think 1000 pesos, all utensiles provided.
Took us 4.5 hours from Camp Los Cuernos to Camp Chileno. Again 3500 pesos p.p camping and outside stove available. This campground was the smallest we visited.
We were worried as it rained during the night and expected the worst when we woke early. We left a bit after sunrise and it was 1 hour to the base of the hill and then 45min up the rocks. It is steep but not as hard as we were lead to believe. The trail is marked by painted rocks but it is easy to get off the trail, especially coming down. This isn't a big problem but it is easier to stick to the marked route. We were the second group to arrive and spent 1.5 hours at the
top enjoying the view and taking photos. The rain came 2 minutes after we started back. I finally got a chance to use my rain pants. It was a little over an hour (walking fast) from Camp Chileno to Hosteria Las Torres. It was howling wind and pouring rain but we were so happy to have completed the W up to that point with great weather that we couldn't care less. The day trip people coming up looked miserable.
You will get a free transfer pass from Camp Los Cuernos or Camp Chileno for the mini bus that runs between Hosteria Los Torres and Guarderia Laguna Amarga (where the return buses wait). The mini buses leave 14:00 to make the 15:00 return or 17:00 to make the 17:45 return. You may have to check these times because I could have them wrong.
And I promise you will sleep very well on the return journey.
We only took just enough food, so make sure you have a little spare. To give you an idea we had ham, cheese, bread, tuna, salami, soup packets, spaghetti, olives, dried fruit, chocalate. There is plenty to choose from in Puerto Natales. It also isn't necessary to take huge amounts of water as you will cross streams every few hours and the water is as good as you will find anywhere. It also wasn't necessary to make any bookings for campsites.
I think 5 days and 4 nights is the best way to complete the W. This way you aren't as rushed, have more time for photos, longer lunch and wont be as tired. If you can fit 5 days into your itinerary I suggest you do.
One option for shortening to 4 days is to take the morning bus and midday catamaran, dump your pack at Refugio Paine Grande (where the catamaran drops you off) and then hike to Glacier Grey and return, pick up your pack and then spend your first night at Camp Italiano. Problem with this is it is a lot of walking on your first day, you miss the chance to relax and watch the glacier and iceburgs, and Camp Grey is the nicest of the campsites.