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Photo Essay: Patagonia's W Trek

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Cover image: Torres Del Paine. All images: Matt Allenbaugh

The W Trek is an approximately 35-mile trek through the highlights of Torres del Paine National Park, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in Patagonian, Chile. 

Despite being at the far end of the South American continent it is relatively accessible from its jumping off point in Puerto Natales. A beautiful little port town that has transformed into a multisport hub complete with everything a backpacker, climber or paddler would need including hostels on nearly every corner, public transportation, beautiful artwork and some excellent pisco sours. We stayed at the newly opened Hostel Last Hope and can’t recommend highly enough.

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Statues in Puerto Natales

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Hostel Last Hope.

Each of the three valleys or branches of the W Trek had its own unique character. The western leg travelled along Lago Grey to Glacier Grey, and the end of the Southern Patagonian Ice Sheet. Rugged and exposed we got our first taste of the Patagonian winds.

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Wind!

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Kat, the author's partner, contemplating the glacier.

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Lago Grey and Glacier Grey.

Valle Frances, the central leg of the trek is much more rugged. Avalanches thunder down from the walls above as the trail travels between giant trees, verdant ferns and mosses. After raining the night before and into the wee hours of the morning, we decided to gamble and packed away our gear in the rain, grabbed a few granola bars and headed up the valley. We were met at various times by rain, snow, 40+ mile per hour winds, sleet and finally a brilliant sunrise. We had the trail to ourselves in the most spectacular place I have ever been!

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Alpenglow in Valle Frances.

Valle Ascencio, the eastern most valley travels through dry, dusty, scrub as it winds its way along the Rio Ascencio before turning and ascending to the park’s namesake, the Torres del Paine.

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Valle Ascencio.

The trail that links the three valleys travels along lakes of such incredible blues and greens that they look cartoonish as they sit below the Cuernos del Paine.

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Cuernos del Paine

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Kat crossing Rio Frances.

But the real highlight of the trip was the morning that we hiked up Valle Frances. Not only did we have the entire valley to ourselves with alpenglow on the Cuernos, the Torres and the Aleta de Tiburon, but a beautiful young lady whom I love said that she would spend the rest of her life with me. Could I possibly have asked for anything more?

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She said yes!

Matt Allenbaugh is a backpacker, cyclist, climber, fly fisherman, race director, outdoor educator, freelance writer and Appalachian Trail Ridgerunner living in the Blue Ridge. He doesn’t know how to plan a wedding so a date hasn’t been set for the big day. Find pics from his travels on Instagram @mattallenbaugh

At the heart of everything we do are the folks who make the magic happen. A group of likeminded footwear-industry vets who left our big-brand jobs back in 2007 intent on doing business a better way. 

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