7 Things you need to know before hiking the O Trek
So you're really going to do it, Patagonia!
The booking system is rubbish and the flights are expensive but you already know that which is why we have compiled a more useful list of stuff you should know to before setting out on your adventure!
1. You absolutely, 100% do NOT need a guide and can hike independently
We were astounded by the prices tour companies were charging for multi-day treks through Torres del Paine - some upwards of $3000 USD/Per Person! The reality is you can book your accommodation yourself, carry or buy food on the way and easily follow the clear paths in the park without an expensive guide. Rangers are everywhere. People are everywhere. Don't stray from the very clearly marked trails and you won't get lost. Do your research and save yourself thousands (that you can later spend on fancy wine, thank us later).
2. You have to carry all your own food
Unless you can budget $30USD meals per person at the refugios, you will be carrying your own food and a lot of it. We pre-made vacuum packed oatmeal bags, ate soup, pasta, risottos and noodles. There were a lot of nuts, dried fruit, chocolate and snicker bars for lunches and snacks. There may have been a bottle of Pisco that was worth the weight on freezing nights.
While Puerto Natales has several supermarkets with a reasonable selection of food, it’s not what you can expect in the US or UK. Stocks were slim on the ‘good’ pasta, risottos, noodles, etc. Bring snicker bars from abroad or buy them in Santiago. In the park, you will pay about $4 a bar.
Keep it light. With pasta, you need to also buy sauce and together they end up being a rather large and heavy meal option. We found the dried Risottos the best deal going for taste, price, weight and space.
Pro Tip for vegetarians: We bought a kilo of dried soya to bolster out meals and despite looking like mystery meat, it was surprisingly delicious and really did fill us up. We commented several times a day how thankful we were for buying it. You can find it in the ‘health’ or ‘gluten-free’ section of the larger supermarkets.
Lesson Learned: Get your food in Santiago. Bring Snicker bars from abroad. Pack light.
3. Get some free info
Erratic Rock hosts a free information session most nights to help make sense of the Trek. We attended a session and despite hours of research, the guide was simultaneously adorable and SO helpful in his Mountain Man instruction. These guys are pros. They also rent equipment at reasonable prices.
Best of all - next door to their hostel is a very good giant restaurant with delish pizzas and giant beer. It’s carb-loading, treat yo self!
Lesson Learned: Free information = good; Pizza = good
4. The O is not filled with ‘Wow’ moments
We hate to break it to serious trekkers but the real highlights of Torres del Paine are really on the W trek. The O offers a quieter route to beat the crowds but you will be trekking through plains and forests with limited ‘take-your-breath-away’ viewpoints. We thoroughly enjoyed our treks on the O (as we did it twice, really), but if we must be honest, the W was breathtaking corner after corner.
Lesson Learned: We’d just do the W again
5. Don’t believe the Park Gossip
One thing was clear hiking the circuit and that was that nothing is certain. The weather changed by the minute, people turn around, accidents happen. The new booking system has put a strain on the experience. Trekkers are now having to chase expensive, set in stone campsite reservations despite varying elements like the weather.
For instance, trekking the O, we were held up at Los Perros due to bad weather, which ultimately closed the pass due to snow. We passed dozens of reluctant trekkers who had turned around to backtrack three days in order to chase their reservations at the insistence of park rangers. This required two back to back 30km days over ground we’d just covered, having to beg rangers to camp at a station as we would not make it in time to the next campsite, an extra ferry crossing and ultimately not having our reservation honoured at Camp Grey, only to meet people who had gotten to come over the pass!
Again, due to bad weather, we were informed the French Valley was closed. We waited until the next morning and whilst a beautiful, bluebird sky opened before us the sign still said closed. We don’t advise going against the Park’s word but let’s just say they were on Patagonian time in updating their assessment. We trekked on anyways and were met with a stunning blanket of white. Several other trekkers were at the Mirador Britanico and several hundred came up shortly after us. If we would have listened to the sign, we would have missed the highlight of our trek.
Lesson Learned: Weather changes, winter comes early. The official word changes. Trek at your own risk.
6. Evil, HANGRY MICE
Of all the wind, rain, foxes and even PUMAS, no one warned us about the MICE. Would you like to know how our brand new North Face tent developed a spontaneous fist-sized hole in the netting? Perhaps you would like to know how my lovely red backpack is now decorated with adorable mouse droppings (shit stains… let’s call them what they are…shit stains). But most importantly, those little furry assholes ate 10 FULL SIZED SNICKER BARS I was very much looking forward to. It was like a crime scene.
Lesson Learned: Hang your food in a dry sack in a tree. Be warned.
7. The weather is bonkers
We trekked the O in mid-March (13-21st March 2018) and had wild, unseasonably cold weather. Coming into the park we couldn't even see the iconic mountain range as it was covered in fog - what a treat on our way out! There will be all extremes and you really need to be prepared for it all. Like, seriously. Make sure your sleeping bag is warm enough or buy a liner.
Our short list of wild weather examples will give you a good idea of the mayhem:
- Water - Whipped out water-proof pants on Day
- Wind - Had our brand new North Face tent smashed to pieces in 100km/hour winds at Paine Grande campground
- Cold - Woke up to snow and frost in Central
- Hot - Proceeded to get heat stroke on the way up to the towers
Lesson Learned: Be prepared for extreme weather and ensure your equipment is suited for hot days, freezing nights, 100km wind and sideways rain.
If you have any specific questions, leave a comment! Our preparation for Torres del Paine was only possible with the help of blogs, forums and other travellers who helped us make sense of it all!