Find Danielle’s account and George’s insight of the W Trek here, in one rather long blog post! Enjoy!
I am sure many of you have heard the phrase ‘so-and-so has learned to walk’ excitedly exclaimed from your parent-friends. Well, now I am going to excitedly exclaim the same: ‘George and I learned to walk!’ I can now officially claim to know this skill in the same way as those hardened hikers who, when they say ‘walk’, mean ‘backpacks on, camping stoves packed, scrambling over rocks in any weather’ kind of walking. We have learned to walk.
The W Trek, Torres Del Paine, Patagonia: a hiker’s dream to which many seasoned trekkers come from all over the world. And George and myself kind of stumbled across it and said, on a whim, ‘let’s do it’ in a ‘well, why not’ kind of way. We started by going to one of the free talks detailing the well-known hikes of the area, with the sole view of doing perhaps one day of hiking, and two at the very most.
However, the guide was so enthusiastic about the trek that we both left feeling a little more curious about the full ‘W’. I won’t claim to have been suddenly turned around on the subject, knowing my hiking skills are, well, zero to none (or, at least, they were). But after much toing-and-froing, in a very casual manner, we decided to go. So we spent the next day organising ourselves with everything we would need for the full 5-day trek.
We cannot claim to be fully fledged hikers quite yet, as much as we would like to think ourselves so. We mutually decided, with no discussion needed, that carrying our own tents and sleeping bags might be a little too much on our first real foray into the trekking world. Don’t get me wrong, our backpacks were heavy enough with our five days’ supply of food, clothes and first aid equipment; we just thought it best to stop there on this particular occasion and not overdo it by attempting to carry the weight of our sleeping gear as well.
After an early start and a long bus ride to the park, our hike did not kick off until early afternoon. And boy, was it a baptism by fire! To say it was windy just does not even begin to scratch the surface.
W is for… Wind:
At the information talk, we were given a very honest insight into practical issues of the walk. The guide was discussing the pros of walking poles, and I felt mildly expert with our experience from the Inca trail, knowing how they help your knees. She continued, “I also guarantee that you will see someone along the trail lying on their back like a bug because the wind can whip up under your backpack and flip you over. If you don’t want to be that person, I’d recommend walking poles so that you can anchor yourself to the ground with them.” We all pictured this in our minds for a moment, laughed nervously and then scribbled “WALKING POLES” on our scrap of paper. And double-underlined it.
It took about five minutes into the walk for us to be hit by the strongest gusts either of us had experienced in our lives. I think we were both wondering what the hell we’d signed up for if this was going to be standard for the next five days. A plastic bag from Danielle’s rucksack promptly blew into my face (one of many belly-laugh-inducing moments). It was near-impossible to walk against; we had to just stand there, walking poles dug in the ground, face turned down-wind in a bid to avoid the dust. On day two, walking along exactly the same stretch, we were relieved to find that there was barely even a breeze. But on day three, not even walking poles were enough when I was blown sideways into a rock (my arm’s still bruised).
So, as we fought our way through our first part of the trek, and the first part of the ‘W’, we found ourselves laughing a lot – and laughing harder than I have at possibly any other time in this trip so far! Mostly for the effects of the wind, but also due to me, rather unfortunately, sitting down to rest on a innocent-enough looking patch of grass, to then discover said grass was actually covered in spiky thorn-like plants, resulting in George having to stop at various points of the trail to pick thorns from my backside, whilst I screeched in pain! (Luckily, the trail was quiet enough at this point that no one rounded a corner to see this spectacle – or to hear me exclaim: “Ow! You pushed it in!”)
And so, after roughly 5 hours of walking, we reached our first campsite. Our tent was set up, sleeping bags ready and all that was left to do was get our camping stove and dinner and get cooking. On the menu for our first night (as well as every other night in some variation) was pasta (or ravioli on our posh nights), powdered soup for sauce and a rather large serving of dried onions and powdered garlic. Surprisingly, and despite the cold and sloped ground we slept on, we had a pretty good night’s sleep – as we would find every night due to the exhaustion of the many hours walking per day.
W is for… Water:
One thing that added to the wonderful sense of being at one with nature, was that all the water in the park is drinkable. When we ran out of water, we simply filled up our water bottles at the next stream we passed. Bliss.
One of our longer days, Day 2 saw us retracing our steps back down the first length of the ‘W’ and continuing along the bottom, culminating in a 10 hour day. Luckily for us, the wind had died down a little and the sun was shining!
W is for… teamWork:
We had systems. Whoever was ready first, started to get the water boiling for the coffee and oats. Whoever wasn’t making coffee, would stir the oats. We took it in turns to lead the walking. (Twice, thinking Danielle was behind me, I exclaimed something ridiculous, only to quickly realise that I had an unexpected audience of Someone Who Wasn’t Danielle. The funniest was an over-dramatised exclamation of “Was that a COW?” – it was not.)
Near the end of day two, when I was on the verge of tears at how painful my blistered toes were and desperate to arrive at camp, I whimpered to Danielle, “I need a game!” She immediately came to my rescue by starting to sing something (Song Association), and the distraction genuinely saved me from collapsing in a heap of misery. We arrived at the camp in what felt like no time (where I discovered that the nail of one toe had been digging a nice little hole in the adjacent one. Nice.)
Now this brings us onto the most difficult day; it rained, it hailed, we slipped, we fell hard, and we reached the summit to see only clouds for the few seconds we managed to fight the wind, before we swiftly headed straight back down on wet and slippy rocks. In hindsight, this was a funny day and I am glad we were able to experience the great variety of weather Torres del Paine National Park is infamous for. But, at the time, I was a little miserable, a bit wet, and a lot scared of falling over! As my previous post would suggest, I had reason to be nervous of falling and injuring myself, based on past experience; however, George completely surpassed me in that respect on this trip! It did give us a lot of laughs though (of course, only after I had checked she was ok…briefly).
W is for… Whoops:
By the end of day two, I could hardly walk for blisters, and the preparation for the following days involved approximately ten minutes of bandaging per foot. In addition to being blown into a rock, I slipped and fell in my rush to find a suitable rock to wee behind, I fell backwards into a muddy bank and, in what Danielle describes as “the best one” (thanks, mate), a slip of the foot sent me landing flat on my face, head-first down the mountain, walking poles splayed. I couldn’t get up for a while but this was due to me laughing so hard. However, shortly after, it was Danielle’s turn when she slipped on a giant slab of slate, landing on her arse exclaiming “Ow! It’s hard!” Yep…that’s rocks.
After reaching the bottom of the Frances Valley (or, in other words, the middle peak of the ‘W’), we still had 2 or 3 hours to go and this is where our musical theatre geeks came out in full force to get us through it! Now, not only are we practically pro hikers, we are also the creators of some wonderful time-killing games such as Song Association and Musical Theatre Links. I am sure we entertained some passing hikers with our top-of-our-voice renditions of pop and theatre songs – can you tell we are choir girls? As George said mid-hike: “This is how artistes trek.”
W is for… Welcome:
Seasoned hikers (and non-Londoners) may already be familiar with this, but we greeted, and were greeted by, everyone we passed. I’m sure we said “Hola”, “Gracias” and “De nada” (“you’re welcome”) to many native English speakers. We checked how far it was to go, we told people they were nearly at the top (“Ugh, thank God! That is the best news I’ve heard all day!”), and we stopped and chatted with the people we routinely bumped into along the way. It was a truly heartwarming experience to feel a sense of community with everyone on the trail, and to call one of the most beautiful places in the world “home” for five days.
This was our most enjoyable and rewarding day! Firstly, it was only 6 hours of walking – the time it suggested on the map! It was the first day we managed to hit the recommended time dead on – we were somewhat slower the preceding days. This meant that we reached our camp for the night at just 5 P.M. (three hours earlier than previous nights), were able to have an early dinner and, even better, an early night! Bliss! But not only that, the sun was shining on us all day and the scenery was beautiful. We even had an idyllic lunch spot at the edge of a river with small birds and butterflies flitting around us – truly a fairytale-like scene – despite the fact that, far from princesses, we were a little stinky, rather muddy and singing crude Book of Mormon lyrics in between bites of our now 5-day-old wraps – somehow we still found these appetising.
W is for… the Worst Pun:
Night four was mushroom night – a highly-anticipated dinner of pasta with dried mushrooms and mushroom sauce (soup). Whenever it was mentioned, one of us would throw in a godawful pun, but there isn’t mushroom to list them all here (sorry). However, we decided to save them up for what had now become ‘mushroom pun night’. As we added the dried mushrooms to our pot, Danielle kicked off proceedings with a shocker: “There’s no more room for these mushrooms!” Utter fail. But utterly hilarious.
On this day, we had the option of waking up at horrendous-o’clock, setting off pre-3 A.M., and walking two and a half hours uphill, in the dark, to witness a beautiful sunrise over the Torres (Towers) from which the park gets its name. Needless to say, we opted out of this dangerous trail, knowing full well from our previous days that we would likely injure ourselves at the least, and possibly fall off the edge of a mountain at worst. Luckily for us, a cloudy sky meant that the more eager trekkers informed us that the clouded view of the sunrise was in no way worth the early start and we were smug in our decision. So we set off about 10 A.M. for our final summit.
Despite being a trekker in no way, shape, or form, I think I coped pretty well with the long hikes each day – there was no complaining from me. Until this final day. It just seemed to go on and on and on. And poor George got the brunt of my exclamations! For the last 20 minutes or so of this stretch, I am ashamed to say it was mostly four-letter words that escaped me, through breathless pants! Even on reaching the top, my spirits could not be lifted a great deal (evidenced in the below photo of me at the peak…)
But on the final push down to the end of the trail, the musical games came out again and my spirits, and George’s, were saved! In fact, I’m pretty sure we practically skipped down the last 2 hours! And what a treat we had in store when we reached the finish line! Toilets in a 5-star hotel! Lunch and coffee in a 5-star hotel. And the judgemental looks that came with two smelly backpackers invading the tranquility of the guests of said 5-star hotel. But did we care? Erm… NO!
Despite my somewhat hesitant ‘let’s go’ when we initially decided to do the full W Trek, I could not be happier or more proud that George and I managed to complete the 5 days with no hiccups, aside from a few minor injuries and sore feet. Our first real do-it-ourselves hiking experience was a resounding success. And we now own our own hiking poles so, clearly, we are committed to doing more! Thus, don’t be surprised if you see me rushing off for weekends in the Lake District on my return – I am a changed woman.
No, you should still be rightfully surprised – I don’t think I am quite there yet. But I have been bitten by the walking bug just a little, so, who knows? Watch this space!
W is for… Wise:
At risk of sounding all wanky, five days of trekking without wifi allows for a lot of time to think. And being the deep soul that I am, I came up with a few things. I spent a lot of time on the trek wanting time to hurry up, wishing away the next two hours of walking so that we could already be at camp. Other times it was the opposite; I’d want there to be a bit longer til lunchtime so I could still look forward to it. Towards the end of the five days when time seemed to be flying, I wished we had more days left. And then, on day four, I thought about how this parallels with life and I thought actually, I’m happy right in this moment, right where I am. And I really was. But it took a conscious effort to realise that – and so it is with life.
Some parts of the trek were hard. We’d anticipated most of this, so the uphill stretches didn’t come as a surprise. But I always expected it to be so much harder than it actually was. We’d reach the summit, and on the way back down I’d think, “Cool, we’ve done the hardest bit.” But I never realised I was doing the hardest bit at the time; it was only after, when I looked back.
As we sat in the lounge bar of the fancy Torres Hotel in our dirty trekking clothes, surrounded by the guests who had the money to choose this luxury over camping, I sunk into the leather sofa with a grin on my face. Did I envy them? No. I pitied them. Because there are so many more opportunities to laugh in a tent.
Danielle & George x