100 miles in 10 days: the (nearly) perfect Patagonia hiking trip

My adult daughter and I are active, independent travelers who love the great outdoors.

Regan, a college professor, has limited time, so I tend to pack our adventures to maximize each day. We started planning for the famed W trek in Torres Del Paine in Chile, and ended up with 18 days in December, 2022: Santiago-Torres Del Paine-Calafate-El Chalten-Iguazu-Buenos Aires.

My husband, who wisely stays home, noted, “That’s a lot of hiking.” “Well, yeah,” I smirked. At 63, despite a bum knee, I feel strong and fit and am eager to do all I can before I am less fit.

But I must admit, I never really, um, added up the miles.

In 2021, we had hiked 108 miles over 20 days in six U.S. western parks. Our previous multi-day hike was 2019 on the Kepler Track in New Zealand, which is only three nights, with lots of down time each day.

In Patagonia, we hiked all day long nearly every day. We did 59.5 miles in seven days in Torres Del Paine in Chile and 39 miles in three days at Glaciares National Park in Argentina, with a total elevation change of 26,869 feet–Everest is 29,035 feet. This was the most we’ve ever done in one swoop, and we loved it, even though we caught colds right at the start. Here are details of how our (nearly) perfect plan unfolded.

  1. Hotel Las Torres to Mirador base de Las Torres (twice)
  2. Chileno to Cuernos
  3. Cuernos to Frances Valley and Paine Grande
  4. Paine Grande to Grey
  5. Grey Glacier hike, wrapping up our W Trek
  6. Christmas Day “rest” to Miradores Condor y Alguila and Salto Waterfall
  7. Laguna de Los Tres aka Fitz Roy
  8. Laguna Torres: finishing 100 miles in 10 days!
  9. Bonus: How did Fitz Roy compare with Torres Del Paine?

Days 1-3: Travel to Santiago, Chile, hiking 11.8 miles around Cerro San Cristobal on our “rest” day (not included in the 100 miles! Nor are our five miles at Iguazu Falls at the end).

Days 4-10: Torres Del Paine (pronounced Piney), Chile: 59.5 miles and 16,435 feet elevation change

Filled with gorgeous peaks, glaciers and lakes, this national park is set up with refugios (aka dorms) for multi-day routes: the “O” trek circles the park in 7-10 days, while the “W” hits the southern highlights in 3-5 days. We did an expanded W trek, east to west, with 2 nights at the beginning and the end. The times noted are hiking only and do not include breaks.

Hotel Las Torres to Mirador base de Las Torres (twice)

24.54 miles, 8,876 feet elevation change, 14 hours 30 (Regan’s stats; I did half this)

  • Arrived from Santiago via Puerto Natales. Hotel was OK, with tight motel-style rooms, good food and service. It commands a ridiculous price due to its location. We did a short hike to the lake.
    • The next day, I didn’t feel well, so Regan headed up to the Mirador base de las Torres, one of the park’s highlights with three granite towers soaring over a glacial lake. It took her 7 hours 15 minutes to go 11.81 miles with 4,537 feet elevation change. The hardest part was having to come all the way back down to the hotel, she said as she collapsed onto the floor.
      • FYI you can do the same day hike without doing the full W trek.
    • On our checkout day: We pondered briefly backing off due to my cold but, really, do you know me? It took two hours to go 3.5 miles to the small Chileno refuge, where we would spend the night. Since there was nowhere to relax and hours before our check-in, we continued up.
      • It took three hours (2.5 miles) to the mirador, going slowly through the last .8 miles filled with a steep boulder field. And then, you’re rewarded with your first glimpse of the towers. Over the lip, and there’s the iconic image of the towers above glacial lake Torres. We had fabulous weather, even clearer than when Regan went up the day before.
      • Two hours back down to Chileno. Total was 9 miles, 3,723 feet elevation change in 7 hours 15–the same amount of time Regan took yesterday to go up and ALL the way back down!
      • At Chileno, we were in a tight six-bunk room with three others that had mattresses and sleeping bags rather than blankets. This would be the most primitive refugio we used, though we would discover all were similar: segregated bathrooms with cold basins and hot showers, kiosks to buy wifi, available outlets, communal dining areas, and bland, unappetizing meals including watery soup, mystery meat, messy mashed potatoes and scrambled eggs every day.
      • Dining tip: they’ll ask for food preferences (and passports) when you check-in. If you say “no red meat,” you’ll hopefully get chicken, which was the best thing we ate. Or you may get vegetarian, which I found mostly inedible. Better still, treat yourself to pizzas frequently.

Chileno to Cuernos

8.5 miles, 1,732 feet elevation change, 6 hours 15

  • Regan planned to return to the towers for sunrise, her third time in three days–but the muted alarm, set to vibrate to avoid waking others, wasn’t enough to rouse her at 3 a.m.!
  • So this was a relatively easy day, strolling by sparkling Nordenskjöld Lake and the distinctive Cuernos “horns.” It would have been a walk in the park if not for my cold, a sudden bad bruise on my right ankle, and dreadful blisters on both of Regan’s heels (annoying as we wore our usual hiking boots).
  • At Cuernos, we stayed in one of the eight cosy perched cabins, with two beds, a stove, little porch, and a beautiful sunset view of the lake.

Cuernos to Frances Valley and Paine Grande

16.73 miles, 3,762 feet elevation change, 11 hours (Regan stats; I did four miles less)

  • Oof, this was a beautiful but very long day. About 2h30 (3.4 miles) down to Camp Italiano, a staging area for the trail up Frances Valley, with bathrooms, water, bag storage and picnic tables. Then an hour (1.25 miles) to Mirador Frances, where most people congregate to admire the glacier, waiting for calving avalanches while surrounded by gorgeous scenery all around.
  • Big tip here: It’s another two hours (2.2 miles) to the Britanico lookout but you can go just 15 minutes beyond Mirador Frances for some spectacular views.
  • Regan decided to go up while I went down to our next refugio, 4.7 miles from Italiano. I was cruising along until I realized I had left my sunglasses behind. Was it worth backtracking a mile to Italiano when I didn’t know for sure I would find them? Sigh. Fine. I returned and someone had put my glasses on the picnic table!
  • Note: We found most fellow hikers to be friendly and eager to help, whether sharing food, donating an ankle brace or offering tips. We made some great friends with whom we traveled on to El Chalten!
  • I got to Paine Grande around 5 p.m., total of 12 miles in 9 hours, passing by the skeletal forest destroyed by negligent tourist fires in 2005 and 2011, when someone tried to burn their toilet paper.
  • Regan staggered in at 8:15. The Britanico viewpoint was amazing, well worth the extra climb, she said. But she had to hustle to make dinner, completing the 4.7 miles to PG in 2h25 with some jogging!
  • Paine Grande is the largest of the refugios (hosting many day hikers who come by ferry), with a large dining area, a bar above, and multiple dorms and bathrooms. We had a tiny two-bunk room near the back.

Paine Grande to Grey

7.05 miles, 1,581 feet elevation change, 5 hours

  • Our easiest hike day, mostly flat and down. It rained on us for the first time, but only for less than an hour. I think this was highly unusual from what I had researched.
  • Coming upon Grey Glacier was a treat, even on a grey day–we would get ample time to admire it from many angles. We had two nights here as I wanted to do the kayak and the ice hike. Alas, the winds were so strong they canceled our afternoon kayak! We rescheduled for tomorrow, after our ice hike.
  • Grey is the newest refugio (2012) and featured hot water in the basins! We had a quad room for the two of us, with nice blankets, drawers and shelving.
  • We finally wised up and order a pizza. After five days of bland mystery meat and trail mix, it seemed the most delicious thing we’ve ever eaten. (We also bought wifi for the first time, and found we hadn’t miss a thing.)

Grey Glacier hike, wrapping up our W Trek

2.63 miles (half on crampons), 483 feet elevation change, 3 hours

  • This fun ice hike with Big Foot wrapped up our TDP adventures as our kayak was again canceled due to high winds (gusts up to 48 mph). We regretted not having time to hike up to the second bridge beyond the refuge as planned.

Days 11-12: Instead of hiking back to Paine Grande to depart by ferry, we took the Grey Navigation boat for more great views of the glacier in ferocious winds. We had a private transfer to Calafate, Argentina, for one night at sweet Mirador Del Lago. We were giddy over having our own room and bathroom and real food at a real restaurant! After an OK kayak at Perito Moreno glacier, we bussed to El Chalten for three nights at comfortable El Chalten Suites.

Days 13-15: El Chalten, the heart of Glaciares National Park, Argentina. 39 miles, 8000 feet elevation change

Christmas Day “rest” to Miradores Condor y Alguila and Salto Waterfall

10.8 miles, 1,928 feet elevation change, 5 hours

  • It was a spectacular Christmas day and, if not for our health issues, we would have done the famed Fitz Roy hike. Instead, we did two short hikes: Miradores Cóndor y Alguila (condor and eagle), which offered sparkling mountain views with Fitz Roy standing tall at 11,171 feet, and Salto Waterfall, which was OK.
  • Note on Fitz Roy: Did you know it’s named after the captain of Darwin’s Beagle ship? He had charted much of the region and provided that info to explorer Francisco Moreno (yes, of the glacier). In exchange, Moreno was to find something cool to name (or, rename in this case) after Fitzroy.

Laguna de Los Tres aka Fitz Roy

15.03 miles, 3,535 feet elevation change, 9 hours 18

    • This is arguably the best day hike in Patagonia, especially on a clear day (like yesterday!) It was cold, windy and grey when we set out with friends we made on the W Trek. It would rain and snow on us on and off with a hint of sun.
    • We got a transfer to the El Pilar trailhead so we could hike one way rather than in and out. It was long but relatively easy until the end, with lovely scenery through the Las Vueltas river valley, by the Piedras Blancas Glacier, and over the Blanco river.
    • The last .6 miles were brutal, with 1,312 feet elevation change (think nearly vertical) through jumbled boulder fields with groups or less experienced hikers gumming up the works. There was a sign about a mile out, warning of tough conditions, and saying it would take an hour. A tough half hour later, there was a similar sign, also saying the top was an hour away! I almost lost it.
    • We summited around 12:40 (3 hours, 6.3 miles) to shrouded mountains and howling winds. We stayed for about 90 minutes, sometimes huddling behind rocks for a respite, hoping, unsuccessfully, that it would clear. We went down to the lake, then scampered to the left for views of lovely Laguna Sucia and Laguna de Los Tres, and a hint of Fitz Roy.
    • I was very tired going back (4h30, 6.7 miles), and marched robotically the last mile through town to our hotel. I was sure I would hike no more…until the next morning.
    • Note: today’s elevation change was almost identical to going up to Mirador base de las Torres and Frances Valley!

Laguna Torres: finishing 100 miles in 10 days!

13.2 miles, 2,326 feet elevation change, 6 hours

  • We were catching an afternoon ride back to Calafate, so we moved at a good clip on a beautiful day. After our previous hikes, this was a breeze. Lunching at the glacial lake was the perfect way to bid Patagonia farewell as we completed 100 miles in 10 days!

Hope you enjoyed hiking with us! For our complete photo album, click here.

Bonus: How did Fitz Roy compare with Torres Del Paine?

To me, the view at Laguna de Los Tres was more spectacular (even on a cloudy day) with many rugged, jagged peaks, powerful glaciers and two glistening lakes. What do you think?

2 thoughts on “100 miles in 10 days: the (nearly) perfect Patagonia hiking trip

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