PATAGONIA: Torres del Paine O Route, Guest Post by Owen Floody

Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
Our friend Owen Floody has embarked on numerous treks in the past year and a half, including a return trip to Patagonia. (See his post on his previous trip.) Owen recently retired from a career of teaching and research at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. He has always been an avid photographer and in his retirement has taken numerous trips that allow him to pursue his passion. He is a frequent contributor to The Intrepid Tourist. Here is the report of his trip to southern Chile and a few of his excellent photographs.

Early in 2014, I did a trip in Patagonia (Mountain TravelSobek’s Hiker’s Patagonia) that included the famous “W Route” through part of Torres del Paine National Park in southern Chile.  I very much enjoyed that trek and the views of Chile’s many glaciers and fjords provided by my flights between Santiago and Punta Arenas.  All of this motivated me to return to southern Chile, to see more of the fjords and Torres del Paine.
View on the Fjord between Puerto Montt and Puerto Natales
These intentions were realized during a recent (February 2017) trip.  This began with what might be considered a bargain-hunter’s introduction to the Chilean fjords, a 4-day ride on one of the Navimag ferries that shuttle between Puerto Montt and Puerto Natales.  I made this cruise as luxurious as I could by shelling out what was required for a cabin to myself (I could have slept in a different bunk each night!).  However, this did not alter the fact that this was, after all, a commercial ferry that exists to get people and goods from place to place in the fjords, not to thrill tourists with close-up views of glaciers, ice-fields or the like (let alone gourmet food or other creature comforts).  Still, the cruise did exactly what I wanted.  It introduced me to the fjords, exposing me to attractive and atmospheric, if not spectacular, views (e.g., see 1st of linked images).  More scenic and remote views will have to await a future trip on a more tourist-oriented ship and route.
The Torres (Towers) of Torres del Paine
The other component in my 2017 trip was another trek in Torres del Paine park, but this time following the less popular “O Route.”  By way of introduction, it might be noted that the “W” and “O” designations roughly describe the shapes of the respective routes.  Much of the W Route follows the northern shores of the Nordernskjold and Skottsberg Lakes, but with three northward excursions, two into valleys and one along the eastern shore of the Grey Lake: The end result is a path resembling a W.  Not surprisingly, the O Route is a loop that encircles the entire Paine Massif: It incorporates but goes beyond the W Route.
Grey Glacier
Our trek of the O Route took 7 days, with expert camping support by Mountain Travel Sobek.  We did not have uniformly terrific weather but we did have this when we most needed it.  The first of these occasions was our first day of hiking, when we traveled to and from the Base de las Torres lookout, for views of the Torres (towers) themselves.  This was a tough hike for the first day but the weather was perfect and the views very impressive.  We then began our counterclockwise loop around the back (northern) side of the Paine Massif.  The area through which we passed was very scenic though, in my judgment, not spectacular (e.g., one of the better views is that in the 3rd image).  This changed, however, on the loop’s final third.  This section began with a wonderful long hike above and alongside the Grey Glacier and Lake.  These probably were the best glacier views I’ve had. 
Bleached forest in Frances Valley
Next, we hiked toward and up part of the Frances Valley.  Ironically, one of the attractions encountered here was an extensive area of forest killed and bleached, but not completely felled, by forest fires.  Probably like you, I would prefer live to dead trees.  Still, the patterns created by these stands of skeletal trees are striking. 
View from Frances Viewpoint
Finally, this leg of our trek took us to the Frances Viewpoint.  Here, you can look to the west and see the Frances Glacier backed by Paine Grande, the tallest mountain in the area.  Or you can look to the east and see the Cuerno Norte (North Horn) and Cuerno Principal (Main Horn), other iconic peaks in this range.
Cuerno Norte and Cuerno Principal
Finally, I need to comment briefly on the relative merits of the shorter W and longer O Routes.  After having done both, I have to say that I’m impressed by the large fraction of the very best views that are packed into the W Route.  There seems no question to me that this trek provides the greater bang for the buck (or calorie).  The one thing that it lacks are the views of the Grey Glacier.  Given sufficient time, energy and freedom, this omission could be overcome by extending the western-most leg of the W.  This would be a tough.

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