I, Antie, must admit, I took a little bit of persuasion from Pete to undertake the eight-day O trek in Torres del Paine. I was concerned about carrying our backpacks for that length of time and also whether my fitness levels were up to the challenge but I could not be happier that we decided to go for it in the end. If you have the time (obviously it’s not really feasible if you are not a two-week holiday) you should definitely do it. Stunning scenery, people-free trails, beautiful camping spots and an amazing way to explore the heart of Chilean Patagonia.
Here are ten reasons why you should do the O –
1. No crowds – This for us was the biggest bonus. For the first four-days on the backside of the park you will barely see anyone on the trails. We would set off early from the campsite and often would not see anyone on the path, except from occasionally running in to the little group of other O trekkers who started hiking on the same day as us at lunch times and in the evenings at the campsites.
2. The back of the park is beautiful – A bit of an obvious one but it has to be said, the O trek is wild and the scenery breathtaking. The park is incredibly diverse, one minute you will be walking through forest and the next along one of the world’s biggest and most spectacular glaciers.
3. Better wildlife spotting opportunities – When there are less people there is more wildlife. The backside of the park is renowned for excellent wildlife spotting opportunities and it’s one of the best places to spot pumas. That said, unfortunately we didn’t see one during our eight-days in the park, but we did meet a couple who spotted one on the bus on the way in…its all about luck! Other things you might see are guanacos, grey foxes, and condors.
4. Meeting people and camaraderie between hikers – This was a definite highlight of our trip. On the day we set off, there were ten others who were also doing the O trek. Compared to hundreds departing on the W trek. As it is a bigger challenge and it is much more isolated, there is a real sense of camaraderie between the hikers. We met some really fantastic people and loved catching up and swapping stories at the campsites every evening as well as having a celebratory meal on our return to Puerto Natales.
5. Really disconnect from every day life – You will have absolutely no WiFi or connection with the outside world for eight days. It was probably the longest either of us hadn’t checked Facebook in years. It’s a great opportunity to get immersed in nature and escape the digital, fast-paced world we live in.
6. You get to stay at Dickson – One of the most beautiful campsites in the park is on the O trek. Dickson is situated on the bend of a river and is absolutely beautiful. It is also reasonably priced, has great sheltered spots for camping and great facilities including warm showers and a massive indoor dome tent for cooking. If the sun’s out it’s well worth going for a dip in the lake to cool off before dinner! We also went down after dark to do a bit of star gazing…
7. Experience the whole story of the park – When we got back to civilisation in Puerto Natales we asked our O trek buddies for reasons why they were happy they had chosen to do the O trek instead of just the W. One of the girls (who not surprisingly also works in PR!) said she loved how, rather than just experiencing one segment of the park, you can really experience the whole story of the park from start to finish. She rather eloquently described it as an opportunity to follow the landscape and journey through the nature.
8. You will see the whole of Grey Glacier from start to finish– If you do the W trek, you can hike up to Grey campsite from Paine Grande where you get the dropped off by the catamaran. However, it’s not quite the same as hiking over the John Gardener Pass and seeing it appear below you. You then follow it for the rest of the day until you reach the campsite in the afternoon for a well deserved whisky chilled with glacier ice.
9. Better value for money – Regardless of whether you spend one day hiking in the park or two weeks (if you’re super hardcore), it will still cost you the same park entrance fee of $CP21,000 (approx. £25) along with $CP15,000 (approx. £18,000) for the bus to the park. When you’re in, if you are camping and bringing your own food, you can really keep costs down and therefore it makes more economic sense to do the eight-day O trek. If you’ve got the time and are on a budget then, why not? If you do the O Trek, you also don’t need to cough up the extra money to get the catamaran (either in or out of the park) as you are hiking the entire circuit.
10. Huge sense of achievement – Eight-days of consecutive hiking and camping is a big achievement. We were proud of ourselves for carrying all of our things (including food) without collapsing, surviving the elements including wind, rain and intense heat and even more intense cold at night.
It’s an amazing experience and definitely one of the highlights of our adventure in South America.