January 26 Campamento Las Torres to Campamento Torres
January 27 Campamento Torres to Campamento Serón
January 28 Campamento Serón to Refugio Dickson
January 29 Refugio Dickson to Campamento Paso
January 30 Campamento Paso to Refugio Grey
January 31 Refugio Grey to Campamento Italiano
February 1 Campamento Italiano to Refugio Los Cuernos
February 2 Refugio Los Cuernos to Campamento Las Torres
Before starting out on the circuit, we backtracked a bit and headed straight for the Torres (“Towers”) del Paine. They were the reason we were here, after all. The trail went up the Valle del Río Ascensio.
Although it had rained heavily the previous night, the morning was clear and we hurried up from the campground to the Torres mirador. This was the view we saw. On the way down we met a couple of photographers who told us the view had been even better at dawn.
Now on the circuit trail, our first stop was Campamento Serón, a former refuge for huasos (cowboys) rounding up cattle. We walked for over an hour through continuous fields of these daisies.
Our second stop was Refugio Dickson, where we arrived after hiking through three hours of rain. The building on the right is the new refugio, where you can get hot meals and showers. The tin shed on the left is the old refugio.
Our tent was always easy to spot in a campground, being the only one that was not a dome tent. Several people had doubts about our old Sierra Designs tent from the mid-1970s, but we had retrofitted it with bungee cords instead of the original ropes and we never had a problem with it.
After Dickson the circuit trail starts to get serious. Here is Rosemary crossing the Río Cabeza del Indio on the way to Paso John Garner.
The climb up to Paso John Garner is the only climb of any difficulty on the entire circuit. The elevation gain from Refugio Dickson to the pass is about 900 metres, and that is spread out over 6 or 7 hours of hiking. This is the view back from a point just before the pass. The white patch at the bottom of the hill is an ice-filled lake at the toe of Glaciar Los Perros, held in by old moraines. The orange patch on the rock in the foreground is one of the paint spots that mark almost the whole circuit trail.
When you cross the pass, the huge Glaciar Grey fills your view. At this point it is about 7 kilometres wide. Often there are strong winds gusting through the pass, but it was very calm on the day we were there. Glaciar Grey flows out of Chile’s great Southern Icefield. On a map that shows the Southern Icefield on a standard-sized piece of paper, Glaciar Grey is about the size of your little fingernail.
From our campsite at Refugio Grey, just down from the toe of Glaciar Grey, we looked over the lake, which was full of grounded icebergs that had calved from the glacier. We had never seen such blue ice.
Refugio Grey is the boundary between the northern, wilderness, half of the circuit and the southern, touristy, half. South of Grey is Lago Pehoé, which is crossed by a boat bringing day-trippers to the area.
The national park contains not one but two photogenic groups of mountains. Our last couple of days on the circuit were spent in the shadow of the Cuernos (“Horns”) del Paine.