Nov 07 Monday – Hike: Paine Grande to Grey

Alli’s journal:

Kyu’s ponderings:

Despite falling off of bunker bed the night before, I had a really good sleep and woke up at 7. Had to breakfast around 8, which was mainly cereal and scrambled egg. Non eventful morning (thankfully) and we checked out around 9:30, which is the forced check out time at Paine Grande anyways. For the wine bottle from Carlos, we sipped tiny bit the night before and didn’t want to carry it to Grey. Since we were coming back to paine grande in a couple nights, Alli was able to check that bottle in at the front desk.

As we started hiking, we were faced with minor drizzle and some chilly winds. And I found berry on trail and started eating them thinking they are calafate. oh I was wrong… Berry was still tasty.

Ran into a guy from Sweden who told us about the lookout near suspension bridge. He said he has seen glaciers growing up in northern europe but nothing was as magnificent as Grey Glacier which was setting the expectation pretty high. Other than taking 10-15 minute snack break, we just kept on walking. Then voila. There was the glacier. It was very first time for me to see glacier outside books and TVs and I was just in awe for a while. Looking back, it still feels surreal. Spent good minutes at the Mirador Grey taking pictures and chatting with other travelers.

And as we got closer to refugio grey, we met up with Rich and Sam again who already checked out suspension bridges and was on their way to refugio frances. They surely made me feel like a turtle. We eventually arrived at Grey Refugio around 3pm. And Alli placed an order for pizza, which took about an hour. It didn’t bother me much that it took long since calafate ale was keeping me company. I took quick power nap then went to check out glacier mirador alone. It was very windy and rain started falling from the storm that was hitting grey that night. That evening, we met a number of cool travelers. Xu, a Chinese guys from mountain view who was doing solo in Chile and Argentina. Also met Matthew, a French guy who works at restaurants and travels around the world via van when he isn’t working. Also met Tabea, a german girl who was traveling solo.

And it was true that food at refugio grey was great. It was chunk of tender juicy pork which got inhaled in no time.

Tetsu’s jibber jabber:

After spending the night in a room with 6 bunks, we woke up at Refugio Paine Grande pretty early for us, but the three bunk mates from Poland had already gotten up and were long gone by the time we headed down for breakfast. 

The previous night was interesting.

From loud snoring, to Kyu falling out of the top bunk, to hanging out and chatting in the stove room in the middle of the night.

After a decent breakfast of ham, scrambled eggs, and other continental items, we went to repack and got ready to head out.

But how can you not stop, take a breath, and enjoy the grand view.

With excitement in our hearts, we gathered up our gear and off we went!

There was a lot of uphill for the first mile or two, then some leveling off for a mile. “Uphill” might sound strange as you mostly walk along the lake, but Refugio Paine Grande is really at lake level (as is Refugio Grey), and as you can see from the trail photos below, much of the trail is a fair bit above the lake.

We caught Sam and Rich coming down as we were headed up. They had gotten an early start and had made it all the way to Refugio Grey, going even further to the 2nd suspensions bridge. They were coming back and almost to Paine when we met them. A brutal day by any standard, and much too hard core for our group. They mentioned their plan was to get to Frances, another several miles, before the day was out. I was exhausted just hearing about their day, and they seemed pretty gassed too, though you’d hardly notice from the photo below.

We met another couple from Portland Oregon on the trail who, like us, had also left Paine on their way to Grey. They had lots of heavy camera gear including a 24-70 and 12-34 lens on a nikon i think. Nice couple. Talked about kayaking and other stuff. They are finishing their East to West hike, so would be heading back to Paine Grande the following day and leaving the park.

We didn’t catch a selfie with them, but met them again at Grey and enjoyed chatting for a bit before dinner.

Within the first 3 miles of a good bit of uphill, we started seeing evidence of the glacier with small broken off pieces of brilliant bright blue ice floating in the lake. The excitement really started to build as we saw the ice.

I’d never seen a glacier before, and these small signs hinted at the grandness we were about to witness. This was the most anticipated part of my entire goal for visiting Torres del Paine.

A little later, we got our first sneak peaks at the incredible Glacier Grey.

And what a stunning view it was!

The closer we got the more excited I got.

At one point, prior to getting to Refugio Grey, there was a large mirador (or vista point, as we say in California), where we met several hikers enjoying a break and the stunning view. It was a large enough area that some even grab a lunch break there.

We met Ashish at the mirador. He’s an impressive solo hiker traveling the world, and we caught him heading back from Grey to Paine as we were heading up to Grey.  He told us about a small bit of tech climb coming up on the way to Refugio Grey.  

Around 4 miles in on the 7.5 mile hike, we ran into the technical climb and technical drop that Ashish had mentioned.  It wasn’t too bad. A fun tidbit.

And after that bit, the trail was mostly downhill.

We found some berry bushes. I believe these are Calafate bushes, but someone said they weren’t. Not sure what it is.

We did get our first taste of bridges, and while not as impressive as the suspension bridges we would cross the following day, it was a fun break in the monotony of the trail.

Much of the latter miles of the trail wormed through forest, which was beautiful in its own right, but not dissimilar to hikes we’ve done in California. It was a really pleasant surprise to have the trail open up suddenly and see Refugio Grey, a very robust building in an outcrop within the forest.

The entrance to Grey is beautiful, with a large central entryway, restobar on the left side and bunk rooms on the right. Great layout for hikers to enjoy good food, drink, and conversations as they share adventures. You can see from the photo below that there is a wooden plank “street” that continues to the right of the building. It extends quite a way.

As you continue down the planked path, the building immediate next to the main Refugio is a smaller building (showers and bathrooms for tent campers).

And further down from there is the tent camp checkin and small store.

The wooden planked path ends just at that last building above, and beyond that is a dirt path leading to the tent areas.

Once inside the main Refugio Grey entrance, there is a weather break hallway with a second set of doors, and then the checkin counter. The photo below is taken from near the back of the building, right next to the main checkin area, facing the main entrance. You can see a bit of the restobar to the right, and the doorway on the left leading to the bunk area.

The photo below is also taken from the back of the building, facing the front. This is the bar section of the restobar. To the left of the photo is the main entrance and checkin area, and to the right is the dining area.

Here is a sideways photo from the central lobby facing towards the left side of the building (from the checkin area facing towards the restobar and main dining area).

This is from the checkin area facing towards the right, showing the hallway for the bunks. That little stove in the hallway played a critical role in drying clothes the following day. Hiking and kayaking makes for some sweaty and wet clothes.

We got a little lucky with the bunk room this time: As there weren’t any solo backpackers reserving bunks that night, we had the room to ourselves. This was especially great because we were staying at Refugio Grey for two nights, so we felt comfortable leaving our stuff strewn about the room.

One of the great things about hiking to campsites that are more developed (whether bunk rooms or rented tents) is the availability of showers. This was a huge boon. Coupled with warm meals and comfortable beds, the experience really helped us recharge after a day of hiking.

Hanging around the restobar area, or sometimes out front, we got to meet a lot of people.

We met a young couple who did the “W” trek from east to west and were finishing up their trip. They had done the three towers the week prior and were willing to share pictures and advice. I’m sorry to say that I missed their names, and forgot to grab a selfie.

We met another family while lounging around the restobar area, who we had met earlier on the trail, a father & son pair, who had chatted with us about their trip.

At dinner (6pm, there was also a 7pm and 8pm dinner group), we sat at one of the large 10-person tables. We enjoyed lively conversation with the other guests. Among them a young couple from Netherlands.  The lady lived in Massachusetts for many years.  The guy is a structural engineer who works on wind mills on platforms out at sea.  He lives there for two weeks at a time, working on the platform equipment, and fishing off platform, living with 130 other folks.  They were impressive world travelers have been to Japan.  They did the “O” trail and were planning to head to Paine Grande the next day, their last before exiting the part.

Another couple we met at dinner was also from Massachusetts (small world, lovely coincidence), and the wife was from Montana, though they live in Seattle now.  The wife loves Japan and did the Nakasendo trail.  She loves ramen, so i recommended the Yokohama ramen museum.  They have been to several parts of Japan and expressed a love of onsens (hot springs).  They’d even traveled to the Nichiyama onsen Keiunkan, considered to be the oldest still function hotel in the world.  The husband had climbed Kilimanjaro (A fellow Kilimanjaro climber! I was happy to meet him), and Aconcagua, the tallest mountain in Latin America.  They were doing the “W” trail West to East like us. But heading back to Paine Grande a day before us.

We met another lady, Amy, who loves the idea of visiting Kenya.  A hard core hiker who apparently pounds through miles easily, I mentioned that having lived in Kenya, it’s not demanding on the legs to explore. For this Torres del Paine trip, she was traveling with a guide who works for Voltours.  She already did the suspension bridge hike.  Said 3 hours out and back but depends on speed.  The guide humorously also confirmed how quickly she covers long distances.

There were other folks we met at the table, though it took a while for a few of them to come out of their shell.

All in all, it was good times, good food, and good conversation.

There was also a small emergency, that turned out to be nothing. Apparently, in one of the groups, there was an experienced hiker who had hurt his leg, but decided to hike alone anyway. As he was later returning to the Refugion tent camp site, there was talk of getting a search party together and we had offered to join the search, but barely two hours later, it was reported that they were all safe.

In the evening, after dinner, and just walking around a bit, we met 3 chileans in smoking area. 

One guy, Ayala, works on a ship.  He had some amazing timelapse videos of the vessel he works on traveling around the Southern tip of Latin America, including Punta Arenas, and further south beyond Latin America to the Antarctic. He setup the camera on the bridge, I think, overlooking the the ship, and looking out at the sea and ports. Just amazing videos!

The photo below shows us hanging in the smoking area.

Fabricio Ayala Sciaraffia is second from right.  He’s the navy vessel guy mentioned above. Magdalena is center. Hugo is between Magdalena and Fabricio. Hugo and Magdelena are traveling together, and had just met Fabricio a little before we ran into them. Hugo recommended some places to go in Santiago: Cajon del maipo, Laguna del inca los andes santiago    

Xu is a Chinese guy who lives in Mountain View, CA. We had first seen him at Paine Grande the day before. We struck up a conversation and he had apparently been to Chile before, but was unable to get into Torres del Paine, so had decided to travel here again, this time doing the trail solo.

Later on in the evening, we met Martin (or maybe “Martine”).  A French guy who works in restaurants.  Took several months off to travel the world.  This was his second time to latin america.  First time was several years ago, and as he was much younger, had spent much of his time partying hard, so this time he was taking it easy and trying to see more of what he’d missed before.

What better way to end the night than enjoying an Austral Calafate ale, and meeting new folks?

All in all, as the first hiking day, we were happy with our day. While we had a solid day of hiking under our belts, it hadn’t quite hit us yet that we were hiking in another country. We were riding the initial adrenaline high, and excited about the days to come.

Patagonia Map Routes W-Trek

4 thoughts on “Nov 07 Monday – Hike: Paine Grande to Grey

  1. What an honor to be remembered as an “impressive solo hiker traveling the world”.

    True background – I met these absolutely magnificent people back in Nov 2022. We took selfies and exchanged numbers. I was supposed to send them the pictures from my phone. The lazy (or busy) guy I am, I got around to doing it only in Feb 2023. And he responded back saying – hey of course we remember you, we even mentioned you on the blog – so here I am on the blog.

    What a marvelous sense of adventure these guys have. May the romance for nature and insanity for adventure never die.

    It’s a crazy pleasant feeling to see these pictures and recollect how I met some of the other hikers too mentioned here. Never met them before and might never meet them again, but they made a difference to my life, in a positive way.

    Liked by 1 person

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