Nov 10 Thursday – Hike: Paine to Frances

Alli’s journal:

Kyu’s ponderings:

Tetsu’s jibber jabber:

Woke early’ish.  It was nice to do some repeat nights in the early part of the trip as it gave us some sense familiarity.

I went down and had 3 cups of coffee waiting for others to wake.  Got to talk with some porters who were hanging out out front.  Joked about pickup lines in Japanese. The porters and guides are so hard core. They stay up long after guests go to sleep and are up at the crack of dawn, getting everything ready to take guests on the day’s hikes.

Nico was among them. They were kind enough to share some mate (ma-té). Will have to get the mate cup if i can.

Met Alli and Kyu for brekkie.

We said farewell to Vittorio who was skipping Frances and moving ahead to Los Cuernos.  

Talked with Julie from Vermont some more.  They are leaving at 9:30am so she was looking for a short hike.  The desire for adventure never abates (^_^)

Alli had the great idea of stopping by the Paine Grande store, and we grabbed some salami, cheese, and a large loaf of bread. It seemed a small thing at the time, but this proved crucial as our dinner at Frances and Los Cuernos.

After that, we packed up and headed out on the trail on our way to Frances.

Today was planned as a relatively short hike, focused on enjoying the scenery and avoiding too much strain as we knew that the next day, we had a big, exhaustive hike day coming up.

The hike began by heading Eastward along the Lago Pehoe shoreline (same lake that goes to Pudeto on the East side of the lake). We then veered northward up the rockface .

And then we bumped up against the west side of Lago Skottsberg. The color of Skottsberg is different from the other lakes like Grey, Pehoe, or Nordenskjöld. Its coloring is more typical of what you’d expect to see in any mountain fresh water lakes. These waters may have been glacial colored in the past, but today, it looks more like runoff from snowcapped mountains, similar to the lakes in Emigrant Wilderness in California.

After trailing along the west and northwest shoreline, the trail breaks off and gets to another even smaller lake as you continue winding in a northeasterly direction.

As you can see in the photo below, the rangers do a great job keeping small bridges in great working order.

Eventually we got to a beautiful “river” or big stream that leads southward to Lago Nordenskjöld, with yet another well maintained suspension bridge. Here it is from the East side.

From here, we walked along the river upstream all the way to Camp Italiano. A little too far to see it, but the sound of the water was always audible in the background.

Before arriving at Camp Italiano, we came upon an eerie grove of dead trees, bleached white, giving a silvery dayglow look to the landscape. I didn’t really get a good picture of it, but it was both beautiful and somber.

After a bit more uphill, we arrived at Camp Italiano. It’s technically closed as its one of the sites run by Conaf (The sites we stayed at were run by either Fantastico Sur, or Vertice). Conaf is the Chilean forestry and parks agency. This is the same agency that the park rangers work for. Though the Refugio was closed, it’s still a key junction and drop-off point for gear.

From Italiano looking up, we had an incredible view of snow capped mountains towering behind. Many hikers do the hike up to Britanico, leaving their gear at Camp Italiano to make the mountain trek a little lighter.

We continued Eastward, knowing we’d come back this way the next day. While much of the trail from Italiano to Frances runs through tall trees reducing visibility, we had a few great openings that gave stunning views of the upper crater mountain towards Britanico.

From Italiano it’s only 2.2km to Frances. The Eastward hike to Frances is pleasantly downhill.

We arrived at Frances almost anticlimactically, as we hit a wide cross trail.

Frances was a strange campsite indeed.

Coming in from the West, we broke through the trees and came upon a junction. we had to walk up a bit to get to the tent camp checkin “booth”.

There’s a picnic table across from the checkin location. This little booth is a marvel. It has power to charge phones for guests, a fridge for the minimart (containing drinks), some snacks, and contains the guest registry where tent site checkins are done. There’s another small shack behind that houses the sleeping bags.

While checking in, we met a group of 8 young hikers who were doing east to west on the “W” trail, and we got great advice about Los Cuernos, Chilleno, and the Three Towers hike. They were the first who told us about how the park rangers were starting to put barriers on the trail from Chilleno to the Three Towers, to try and stop people from heading up.

They also mentioned that there was a fork in the trail from Los Cuernos that was a shortcut to Chilleno, rather than hiking down towards Central and hike back up.

After checking in, we hung out at the picnic table for a bit and then headed over to our tents, at the far eastern end of the east side camping area.

The entire campsite is on a long trail, from the Tent Camp Checkin near the top at the highest point of elevation for Frances, and trails downhill for a solid 10 minutes to get to other parts of the campsite and eventually, the Lago Nordenskjöld.

The campsite is also on a rather steep slope. In the photo below, you can see just how much different there is between the stilts on the platform, really shows the depth of the incline.

I couldn’t find any camp site maps online (didn’t look very hard, so there may be tons out there), but anyway here’s a rough “map” of the entire campsite:

For the tent campers anyway, the showers are the real highlight of the Frances camp site. It’s a good 3-4 minutes downhill from the checkin “booth”. With beautiful sinks and bathrooms, these gender separated buildings are grand notions of what a campsite bathroom can be, and it’s amazing that they were able to build these here, so far from, well, everything. There is a lakeshore dock, and a staff only road that showed signs of ATVs, where materials are probably brought in by boat, but even still, an impressive feat.

At the bottom of the camp site is the main section where there is the minimart, restaurant, and domes, much further down from restrooms.

Inside this “large” building is the storage area on the 1st floor, and on the second is the minimart and restobar. There are large windows facing the lake to really enjoy the experience.


We met up with Tabea again in the late afternoon at Frances.

She was also staying in the tent area, but on the west side of the trail. We chatted about the trip and what we’d seen so far, about work, life, and adventures that Tabea recommended. As a financial manager for a car company, much of her work is seasonal, allowing her to take vacations to travel the world.

She seemed a little tired, but glad to have some chill time. Tabea had left Paine Grande earlier than us, and went up to Britanico, dropping off her pack at italiano at 10:30am before the trek upwards, and arrived at Frances by 4:30pm. Not too dissimilar to our plans for the following day.

In sharing stories about other trails, she told us of a great European backpacking trip, where there’s a trail that goes from Gamesh (sp?) in Southern Germany to Italy over the alps, which she said was an incredible journey, but was snow heavy.

And like so many world travelers, she recommended New Zealand, mentioning a few better known hiking trails and hiking areas in the country.

  • Milford sound
  • Stewart island
  • Tangiriro 


Thanks to Alli’s thinking earlier in the morning at Paine Grande, we enjoyed a nice meal in one of the tents to help recharge. Coupled with a good night’s rest, we were charged up for the big climb the next day.

Patagonia Map Routes W-Trek

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