Nov 12 Saturday – Hike: Los Cuernos to Chilleno

Alli’s journal:

Kyu’s ponderings:

Tetsu’s jibber jabber:

Woke up really early again, 5:30am. For whatever reason, I was feeling pretty good and decided to first pack up and then walk around a bit. I make a quick video in the morning of our camp site, which is just a few seconds walk from the main building. We really lucked out here.

I grabbed a couple of quick photos by our tents,

and then walked down to the lake shoreline.

Though I lack the skill to really bring out the serene morning light on the hills across the lake, I can attest to the quiet, peaceful, and beautiful morning light. I spent several minutes here just basking in the sun’s rays, before heading back to the tent.

As I finished gathering my things to head over to the main building, some of the lively Malaysian ladies were walking by and I got to chat with a couple of them.

First up was meeting Hasni. When I mentioned I was of Japanese descent, we immediately started talking about travels there. It’s one of her favorite places to visit, she said. She’s been hiking and skiing all over Japan. She also recommended Kuala Lumper as a great country for me to visit.

And right behind her was Katherine (there are two Katherines in their group of 14 travelers, so she is Katherine 2)

Kyu was up by the time I got back to the main building and we enjoyed some morning coffee while chatting with other hikers and staff.

Here we met more of the Malaysian travel group as they were doing final prep before heading out. Though I didn’t get a chance to talk with them much (their guide was announcing pre-departure prep), I did get another selfie and some of their names. From left to right: Rosita, Afwide (sp?), Teng, and Yati on the right though she seemed busy prepping. Such an amazing group, and so glad I got to meet them.

We also got to meet Paulo, the bartender from the previous night. Here we learned about their interesting schedule. The staff actually works 11 days, and gets 4 days of. And since there are usually quite a number of staff, the shift changes don’t happen altogether, but rather in phases, so there’s always overlap when a few of the members head home.

One of the guides we met the night before who was also with the Malaysia group hung with us for a little and shared his morning ma-te with us. Later, we saw him with a massive pack, easily an 85L, and clearly loaded with some dense weight. Apparently there was too much gear for just the porters, so the guides also had to carry to help offset.

Even loaded down with what must have been at least 50 lbs, his legs moved like he wasn’t carrying a pack at all.

While chatting away, we got to meet yet another really amazing individual.

Leticia (spelled Laetitia?)

She is a Chilean, but currently lives in the french alps, working at a ski lodge. She’s well accustomed to spending time up on high, well above 3000 meters. She works at Paradiski, La Plagne, Cendrier de Poche.

For her, glaciers are an every day thing, and snow capped mountains are a given. What an amazing life that must be. She speaks English, Spanish, and French fluently, and had a worldly air about her, such wisdom in one so young!

She showed us some incredible pictures of sunrises in the French alps, towering over a sea of clouds.

After that, we headed out.

The walk from los cuernos to chilleno is fun as you get to experience really different types of terrain all in a single hike, from forested tree trails, to heavy brush, rocky paths, rolling hills, some technical bits, and an amazing path running parallel to a gorge. 

Because the tail end of the hike to Three Towers is rather steep and exhausting, many hikers like to plan a stay at Chilleno to rest up. We even met some hikers who planned their entire trip around the ability to reserve Chilleno first.

As we began our trek eastward, we looked back and were rewarded with a beautiful view of the mountain peaks high above, and closer to the lake we saw the tops of the cottages and main building of Los Cuernos, along with some of the tents.

The first bits are rather rocky and a bit steep, but it soon gives way to much more navigable trails

We walked along the Lago Nordenskjöld for a good stretch while gradually heading uphill further and further up from lake. 

There are a few bridges over runoff streams that run down to the lake.

Many of these streams are running lower by early November as the season transitions from spring to summer.

About a third of the way to Chilleno, maybe 3-4km after leaving Los Cuernos, we came upon a really wide streambed, we’re talking river width, though the waters have long since dropped to stream levels. From a distance it almost looks dry.

Lots of people were taking their lunch breaks here.

Eventually we passed another small lake, Lago Ingé, with lots of bogs, marshy wetlands.  Before embarking on this trip, Kyu’s wife’s friend had just returned and gave Kyu some tips about the trip. She had mentioned there were bogs where your boots became fully submerged. I had gators around my hiking boots because of that bit of advice, but in just the few weeks between her trip and ours, the bogs had dried up a fair bit.

By this point, Kyu and Alli were already pretty far ahead of me, and I enjoyed taking my time, going at the slow pace my legs took me on the long uphill.

One group of hikers who passed me said “patagonia?  More like pata-gon’-get-muddy”. I laughed so hard I doubled over and they saw me. They seemed pretty happy to have made a total stranger laugh. But hey, it was a great line and they knew it.

While my boots did sink in the muddy, marsh like conditions in parts of the trail, it never got too bad. Wooden planks and downed branches were laid out, making it easier to traverse the muddy land.

Even then, there were only a few bits that were wet. Most of the trails were bone dry. And the rolling hills were a nice change from the more rocky and uneven terrain.

Pretty soon I got up high enough to begin seeing over the land all the way to the eastern part of Lago Nordenskjöld. The photo below is facing south east, and you can see the eastern edge of Nordenskjöld on the right. And though it’s not quite clear yet, you’re also seeing the beginning stages of the deep gorge to the left.

Eventually, the trail turned towards a more northerly direction, and the deep gorge became much more prominent. It was still really far off in the distance, but it the gorge came closer and closer.

The trail started to get to some semi-technical bits right around here.  It took a while but strong hikers would do this in half an hour. A little further on things started to get a little gnarly for a bit

Throughout this entire segment of the hike the gorge stayed visible to the right, and the sight was both majestic, and maybe a wee bit intimidating as the sheer verticality of the stone face was in stark contrast to the flatter plateau above it.

Then came the Y junction that splits and goes down to Torres Hotel and Camp Central.

A few more steepish to semi technical turns and then the trail turned around a bend, and suddenly, the straight length of the gorge revealed itself, a long and narrow valley, with a trail running parallel to the river. This, then, was the gorge itself. It was an absolutely stunning view and I imagine that even the most seasoned travelers to the park never tire of it.

During the final approach, the roof of Chilleno’s main building made its first appearance. In the photo below, it’s hard to see but it’s of to the left side. You can just see the blue’ish rooftops of the main buildings.

The two photos below are of the final bridge, with Chilleno just on the other side. 

It’s an angled bridge. How fun!

The there was a short climb up to the grounds.

After that long, gradual uphill hike, it was wonderful to see the main building (great bathrooms too). 

The dining area at one end of the main building is large, and of course, Austral beer signage is everywhere (^_^)

The outdoor area has maybe 9 or 10 picnic tables and with great weather, lots of folks were enjoying the sun and cool breeze from the gorge.

For more photos to get a sense of the camp site beyond the picnic table area, see the bottom of this post.

Once we arrived, we were able to again secure a third tent for Kyu, so we all went solo. Turned out to be unnecessary as I ended up doing something stupid that got me a little sick the following day.

Our first order of business was dropping our stuff off at our tents, and then I took a quick shower before heading to dinner.

For Chilleno, Alli had pre-ordered all meals, and dinner was really good. As there were long tables, we sat with roughly a dozen other people. There was a group of 6 to my left, from Italy, and they were a tad standoffish.

After dinner, a lot of folks were milling around just chatting, and I got to meet a number of them. Most folks only stay the night at Chilleno before the hike to the Three Towers. Not many spend the night before heading down. Though, Chilleno is a wonderful site, and with the gorge so close, you’re treated to the beautiful sounds of rushing water, sunny skies, and a sense of tranquility.

Some of the folks I met in the evening:

Luke and Nadia are from the Netherlands, and have traveled extensively around Switzerland. They described gorgeous glaciers, and mentioned the highest elevation train station in Europe, Jungfrau, up at 10,000 feet. Imagine getting on a train at lower elevation in sunny weather, and getting off to face freezing temperatures and strong winds! What a trip that must be!

I also got to talk with another couple of guys. Marcos, from Spain and Gustavo from Portugal. Their trek to Torres del Paine is steeped in their personal histories and strong connection to Chile. They met as exchange students in Santiago, and decided to explore more of the country together. 

They’re also proud of their respective countries and shared some tidbits about where to visit, and places to go.

Porto, is a city at the northern tip of Portugal.  Which is apparently among the most beautiful cities in Europe. They definitely made me want to go check it out.

And here is where I had decided to do something really stupid… I decided to pull an all nighter because I lacked confidence to wake up by 3am and having to go to the bathroom in the morning. It had quite the adverse effect in the days that followed.

So, why did I do something so stupid?

Well, for that, I sort of need to explain a conundrum knocking around in my head from almost day 1 of this trip:

From almost the very beginning, the Three Towers hike was on my mind.

Long before we embarked on this trip, I had learned that one of the most stunning things to do in Torres del Paine was to hike up to the Three Towers at night, get to the Three Towers before dawn and then wait to see the majestic views of the sunrise hitting these monuments, bathing them in glorious, awe-inspiring colors.

But, early on in the trip, even while at Refugio Grey, my mind was mulling over my ability to wake up in the wee hours of the night to make the night-hike and catch the towers in time. 

I knew that while my knees were strong enough to make relatively quick work of flats and downhills, uphills relied on muscles I didn’t have, making climbs a rather slow affair. This meant that I would have to wake up even earlier than what other people estimated in order to reach the Towers in time.

For most of these first few days, I was almost sure that we would do the Towers hike only after the sun came up, skipping the sunrise colors altogether, taking it slow and easy.

There was a debate raging in my mind. 

It was an internal undercurrent debate bouncing around inside my brain from the very first day of the hike, and gnawing at me every day we got closer to Chilleno. Through most of this “mulling over”, I was leaning heavily towards a 9 or 10am hike up to the Towers. I just didn’t think I’d be able to wake up and take care of my morning routine before the 3am departure time.


Something clicked in my head on the morning we left Los Cuernos. 

Suddenly, the idea that we would leave Torres del Paine in just a couple of days, never to return, dominated every thought in my mind. Without realizing when that switch occurred, catching the sunrise light shining on the Three Towers became an all-consuming desire.

And that’s when my brain went into full on logistics mode.


How could I ensure waking up at 2am, ready to leave by 3am, with food in my belly for energy, and all morning ablutions completed to avoid discomfort on the trail? 

How could I make sure that my weak climbing legs could make the daunting trek in time to see the sunrise?

There was only one solution.

Pull an all nighter, keep my metabolism up, get everything taken care of, and start the tasks at 2am to guarantee a 3am departure.

And that was that. 

My mind was set in stone. And nothing was going to stop me.

That left the question: How to kill the hours until 2am?


And here is where some good luck kicked in.

The staff were doing a half team changeout the following day, and were having a nighttime ritual of hanging for a few hours after closing everything down.  

This really was their time. By this time, the guests have usually all gone to bed, so the staff are free to decompress. It’s time for them and them alone.

But, seeing me sitting alone at the long tables in the dining room, futzing around with my camera and phone, they called on me, and asked me to join them.  

They drank some, laughed some, and enjoyed each other’s company in the camaraderie that comes from long days working together. They asked me tons of questions about the States, Japan, music, this trip, and the videos and photos I’d taken.

After a while, they moved the “party” outside. And hung out till about 1am, which made it easy as it meant I’d only have an hour to kill before it was time to wake Kyu up.

I had taken a video of Chilleno earlier that day (the source for many of the photos in this blog post) and they loved the video. As many of the staff had iPhones, I was able to download the video from the camera to the iphone and then airdrop it to some of the staff.

I was deeply honored and thankful they let me hang with them when all their customer service work had ended. I got to meet everyone that night including the manager, Gabriel, who was last to finish work, joining in the last hour.

I’d like to introduce them to you now.

  • Fabian.
    • Ski instructor
  • Pasteto (alfredo) pasteto is little grass
    • Heart of the kitchen
    • Farmer. 
  • Joaquin
    • Manager 2nd boss
    • His dream is to travel the world
  • Naté
    • Chef
  • Cesaer
    • Iron chef
  • Coni
    • Therapist and the kind soul who first encouraged me to join them.

In the photo below, the guy on the far right is Gabriel, the manager.

This really is an amazing group of people, and though I said it before, it was an incredible honor to be able to hang with them. If you’re lucky, maybe they’ll be on staff at one of the Vertice sites when you visit.


ADDENDUM: More on Los Cuernos campsite.

Beyond the outdoor picnic area, partially behind the main building, is another building housing the showers/bathrooms, and staff area.

Beyond the picnic tables is the storage and bathroom/shower building, possibly staff quarters as well, I didn’t ask

To the left of the building is a foosball table in remarkably good condition.

Beyond that are the rented tents (and tent platforms for those who bring their own)

My tent was the second orange one on the left.
But this pathway goes up a good distance, with some 20+ tents altogether (might be 30+, can’t remember exactly)

Patagonia Map Routes W-Trek

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