‘O’ Circuit Key Facts
Location: Patagonia, Chile
Distance: 110 km
Camping: Basic campsites
Map: Torres del Paine Trekking Map
This is post 4 of 6 about hiking in Torres del Paine, completing a combination of the ‘W’ circuit and the full ‘O’ circuit in December and January.
- Part 1: Preparing for Torres del Paine
- Part 2: Hiking to Las Torres and the Valle del Silencio (Days 1 and 2)
- Part 3: Hiking to Seron and Dickson campsites (Days 3 and 4)
- Part 4: Hiking to Los Perros, John Gardner Pass, and Las Guardas (Days 5 and 6)
- Part 5: Hiking to Lago Pehoe and Los Cuernos (Days 7 and 8)
- Part 6: Finishing the hike (Day 9)
Day 5 – Hiking from Dickson to Los Perros
Day 5 of the Torres del Paine trek is a relatively short and easy day that offers absolutely spectacular scenery and a move out of the meadow-like landscape of the previous days into a true mountain environment. A steep climb out of Dickson campsite – the only climb of the day – reveals stunning views in all directions. Ahead: the back of the mountains visited on day 1; behind: spectacular views of the Dickson glacier, with clouds drooping over the mountains; to the right, a long, heavily forested valley that leads to the first glimpse of the Los Perros glacier, the destination for today.
For 3 to 4 hours to path gently passes through forest and alongside the Rio Paine, with very little change in elevation. Bridges cross the river in several places and then the glacier suddenly pops into sight. You could easily sit for hours here, listening to the sound of the ice moving and watching the icebergs in the lake below.
Ten minutes beyond is the campsite – a cold and dark place, the trees sheltering it from the wind but also from the sunlight. Being this close to the glacier and the river made for the coldest night on the trek, with my thin sleeping mat not really being sufficient and the damp air seeping into the tent.
Day 6 – Hiking Los Perros to Las Guardas, and the John Gardner Pass
If day 5 was beautiful, day 6 is something else – the highlight of the trip, with the climb to the John Gardner Pass, which is the highest point in the park and the first chance (on the full circuit) to see the spectacular Glacier Grey. The scenery and landscape on this day simply cannot be matched by visiting the lower end of glacier grey on a day hike or on the ‘W’ circuit.
The day started with a little bit of a cross country expedition as I struggled to find the path out of Los Perros – a seemingly clear trail stopped dead as I entered the trees and I spent some time wondering where it would reappear (hint: go left, not right, from the camp site and climb). This is the part of the trail often described as being ‘knee-deep mud’, but it was in fact perfectly walkable despite snow banks still melting at the sides of the path. After a short while in the forest the trees cleared and the day’s target was visible: the 4,000 ft John Gardner Pass at the end of a valley dominated by snow-covered peaks.
The walk is long but was relatively easy, the climbing never getting particularly steep, and with spectacular snow covered mountains surrounding me on all sides to keep me distracted.
As I made the final few metres to the pass a speculator view came slowly into sight: first, the jagged snow-capped peaks, then glacier Grey itself, stretching for miles in both directions, and finally, to the north, the clouds as they reached to the ice, rendering many shades of white. Notorious for its foul weather and high winds that discourage walkers from staying long, the pass was completely still when I arrived. The glacier below is in constant motion and I spent half an hour listening to the clunks and groans it made, sounding alternatively like traffic passing or a metal foundry. The views on all sides made me want to stay and walk off into the mountains forever. There must be places here that nobody has ever been.
After the pass the path descends rapidly then levels out to follow the glacier, the views improving all the time. The surface, texture, and even colour of the ice change from section to section, constantly offering new perspectives.
At times the path descends into deep gullies which have fixed ladders to climb in and out (see right side of image below) – not always easy with a backpack.
The nearest campsite to the John Gardner Pass is El Paso, but the one after that – Las Guardas – is much closer to the glacier and therefore much more fun. Las Guardas is often tucked away in a sheltered part of the forest, and is smaller and quieter.
Read the next part of the Torres del Paine trip report – hiking to Lago Pehoe and Los Cuernos.