At peace in Patagonia

Leaving Punta Arenas, it had begun snowing, and slackened, but never ceased, the entire distance between it and Puerto Natales.

So much for a Spring thaw! Our guides, assessing the conditions, even suggested we may need crampons for the days ahead… only, in all  the hiking stores we stopped at, none had any left available for hire! 

We journeyed on towards Torres del Paine, still two hours distant, and the longer we travelled, the better the weather became.

By the time we took a brief break on the shores of Lago el Toro (Lake Bull), the only visible snow lay distant atop mountains, and our afternoon was bathed in bright sunshine.

“Arriving in Spring, we expected it to be cool, but actually snowing!

Now that was a real surprise, and had me question whether we’d (or at least I) had properly packed and prepared.

– Chris

We bounced our way the remaining kilometres into the park, by the time we climbed the final slope into the camp itself, largely shaded by peaks looming above.

That’s not to give the illusion that we were super high, at only a few hundred metres above sea level, but it made for a cool arrival at the Ecocamp, our home for the remainder of the week.

After a brief orientation at reception, we were allocated our domes (the style of the camp leads itself well to couples, and aside from a Brazilian trio, and another travelling solo, we were all pairs), and allowed time to settle in.

Welcome to EcoCamp Patagonia!

“First impressions were great!

The camp sat well within the landscape, the domes hugging the ground and not disturbing the views or the landscape.

Above us loomed these gorgeous snow covered mountains, and the cool air felt nice and refreshing after hours on the road.”

– Chris

EcoCamp Patagonia

We were here as part of a No Roads and Cascada expeditions collaboration. A chance for us to experience the camp, hike the Torres del Paine National Park, and identify how best it could work for us.

About 120km distant from Puerto Natales, just shy of two hours drive (or almost 500km and 6 and a half hours from Punta Arenas), the camp sits inside the national park, beautifully situated to use as a base for the famed W Trek, and other adventures inside the park.

Flight availability saw us arrive via Punta Arenas (Puerto Natales is a much more attractive option, both in terms of distance to then travel, as well as being in my opinion a much more attractive destination), with the complimentary transfers to the camp either a hotel pick-up in Punta Arenas, or from the Ecocamp office in Puerto Natales.

On board was one of our two guides, Marcela (the other would meet us in Puerto Natales) who was the perfect person to introduce the group to the park and outline the days ahead (that great balance of just enough information, without droning on for too long).

The Domes

The camp is all geodomes, in a varying degree of sizes (smaller for the habitation, larger for the communal facilities such as the main bar and dining rooms), their small profile allowing them to seemingly sink into their surroundings.

Unpowered, so if you need to charge any electronic devices, you’d need to do so in the main common area, and whilst the camp is built with comfort in mind, don’t be expecting to find Wi-Fi anywhere. This place is truly off grid! Perfect for what we were here for: To reconnect with nature.

Each bed is laden with blankets (we’re deep in the south, it can get damn cold here), and should more be required, you can easily get more from reception, so there was no need to stress in that regard.

Of an evening, the communal domes were the place to be.

Sharing a drink at the bar, dining with the group, or on one night, there was even a live local musician who drew quite the crowd!

“Any night it felt really cold, we were able to simply get a thermos of hot water from the kitchen, and with the aid of our water bottles, make some quick DIY hot water bottles to take the edge off!.”

– Chris

Superior dome at Ecocamp Patagonia

“I was actually unwell on arrival in the camp, so missed what looked to be a glorious first meal (although at the time, the smell of anything made me queasy).

Fortunately, by breakfast the following day I was back, and able to enjoy all of this incredible fare for the remaining days.”

– Chris

The Food

When it comes to food, don’t be misled by the word ‘camp’.

Fortunately, none of the 3 most important meals of the day are neglected (that’d be breakfast, lunch and dinner).

We’re not talking instant noodles (not that I don’t love me a packet of Mi Goreng on trail) or rehydrated meals.

It sounds somewhat weird, but the breakfast and lunch service was run side by side, with a selection of cereals, fruits, eggs, breads, vegetables, cakes and all manner of condiments available from a central hub (as well as hot beverages), with each trekker provided with a metal lunchbox for the day ahead.

We’d enjoy breakfast, before preparing ourselves a sandwich or wrap to eat out on the trail (an easy option for the Vegans & Vegetarians too), with some fruit and a few sneaky cookies and/or frittata thrown in for good measure.

At some time during the day (usually around the breakfast table), we’d be given the evenings dinner menu from which to select our 3 courses. A starter, main and dessert (there was always a Vegetarian option as well), and it was at the dinners that the food really shone!

Artichoke soup, an heirloom tomato & goats cheese salad, local fish, pastas, and desserts to die for (deconstructed Apple Pie, I’m looking at you)!

In a place so remote, it really was a surprise and delight.

The Trekking

Torres del Paine for most people is all about the W Trek, and the good news is, it’ll only take you 3 days of actual trekking to knock it over (it’s not all you can trek, but the W itself, when broken down, isn’t so daunting).

Day 1 saw us bussed to Estancia Pudeto from where a ferry transferred us to Refugio Paine Grande, or base for the next 2 days (a more substantial account of the trekking will follow at a later date).

With only 100 seats available per crossing, getting into the queue early was imperative!

It was a gentle introduction to the W, hugging the shores of Lago Skottsberg, gently undulating and at an easy pace, there was little to worry us.

To our left, snow capped peaks towered above, with the occasional puff of snow all we generally witnessed of any avalanche.

The going was a little harder as we pushed into the valley itself (Valle Frances), so we only made the false lookout, however, it was still a great place to watch the occasional chunk calve from the glacier above.

After retracing our steps and camping at Refugio Paine Grande, Day 2 had us trekking towards Lago Grey.

At times a lot more exposed, it started a drizzly, overcast affair with strong cool winds that made you savour the dips that provided a little shelter.

The going was again relatively easy, and the whole point was to reach Refugio Grey (where we lunched), but importantly, would meet the catamaran that would take us to view the glacier itself.

“There was a nice little touch every morning at breakfast.

Some trail mix, an energy bar and my favourite, artisan chocolates, was left at each place setting, to keep people fueled throughout the day!

– Chris

“A complimentary Calafate Sour on Ice (that’d be glacial ice) was a brilliant pairing whilst taking in the views of the gorgeous Grey Glacier!

– Chris

There’s something I love about the glacial blues (the colours, not an Avant Garde musical movement), and as the sun finally broke through around this time, standing on the deck with the wind in ones face, Calafate Sour in hand, everything just suddenly popped!

From the lake, we were taken to the distant shore where a bus transferred us back to the EcoCamp where we were returned to our domes.

Day 3 was our completion of the W, and the most challenging on the 3 (as it should be), the ascent to the Towers Base.

A long early slog took us upwards, before a long valley meander past Refugio Chileno provided a bit of respite before the final climb.

Patches of snow, and black ice on flat sections of the trail slowed the going, before we got the word to don our crampons!

An at times dicey ascent, where one misstep could see us tumble down a very exposed and rocky mountainside, and we were at the base, where we picnicked, snapped pics and watched a few people almost fall through the frozen lake ice!

“Lunch on the shores of the frozen lake, the towers looming high above.

Sure, it was cold, but my god was it an amazing view!

– Chris

I’d like to be able to say it was just us, but to say there were no phones to be seen would be a fallacy.

They were everywhere, but they, like us were disconnected, but they remained ever present, snapping away as the camera of choice for the majority of us that weren’t lugging around a fancy DSLR!

At least there was no cell phone signal (although I did get the occasional SMS over the days trekking, when a random spot would pick up reception along the trail).

There were a few slips and scrapes on the return to camp, and every afternoon wine was cherished back in the communal domes, as we bid our farewells over the evening and morning that followed.

Sure it was cold, but the fingers that comprise the W Trek made for a brilliant 3 days hiking.

The late season cool was perfect for one like myself to not overheat (I think I was the only hiker in shorts across any of the days), and the grey skies and covering of snow made the place feel even more remote and a touch foreboding!

Being able to return to the camp for comfort each night was lovely, and without the distractions of their screens, it meant our whole group simply had the time to get to know each other that bit better.

For those few days, the world was truly out of sight and out of mind!

If you’re keen to check out the No Roads Patagonian offerings, take a peek for yourself right here.

Patagonia, stretching across vast swathes of both Chile & Argentina feels wild and untamable. This part of the world, it's just exhilarating!

Being here, makes me feel like one of those adventurers I read about in National Geographic as a kid. It feels real, and it feels raw!

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