The W trek is named for its shape, though it's more like a Russian "ш," and even more like a set of butt cheeks. There are three legs up, and two shorter legs connecting those three. The wonderful thing is, you can leave your pack at the nearest campground or refugio for the upward legs.
It was a difficult trek to plan for, because there is a ton of somewhat conflicting information out there. There were a few constants: the weather is unpredictable, so prepare for four seasons within the course of a day, and it’s windy AF. Also, you’d better make your reservations ages in advance. Even in June, when Jason and I made our reservations, one refugio was sold out of bunk beds and offered us a pre-set tent instead. Most of what I read online described the trek as moderate and not terribly challenging. Several people said that a reasonably fit trekker needed only four days rather than the standard five. Having completed the Inca Trail in three days rather than the standard four without trying, and in light of our tight schedule (and, thirdly, the high price of food and lodging in the park), we agreed to hike it—all 58 miles of it—in four days (two and two halves, really). Starting after only a day's break since the two consecutive hikes in Argentina (16 and 14 miles, respectively). My full-blown cold slowed me down for the first two days of the trek. The trail kicked our asses, but we did it.
|The view from the catamaran to Lake Pehoe|
The briefer also told us to triple-waterproof our stuff, but don’t worry about getting wet and muddy because you will anyway. In particular, don't do anything stupid (i.e., jump to a boulder and miss) because you're avoiding putting your feet in the water or mud. Expect a crowded trail; if you were counting on a remote wilderness experience, you’ll be disappointed.
We didn't get a crowded trail, perhaps because of our odd itinerary. and we didn't get much rain (except our last night), but boy did we get wind. Our first stretch was from Paine Grande to Refugio Grey, and it was a wind tunnel. It was all we could do to keep going, and not get blown into the lake.
Even the landscape is windblown.
|The view from Britannico|
|The view on the way down from Britannico|
As pained and laden as we were, we remained in awe, and we always stopped to marvel. What separates us from the animals is not—as Clarice says in Steel Magnolias—the ability to accessorize, but the way our drive for exploration and beauty can overpower our animal drive for comfort.
|The birds were happy to pose for us.|
Cuernos was in a beautiful spot, and unlike the night before, the weather was perfect. We crashed just after dinner.
|The view from the dining room of the refugio|
|Our tent under the Cuernos|