Hiking aficionados will, sooner or later, come across The W Trek in Torres del Paine National Park – one of the most popular treks in Chile. This 5 day trek covers most of the park’s highlights including, among others, the Valle del Francés, which is often rated as the best landscape in the park.
I’d like to say that I did the complete W Trek – but I didn’t.
Instead, we stayed at one of the few hotels in the area and took day excursion to explore the different branches of the Trek. Was I lazy? Maybe – but I couldn’t really consider it part of my annual vacation leave if I had to return to the office with a damaged back, right?
Valle del Francés (or Frenchman´s Valley) is the central spike of the W, starting at Lago Pehoe towards the north east. Soon after departing from the Refugio Paine Grande, which was conveniently located next to the lakeshore, we could already admire the majestic Cuernos del Paine in front of us.
After an almost leisurely walk with easy paths and only minor ups and downs, we reached a suspension bridge over Río Francés. Even though this bridge was not as impressive in height and length as the one I crossed over the Massa River in Switzerland, the view over the raging river, the mountains and glacier definitely made up for that bit.
When crossing the bridge, we could get a 360º View over many of the park’s attractions: turquoise blue lakes to the right, the Cuernos del Paine to the front, Glaciar Francés to the left and Paine Grande to the back.
Waking up at 6:30am already became worth it!
Once on the other side, we arrived at the Campamento Italiano, a simple (but therefore free of charge!) campsite in the park. From here on, day hikers are advised to continue up north as much as they want (there’s meant to be a beautiful viewpoint another 2 hours away from this point), always keeping in mind the departure of the last ferry back to the other side of Lake Pehoe.
Since our group was mixed in age and level of fitness, we all decided to continue up the river for another 20 minutes and find an exclusive spot to enjoy our lunch with a first class view of Glaciar Francés and take our time to explore the area.
The view over the fast-flowing river and the Glaciar Francés.
A bumblebee next to the French River
Cuernos del Paine in the background
We wanted to postpone our time to return as much as possible – It just felt too good to sit on a warm flat stone, getting some color on our skins while cooling down our feet in glacial water. However, when the time had come to catch the last ferry of the day, we were surprised by a breathtaking view of Lake Pehoe (no Photoshop for this one, I swear!).
Route: From Refugio Paine Grande (Lake Pehoe) to some point before Refugio Británico (Chile) – circular
Elevation gain uphill: 516m
Elevation gain downhill: 516m
Length: 19.6 km
Duration: 4 – 5 hrs
Wikiloc: Ok, so I didn’t find a wikiloc for this route exactly, but it might help to check out this guy who did the complete W circuit for reference.