Hiking the “W” Day 2: Refugio Grey –> Camp Italiano
Refugio Grey –> Camp Italiano
the day of the stomach bug
Our day started out cold and drizzly, a bit dark but otherwise uneventful. We packed up camp outside of Glacier Grey, got breakfast going, and headed out. The hike out of the glacier and back towards Paine Grande was actually much more enjoyable than I had anticipated it would be. We stopped several times to soak up the view, laughing and joking our way up the steeper sections of trail. We were to the refugio and a well deserved lunch by noon. This was mentioned in the last article, but it doesn’t hurt to say it again: it’s recommended you allot 3.5 hrs to travel the 11 km from Refugio Grey to Refugio Paine Grande.
For those so inclined, there is a restaurant at Refugio Paine Grande, as well as a small but well-stocked little store where you can grab some snacks and drinks. We were able to snag a small box of eggs that we promptly hard-boiled to eat with lunch. There is also a restroom here and a “kitchenette” where you can rinse your dishes and sit down for a bit to cook. This is one of the best places to stop if you need to break up a long day or if you think you might be running short on food supplies. In addition, this is the stopping point for the water taxi across Lago Pehoe so if you are injured or need help, this is a good outpost to aim for.
From Paine Grande, we turned to follow the lake towards Italiano and almost immediately began to experience a totally different type of scenery. The clouds started to lift, and the views by Lago Pehoe and Lago Skottsberg became magnificent. The official Torres del Paine map states that from Refugio Paine Grande, you should allocate about 2.5 hrs to get to Camp Italiano. True to form, it took us much longer than that.
From Paine Grande to Italiano, it’s about 7.5 km. The trail gently undulates along the lake, with generally minor changes in elevation and a view that more than compensates for any increases in heart rate you might experience. The trail is also much easier to follow, with a far less rocky terrain and more of a gravel and boardwalk single-track trail. The wind here can be highly variable- if you’re unlucky, it will come whipping off the lake and onto the trail, slamming into you like a train. We had fought against that wind all through our first day hiking into Grey and were not excited about another day of it, but as soon as we crossed over the first hill outside of Paine Grande the wind died down and left us with spectacularly good weather. Past the lake, you start to see the French Valley to your left and the trail becomes a bit more wooded.
The final stage of the hike leads you through a forest and across a swinging bridge into Camp Italiano. A word on Italiano: it’s backcountry camping for sure. If you’re looking for a place to stop for the night that has a refugio or tent and cabin rentals, this is not it. It’s an outhouse only type of situation, and the only running water found is the water from the glacier river right down the hill from camp (under that swinging bridge I mentioned). If someone in your group is backpacking for the first time and is wary of the whole process, this may be a place to avoid. Experienced backcountry hikers and trekkers will find Italiano to be just like every other place they’ve trekked before, but with cleaner water. It was really wonderful to be able to find a good rock by the river, sit down, and fill up with ice-cold glacier run-off.
There is some debate online about the safety of drinking water out of the rivers and lakes in Torres del Paine. Half our group drank the water straight from the glacier at Grey (it was served with dinner) and half did not. We all chose to use a water filter during our time at Italiano (and from then on out). We made this decision because roughly halfway through our day, one member of our party (ironically, the one who did not drink the glacier water) had become very ill with a horrific stomach virus. Luckily, the stomach bug, although violent, was short-lived. He has since said that this was the longest 7.5 km he has ever walked. You can see how we may have been wary of the water after that. I will be writing a whole separate article on the water sometime in the future, but for now you should know that most people will advise drinking the water straight out of the river with no purification system. I question that- not because Torres del Paine has inherently unclean water- but rather because humans have a tendency to be thoughtless and disgusting, and anything dropped upstream from you is going to end up in your bottle and in your gut. Just my 2 cents. To each their own.