Hiking the “W” Day 3: Italiano –> French Valley –> Los Cuernos
Italiano –> Up and Down the French Valley –> Los Cuernos
Day 3 emerged cold, foggy, and starkly beautiful. Italiano, although limited in resources, has to be one of the most peaceful places to camp on earth. The river streaming out of the French Valley gently lulls you into sleep while the forested campsites teem with chirping birds and whispering winds, granting you a welcome respite from the gusts and gales that tend to accompany your nights in Patagonia.
Our stomach bug victim was greatly improved (with the help of some anti-emetics, ibuprofen, electrolytes, and copious amounts of sleep and glacier water) and although not up to fighting speed, was still feeling brave enough to attempt the French Valley. Unfortunately, I awoke well before dawn to a low-grade fever, upper respiratory symptoms, and a very angry GI tract. It’s hard for me to express how disheartening this was. The French Valley was quite literally the reason I had entered the park in the first place. This day was what I had pegged my whole trip on, and now I was the second victim down in a series of viruses that seemed hell-bent on claiming us all. I had a conversation with my group and it was decided that I would head up the trail with the hubs immediately, and turn around when I couldn’t make it any further. The remainder of the group would follow after a more leisurely start to their day.
We very slowly started up the trail, which from kilometer one is nothing short of gorgeous and just gets better and better the farther you hike on. It is a narrow, single-track trail that can get busy quick, so it does behoove you to start early if you want some peace and quiet.
This is a fairly steep trail that involves a little bit of scrambling around some rocks. You should really leave your bag at Camp Italiano before starting up this trail and hike with a daypack only- bring plenty of water. It’s roughly 5.4 km ONE WAY from Italiano to Mirador Britanico (the last lookout of the French Valley) and you don’t want to lug a trekking pack through here unnecessarily. Mirador Frances is a beautiful place to stop for lunch or for a photoshoot and is a good stopping point if you can’t make it any farther. Mirador Britanico should be your goal, but you get alot of bang for your buck by just making it to Mirador Frances.
From Mirador Frances the trail becomes a bit less rocky, substantially less steep, and more forested and lush. It’s a beautiful, meandering trail that follows the river up to Mirador Britanico and if you have the time and the energy to do so, you should try to make it all the way to the end.
We made it almost 3/4ths of the way to Mirador Britanico before I couldn’t make it any farther. In total, only one of our group made it all the way to Britanico- not because the trail is particularly difficult, but rather because the constellation of viruses that slammed into all of us that week were just brutal. I’m still a little sad I couldn’t make it to Britanico, but I heard the views were astounding and that it is well worth the mileage to make it there.
We headed back down the trail towards Italiano, and the views on the way down were just as amazing as the views on the way up. We filled up with water at one of the streams and took multiple breaks, slowly moving down the trail at a leisurely pace.
By the time we reached Italiano it was early afternoon, and we found literal piles of trekking bags lined up at the camp entrance. This is where Torres del Paine, even in shoulder season, can be a little frustrating. If you value trekking in relative solitude or find yourself irritated by constantly passing folks on a single-track trail, starting up the trail to the French Valley mid-morning/early afternoon is going to really mess with your day (and your photo ops). We passed SO MANY PEOPLE on the way down and while that didn’t particularly bother me, I can see how it could start to get to someone looking for some peace and quiet. From Italiano, we headed down the trail to Los Cuernos, our campsite for the night. The trail to Los Cuernos is, for the most part, an easy, rolling trek with only a few substantial up and down sections. It’s only 5 km from Italiano to Los Cuernos, but after the climb up the French Valley, many people opt to stay at Frances, which is only 2 km away. Frances was full when we booked tickets, forcing us onward to Los Cuernos. We did stop there briefly to pick up a member of our group who had opted to go on ahead and rest by the Lake, and found it to be very charming with really nice showers/bathrooms and a small store. I’ll finish out this post with some pictures of the trail from Italiano-Los Cuernos.