Refugio Paine Grande to Refugio Los Cuernos via French Valley, Torres del Paine, Chile

This is post 6 in a series of a 7 day/6 night guided hike in Torres del Paine National Park with Dittmar Adventures. We followed the modified O Trek which connects camps Japones and Dickson over the Oggioni Pass. As this part of the trail is not marked, it can be only done with a guide. If you are looking for something a little more challenging with fewer trekkers and spectacular views this may be the route for you.

Day 6 – Refugio Paine Grande to Refugio Los Cuernos via French Valley
Total Distance:  17.3 kilometers/10.7 miles
Average Time: 7 hours

Woke in the wee hours to a roaring wind crashing against the tent like a freight train. Felt like I just lay there for hours listening to the wind and wondering if I was also hearing rain drops.

It was somewhat warm in the tent so I decided to venture out. Before 6 the sky was just beginning to lighten. The wind was strong but not as strong as it sounded from inside the tent. It was cool but not cold in a short-sleeved shirt and a rain jacket.

We started packing up around 6:30 but I suddenly remembered that I left the backpack fly in the vestibule and now the wind had carried it off somewhere. I got out to look for it but was greeted by an amazing Patagonia sunrise, our first this trip.

The light and colors keep changing across the entire sky. The show goes on a good 15 minutes, making me late for breakfast. I did find my fly along with another fly and a tent pole bag in the grassy flat land next to the lake.

Breakfast, served cafeteria style, included – juice, cereal, yogurt scrambled eggs, toast, fruit salad with fresh apples and Nescafé.

The plan for the day was to walk to the next campground, Italiano, drop our backpacks and take just a day pack up the French Valley. We would go up to 2 viewpoints depending on the weather. If the valley was cloaked in low clouds it wouldn’t be worth the effort and we would continue on to Los Cuernos, our campsite for the night.

The first part of the walk climbs to the foothills towards Paine Grande.

Once along the top there are good views of the lake although the 2011/12 fire took out a lot of trees in this area. The walk then alternates between open areas and muddy woods.

Near Camp Italiano we cross Rio Francés that we will follow up the valley. At a one- person- at- a-time bridge there is a line of hikers waiting their turn.

Most walk halfway, take 1 or 2 shots of the glaciers with the river below, and hurry on to the other side. It’s a slow process getting large groups through the bottle neck.

Camp Italiano

In clear weather the trek up French Valley is a popular day hike and Camp Italiano is buzzing with hikers getting their day packs ready and leaving a large stack of backpacks.

The walk up French Valley is steep and rocky in places but beautiful as it runs along the river. Soon you see views of a mountain face with glacial ice, Glacier del Francés. Listen for the roar of the calving, although generally once you hear it it’s already too late to see the ice fall.

The trail is often in the protection of the woods with frequent views of the river. As you approach the Francés viewpoint the trail runs along a pretty ridge.

Francés Viewpoint

Francés was busy as we passed through here on the way to Britanico. Great views of the glacier and Los Cuernos to the other side. Looking back the way we came, Lake Nordenskjold is a milky glacier, blue against the brilliant green trees.

The trail further up the valley towards the Camp Britanico is generally more level but crosses more than a half a dozen streams that feed into the river. With each crossing you descend and climb back up the other side.

Great views through the trees of the river and glaciers beyond.

Camp Britanico Viewpoint

Once at the viewpoint the view opens up with a nearly 360 panorama of glaciers all the way around to Los Cuernos. A stunning sight. The day is clear as the clouds dance around the peaks.

It’s cold in the brisk wind but Carlos has hot coffee or tea for us. We head back to Camp Italiano after a quick lunch.

Camp Italiano to Refugio Los Cuernos

Camp Italiano to Refugio Los Cuernos is a faster trail. The first part descends into a valley before climbing a ridge above the lake crossing wooded sections, some with an abundance of fuchsia. It starts to sprinkle.

The rest of the way follows the lake, first along an upper ridge and then descending to the scenic shore of wind-bent trees and cobbles that softly clatter as the waves pass through them. We follow the bank up and down a rocky path to the refugio with views of Los Cuernos high above.

One of the prettiest sections of the day with lovely hiking conditions – cool weather, very soft rain and a light breeze perfect for walking.

Refugio Los Cuernos

We arrive at Refugio Los Cuernos dead tired. This refugio is much more expensive as it is on private property.

The tent sites are on platforms with Los Cuernos towering above camp.

Dinner is served in the crowded dining room.

Carrot soup and chicken curry with vegetable rice. Portions are generous, but too bland to be interesting. Carmel flan for dessert.

Bathrooms have flush toilets and reasonably clean showers, but dirty floors from all the muddy boots.

The girls had difficulty getting the hot water to work.

Back at the tent, we turn in early. It has started to softly rain again. While I like the pitter patter on the tent I’m growing tired of trying to keep my belongings dry.

February 18, 2018

For links to all the posts in this series see the Hiking in Patagonia page.

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