We arrived in Chile already 7 months ago and it has been love at first sight!
For our summer holidays we decided to do something special, we wanted to have a real ADVENTURE with our two kids! So we planned a journey in Patagonia together with Francesco, our Italian friend. He is a great mountain lover and a great “action” blogger, here his Instagram nick name @fra85russo. Without him the journey wouldn’t have been the same! Grazie Fra!
What we decided to do is a trekking called CAMINO O inside Torres del Paine Park in the region of Patagonia. We spent 2 months to organize it because the places inside are limited and we had to reserve all the campings in advance. After mails, calls, and prays at the end the camino “O” became a “C” because we couldn’t complete it as the last part, the “W”, was fully booked.
If some of you want to do the same, remember to book at least 6 months before to not find any inconvenient, and you can do it through 2 agencies (FantasticSur and Vertice Patagonia) but there are also free camping you can book on CONAF website.
There was a big question tormenting us ….”Will our kids be able to walk around 80 km in 6 days?”.. Every chilean friend told us we were crazy, because too young, too hard, too cold, too wild… it was “too much” for everybody but we believed we could do it. We needed this adventure! and we wanted to leave a great memory of Chile to our kiddos.
We left Santiago by plane the 4th of February, direction Punta Arenas where we staid for a night.
The next day we took a bus (there is one every hour more or less) and we reached Puerto Natales. There we spent our first night in the tents at Yellow Plum Tent House (https://www.campingyellowplum.com), the kids were so excited and we could test the tents before the departure. I really loved this small village, made by young people with big dreams! The houses are built either with wood or with metal sheets and even if basic constructions, they handled the details, as the gardens or using handmade crocheted curtains to adorne their windows.
All is made for travelers, and here I discovered what Picada means. Usually in Chile if you are looking for a place to eat a lot (especially meat) with a reasonable price (here ALL is expensive) you need to look for a Picada where all local people go. La Picada de Carlitos is the right place to go if you pass by Puerto Natales!
If you are going to do the same we did, go to the Information Point on the coast, they will give you some detailed maps of the park, very useful to understand the distances from a camp to the next one.
The 6th of February we woke up at 5:45 am, our bus to the national park was leaving at 7.
In front of me there was definitely a true local guy who probably was going to work at the park! Impossible to confuse him as a tourist!
After 2 hours and half we arrived at the “gate” of the park called Laguna Amarga where we had to pay the access and register our entrance showing all the reservations, without them you are not allowed to get in.
At the park we had the first surprise.. the rains and the warm season melted more than usual the glaciers.. so the rivers broke their borders and some paths were under their water.
We lived in Denmark for two years where at school the kids were used to play under rain, snow, strong wind, sometimes windstorms, so I can say that Niccolò and Matteo were well trained! They didn’t complain about the weather, they were only seeing the adventure!
DAY 1 (in the park). —-> Seron
The first day we walked for more than 12 km to reach the first campsite, Seron Camping.
When we were midway three Park Rangers told us that the river came out and we had to ford it if they didn’t find an alternative path. Ok, let’s the adventure begin!
On the road we met a guy who was coming back (probably a worker in some camping) and he told us that we had to walk in 30cm of water and mud for 6-7 minutes (he was a fast walker, I thought… it meant at least 20 minutes for us!).
So during the next kilometers there was only a big question in our mind: HOW let the kids cross the river without risks. We didn’t know what to expect!
But… I will always tell, we had some angels around us… the Park Rangers.
They found an alternative path to not cross the river and they signed it with red ribbons, anticipating us and cutting the branches of thorns where too dense. For sure the kilometers increased and the road became more hard but without their help maybe the adventure could became a disaster… We had few clothes, getting wet the first day, would have meant staying wet for all the trip.
Arrived at the camping we were very tired and the strong wind didn’t give us a rest, severely testing our capability to build a tent!
We spent the night trying to sleep even if the wind was so strong that we always had the sensation we were going to fly away! For this journey we decided to bring two tents (The North Face – Talus 2) to share the weight in our backpacks, so the kids could do a night with mum and a night with dad. Unfortunately mum and dad never slept together…
At the end of this page there are some TIPS about what to bring, what’s necessary and what not.
DAY 2 —>Dickson
We booked the meals more or less in every camp, because we didn’t want to have also the weight of the food. That morning we had breakfast in the cabaña with few other travelers, a US couple and two Australian girls: bread and jam, cereals, coffee and milk and a mountain of scrambled eggs! The right energy for the second walking day, 19 km were waiting for us.
Since the river was still out of its edges the Rangers found an upper path without risks for the kids.
That day the rain didn’t give us a rest, the kids were tired and hungry. We only knew the second camp, Dickson, was near a lake, so when over a hill we saw it we started to dream about a warm meal and maybe a beer (the Austral Patagonia Calafate is my preferred..by the way)!
When arrived we had to register our passports in their books, all strictly under the rain. The park rangers were so impressed about the age of my kids, and the ladies (probably wives) couldn’t stop saying “Que liiiiindoooos!”, in that moment I felt a mix of feeling: I was of course proud of my kids but at the same time worried… if nobody else brings kids maybe there is a reason?! The rangers reassured us that if they are great walkers there are no dangers… Mmmm…. told by a man who is leaving in the middle of nothing, with no electricity, riding wild horses and chopping woods is not so reassuring… but I never lost my positivity!
So I took advantage of their kindness to ask them to dry the boots of my kids, completely wet… so, thank you rangers!
During the night the rain never stopped and we knew what it meant… snow on the next camp.
DAY 3 —> Los Perros
We started the 3rd day psychologically prepared that even that day the weather wasn’t on our side. We saw the snow waiting for us at 500 mt and there were around 15 km to do all upward. The next camp would have been the hardest and wildest because there was no food there, no warm water for us..
We thanked the rangers we met on their horses and we started to climb.
All around there was a dense wood, very different from the day before where the valley was an opened land with few shrubs. The rain stopped and after 4 hours walking we enjoyed one of the few moments with the sun out of the clouds. We had our lunch over a river: a sandwich with tuna and heart of palm, a cereal bar and some chocolate.
Usually 30 mins were enough to rest before walking again, sometimes less. The ascent could be hard and with the weight of the backpacks I had to have a good balance to not fall.
Closer to the clouds there were the mountains, full of fresh snow, and we saw our first glacier! We were so excited! but we still didn’t know what was waiting for us… something really “bigger”!
After 7 hours walking we arrived to the campsite, Los Perros, just behind the glacier. We were around 500 mt of altitude. The camp was in a forest, under big trees, full of mud and roots, not so easy to find a good place for the tents… We set up the stove and we started to prepare our dinner… but.. never trust the seller of a shop when he says that one bag of a meal is enough for a person… we were starving! We tried to feed the kids in the best way we could.
The draw of a smily face on the window was the only sign of a kid (mine) in that place… somebody told us that a 9-years-old passed by few days before and he was the youngest they saw. Still proud.. still worried…
We tried to ask to the rangers about the weather conditions, because the day after we had to cross a mountain at 1200 mt, El Paso John Gardner. They didn’t know the forecast because the weather is not predictable in Patagonia.. it changes really quickly. The pass wasn’t our only question, the 4th day we had to walk for more than 20km in hard conditions.. Do the kids will be able to go ahead?
We went to sleep with some doubts, with only a soup and some dried fruits in the stomach, we were cold, dirty and a little bit wet… As soon as we closed the tents it started to snow… it was beautiful of course.. the silence and the small snowflakes on the ground.. but.. we certainly would have found the snow in the pass the day after, the same pass where few weeks before an English guy got lost and found his death… You could imagine how I slept…
DAY 4 (The never ending day…) —> Grey
The rangers told us to be sure to leave the camp before 7 to have enough time to reach Camping Grey…but we are Italian! At 7.30 we were still trying to wait for a warm tea and as soon as we had some liquid in the stomach we returned to our adventure!
At the beginning we walked under the snow in a wood and we were so in late that I didn’t find the courage to stop and take any pictures.. then… it get worst! Snow and a strong wind were enjoying to hit us on a side and we had to be careful that the kids could follow the path with no risks.
We walked in line: Francesco first, Matteo and me, and Pietro closed the line following Niccolo’. We were wearing ALL our clothes to be as warmer as possible and keeping on climbing assured us to not feel the cold.
In a moment the wind became stronger, Francesco turned back towards us, his beard was half full of snow… and asked ” what do we do now…? we keep on going? do we take the risk?” the worry was for the kids… Coming back would have meant not only retracing to Los Perros but to Dickson Camp… 25 km.. because we didn’t have more food with us. No way, we had to try to go ahead! And I had a sensation looking to the mountain pass, I saw more light, as if the clouds were a little bit more spares. Maybe the sun was trying to come out?
Some of you can judge me as a foolish, with two small kids, but as mum I knew the limits of them and we could do it! We were all united in this great undertaking and we felt strong.
We were almost arrived at 1200mt when we met a Park Ranger! Another time I saw them as angels. He has been warned that some kids were passing over the mountain and they wanted to be sure they could arrive on the other side soon and safe! We were exhausted but the funny thing is that the ranger never stopped talking. He told us about the story of that pass, named it in honor of John Gardner an American climber who decided to stop in Patagonia and teach to Chileans park rangers how to climb. Always to remind the great help this American guy gave to Chileans, they named the previous glacier “The glacier of Friendship“.
While I was trying to have a normal breath rhythm calculating how many meters divided me from the top, the rangers kept on telling us about a particular flower called “chocolate flower” that live only on that mountain. It’s called so because it smells like chocolate even if it’s not eatable. The kids found the forces to cross some water to smell them…while I didn’t have the force even to take a picture, standing on my feet for miracle..
Arrived on the top we didn’t know what to expect! The snowfall stopped just before we got to the pass and, as I felt, the clouds started to move showing sometimes small pieces of blue sky. The view was AMAZING! In front of us there was the Grey Glacier: 270 squared kilometers of ice! Massive between the mountains! Its colors passed from blu to grey to brilliant white! We could stay there all the day to fill our eyes of that miracle!
It was something staying there by EVER! but at the same time it moves, it grows, it melts and creates rivers, falls… All the fatigue has been paid back.
We were exhausted but after a super sweet tea offered by the park ranger (8 herbs + honey + ginger) we were ready to continue our way.
The path was very steep and there was a lot of snow (better than the mud for sure!). The kids couldn’t stop touching the snow even if their gloves were not waterproof, hoping that the next camp had enough of it to build a snow-man! Where do they cram so much energies!!
Our goal was to reach the camp of the rangers at half-way, El Paso camp. There we had to decide if staying there for a night hoping in the permission of the Park rangers, very strict in terms of reservations, or going ahead.
Arrived at the camp they told us that there were “only” 3-4 hours more and we would have reached Grey Camp. We already walked 7 hours, we were very tired, we stopped one hour to eat something and drink a tea… but we decided to continue!
I’m pretty sure that some of you is asking “How it’s possible to walk for so many hours with two young kids??“. My boys are very active, never stop to run, play, ride bikes, skateboarding, so I compared the hours of their daily outdoor activities and it wasn’t so far from the hours they spent walking with us.
But telling the truth…the secret was only one: for them it was an adventure! Every kid dreams about crossing rivers, sleeping in tents, running away from pumas (fortunately or unfortunately we didn’t see one but it was a good reason to not stay too behind and keep up!). So if you are thinking to have some “wild experiences” with your kids, don’t be too afraid! They fit to new conditions faster than the adults!
So at this point there was another adventure for them, or better, other three!
Three high suspension bridges were on our path! and we had to hope to not find the wind…
From the path the view was amazing, we could see the end of the glacier Grey and the iceberg detached few weeks before. Arrived in front of the first bridge we decided to tie the kids to an adult, for their safety. Francesco with his experience, and no fear of the height, was the right person to take care of them, me and Pietro we didn’t know how we could react on the bridge.
When Matteo was safe on the other side I started to walk, it was like the wooden bridge on kids playground, all was swinging and I had to concentrate my sight on the wooden tables on the floor trying to not look down… I knew that if I started to look around I would have felt the terrible highness! I was shaking a little bit but I did it… Pietro did the opposite… he looked around.. the water fall, the glacier, the rocks on the bottom… Let’s say he spent more time to cross the bridge but he did it too!
Passed the third bridge we knew there were other 45 minutes before reaching the Camp Grey, but they were 45minutes of a fast walker… so they became more than 1 hour…
We saw the first tents at 8 in the evening (and I remember you we left Los Perros camp at 7:45), the camp had been warned by the rangers of El Paso that we were coming so they could save some food for us. When we registered at the camp we started to loose energies and I felt all the pain in my legs, in my feet and in my back… Suddenly the backpack became too heavy and my arms were shaking… 12 hours walking carrying weight and taking care of kids… I felt like a super hero!
The room where they were serving the dinner was a little bit far from the entrance, I mean, 10 meters… but for me was a huge distance! When the travelers we met in the previous camps saw us from the window, they opened us the door and everybody came to congratulate with my kids! Young guys get to high-fives Nico and Teo! The couple of Australian girls we met 2 camps before they were hoping we stopped half-way because the weather was terrible and the path too long… They were all impressed about what Nico and Teo did! Finally I could be proud and no more worried. The next day was a easy day…
DAY 5 —> Paine Grande
Finally the sun! We left Grey Camp around 11! We tried to rest more to recover energies. We had to walk only 12 km before reaching Camp Paine Grande, our last stop.
The view was amazing and we really loved this last part! But something changed in the environment.. we met a lot of people on the path.. it became crowded.. they were all with small backpacks, carrying only food, drinks and cameras, all clean, smelling like fresh flowers! I could inhale shampoo scents every time I crossed the ladies!
By one side I was envious, I really needed a long shower, my hair were a one big knot! But on the other side I thought “everybody can do it in that way… no adventures for them… nothing to tell, maybe some nice pictures taken but… too easy”. We earned every single drop of a warm shower! And this made me feel good… not clean…. but good!
Paine Grande Camp is a camping with a big safe house at the feet of Paine Grande mountain. The atmosphere was great! A lot of people from all over the world, most of them doing the other camino, the “W”.
My kids have a lot of merits, one of them is to be very social and not afraid about unknown people (of course met in safe places). Nico was getting bored, 12 km had been not enough to let him down… so…. He found a girly group playing cards just few tents far from us. With his angelic face asked to play. Of course they allowed him! But not happy he proposed an Italian cards game called “Briscola”! 2 minutes later he was teaching the rules… 5 minutes later they were playing.. 10 minutes later they were all laughing, he was entertaining alone 6 girls! As a mum I don’t know if I have to be proud.. or worried… maybe both? For sure he has Italian blood in his veins!
We spent the last night in the park without wind, without rain, without the snow.. A very good sensation! But at the same time I was sad… The end of all made me feel downright melancholy.
DAY 6 —> Back to the civilization
The day after, it was the 10th of February, we had the boat in the morning to leave the park and reach again Puerto Natales.
Our intense adventure has been finished, and I still have to metabolized what I experienced in the last days! I really hope the memory of this journey will stay forever in our soul, especially in the heart of my kids. They could tell in the future that at 6 and 8 years old they had a great adventure at the end of the world! In the far far Patagonia… We will miss your mountain!
For more pictures have a look at my client gallery! Below the link
TIPS FOR FAMILIES who want to do the same experience:
1- Book in advance to be sure to have all reserved, if you have to carry your kids stuff book also the meals (dinner, breakfast and lunch box)
2- Train the kids as much as you can especially to understand their limits, when they complains for real tiredness or they are throwing tantrums.
3- If you decide to stay in a camping, buy a good tent very resistant to the water and the wind (so not too high) and buy a good insulating mat, it can make the difference in some conditions.
4- Don’t let young kids carrying weights. My kids had a very small backpack, only for the water and jacket. Even this could be heavy if you walk for hours.
5- Don’t bring too many changes, at the end of every day you will get dirty however! For the kids: two long pants + 1 rain pant + two thermal shirts long leaves + one t-shirt + 3 pair of sock (2 technical in cottons and 1 wool) + 1 technical pile + 1 technical windproof and waterproof jacket + a mountain hairband or a hat + sunglasses (in Chile UV rays are very strong) + sunscreen 50 (if you are lucky to see the sun!) + one pair of boots (in goretex with Vibrant sole) + one pair of slippers to rest the feet + one pair of gloves + underwear (…depends on your kids!)
6- Prepare the kids for a GREAT ADVENTURE! and never give up!
7- Have fun with your kids! Don’t take it too seriously even if you are tired!
8- Take a diary or a camera to not lose any single moment of your family journey! ENJOY!
Thank you for taking time and read this article!