Welcome Center Parking – Camp Séron – Emergency Camping Spot
How to get there
For information on how to get to the start of the trek, check out the overview page.
Short Outline of Hike
- Distance: 19 km
- Duration: 6h including a coffee break at Camp Séron
- We started at an altitude of around 180m (Welcome Center).
- The highest point throughout the day is at 400m.
- The path is well marked.
- The first parts of the trek lead through farmland.
- Beyond Camp Séron the trek becomes a bit more remote and bushy.
- The distance from the Welcome center to Camp Séron is roughly 13 km.
Following is my personal grading of the hike including some key points. If you have no idea what the SB scale, have a quick look here.
The overall grade regarding difficulty is SB-6.6. The grade is made up of the following categories:
Category A – General – SB-6
- Distance: 19km, duration: 6h
- Elevation gain/loss: Generally it’s a steady up and down. Within the first 5km you go up by over 250m of elevation, loosing this elevation within the next 5km again. Following are slight ups and downs and a steeper section again up to the point where we put up our emergency camp. The ups and downs are fairly moderate.
Category B – Terrain – SB-6
You walk on a well-marked path and mainly farmland all the way to Camp Séron. A few kilometers before that camp you meet Río Paine and follow it (all the way to Camp Dickson). The first half of the path we walked that day was somewhat dry, with some more or less muddy sections. A little after lunch it started raining and the closer we came to the river, the muddier and partly flooded it became. We crossed some sections that seemed to be on the edge of being passable at all.
Category C – Weather – SB-8
Heavy winds started the night before. The car we slept in was constantly rocking back and forth. Throughout the day the winds would get worse and worse. With over 30kg on my back and a bit over 60kg of body weight I was fighting just to keep standing for most of the time. Christian had similar experiences. We took hours for just a few kilometers, taking a lot of short breaks to have rests. The winds were measured to have been over 130 km/h that day. I checked the weather data in camp Dickson once we arrived there. The day started with sunshine and a few clouds. Around lunch it started raining. Just a little bit to start with. We took a coffee break to sit it out at Camp Séron. That was after roughly 13km. But it got worse and worse. We decided to keep going. It turned into heavy rain that wouldn’t stop until next morning. We could barely see the path ahead because of clouds and fog. With the rain the temperatures dropped by 5°C to 10°C. To summarize, for the second part of the day we had heavy rain, clouds, heavy winds and low temperatures. Add to that some stupid decisions, such as leaving my shorts on rather than putting on long pants that would prevent the water from running into my hiking boots. Or Christian trekking with a jacket that was not water proof. Or letting my hands cool down completely in gloves that were dripping from water. Yep, Patagonia took us all the way in, with a big fat smile 😉
Category D – Special Conditions – SB-6
We walked the trek with the maximum of our backpacks, which was over 30kg each. This makes trekking challenging already. The combination of the backpack, heavy winds, pouring rain and flooded sections turned a more or less easy trek into an adventure. We hiked around half of the hike completely soaked.
Category E – Individual Conditions – SB-7
Both of us barely slept the night before due to the wind rocking the car all night. In general, we both were in good physical condition. We’ve had some longer distances with heavy backpacks similar to that day before. But with the weather conditions, we became tired quickly and needed quite a few shorter breaks at the beginning.
The Story behind the hike
The first day of the hike starts out with pretty heavy winds, some clouds and a bit of sunshine. It takes us a bit longer than usual to get started and fuel the bodies with some breakfast. We slept in a car that was shook by the winds all night. More than once, it felt like the car is going to take off from the ground. So, we actually didn’t get much sleep. Still, I’m psyched for the hike. Yet.
The first part of the trek goes through farmland. It’s a pretty even up and down all the way with some steeper and some less steep sections. If it wasn’t for the long distance, weather and flooded sections due to weather, I’d say this is a nice trek to start a multi-day adventure with.
The mesmerizing views keep me distracted from the heavy load on my back. Just before we arrive at Camp Séron, it starts raining. According to the map, we’ve made the first 13km by then, a little more than one third of the day. We use a coffee break to sit out the rain, hoping that it calms down. The camp is closed entirely, so the only shelter we find is not wind proof and provides only a bit of protection form the rain. As we get colder, we decide to keep going. Walking will keep us warm.
I walk and walk. My shoes are filled with water. I stopped feeling my toes a while ago. The gloves on my hands are dripping from water. I can’t feel my hands. I am completely soaked and freezing. The path ahead is barely visible. All day I’ve been fighting the winds just to keep my feet on the ground. With that monster on my back. For the past few hours it’s been raining constantly. The masses of water are coming at me not only from the top but from all sides, smashing against my face. While my body has literally been screaming at me to get warm and rest for the past hours, my mind has kept on fighting. “We need to get to the camp. There’s no other choice.” I have no idea where we are and how long it is still to camp. It must be at least 10 km. I’m tired. I’m exhausted. I’m giving up.
I turn around and look at Christian. He’s as soaked and has been having cramps. We decide quickly to put up camp at the spot where we are, warm up and keep going once the weather calms down. Heads up: The weather won’t calm down all night. It will get worse.
I found out later that the spot we picked for our emergency camp is one of 5 spots that is marked with “heavy winds” on the map provided by the park – on all treks within the entire park. Average winds of about 130 km/h were measured that day.
We start putting up the tent together but Christian takes over completely. Without any feeling at all in them my hands are useless. I keep dropping pegs and am too slow. The world is still pouring down on us. So, I start getting towels, sleeping bag, and some dry clothes trying to keep all of that dry. I need minutes just to open and close the backpack, because I can barely move my fingers. Without communicating about it, Christian gets some food that will later give us some energy for the night. We leave our backpacks under the rain covers outside hanging from the fence. There’s not enough room for all of it inside the tent. With this decision made, I give up on my camera and anything else inside the backpack that is not water proof. No way, our backpacks are going to stay dry out here. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is getting warm and dry.
As a reference, the spot for our emergency camp was a fence that divides the Séron sector from the Coirón sector. We didn’t know in that moment but the Coirón ranger station was “only” about 60 mins away from where we camped in our first night.
We got to this point because of a series of naive mistakes made due to inexperience and a fair share of ignorance. When we arrived at Camp Séron, which was closed, we decided to keep on going despite the horrible weather. We marched right into it. I left my shorts on when we left that camp. Rain water went into my shoes from the top and was collected inside, so I was walking with a pool inside my shoes the entire time. I also left my gloves on trying to keep my hands warm. But these were completely soaked resulting in the opposite effect. Always make sure to keep your extremities warm and dry. If they get cold, your whole body will cool down quickly. You really don’t want that to happen.
Christian was wearing a jacket that wasn’t water proof. He planned on treating it before going on the hike but he didn’t. He was completely soaked and his body cooled down. Mixed with the heavy backpacks and winds all day, the 20km that we’ve already walked, our bodies were simply exhausted by the time we decided to camp. To be honest, I’m not sure if I could’ve gone any further even if I had known that the ranger station was just a few kilometers away.
And remember how I knowingly ignored the weather forecast at the ticket center the day before? Let’s face it, that was arrogance at its best. That forecast was literally screaming at us “Get prepared, idiots. Patagonian weather is coming for ya!” When I did the O-Circuit I wasn’t new to hiking. Even though I’ve never done a multi-day hike before, I’ve done a few supposedly challenging day hikes prior to this hike, including, at times very, uncomfortable weather. But…up until then, I’ve never seriously experienced my limits. I was really fit. So, there I was, about to do a multi-day hike in a region that is known worldwide for its challenging weather and treks, thinking to myself “Even if it gets that bad, we’ll make it. Why wouldn’t we.” One really important life lesson: One that thinks she/he knows, doesn’t. The more experiences you make in any area of life, the more you’ll find out that there will never be a point when you know better or everything or are done learning. Never.
Needless to say, the O-Circuit was the last hike I did without being informed of what’s ahead of me. Even though, we were aware that we had a very long hike ahead of us the first day, we only had a rough idea about the other days. We just took it day by day. That’s how I used to do hikes before this, including the O-Circuit itself: Pack food and get going. The rest will come later. No weather check, no elevation check. Just roughly looking at distances and whatever were the general estimations for duration. Well, I learned my lesson big time.
Let’s get back to the little emergency camp experience.
All through the night, we tried to get warm. The tent kept on smashing down on us. We used a tent that has one pole that bends across the center (see my equipment list for more info), the rest of the tent being spanned by the pegs. The pole was bent by the wind all the way and kept hitting us in the face. Not just touching but hitting us while we were laying flat on the ground. The heavy winds and rain went on and on all night until the next morning, not calming down a single bit. The entire time we were hoping for the tent to not rip apart.
It didn’t. We thought the tent and our stuff outside would be ruined after that horrible night. But they didn’t. The tent’s pole was partially broken and needed fixing. But that was it. We purposely invested in a tent made for heavy rain and wind. Same with sleeping bags. We both invested in sleeping bags that are made for temperatures far below 0°C. This helped a lot in getting body temperatures up again from being cooled down by walking in the rain for hours. Even our backpacks and their contents stayed dry under their rain covers.
Our equipment made up for all the naive and stupid mistakes that led us to end up in this situation. I’m not exaggerating when I say if that tent had ripped apart that night, we would’ve been screwed.
The experience was also quite a challenge for our minds. All we could do is lay in the tent and hope for the best. While it sounded like the tent was giving in to the strong winds any second. I remember Christian saying “I am done with this. If I ever make it through the night, I will turn around and hike back tomorrow.” He still refers to this incident like being inside a washing machine. I find that very suiting. We forgot to tell anyone about our plans doing this hike. So, nobody but us knew where we were. As I mentioned before, there is no reception in the whole park. In the more popular camps of the W-Trek you can use WiFi for a small fee but we were far from any of those. My mind was circling around thoughts like:
“What do we do if this tent rips apart?”
“Do we just run to the ranger station in the pitch black and in the bare minimum of dry clothes we had inside with us?”
“If we could barely see anything during the day, how would that even be possible now?”
And thoughts like:
“I wonder how long it takes until the news reaches our families?”
“Would they be mad at us for being so stupid?”
Honestly, a part inside the both of us was getting used to the possibility of not making it through the night.
But we made it. The rain stopped in the late morning, the winds were decreasing at some point, so we took the chance and hiked to the ranger station to warm up there. The sun was shining with just a few fluffy clouds hanging around. The world suddenly seemed to be fine again.