Emergency Camping Spot – Coirón Ranger Station – Camp Dickson

The Facts

Short Outline of Hike

  • Distance: 12km
  • Duration: 5h, including a long break at the Coirón ranger station (at least 1.5h), having breakfast, drying clothes and getting warm around the fire
  • There’s a drop in elevation from our emergency camp spot to the Coirón ranger station of about 200m. After the station it stays mainly flat with slight ups and downs.
  • You follow Río Paine all the way to Lago Dickson where you’ll also find the camp.
  • Paine river has a few small side arms that can get flooded. They were when we were there. You might have to search a bit for a nice crossing or prepare for some wet feet.
  • This section is also well-marked.
  • Distance from Coirón ranger station to Camp Dickson is about 9.5km.
  • Camp Dickson is fully equipped with hot showers, bathrooms, a kitchen room, a restaurant, a little shop. Prices for food and items from the shops are very high though.


Following is my personal grading of the hike including some key points. If you have no idea what the SB scale is, have a quick look here.

The overall grade regarding difficulty is SB-3.2. The grade is made up of the following categories:

Category A – General – SB-2

  • Distance: 12km, duration: 5h
  • Elevation gain/loss: We lost about 200m of elevation on the way to the ranger station. From there it is mainly flat with small ups and downs. Just before Camp Dickson you walk over a little hill to get down to the camp.

Category B – Terrain – SB-3

Parts of the path were flooded from the day before. This required a little creativity and handiwork here and there. Other than that, the trek was nice. Fields, forest ground, a section of board walk.

Category C – Weather – SB-3

It remained windy but not nearly as bad. In contrast to the day before, the sun was shining all day providing us with warmth that we definitely needed. No rain all day while we were out trekking. It started raining a little bit after we arrived at Camp Dickson.

Category D – Special Conditions – SB-3

Backpacks were still heavy and made us slow. We also needed some of our little helper thingies for building the bridge, such as rope.

Category E – Individual Conditions – SB-5

We were tired from the day before as we had no sleep at all. So, we arrived at the Coirón ranger station being exhausted. The ranger allowed us to use the oven and get our stuff dry. He even shared his breakfast with us. Awesome guy. Though, I’m pretty sure he thought us to be crazy for camping at that spot the night before. Warming up, getting our clothes dry and having a little protection from the wind gave us enough energy for the bit of walk we had ahead of us. I think, getting out of that night alive and without any damage gave us quite a bit of energy for all the rest of the hike.

The Story behind the hike

It’s an understatement to say I am released when we remove our rain covers from the backpacks to find that everything is dry. I never questioned if there was a chance for our stuff to survive considering the water masses that must’ve come down all night. I simply gave up on it.

There is still some strong winds going on but it’s nothing compared to the show we were part of the day before. Patagonia had mercy on us and is in a good mood today. So, are we.

When we take down the tent, we have to fiddle the pole out of the tent sleeve. It got ripped apart but oddly the tent fabric doesn’t have a single scratch. We scan the mess and realize how lucky we are.

The hike to the Coirón ranger station feels like a walk in a park. It’s mainly downhill through some nice forest bits. Every now and then, we have to climb over some flooded sections. During this first hour of trekking we keep busy analyzing what happened the night before.

When we arrive at the station, we ask the ranger if we could rest and warm up inside. Not only does he invite us in to sit by the fire and dry our clothes. He also shares his breakfast with us. Part of the job of a ranger is to walk the treks or sections of them between the different ranger stations they reside in for a time period and check if everything is alright.

We take a long break and then head off to Dickson. Even though we watch bad weather building up in the mountains ahead of us, we are in luck with a mixture of sunshine and fluffy clouds all day.

With all the stress slowly falling off my shoulders, I take in every view. I’m overwhelmed to say the least. The landscape reminds me of these breathtaking scenery shots in the “Lord of the Rings” movies. My fellow survivor agrees with me when I say it out loud.

Torres del Paine National Park is by far not the only mesmerizing spot in Patagonia. All landscapes I’ve seen in this beautiful part of the world spoiled me for life. But this park and the correlating experiences will always remain special to me.

We are still tired, our backpacks still heavy. But the final kilometers to Dickson are an easy walk compared to our first day. We are distracted by the views and little adventures like building a bridge. Río Paine has smaller sidearms that you have to cross on the way. As you see on the pictures above, there are bridges that serve as help. Due to the flooding from the days before not all of them were as useful anymore. A bit of rope, a few big branches from the ground and some balancing action, et voilà: the little bridge is extended. It will also help the two hikers who arrive at Dickson a few hours after us.

When we arrive at Dickson the camp seems deserted. We check in and tell the staff about our situation. They are understanding and let us stay without paying again, despite the one day delay. So will all the other campsites, except for Camp Francés.

I begin to think we are the only ones doing the circuit this late in the season. We haven’t seen anyone but the ranger in 2 days. The more I am surprised when we step into the kitchen and see one guy sitting there, enjoying a maté. He will also show us how to properly have maté in the following days. The three of us will eventually end up hiking the rest of the O-Circuit together, including a post hike, pizza and pisco sour celebration in Puerto Natales. Also, Christian’s last party before he leaves South America.

While I’m prepping the first big hot meal in two days, Christian fixes the broken tent pole. After a short while, the tent is nice and pretty again. Despite the best first day of a 9-day-hike you could possibly imagine – NOT -, we officially agree to keep pushing for the rest.

If you have time, I recommend spending an extra day at Camp Dickson to discover Dickson Valley, including the lake and the glacier.