The Torres Base Trail, the most popular trek in Torres del Paine National Park, is being given a new lease of life, to secure this iconic hike for future generations.
The jaw-dropping 18km out-and-back trail traverses rivers, climbs through plunging valleys, winds through native lenga forest and scrambles along rocky slopes before reaching its grand finale: an extreme close-up of the park’s three sharp-edged and imperious granite towers, rising from a turquoise lagoon. It’s one of the greatest views in South America.
During peak season the trail can be used by up to 1,000 hikers a day. Over time this has taken its toll. Coupled with the effects of the harsh Patagonian climate and the suboptimal alignment of the original route, the trail is now in a state of disrepair.
But in March 2022 the first stone was laid in the construction of a new improved and more environmentally friendly trail.
The project began in 2015. International trail experts were brought in by the NGO AMA Torres Patagonia to evaluate the existing route. They concluded that, in order to maintain the trail and protect the natural environment, parts of the route needed to be redesigned and redirected, and sustainable construction techniques used.
“Most of the trails in the National Park and Las Torres Reserve were originally created by and for animals that live there,” says Mauricio Kusanovic Olate, executive director of Las Torres Reserve and president of AMA Torres del Paine. “They are not designed for sustainable usage or to withstand the climate and dynamics of the mountain.”
The pandemic delayed the start of the restoration but works are finally underway. It will take years to rebuild the whole route but, to start, a new 3km section is being constructed at the head of the trail to Las Torres Base Viewpoint and several sectors of the existing trail will also be repaired.
The overseas experts have also set up a programme to teach local volunteers sustainable, international-standard trail construction techniques.
“This programme gives the locals the opportunity to learn how to build sustainable trails, which is really relevant for the people who live here,” says Mauricio Kusanovic Olate. “We live in a region with many national parks and so it’s important to protect them into the future.” As ever, a sustainable future is at the forefront of the Las Torres teams words and actions.