Peggy and I just returned from eight days in Torres del Paine National Park. We did the Paine Circuit in clockwise direction, hiking for two and a half days to Lago Dickson, then rafting down the Rio Paine, paddling across Lago Paine, and more Rio Paine until about a mile above the Paine Falls, for a day and a half of boating. Then we hiked two more days to Rio Grey and floated that out to the road. It was about 150 km in all and 50 km of it (30%) was boating.
The Paine Circuit is a classic Patagonian hike and the rafting had it all: splashy moraine low volume river, braided stuff through nirre forest, flat water lake paddling, big volume and fast but flat water river paddling, PR 3 boulder drops, PR 4 stuff over bedrock ledges, and Class V we didn’t run (!). WIth it’s mountains and glaciers and lakes of every color and braided rivers, a few big mammals, nasty brush, full-bodied weather, and white water ducks, this part of Patagonia reminded me more of Alaska than anyplace I’ve ever been.
Carrying the raft and gear (Peggy wore a dry suit) was worth it for the added dimension of boating and getting off our feet. We could’ve portaged the Paine Falls and put back in for another 15 km of rafting, but didn’t know what the final canyon would be like, and there were increasingly difficult rapids above the Falls that satisfied me in a way that made hiking the pampas in search of birds and mammals appealing at the time.
I ran a half dozen rapids (PR 3-4) alone in our big open boat (flipped in one) but everything else we did as two in one big boat. It reminded me of a Patagonian “Nabesna to McCarthy”, but with a trail and mountains even more spectacular. It was late spring and we had good weather, neat birds, and not too many people on the trails.
If you are going to Patagonia and get a chance to do this, it’s a world-class trekking circuit and bringing your boat makes for a world-class packrafting loop. There are other opportunities in the Park and I’d go back and do it again, especially if I had my red boat and another week.