A simple explanation of its formation: 50 million years ago a thick layer of sedimentary rock was formed and a magma layer intruded between the sedimentary rock and the mantle.
Once the magma cooled down granite was formed and was forced up to surface by the movement of tectonic plates.
Magma is molten rock found under the surface of the earth, it's extremely hot, between 700-1200 degrees Celsius, and subjected to high pression. When the magma cools it begins to form igneous rock, which can be intrusive (below the surface) and extrusive (volcanic).
During the Pleistocene, geological period that began 2.8 million years ago and lasted about 11.7 thousand years ago, the climate was marked by repeated glacial cycles estimating that 30% of the earth's surface was covered by ice, so the massif.
Then about 12 thousand years ago the glaciers began to retreat as the climate changed and the movement of the waters shaped out the massif as it is today.
The main attraction in the massif are the iconic Torres del Paine (Towers of the Paine), a group of three distinctive granite towers lined up north-south with impressive vertical cliffs:
- Torre Monzino (North tower) is 2.600m high and was first ascended in 1958 by an Italian team led by Guido Monzino.
- Torre Central is 2.800m high, it's well-known by mountaineers for its outstanding steepness and beauty. It was first climbed by the British Chris Bonington and Don Whillams in 1963 and next day an Italian team climbed the same route.
- Torre D'Agostini (South tower) is 2.850m high and was first climbed by the Italian Armando Aste.
Another attraction of the massif is the Cuernos del Paine (horns) which is a group of three amazing mountains resembling horns of a big animal. It's made up of layers of sedimentary rock on top of harder granite rock.
- Cuerno Principal (main mountain) is 2.600m high
- Cuerno Norte(North mountain) is 2.200m high
- Cuerno Este is 2.000m high.
Its magnificent forms, sharp edges and the colours of the rocks made these formations a great attraction in the park. It is located between Frances Valley and Bader Valley, and a amazing view of Nordensjold Lake at the footsteps of the Cuerno Principal.
The Paine Grande (big Paine) is absolutely amazing, it's a mountain with four summits lined up from north to south:
- Principal summit is 3.050m high, actually the highest summit of the massif.
- North summit which is 2.760m high
- Central summit is 2.739m high
- South summit or Bariloche summit is 2.660m high.
This fascinating mountain is very difficult to climb indeed, only twice has been possible to reach the Principal summit. The instability of its glaciers and poor weather at its peaks has killed several climbers and has left many with the desire to climb.
During the 1954 summer climbers of Andean Bariloche Club saw how two of their mates were buried by a large serac that broke off and caused an avalanche.
More interesting mountains are part of the massif with height of 2.900m to 1850m.
Trekking around the massif is the most popular destination in Chile.
There is a large network of trails and many lodges and campsites that provide basic services.
Hikers can opt for a full day trek to the towers, walk the popular W route in about 4-5 days or trek the full circuit in 8-10 days.
The W circuit is the most popular as the trails join 3 valleys ( Ascencio, Frances and Grey Glacier valley) and the towers, the horns and the glacier. We can divide it in 3 sections:
- Torres del Paine: it is the iconic walk in the park, but one of the most demanding. After 4 hours walking through the Ascencio valley and a millenarian lenga forest the trekker reaches the base of the towers and get a beautiful panoramic view of the towers itself, the hanging glacier and the Tower lake. Worth the effort
- Vale del Frances: the valley is located in the middle of the circuit but it is a high difficulty up hill walk to get there. It's a surreal place in the circuit, the view of an amphitheatre formed by mountains and granite hills with a magical sunrise is certainly breathtaking.
- Grey Glacier lookout: the 3,5 hours path is medium difficulty and have 2 lookouts: the first one is a nice view of Grey lake and icebergs that usually break off from the glacier. The second one is a panoramic view and sound of the Grey glacier itself. Highly recommended.
Another suggestion to trek the W circuit:
Interesting facts about the massif:
-The oldest record of human life in the area around the massif date 6.500 years ago.
500 years ago the Aonikenks or Tehuelches arrived in Patagonia and named the massif Paine, which is a mapudungun language word that means blue as it is the predominant colour in the area. However they never occupied the territories around the massif but adjacent areas.
Also the presence of the Kaweskars is documented in the area.
- The first recorded tourists that contemplated the Paine Mountain Range, 1879, were Lady Florence Dixie and her party: husband, two brothers and a friend. She was more than a classical tourist of that time but an adventure and explorer. She left a very good report about her trip to Patagonia in a book published in 1880 titled: Across Patagonia.
In her book she refers to the three towers as Cleopatra's Needles, comparing the towers with the three authentic Egyptian obelisks, one installed in Paris and the other two in New York and London.
-Gunther Pluschow was the first person to fly over the Paine Massif.
Useful informations: http://www.torresdelpaine.com/ingles/index.asp#cinco