Hike – El Bolsón

Posted by on Mar 29, 2013

Hike – El Bolsón

El Bolsón is surrounded by mountains with la cordillera to the west, and impressive peaks to the east. Leon (my couch host in El Bolsón) and I decided on la cordillera – choosing a circuit of four days, three nights, hiking from refugio to refugio in the region which I think is called Región Protegida de Lago Escondido.

Rather than give a blow-by-blow account, as I have been want to do previously, I’ll focus on my own experience.

This is technically the longest hike I’ve ever done – four days. I really liked the idea of staying in refugios, that provide you with a mattress and kitchen and a warm(er) environment. So you don’t need to carry a tent or cooking utensils, but your own food and rubbish.

There’s something honest about walking all day, carrying everything you have to eat and being surrounded by nature. If you have to carry your food, and cook it, it tastes better. If you have to climb the slope and descend into the valley to see the river, you appreciate the distance and the location more. And at the end of the day you sleep like a baby.

This is what happened. We loosely followed the path of the Río Azul as is plunged though a deep gorge between the mountains. The water had a slight blue tint, thus the name ‘Blue River’ and was always F$%^ing freezing! The first night we stayed in the shadow of some peaks with lingering snow, near a tributary stream of the Río Azul. From there we more or less followed the river through the valley before ascending through beech forest to the shores of a small lake on the banks of which was the refugio Los Laguitos (Little Lakes).

The refugios were basic – as the name suggests. Usually consisting of an open eating space with a basic kitchen, providing cooking facilities – usually wood stove, maybe gas as well as cups, cutlery and cooking utensils. You bring your own food. Often meals can be purchased and are make by the refugieros, those who live at the refugio and maintain it. Sleeping is upstairs, and consists of a mattress on the floor where you can plonk yourself and your sleeping-bag. The comfort level varies refugio to refugio.

On the third day we retraced our steps for a few hours, back through the same beautiful beech forest, this time resplendent in the morning sunlight. An unusual silence usually accompanies beech forests – a kind of clean, green serenity, often refreshingly cool. When the track branched off, it immediately began a steep descend up the side of the mountain. Markers, whether they were dobs of paint on varies trees, or strips of material tied to overhanging branches indicated the way as the track was not really a track, but rather an ascent through the scrub. This lasted a good hour and a half by which time I was ready for it to finish. What I found interesting about this was that the valley fell away below us which becoming further away horizontally, if that makes sense. You crash your way up through the undergrowth, battling through the Argentinian bamboo to emerge into a sunlit pass, dotted with beach trees and grassy scrub. Below the Río Azul looks as azul as ever as it winds its way through the valley you have just walked along.

The trip took us about 7.5 hours, and was probably only 14km or so, but we had all day to do it and we took breaks so we arrived at the final refugio as dusk was falling.

The final day was cloudy, so some of the encanto of Encanto Blanco, the name of the refugio, was lost. The walk from here was much less, some three hours and we completed it in less than 2. But for me, the most spectacular days were those in the valley up to, and from Laguitos. Wonderful cool clear days…perfect for hiking.