The one problem I have about travelling alone is to go hiking without a partner – especially at this time of the year where we are heading straight into the winter season. When I arrived in El Bolson, I asked at the Mountain Office if there was any groups or people who registered to go hiking up to some of the Refugios in the area. As there wasn’t anything obvious or ready to go, I opted for my safest option, which was to hike up to Cerro Piltriquitron Refugio.
There is 2 ways to hike to the refugio. If you are up for it, you can take a bus to the base of the dirt road leading up to the plataforma (where they do most of the paragliding jumps in the mountain, and also the trail head) and hike up. They say that the hike from town to the refugio is about 3-4hrs (8km from the dirt road). As I had already hiked down from the house where I was staying for about 1h, I decided to take a remise (taxi) to the plataforma. It was ridiculously expensive (380 pesos, which I dealt for 350 because I didn’t have enough cash aha) especially because I couldn’t share it with someone else. I did understand the price better as soon as we hit the dirt mountain road (reminded me of going up to Elfin Lake trailhead, but much longer). I also tried my best not to think too much about the fact that the gas tank of the cab was almost empty as we started our way up the mountain. Hopefully he made it back okay ah!
The plataforma is about 2km, 50minutes hike from the refugio. There is quite an elevation gain (I think about 500m) which reminded me of the BCMC. The trail is exposed to the sun almost all the way up. The views of the valley are great from the moment you start the hike, and the trail is very, very well marked. It will take about 40min to hike up to the Bosque Tallado – an area where there is a carved wood exposition trail in the forest. It was a nice little break before I head up the last 10minutes to the refugio.
As soon as you start feeling warm, you will already be up to the Refugio Piltriquitron! It is open year-round, and it cost 150 pesos to spent the night and use the kitchen. For day use, you only pay 20 pesos and 30 pesos to use the kitchen. They also have the staff who can cook some pizza and serve you some chilled, local beer. I brought my own food as I am travelling on quite a budget, but the food looked quite yummy. Right now there are 2 locals working in the Refugio for a few months. They take care of keeping it warm, clean and functional! There are dry toilets outside and the refugio can sleep about 20 persons (mattresses included!).
As I arrived around 12PM, I had just about enough time to try to hit the summit (2h30 up). There was another group of 6 ladies who left about 20min ahead of me, so I decided to give it a try as I knew I wasn’t alone out there. The clouds were quite low, so I’d figured I would just go as far as I felt comfortable. The snow got thicker quite fast, but I was still able to hike for a good 1h30 and enjoy the views. We hit the clouds about 40min from the summit where we all decided to turn around and back to the refugio.
Here is my: THANK GOD I CAN SPEAK SPANISH moment. I spent the rest of the day, evening and morning with 7 other locals who speak no English. I played dice and cards with a 3.5 years old who probably wonder why the adult lady spoke a funny Spanish… We drank tea and mate, played guitar, sang, watched the stars, discuss life, and ate some fresh gnocchis (made live by the guys in the refugio!).
I also saw a Condor flying close-by (these things have a wing span of 3m!), when everybody from the refugio ran outside with their cameras. I slept quite a bit (sunrise is only at 830AM which makes for really good nights) and hiked back down to town with another hiker. It took me about 2h30 to head back to the house, which is alreay higher up in the mountains. I misunderstood that they had a shuttle going up and down to the Plataforma during the week – it is actually the bus heading to Lago Puelo that stops in front of the dirt road at the corner of the main road. The only way to get back down is therefore by car/taxi or by foot!
There was another refugio opened, El Hielo Azul, but as it is a longer hike and I couldn’t find someone else to go, I played it safe and headed back to Bariloche in the hope of finding a hiking partner to go up once more before heading to the Wine Country!