El Cajón del Azul. 42 Parallel Andean District*
A trip to the mountain’s heart
At 9 miles from El Bolsón, in the province of Río Negro, an intense trip to Patagonian nature secrets, among cypress and coihue (from koywe in Mapuche language) forests that converge in a low-lying land flooded in wet weather, 131 ft below the Azul river.
* This area comprises the region of El Bolsón, in the province of Río Negro, and other sites in the province of Chubut like El Hoyo and Lago Puelo, offering 11 mountain shelters. Most of them are located at the Protected Natural Area of Río Azul-Lago Escondido, where shelter, food and accommodation are available for travelers.
Those travelers deciding to enter the mountain’s heart through a magic trail, like the one leading to the Cajón del Azul, might be -unknowingly- looking for a deep and spiritual meaning for their lives. When the night falls and fatigue after a tiresome journey appears, they might feel that it is the road that makes the destination. There is nothing to find or look for, it is just a question of breathing, nourishing from purity and letting oneself be surprised by nature. Connecting with nature is connecting with oneself, with essential and sacred things. There is no photo or word capable of representing or transmitting such an enriching and transforming experience like that of discovering the beating heart of the mountain.
A mixture of adrenaline, emotion and surprise
One of the main characteristics of Cajón Azul trail is its changing landscape: up and downhill, forests, viewpoints, valleys, turquoise water, crystalline streams and high coihues. The journey is guided by red and yellow signals (sometimes hidden by thick vegetation) on trees and stones; signs that indicate the direction towards the different shelters.
30 minutes after starting the walk, the confluence of rivers Azul and Blanco is reached and it is the first point to challenge fears when crossing -one person at a time- two wooden footbridges. And even though they do not present a great difficulty, these two bridges, together with the log stairs before the arrival, are the most surprising and adrenaline-full points of this adventure.
After crossing and after a relaxing panoramic viewpoint, the forest is transformed: radal and Chilean wineberry trees are left behind and cypresses and old coihues take their place. Embracing any of these trees is a unique experience that every traveler should live. At this Patagonian corner it is possible, just by a single hug, to connect with peace and silence transmitted by these old monumental species, symbols of both life and death.
At a few miles before arriving, “La Playita” shelter is the obliged place to rest and enjoy snacks and chatting. Further on, a logs’ bridge and the last footbridge precede the end of the trail; at this stage, the river appears running between huge and imposing stone walls, the peculiar feature that gives origin to its name.
Reaching the cabin is the culmination of a dreamy walk and the feeling of entering the hobbits’ land, the same we read about at the “Lord of Rings”; a site that fills the soul with the sensation that there is someone who has been waiting for us. At the entrance “gate”, visitors are welcome by amicable dogs, sheep and an orchard that offers an almost implausible image that will be etched in the retina for ever. The hosts offer the typical mate and guide their guests around the place, with their unique kindness and family-treatment. Meals made with the orchard’s products and homemade bread are as delightful as the quality of their artisanal beer.
The mountain’s intensity, together with the body’s tiredness, are magically combined to make this experience one of the most unforgettable ones in Patagonia. To explore Cajón Azul means daring to discover an authentic trip through senses and emotions; a lesson that includes perseverance, attention and the acceptance of who we are and where we go.
- Cajón del Azul shelter is at 6 miles from the so-called Chacra de Wharton, in the valley of Azul river, on the Dedo Gordo mount, at only 10 minutes’ walk from the river and at 1970 feet. Getting to the shelter may take between 3 to 5 hours by foot and/or 2 hours and a half on horseback. Accommodation is available for 40 people, with mattresses and blankets, although it is recommended to take your own sleeping bag. It has bathrooms and showers with hot water; electric light is by battery. As they do not take reservations, accommodation is provided by arrival order. However, if there is no more room in the inside, they also have a camping place.
- The best time of the year for this experience is from October to March -Argentine spring and summer- although it is open throughout the year.
- You may schedule this trip for the weekend and also visit other shelters like Los Laguitos or Hielo Azul, with a higher climbing difficulty.
- Before starting the adventure, inform the Piltriquitrón Andean Club. Its office is located at Av. Sarmiento. It is open everyday from 9 am to 9 pm and they provide very precise and useful information. Tel. 02944 – 492600.
- Always take with you drinking water (there are several places to refill), sun-screen, insect repellent (there are horse-flies in summer) and sleeping bag.
- Use comfortable clothes, trekking shoes and a light backpack (leave at the hostel or hotel the heavier stuff)
- Do not deviate from the route (no rescue helicopters are available). There is not signal for mobile phones either, and communication is only by handy from the shelter. (They have first aid kit and, in case of an emergency, they may provide a 4×4 vehicle for the descent)
- Enjoy with caution and respecting nature.
- Do not throw cigarette butts or make fire at non-permitted places.
- Bring down with you the inorganic trash.