Valle de la Engorda & Refugio Plantat

It was one of those days that I really felt the need to pinch myself and wonder if life could really be so beautiful. And then stop to say thanks that it is… and that I am a part of it.


Sunday morning my friend picked me up bright and early, I had negotiated a 7am timeframe instead of 6:30am, knowing that Saturday’s Thanksgiving would take its toll. That was a good move because although I came home like a good girl at 12:00, my roommates were having people over so I ended up hanging out them a bit and hitting the sack around 2ish.

It was about a 2 hour ride to Baños Morales, of which I passed out for about an hour and a half, waking up only because the road turned dirt and bumpy. When I opened my eyes, it was surreal. I had closed them while looking at the buildings and cement of Santiago and opened them to the bluest sky, cotton ball clouds, snow capped mountains, and green trees. I’m not sure if there are greater color combinations than this.

The plan was to go to Glaciar Nieves Negras and then end in some hot springs. Yes, that is a real possibility, what sounds better than hiking in the snowy mountains and then soaking a tired body in natural hot springs??? Very little. However, with Saturday’s snow, our car couldn’t safely get far enough to make that happen so we parked and headed to Valle de la Engorda and Refugio Plantat, one of the basecamps on the way to Volcan San Jose. The change did not dissapoint.

We parked near the only house in the area, that of an animal farmer with lots of goats, horses, and dogs roaming around. He and some of his family members were working outside and wanted us to pay for parking there. Now, he’s a lucky guy to be enjoying this view with his coffee, lunch, and dinner, but that doesn’t mean it’s all his. So we didn’t pay, and he wasn’t happy.

We started walking up into the valley and I could hardly keep focused on my footwork. I was like the distracted little girl with big eyes, head constantly darting from one place to the next, not wanting to miss a second of my view.

Then the valley opened up to us, filled with little streams and surrounded in a bowl of the Andes, and we walked through it for about an hour and a half. The cool air had the perfect bite and my feet sofly sank into the fresh and fluffy snow. The mountains in this area are some of my favorites, they are darker in color, which just contrasts so amazingly with the white and blue. And, there something about the darkess that makes the points and rivits just feel so powerful. I love it, couldn’t ever get sick of it.

Once we crossed the valley we arrived to the foot of one of the mountains, which we had to climb in order to arrive to the refugio sitting at 3100m (10,171ft). It was an uneven ground, lots of small and large rocks hidden by a layer of snow. It took about 2 hours to get to the refugio, climbing higher and higher and offering the most prestigious view of the landscape below. The fresh blanket of snow covering everything was simply stunning, the mountains were rolling peaks seemingly connected by these soft, endless hills. While there I was in love this untainted beauty, we found an unexpected downside of the snowfall… a group of people who had gotten lost! We were crossing a bit higher and they were in a lower point, protecting themselves from the wind obviously, with their tent up. They yelled and told us they had gotten lost, asking how to get back to the valley we were coming from. We told them that there were fresh tracks in the snow from our arrival there and they’d be easy to follow. I am assuming they somehow got disoriented from the snowfall the day prior, covering their tracks and leaving everything looking so similiar. We could see their tracks from climbing all the peaks in the surrounding area, looking for something that rang a bell to signal the direction for heading out. Yikes. Glad we walked by.

Once we passed them, about 1/2 hour later we knew we had to be close to the refugio, but weren’t exactly sure where it was. My friends were trying to remember where it was, so often many of the peaks simply just look all the same. The remembered there was a certain type of peak before it, scanning the hundreds around us and looking for a hint. We went with the gut feeling and headed right. Continuing and continuing, drudging up through the heavy snow. Eventually one of my friends though he saw a little cross in the distance, which is right before the refugio, we kept going and then it disappeared, probably covered by a new hill  as we journeyed up and down little hils in between. Right as we were about to call it a day and look for a rock or something to sit behind while we had our lunch, I continued on a little bit and… ah, ha! There was the little house, with a pool of water in front of it, collected from the glacier streams above and flowing down into little rivers below.

It was like one of those houses in a movie or a book about the good ol’ days, the girl finds the wood cabin in the middle of the forest, one light on and the chimney smoking :) Only this time it was the mountains and a vacant little shelter for cold mountaneers to bunk up, get warm, and call it a night. We we so happy to find it. Inside we kept the door open to not miss the scenery and munched on sandwiches and boiled some water for coffee. Mmmm, there is something about drinking hot coffee in the middle of freezing, windy mountains that makes it so damn delicious and rewarding.

There were some pictures on the wall of when the refugio was built in the early 1900s. It’s amazing to think of the things people accomplished back then, I can’t imagine how they got up this high, carrying the materials, and building all this. It was pretty cool to see and imagine. What initiative. Many times in these refugios there are notebooks that passers-by can write messages in, so, I did too. While today was a fantastic stroll in the mountains, I hope to come back and do the Volcano (5,856m; 19,212ft) by the end of summer.

The way down was fun, like skiing but on my boots. Often the descent is such a treat because, on the way up, you’re looking at everything ahead, paying attention to where you’re walking, where you’re heading… and in the end you just don’t turn around as much as you should. So, coming down is this present of the beauty in a new perspective. I love it.

The weather was changing quickly, getting colder, the sky darker and cloudier. We were right on time. It was a perfect day and finally I felt like I was in December in December. The snow, the cold, the wind… it reminded me of home. I loved it. And, I had the added bonus of these magnificent mountains. No complaints here.


One thought on “Valle de la Engorda & Refugio Plantat

  1. Pingback: Volcan San Jose, 19000ft, turned into a trip through the clouds | Thinking Globally & Living Locally

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