“A bit of snow maybe, but you should be fine if you’ve got some hiking experience”, was the information from the guy at Club Andino Bariloche, the local hiking association. A great resource and the place to visit before hiking in the local area.
He also gave us a map, a route, and gave me a concerned look…. “ah, you hike before?”…. “Not much…. well actually I have zero hiking experience…. but my friend here, he is the most experienced hiker I have ever met, I’m in very good hands.” His eyes divert to the tall, viking looking man standing next to me. He looks back at me, he smiles and offers a pair of gaiters for hire. The best decision I’ve made for my lower extremities so far…
And so we left on a 3 day hike outside of Bariloche, through Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi. The route we had decided upon was a loop starting at Cerro Catedral and hiking a loop via Refugio Frey and Refugio Jakob, then back to Bariloche.
My first real hike and it was in Patagonia, with potential snow. I had seen snow twice, both times in London. This adventure sounded exciting, and so far on this trip I haven’t been one to steer away from a challenge. Why start now? So I packed light, donned the designated ‘hiking singlet’ (the one the rat had eaten holes through in Rurrenabaque), and set off with my travel buddy.
To be honest, if it weren’t for having the luck of travelling with hiking He-Man, I wouldn’t have thought to go… nor would I have been able to given my lack of experience. It was a decision that gave me one of the most incredible experiences of my life to date…
It was 8am and we took a bus to Cerro Cathedral, a ski resort in winter and the starting point for our hike to Refugio Frey. It was a relatively easy hike on a beautiful day. We had views of surrounding lakes and green valleys and spent the day walking in the sunshine. We found an old Refugio in the forest to stop off at for lunch and after 4 hours did our first river crossing in the icy water before arriving at Refugio Frey.
Refugio Emilio Frey sits in a valley on the edge of Lake Toncek, surrounded by mountains covered in snow. It’s a relatively easy hike to get here, so people tend to come for the night then head back, but we’d be hiking further on into the national park. Every now and then we’d see people coming over the top of the mountains in the distance, that would be our trip the next day.
Day 2 we started early. I strapped on my gaitors and began the hike through the snow. The first two hours were spent hiking over two mountain passes, through knee deep snow and scaling rocks. We finally got to the top and the view was impressive. We’d passed a frozen lake which was just visible through the snow.
Over the other side and the view was even more spectacular, a lush green valley surrounded by a snowy mountain range. After taking in the amazing view we skidded down the mountain and into the valley below. We walked through the forest and stopped by a waterfall where we filled our water bottles and lay in the sun for lunch.
What a day! For the next 3 hours we walked the rest of the valley before hiking up another 2 mountains knee deep in snow, the gaiters saved my feet from freezing on more than one occasion.
Finally arriving at the top was an awesome experience. Again we had stunning views and could just make out Refugio Jakob by a lake in the valley below. We had an hour or two left of clambering down the dangerously steep mountain and skidding over loose rocks. Then it was shoes off for one last river crossing, a little more snow, and finally we made it to Refugio Jakob at 4pm. It was an eight hour day and I was wrecked, but it was worth the pain.
Refugio Jakob was also right on a lake and a little more simple than Refugio Frey. It was surrounded by snow and inside there was a row of mattresses to sleep on and an old fire stove. We were the first to arrive, followed an hour later by a French guy and a Swiss/French guy who had decided to camp outside in the snow, they were followed by an hour of pouring rain, which was followed by three soaking wet Israelis bowling in the door, and an hour later a Swiss couple.
The next and final day started out freezing cold with me sliding over the now frozen snow. After a half hour we were back onto dirt ground. We passed an amazing waterfall, walked barefoot through an even deeper river crossing set up with a rope to hold onto, walked through forest and over a loose rope bridge, and drank from a pristine fast flowing river before making it to the end. There were no buses so we had another 2 hour walk ahead of us. So it was thumbs out and we managed to hitch a ride into town in the back of a Ute.
I arrived back to Bariloche dirty, hungry, in pain and with a lesser functioning right knee. But never before has anything been more worth it, and if it wasn’t for my travel buddy I would never have seen it. Something I will be eternally grateful for…