With the possibility of snowboarding off the cards due to lack of snow, we heard about a great overnight hike close by and after checking out some photos decided to give it a shot. Picking up some crampons and hiking poles at Club Andino due to the icy conditions of the path, we set off around midday after waiting over an hour for the hourly bus, which arrived 30 minutes late.
At this time of year the hike starts off slightly muddy from the Cerro Cathedral ski hill car park, though last nights snowfall had helped keep the ground frozen and a thin layer of fresh snow prevented us from slipping. The initial couple of hours are pretty easy going, with only a few slightly tricky river crossings where bridges have been swept away, and after around 1.5hrs we turned right up into the valley.
With the sun only reaching the left side of the valley, we headed into what the afternoon sun penetrating the trees had turned into a magical, sparkling winter wonderland. With not a single other person to be seen, we had this enchanting place to ourselves and felt blessed to have chosen this time and day to be here. One day before or after there’d be no snow settled on the branches, with a slight breeze to send them drifting down like glitter against the slant of the suns afternoon rays.
Making our over the Van Titter stream on a metal footbridge, we pasa a small stone church and Refugio Piedritas, a small emergency shelter with a sleeping platform and stove built into a large rock, headed uphill for what is the hardest part of the 4 hour hike.
With Matt having thrown the crampons on earlier to prevent slipping and smashing the camera on the icy walkway, he marched easily through the deep snowfall while Sarah picked her way slowly to prevent getting wet feet when we had to hike up the occasional creek bed.
Finally sighting the Refugio, we hike the final ten minutes with ‘beer, beer, beer’ resounding in our skulls, as Matt had kindly offered to carry three local brews we had left over from the hostel. Finally making it we joined a group of three Argentinian’s to celebrate our arrival and make quick work of finishing the beers while admiring the stunning views. We could use words, but it wouldn’t do it justice, so here’s some photos instead.
Joining the Refugio host, mountain climbing expert Ian, and our new friends Guido, Gastone and Melanie, we settle in for a night of chit chat and were kindly offered to share in their meal of spaghetti bolognaise and vino, a total score as Matt mentioned as soon as we arrived that all he felt like was spaghetti bolognaise (sure beat our planned dinner of 2-minute noodles and tuna). We’re also joined by the resident cuddly cat, Negro.
The surrounding area is a rock climbing mecca and one of Argentina’s most famous. A laminated book in the Refugio has been painstakingly put together outlining the vast number of routes around, from easy to mind-blowingly crazy (for us anyway), and the climbing paraphernalia scattered around the hut and pull up bar swinging from the roof give an indication of the kind of people who frequent this place in sunnier times.
With an almost full moon rising from the valley, we headed out around 10pm to a mind blowing view of the surrounding peaks litup like daylight against the snow covered mountain lake. Snapping as many minute long exposure photos as the cold and wind would allow, we said our good nights and headed up to the bunk filled dorm, snuggled into our sleeping bags and enjoyed a peaceful nights sleep. We couldn’t be more thankful we only had to share this enchanted place with four other people, rather than the 60 odd who arrive every day in summer (the refugio sleeps 42).
The next morning after a breakfast of bananas, boiled eggs and 2-minute noodles, we tie our crampons on and head easily down what has now become a crusted icy pathway. Well Sarah did, Matt decided he’d leave the crampons until he’d successfully slipped on his arse three times. Passing back through the forest we realised how perfect our timing had been – the snow had melted from many of the branches and the ethereal feel of yesterday was all but gone. This along with having passed over 20 people making their way up, saw us thanking our lucky stars.
The melting snow had also turned the hard ground into muddy slop, and we picked our way slowly down the final hour of the hike, before reaching the car park to wonder how long we’d have to wait for the next bus back to Bariloche. Only 20 minutes later we spot our new friends and Matt heads over to see how their hike down was. Swiftly inviting us for a beer, he notes that we don’t want to miss the bus, turns out they have a car so how could we say no!
Sitting in the sun at the bottom of a ski slope we all have that familiar feeling that we’re celebrating a good days riding, except one look at the hill reminds you there’s still no snow. So instead we watch a guy send his GoPro drone over 100m into the sky and km’s away over the peaks, so far that we actually lost sight of it. Could this be the new toy for our next ski trip?? Stopping for a couple of photo opportunities, we share a thermos of that good old Argentine custom, mate, with our new mates.
Our plans of a relaxing evening at the hostel are soon shattered by the energy of a large group of Argentinians and Chileans who are keen for a big night and drag us out dancing at 1am. Suffice to say the sentences
‘Do you want a mojito with jagermeister in it’ and
‘Stay away from the Colombian’s, they’re bad, they’re all taking acid’
were thrown around later on, and the next day was a write off involving two people in one bunk bed watching Jurrassic World before packing our bags for tomorrow’s trip to El Bolson.
Check out Flickr for more pics of Refugio Frey and the surrounding area.
- Hiking up to Refugio Frey has been one of the highlight for us on this journey, just be sure if you lack experience hiking in snow you hire crampons and register with Club Andino in town.
- In the summer months it is imperative that you book well in advance as the cliffs surrounding the refugio are a mecca for those in the climbing community.
- It’s possible to do the hike in one long day though you’ll need to start early, it’s a 24km round trip!
- Check out this link for more info