It’s time for another multi-day hike, close to Bariloche. As always, I am adviced at the mountain information and at the Club Andino Bariloche about long timings (not possible to do the second hut already on the first day) and difficulties. I shouldn’t go on my own. Plus I am a woman. I am a bit sick of this, they see a woman and already think I shouldn’t do it on my own, I am pretty sure a guy wouldn’t have the same issues. The good thing is, no one can stop me from doing the hike anyway. And so I try!
Day 1. Bariloche – Villa Catedral – Refugio Frey – Refugio Jacob.
After a nice evening with a bit too much wine, it’s hard to get up, but I want to take the bus at 9.15m. Another woman from my hostel is also going, just to the first hut for a day walk though but it’s nice to have some company. The 30 minutes bus ride passes quickly as we chat a lot and enjoy the view. Villa Catedral is actually just a skiing spot, there are gondolas (not working) and a huge, empty car park.
We start on an easy road, slowly uphill all the way around the mountain Cerro Catedral Norte. We can see Bariloche and the lake shimmering under the sun, the sky is blue and it’s a great day. The wind has ceased for now and I enjoy the hike.
After some time I walk ahead as it’s getting tiring for the other woman and soon I already arrive at Refugio Frey, under 3h and not 4h. It’s a beautiful place, the lake, the towering mountains, the sunshine, colourful trees,…
And it’s decided, I will continue! But first a lunch break, hidden behind the hut as it’s very windy and cold now. I continue at 1pm, along the lake and partly frozen ground, then up to the pass, quite steep with some climbing. There’s snow and sometimes the rocks are even covered with ice so I have to be careful.
It’s bitter cold in the wind but the views are worth it. Especially when I arrive at the other side! Wow, a steep drop into the valley, red trees, mountains, I am on a cliff looking down. I take another break to enjoy this moment of peace.
But it’s still a few kilometers to Refugio Jacob and now a steep descent right into the valley. Then easy peasy through the forest before going up again.
I think it’s gonna be easy, looking at MapsMe, my navigation app. But it continues all the time uphill until I am finally at another pass and another steep drop.
But now I can see the hut. I just have to be very careful again, in the altitude there is snow and it’s slippery. At 5.30pm I am at the hut (why isn’t this feasible in one day? It took me under 8h including breaks!).
The hut owners are very welcoming and show me where I can set up my tent, the water station, the toilets etc. There are a handful of other tents and as it’s getting cold, I quickly set up my tent, have dinner, wash up and talk to the hut tenant again. I ask about the conditions to do the traverse tomorrow. He tells me that it’s too risky, there’s snow and especially ice which makes the traverse very difficult. It’s already in good conditions not easy with some climbing, but he says that it’s winter now and too icy. With someone else I could have tried, but alone it’s too risky (and why I am hiking on my own anyways?!). My rule is to always follow the advice of hut tenants, they know best and I encountered already snow and ice on the trail today. I have a nice chat with the hut tenant, I understand his Spanish quite well, he is here all year long except for 4 months in winter (closing next week), for already 40 years now! The first hut here was built in 1954, this is the second one built in 1989.
Back in my tent I consider the options for tomorrow. I will have to walk down and take a bus then walk back up instead. Feasible in a day but I don’t have a clue when the buses are going and if at all. I will just hike down early, try to hitchhike or hope for a bus or walk and see what happens.
As it’s getting dark I realise I made the mistake of putting my tent next to a group of 6 young Argentinians who just came back, they are chatting, rotting, cooking and everything very loud…. Unfortunately still chatting at 3am!
Day 2. Refugio Jacob – Colonia Suiza – Refugio Italia.
Breakfast from my tent (it’s cold but my new mattress is insulating much better) and off I go at 9am. I have about 13km down to the valley. The sky is covered but in the beginning there are impressive views of the mountains, waterfalls and gorges.
But then it’s off into the forest and all the trail till the road is in the forest. I am a bit bored and put some music in my ears, singing along until I start meeting people hiking up to the hut.
At 12.30pm I am at the end of the trail, a few cars are parked there, and I continue to the road. The road is empty, no cars so I continue walking. It’s some 7km or so to the next trail. A few minutes later a car comes in the right direction, thumb up, smile on and the couple exchange a look before stopping and taking me to Colonia Suiza. They are very nice and I can even now have a bit more conversation in Spanish. Colonia Suiza is a tourist thing, a few houses and mainly a feria where you can buy food and souvenirs.
I just walk to the trailhead and look for a nice place for lunch. It’s 1.30pm when I take the break. I feel very tired after not sleeping well last night. At least the trail is wide and easy, all the time along the river in the forest.
I take another long break an hour later before setting off to the last section, which already looked hard on maps me. Only 1km left but also 500m altitude. I can see the big steep climb and just walk and walk,slowly but steady.
A group of hikers stopped as one of them is injured, but the others applaud as I pass by. Another guy is walking down, patting gently my arm and telling me I am almost done. Oh my. Not almost but eventually I am at the top of the pass and can see Laguna Negra and Refugio Italia. As always, it was worth the effort!
I check in at the hut, it’s empty except for the hut tenant who is very friendly and invites me to come over later. It’s a difficult conversation again in my poor Spanish. I set up my tent in a well sheltered place and get some water. My hands hurt as it’s so cold so I quickly change and organise my stuff so I can just cuddle up in my sleeping bag and cook a hot soup to warm up. I am too tired to walk back to the hut, it would also be too hard to go back into my tent after staying in a warm place… So I just have dinner, write my blog, read and enjoy the silence. Except for the wind, I hope it’s not going to be too cold tonight.
Day 3. Italia – Suiza – Bariloche.
What a difference a night makes. The weather changed completely last night. Strong winds, clouds and then snow. I wake up many times at night, thankfully my new mattress keeps me warm but on the other hand it’s quite hard to sleep on it. I am spoiled by the inflatable one. In the morning the weather is not looking any better.
I take my time for a hot breakfast, looking outside at the snow and then packing up everything inside the tent. Packing up the snow covered wet tent is hard an my hands cold once I am done. Unfortunately the only reasonable choice is to hike back down where I came from yesterday. With the snow I don’t want to hike up the pass to the other hut, plus there’s no visibility due to the clouds and fog so I wouldn’t even get any views. I don’t feel like waiting a day either, who knows if it’s gonna be better tomorrow? So I decide to hike down, and hike fast because there are only very few direct buses to Bariloche and the next one is at 12.10pm or then in the evening.
The good thing about the steep part going the opposite way today, is that it quickly gets warmer as I loose altitude. Rain replaces the snow and I can walk faster. I meet two guys who camped further below and tell them about the snow and later a group of four young hikers who are all happy and laughing despite the rain. They just want to go to the hut and back. After 3h I am at the road, should be just in time for the bus, but where does it leave? I walk towards Colonia Suiza when the bus arrives and stops as I wave. Perfect! I am wet and cold, but at least I will be in Bariloche in less than an hour.
My nice hostel still has space for me, a hot shower and towel, a place to hang up my tent and a cozy lounge to hang around this afternoon!