Andy and I have adopted a strategy for this trip that, to be completely honest, somewhat resembles binging. We spend a few weeks out in the wilderness subsisting off a diet of bird food (aka nuts, seeds & dried fruit) and cheesy tuna pasta and then return to civilization to gorge ourselves on whatever delicacy that city may be known for. In BA it was empanadas and ice cream. In Mendoza, steak and wine. And then we arrived in Bariloche. Bariloche happens to be known for chocolate and microbrews. Therefore, after 2 weeks of Aconcagua time, we spent a glorious 4 days in Bariloche trying, tasting, and rating the dozens of chocolate stores and cervezerias and regaining our fat stores for our next foray into the woods.
Food aside, Bariloche is an adorable ski town poised on the banks of a grand lake with mountains ringing the horizon. I can best describe it as the Boulder of Argentina with outdoor activities being the main attraction. There’s hiking, biking, kayaking, skiing etc and they seem to have figured out that a refreshing microbrew is more preferable after a day of physical exertion than a malbec. We stayed in a lovely hostel on the 10th floor of a building downtown with a truly incredible view of the city called Penthouse 1004 and got to relax, do some biking, do some wandering, meet some new people and overall enjoy the lake district life style until we headed for The Frey on New Year’s Eve Day.
The Frey is a climbing area outside of Bariloche formed by a cirque of solid granite spires. The spires are truly picturesque, reaching up and up into the sky until they peak out in a razor blade ridge you can straddle and take in the 360 degree view. There’s a refugio at the base that you can pay to spend the night in that serves pizza, hamburgers, coffee, wine etc. It’s pretty schwanky. We camped for free but got full use of the bathrooms and kitchen which made the camping pretty sweet. Hiking to Refugio Frey is one of the most popular weekend trips from Bariloche which meant that on the one hand there was always a steady inflow of new trekkers but on the other we had an incredible approach trail to the climbing area. Beautiful, rolling valleys to a traverse above the lakes and a climb through woods at the end. Really a nice 4 hour hike in and surely not your typical climbers trail.
We got there late New Year’s Eve day but just in time to meet up with a bunch of old friends from Los Arenales to ring in the new year with. There was wine to be drunk, an awesome live band that had hauled all their instruments up the trail playing music to be danced to, a fire to be shared and good company to be had all in a truly spectacular setting. It was a lovely way to welcome 2013.
The next 5 days brought beautiful weather which was fortunate because Frey is known for having a mean wind that likes to eat tents and also for the occasional summer snow storm. As a result Andy & I got to climb every day. We hiked out and up 2 hours to Torre Principal, the highest spire the first day of 2013 and first encountered what incredible rock the Frey has to offer. We climbed a more challenging version of the Normal Route (and what made this more challenging variation even more challenging was the fact that there was still ice in some of the cracks!) and loved the clean rock and stunning summit with its 360 degree view of the Andes.
The next day was an equally far spire with equally stellar rock, Campanille Elsloveno. The first climb we got on (Buch-Goin) was on the East side which meant it was still snowed in. So, we got to do a little snow approach in our sneakers which made for an exciting morning. While attempting to let my socks dry, I lost them to the moat(crack between the rock and the snow), never to be seen again. Alas. On the bright side, the climbing was beautiful and we hopped on a route called Imaginate for our second route at that spire which ended up being one of our favorites all trip.
The climbs got closer but were still just as beautiful as our days went on and we climbed at M2 Spire and Aguja Frey for our last 3 days. Del Diedro & Soccotroco were favorites at M2 and Lost Fingers and El Diedro de Jim were both unbelievably fun on the Frey.
Evenings were spent cooking food around a big table, reliving the days adventures and planning the next. There was the occasional card game in the warm refugio, a slackline over the lake & even a polar bear swim in the refugio lake on new years day. The approaches were so short one could wake up at 8:30 and enjoy a leisurely morning with friends drinking coffee or mate until the urge to climb up, up, up struck.
We hiked out on the 5th after too short of a time at the Frey. Perhaps fortunately for the next leg of our trip the weather was set to turn, bringing wind and snow which are not such great conditions for the climbing. Most of our friends left at the same time so we got to meet up one last time at a microbrewery called La Cruz where we enjoyed a final and perfectly refreshing IPA after a week of climbing.
We stayed only the night in Bariloche before hopping on a 28 hour bus to El Calafate. I haven’t touched on the buses here too much but, let me tell you, they’re not your typical Greyhound. The buses have comfy, fully reclining seats, free coffee & hot water for the trip and you’re served meals directly to your seat, airplane style. For this trip, especially since we’ve heard Ruta 40 is a spectacular stretch of highway, Andy & I made sure to get seats 1&2. Basically, we get the first 2 seats on the top level of the bus with a windshield looking straight ahead. It’s like driving the bus but with none of the stress! Well, some of the stress until you get used to the crazy driver’s style. It was awesome though. They play movies on the bus but honestly the scenery appearing in front of us was way better than Fast & the Furious 4. Now we’re off to go enjoy said scenery without a windshield between us!