Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda – A World Wonder

Previous Post: Mingalaba From Myanmar – Land of the Golden Pagodas

Shwedagon at night

If you visit Myanmar (formerly called Burma), you will probably be starting off in its largest city, the business and cultural capital Yangon (Rangoon to the British).  At the very top of the list of “must see and experience” sites is the gold-covered stupa or zedi to the north of the downtown area.

I have had a lifelong fascination with spaces considered sacred and have always sought them out in my travels.  Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda stands out as one of the most amazing I have been lucky to get to.  You know you’re in a special place when you even inhale more deeply as you walk around and take it all in.

In the few days I had to spend in the ramshackle but still enchanting city, I visited the Shwedagon three times, drawn back by the energy and beauty of not only the shrines and the statues but of the thousands of  Buddhist devotees and others who walked with me around the stupa.

Yangon and the Shwedagon Pagoda

Le Huu Phuoc is the Vietnamese author of Buddhist Architecture,(2012),  a detailed examination of many of the great structures and monuments of the Buddhist world. Given all the places he deals with in the book, his assessment of the Shwedagon definitely caught my eye. He writes –

Shwedagon is the epitome of the architectural elegance and perfection of all Buddhist stupas as no other stupas in Myanmar and Asia can surpass its design ingenuity and extravagance.

One can certainly appreciate its soaring golden spire glowing mysteriously against the deep blue sky, saturated sunset, and dark night and it is easy to imagine why this zedi is a national monument.

the Shwedagon from my hotel room

My first look at the Shwedagon came from the 12th floor window of my room at the Hotel Grand United, some three kilometers to the south-west. In the photo above the Shwedagon (105 m or 344′ high)  is in the foreground; in the back and to the left is the Naungdawgyi Pagoda 46 m), a scaled-down version of the central zedi (Burmese term) or stupa (Sanskrit term).  I still am not clear why we insist on calling it a pagoda since it doesn’t look at all like one!

The Shwedagon from Kandawgyi Lake to the east

One thing to note about my images of the Shwedagon stupa itself – they lack the glow given off by the tons of gold leaf and plate covering the stupa face.  How much gold?  Google the question and you come up with the following tonnage – 6, 27, 60, 90! Let’s just say – a lot! As karma would have it,  my visit coincided with the once-every-five years regilding of the surface so during my visit, and for a couple of months before and after, all that visitors got to see was the bamboo matting and scaffolding.  Too bad – and yet there still seemed to be a glow emanating from the surface!

Western Entrance to the Shwedagon

As with a number of other zedi complexes in Myanmar, the Shwedagon has four entrance halls, one at each cardinal direction, leading up to the main terrace. The half-dozen images that follow show a couple of the exteriors of a couple of them.  At the entrance stand two colossal lion-like creatures known as chinthe whose task is to guard the pagoda.

One entrance – the southern – was noteworthy for its lack of vendors’ stalls selling devotional items  and the flower offerings which devotees take to various major shrines and the eight planetary posts. Near the entrance are shoe attendants and a large rack area where you will leave your shoes until you return.  Finding my way back to the right entrance was one of my unexpected challenges on the first visit!

the outside of one of the four entrance halls to the Shwedagon

Shwedagon – western entrance hall interior

monk in the Shwedagon garden monastery area along entrance

the southern entrance of the Shwedagon with the two Chinthe

Around the exterior of the pagoda area are a number of gardens and monasteries with a number of full-time monks and nuns in attendance. For a Burmese Buddhist who accepts the Shwedagon story as fact, this is the Ground Zero of their faith.  The hill on which the stupa was built is said to contain the relics of the three Buddhas who came immediately before Siddhartha Gautama of the Sakya clan, the historical Buddha.  When you add to these sacred objects – a staff, a water dipper, and a bathing garment – the relics from the fourth Buddha of our age you have a locus of immense spiritual power.

As the story goes, the king Okkalapa had learned in a vision that the relics of the previous three Buddhas were in the hill and wanted to add something from the fourth Buddha. Le Huu Phuoc tells it this way –

Sakyamuni psychically understood King Okkalapa’s devout wish and conveyed the vision to the two merchant brothers in Okkala named Tapassa and Bhallika, who then immediately set out to India to obtain the relics.  During their meeting, Sakyamuni gave the brothers eight hairs on the fifth day in July 532 BCE or two months after his Enlightenment in Bodhgaya; these would be later brought back to Myanmar and interred in a stupa on the Shwedagon Hill.

The southern Entrance to Shwedagon – no shops!

Shoes surrendered, entrance ticket in hand – it was finally time to explore the main terrace of the Shwedagon complex. As the floor plan below makes clear there is a lot more on the terrace than the stupa – perhaps too much! Over the centuries wealthy patrons have added pavilions and shrines around the perimeter of the stupa.  Their intent was clear – to earn extra merit in this lifetime and thus ensure a better rebirth in the next.  The result? Here is W. Somerset Maughham’s take after a visit he made in the 1920’s!

“At last we reached the great terrace. All about, shrines and pagodas were jumbled pell-mell with the confusion with which trees grow in the jungle. They had been built without design or symmetry, but in the darkness, their gold and marble faintly gleaming, they had a fantastic richness. And then, emerging from among them like a great ship surrounded by lighters, rose dim, severe and splendid, the Shwe Dagon.” The Gentleman in the Parlour (1930)

On a later visit to Myanmar’s tallest stupa, the Shwemawdaw Pagoda in Bago (Pegu), I found a terrace free of the jumble of shrines that one gets to walk by at Shwedagon.

Remembering instructions given at the great Tibetan Buddhist stupa at Boudhanath near Kathmandu, I made sure to walk around the main terrace in a clockwise direction.  Given the number of local visitors walking towards me, I had to conclude  that to Buddhists in Myanmar this is not a mandatory thing!  Perhaps other rituals – like the one about never having the bottoms of your feet pointing at the Buddha image or statue – are more important.

Shwedagon – in the middle of a major regilding job!

Shwedagon – a jumble of mini-stupas on the side of the terrace

From my youth as a Roman Catholic Christian, I remember the belief in indulgences, those beneficial acts which earn the believer a small deduction of time spent in purgatory in the afterlife.  I thought of that as I walked around the stupa and gazed at the seated Buddhas, most in the Touch The Earth mudra associated with Siddhartha Gautama at the moment he became the Buddha, the Awakened One. Looking at one Buddha figure – one indulgence.  Hundreds and hundreds of Buddhas as I walked around the Shwedagon – much merit to be gained!

The images above and the first few below were mostly taken in mid-afternoon on my first two visits. Blue sky and lots of light – and a fairly empty terrace as I walked around.  It gave me time to get my bearings and to get an overall feel for the place. But as you scroll down you will notice less blue sky and more people – tourists, lay Buddhists, monks and nuns –  popping up in the photos.  As dusk approaches the Shwedagon experience dial goes all the way to Full!

one of the two Bodhi trees on the Shwedagon terrace

Shwedagon Pavilion in the afternoon sun

The Shwedagon Pagoda being regilded

I spoke briefly with the man on the bottom left. He asked me where I was from. I said “Canada.”  He said, “I have a brother in Montreal.”  Small world!  He was a widower who came to this particular shrine most afternoons for a couple of hours. He asked me how I liked Myanmar. I told him it was so much more than I had expected. We wished each other all the best and I slipped back into the circular flow around the stupa.

monks praying inside mini-stupas – the Naungdawgyi Pagoda behind

one of the eight birthday stations around the Shwedagon

An important element of worship in Myanmar Buddhism are the shrines at the eight planetary posts. At the Shwedagon they are arranged at intervals around the perimeter of the stupa, one post for each day of the week and with Wednesday divided into two days to give a total of eight. Local Buddhists will know the day of the week they were born on.

In the image above is the Wednesday post;  those born on that day will do the required prayers, ritual washing of the Buddha statue, and the leaving of flower gifts. It was very quiet in the mid-afternoon and it was only after the work day was over that activity at the planetary posts picked up.

The collection of Buddha figures in the image below is interesting for the variety of hand positions or mudras on display. Each has a meaning understood by Buddhists; the most common in Myanmar is the mudra where the Buddha’s right hand touches the earth. It was the moment when he vanquished the power of Mara, the Evil One trying to deflect him from his mission as this age’s World Saviour.  It reminds me of the Christian story of Jesus fasting in the desert and being tempted by Satan. In each case their ministry begins after the temptation has been defeated.

three seated Buddha figures, each with a different mudra

monks on the main terrace of Shwedagon

Shwedagon view from edge of the main terrace

Next Post (soon to come):  The Shwedagon At Night – The Best Time To Visit

Background Reading:

Le Huu Phuoc’s book Buddhist Architecture is available in Kindle format.

an intersting paper (pdf format)  titled  A Sacred and Public Space: The Shwe Dagon Pagoda in Rangoon, Burma by Donlad Seekins of the College of International Studies
Meio UniversityNago, Okinawa provides some needed context.

Posted in Buddhism, Easy Travelling, Myanmar | Leave a comment

The Hike To Refugio Otto Meiling – Getting Close To Cerro Tronador

Previous Post: Base Camp Bariloche & The Hiking Trails of Northern Patagonia

Why Hike To Refugio Otto Meiling:

[See the previous post for general info and maps which show Bariloche’s location in relation to Buenos Aires and Santiago de Chile.]

The slice of the Andes to the west of Bariloche is easily accessed and there is no lack of great hikes to be had.   Most involve an overnight stay at a refugio run by the Club Andino de Bariloche or a tent site near the hut.  I had already done the spectacular Four Refugios Hike over five days from Villa Catedral to Refugio Negro.

Having a couple of days for another little hike, I decided to do the walk up to the Otto Meiling Refugio. The reward?

  • Awesome close-up views of the glacier-covered  Cerro Tronador (“The Thunderer”),
  • an evening spent in a mountain hut full of kindred spirits,
  • and a tent site I will not soon forget.

a view of Cerro Tronador from behind the Refugio Otto Meiling

The extinct volcano  gets its name from the sound of chunks of its glacial covering breaking off and falling down the mountain sides.  At 3484 meters Tronador is the highest of Nahuel Huapi’s mountains.  Two of its three peaks are visible in the photo above – Pico Internacional (3484m) on the left and Pico Argentino (3187m) on the right.  A third – Pico Chileno – is not visible from the Meiling refugio.

The mountain hut itself is at 2050 meters and sits on a rocky ridge between the Castaño Overo and Alerce glaciers.  It sleeps 60 and has provides full room and board to those keen on combining time in the mountains with a touch of luxury! It is open from early December to late April and is a 14-kilometer hike from Pampa Linda.

How To Get To the Trailhead:

The adventure begins at 8:30 a.m. with a two-hour ride in the mini-bus arranged by Club Andino de Bariloche. I bought my return ticket the day before at the Club Andino de Bariloche information kiosk next to the building you see in the image below.  It is a 73-kilometer ride to  Tampa Linda;  as you leave Bariloche you ride southwest on Ruta 40 all the way to Villa Mascardi before taking the turnoff for the dusty gravel  road RP82 to Pampa Linda.

The Club Andino shuttle bus to Pampa Linda from Bariloche

Waiting for the bus in front of the CAB building – and then on the bus – would be the people I’d be sharing the trails with.  I’d get to chat and share water  breaks with more than a few of them before the hike was done! Standing to the left is a Danish adventurer Birte.  We were both high school teachers and had lots to talk about, including our shared experience of life in classrooms with mid-teens!

the Park entrance on the Pampa Linda road

At the Park entrance we all got out of the mini-bus and paid our park entrance fee, which will vary depending on where you are from.  The further your home is from Bariloche the more you can expect to pay!

The ride on the gravel and dirt road was very dusty, thanks to the lack of rain over the past couple of weeks.  I tucked away my camera to spare it from the dust floating around the bus interior and wondered about the particles I was inhaling.  Along the way we stopped for a few minutes at the Hotel Tronador near the west end of Lago Mascardi.  It would make a very plush base camp for hikes in the area!

a view of the Andes and Lago Mascardi from in front of the Hotel Tronador

It was not long after that we arrived at Pampa Linda (elevation 850 meters). The name of the place literally means  “beautiful  flat area”  and it has a number of  facilities catering to hikers.  The first one we all headed to was the Park Office pictured below to fill out the form indicating the nature of our hike, our gear, and more. It took about five minutes.  I did not notice – but apparently there is a drop off box for your form upon completion of the hike.  The next day I would forget to do so!

Park office – Guardaparque –  at Tampa Linda – sign-in required

The Hosteria Pampa Linda  is the poshest of the accommodation options available here but there are few  camping options available too.  Some that I noticed were –

  • Camping Los Vuriloches
  • Camping Pampa Linda
  • Camping Rio Manso back on the other side of the river

Had I known beforehand about all the options – camping and hiking – that are possible out of Pampa Linda I would have allocated more time – maybe a week – to take the area in. The park map below shows the possible hikes –

  • the short hike from Pampa Linda to the Mirador del Valle
  • the somewhat longer hike to the Mirador Glaciar Castaño Overo
  • the hike to the Refugio Agostino Rocca (Paso de las Nubes) which continues all the way to Puerto Frias
  • The ultimate Nahuel Huapi Traverse – an occasionally badly marked trail  from Pampa Linda to Colonia Suiza. The blue trail on the map below is the start.

If there is a next time, I will certainly not have any trouble finding a trail to walk! Spending another day at the Meiling Refugio would also have been nice.

As it was, my two days would be spent walking the green trail up to the Ceiling Refugio and then back down.  We got to Pampa Linda about 11; we would leave for Bariloche the next afternoon around 4:30.

trail choices from Pampa Linda

The 14-kilometer walk takes about 5.5 hours and takes you through varied terrain.  To be honest, for the first three hours dramatic alpine views are all but non-existent. It is only when you get above the tree line that the quiet pleasure of walking up a park road through an old-growth forest is replaced by the WOW of the glacier and the jutting peaks of Cerro Tronador.

Part I: 2.7 km. From The Trailhead To the River

Trailhead sign at Pampa Linda

A fellow hiker checks out the map at the trailhead and then he is off.  I don’t know him yet but we will take turns passing each other. Later at the refugio I will give him half of my rehydrated Indian veg curry and rice!  I was just glad that there was a bit of shade on the trail because it was close to noon and it was hot!

the park road – the first three kilometers to the river

There are three bridges over the river – the wide one for park vehicles, the original log, and a narrow newer metal bridge with railing for the hikers.

Part II: 3.5 km. Gentle uphill on the park road

Leaving the Rio Castaño Over behind, we made our way up the park road over the next hour and a bit.  Thanks to the incredible forest cover we were often shaded from the full effect of the sun.  Passing the occasional stream tumbling down from further up, we would stop and fill our water bottles.  The cold clear water went down – to be absolutely safe, I did treat it with my Steripen UV wand.  As shaded as it was, it was quite warm and I was sweating profusely.

fork in the trail – Otto Meiling or Paso de las Nubes

We made our way up the  forest road as it zip zagged its way up to gain elevation gradually. Three hundred meters up from the river  we passed the turn-off to the Paso de las Nubes.  Then, about 2 1/2 kilometers later after a walk up a long gradual ascent up the park road (904 meters to 1060)  we came to the turn-off for the Mirador Glaciar Castaño Overo.

another fork in the trail – the trail left goes to the Mirador Glaciar Castaño Overo

bamboo on the side of the forest road

looking back at a stretch of the forest road

I leaned my pack against the base of the tree to give some perspective on its size.  Else-where  I did see recently cut trees on the side of the road, though none as impressive as the one in the photo.  I am not sure if it was just deadfall or if logging goes on in the park.

Part III: 4 km.  Series of Steep Switchbacks

So far the gain in altitude had been gradual. The next four kilometers of the trail (from 1060 meters to 1450 meters) is a series of switchbacks (las carcaroles) that takes you up steeply; it pushed the ‘effort required” needle beyond “easy”!

To give us an extra bit of adventure, my walking partner, a Danish adventurer, and I took the wrong fork in the trail!  When we came up to the flat area in the photo below we just kept on with our conversation and turned to the right.

To the left is where the trail actually goes!  Now I can even see a small yellow circular trail marker on the tree  in the photo below – but at the time we missed it completely.  We must have walked along the flat trail for a half-hour before it struck us that something was not right.  It may have been that we were going downhill!  It may have been the GPS location I was getting on my “sometimes working/sometimes not” osmand map app was.

As we headed back we passed another couple who also thought they were  headed to the Meiling hut.  We told them it was not the right way!  Later that afternoon we were very happy to see them at the Refugio.  I’ve wondered about the trail we were following.  It was too high up to have been the trail to the Refugio Agostino Rocca.  It may just have been an alternative trail for use by horses to get to the Refugio at a more gradual incline.

we misread the trail on the way to Refugio Otto Meiling

On the right track again, we got confirmation from one of the employees of the refugio who came up behind us with a backpack laden with the evening’s supper ingredients!  Still facing us was the most difficult part of the day’s hike – the zig zag up the slopes to a resting area.  On the plus side, the views were becoming more dramatic!

one of the first dramatic views of Tronador from the trail

up the sand trail – old creek bed – to Otto Meiling Hut

Tronador from the sandy trail – an old creek bed?

And then – a fifteen minute rest.  As we sat in the shade of the trees pictured below, a  mountain guide and his client arrived and sat down for a bit.  They had an early morning departure for the Pico Argentino – one of Cerro Tronador’s three peaks.  Later in the refugio we would continue our chat. It turned out that the client was an Obama administration diplomat who had just had to submit his resignation as the Trump people “drained the swamp” not.  From chatting with Obama and Joe Biden he had taken a brief break while he did some peak-bagging in the Andes!

Part IV: 3.5 km. sand and scree ridge trail to the Refugio

a shady rest stop on the trail to Refugio Meiling

Yet a bit more to go – first a kilometer from our shady rest stop to another flat spot used as a horse rest stop (Descanso de Caballos).   I stepped a bit to the left of the trail there and got the shot below of Tronador and of the refugio sitting on the rocky spine on the middle right of the image.

seeing a refugio Meiling structure on top of the ridge

By now the tree cover was gone.  Also long gone was drinking water!  I  really should have topped up my 1-liter Nalgene bottle when I had a chance at one of the streams tumbling down to Pampa Linda!  It was a very warm sunny afternoon and I was dripping sweat For the last hour – no shade and no water!

the last bit of the trail – scree and rock to the Refugio Meiling

I took off the pack and sat for a while and contemplated the Glaciar Castaño Overa and the water dripping from its toe and down the cliff side.  Cool, clean water – drip, drip, drip!

taking in the Tronador view from the last stretch of the trail to Refugio Meiling

Above us three condors played in the wind currents, swooping back and forth and putting on a great show.  Whenever I see them – in Peru on the Huayhuash trek, in Bolivia in the Cordillera Real, and now here near Cerro Tronador – I know I am in a good space! They are the Andes equivalent of the eagles that often fly over my brother and I as we canoe the rivers and lakes of the Canadian Shield in northern Ontario.  There too we celebrate their presence.

As we were going up the trail, others were going down to Pampa Linda. By the time I finally got to the refugio, my Danish hiking partner had already rounded up a bottle of water and was headed my way.  One minute – parched; ten minutes later – a liter of water and a can of Coke gone and feeling much better!

I didn’t even get a shot of the refugio as I approached, so focussed was I on just getting something to drink!  Here is the refugio from a shot the next morning!

There was a storm coming in – thunder and rain were predicted.  I made the quick decision to make use of the loft in the refugio that night instead of tenting.  I hauled my pack up to the second floor and found what I hoped would be a quiet corner and unfurled my sleeping bag on the foam mattress.  Then I grabbed my camera and went up above the hut for some shots of the neighbourhood, along with the slopes of Volcán Osorno perhaps the singlemost scenic spot I saw in my Chile/Argentina rambles this year.  It was worth the effort of getting there, in spite of the dehydration and losing the trail!

late afternoon shot of Tronador – clouds moving in

Coming storm or not, some hardcore backpackers had their tents up. By dusk the storm came and went and I made a last-minute decision to join them.  On the photo above is a tent on the extreme middle right is a red tent on the edge of the image. Clearing all my gear from the refugio loft, I put up my tent about 10 meters to the left of his.  i needed my headlamp because it was already dark as I finished the set-up!

memorial plaque for Tronador climbers who died in 2001

As I walked above the hut towards the glacier I found this memorial to some Argentinian climbers who died on the mountain in 2001.  I have not found the details of the tragedy. Perhaps rapidly deteriorating weather and a crevasse or avalanche took their lives. It has not stopped others from making the climb.

The trip from the refugio to the Pico Argentino and back takes about 10 to 12 hours. The two climbers in the refugio the night I was there got up around 3 a.m. for the little adventure.  It would have been a neat thing to do and is not really difficult technically. There are some crevasses to deal with and some ice climbing is required, as is a mountain guide.  I had researched the climb myself but had decided that given the $500 -$600. cost, I would pass.

The Lonely Planet has some misleading information about the climb.  You read this –

Climbers intending to scale Tronador should anticipate a three- to four-day technical climb requiring experience on rock, snow and ice.

What the writer does not make clear is that the ascent he is describing is the Pico Internacional, the highest of Tronador’s three peaks and only accessible from the Chilean side.  It may indeed be a four-day trip.  As already stated, the route from the Refugio Meiling is at most a half-day.

the back of the Refugio Otto Meiling

As well as the Refugio with its dining and kitchen area on the first floor and second-floor loft with sleeping for sixty hikers, there is another building where the staff sleep. It can be seen to the right of the Refugio in the image above.  They also use it for storage. The buildings sit on a  ridge between the Castaño Over and Alerce glaciers.  The shot shows the bottom end of the Alerce glacier –

I checked out the view in Google Earth and the image below – not exactly the same perspective – shows where I was standing on the bottom right hand of the image when I shout the above photo.  I was maybe 200 meters to the left of the refugio.

Google Satellite view of the above shot

 

When the official refugio supper hour arrived, I left the hut, having already eaten half of the contents of my rehydrated Backpackers’ Pantry bag. (It is meant to serve two!)   The young English hiker glady accepted the rest of it.  I wandered up towards the glacier and walked into the magical hour of mountain light.  The two shots below are just a couple that I framed in my Fuji X20 viewfinder.  Later I heard that the folks at supper were taking turns running out of the hut with their cameras so they could get a shot or two of  Cerro Tronador in the amazing light.

tronador with magic light at dusk

My tent spot was well-sheltered and it would be windless and rain-free overnight. I had a great sleep  – no snoring or restless sleepers  to listen to, no stifling heat up on the second floor of the loft, no rain to worry about.  The sky was clear and blue when I got up around 7:20 and I looked up to Tronador and saw the moon.

My sleeping bag and the tent- the little hovel you see on the right hand side of the photo below – and other gear went back into the backpack.  I headed down for breakfast:

I had my usual oatmeal concoction and two cups of coffee and then went outside to take in the warmth of the sun.  There was no big hurry this morning – the six of us on the Club Andino  bus had until four to get back to Pampa Linda and it was all downhill.  And this time Birte and I would not stray from the trail!

On the way down we got another chance to capture some of the magic of Tronador – and the Glacier Castaño Olvero as chunks of ice break off at its toe and tumble down with the water to form the beginning of the Rio Castaño Olvero that we will cross near the end of our return hike to Pampa Linda.

looking down the valley to Pampa Linda

When we got to the bridge over the river we took off our packs and spent a half hour on the river bank.  Some took off their boots and gave their feet a wash while others (like me)  found a shady spot under a tree and leaned back.  At Pampa Linda more time was spent sipping coffee in the restaurant while waiting for the mini-bus departure.

Our two-day adventure was over – and we all agreed it had been worth the effort!

the restaurant area of the Hosteria Pampa Linda

A Wikiloc Route of the Trail:

While in Bariloche I discovered the wikiloc app for my iPhone 6 and bought and  installed it.   I even downloaded a Pampa Linda-Refugio Otto Meiling route file.  Had I known how to use the app properly, we would not have wasted time wandering down that horse trail (if that is what it was!) away from the main hikers’ trail to the Refugio!

If you check the wikiloc website, you will find several GPS tracks of the walk from Pampa Linda to Refugio Otto Meiling.  Click on the image below to access one of the best tracks, the useful one by paco de miguel which includes a number of waypoints.

Click here to access the wikiloc file

Refill your water bottle whenever you can!

Had I known what it would be like I would have spent an extra night up at the refugio. This would have given me time to wander above the hut and get much closer to the glacier itself and perhaps – with a guide and the proper technical gear – onto the glacier itself.

Another, more ambitious add-on would be the walk to Puerto Frias via the Refugio Agostino Rocca (Paso de las Nubes) trail.

Good luck on your own Refugio Otto Meiling visit.  Weather is obviously the main factor; we were lucky to have a couple of beautiful sunny days on the mountain.

 

 

 

 

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Puerto Varas in Chile’s Lakes Region – 8 Things To Do!

Chile’s Región de Los Lagos , about one thousand kilometres south of Santiago,  is Region X of Chile’s fifteen administrative regions and sits just to the north of mythic Patagonia.  Landing at El Tepual International Airport near Puerto Montt, a large port with access to the Pacific, I headed up twenty kilometers to Puerto Varas, its smaller (41,000 population instead of 175,000) and more charming little sister. I would later spend a couple of days in Puerto Montt and discover that it is a nicer place than the guide-books make it out to be – but still nowhere near as chilled out as Puerto Varas!

The town is located on the southwestern shore of Chile’s second largest lake – Lago Llanquihue (pronounced Yankee Way!) and traces its roots back to the early 1850’s with the arrival of a couple of hundred families from Germany.  They would be the first of a massive wave of German immigrants attracted by the agricultural riches of the area stretching all the way up to Valdivia.   The name of the town’s mayor these days, Álvaro Berger Schmidt, is just one of the echoes of this past.

Of course, left out of the story are the pre-European inhabitants of the region, the Mapuche whose territory it was in 1500.  The very word “Llanquihue” means “hidden lake” in their language. Not far from Puerto Varas is the Monte Verde archaeological site with evidence of human habitation going back 15,000 years!  While the bits of German culture tugged at my heartstrings – my mother was German and we spoke German at home – it would have been interesting to talk with a local person familiar with the Mapuche story and the way things are these days.

Ojibwa dream catchers at Puerto Varas market

Ojibwa dream catchers(?)   in Puerto Varas at the crafts market

Over the years the town has also taken advantage of the beauty of its surroundings.  I was there in February, the equivalent of August in the northern hemisphere, and could see that it is a popular tourist destination with Chileans, even if it is not nowhere near as  glitzy and moneyed as nearby Bariloche on the Argentinian side.   It makes an ideal base for a two or three-week stay in the region, especially if you fancy outdoor activities like kayaking, hiking, volcano climbing, and bicycle touring.  The town’s main street is lined with agencies catering to all the above and more!

When To Visit:

From April to September things get wet in the Los Lagos region.  The four-month period from December to March see less rain and fewer rain days; the two prime months for Chilean tourism are January and February so you can expect things to be busier and more likely to be booked then. See the website  weather 2 for a comprehensive Puerto Varas weather profile.

What To Do When You’re There

What follows is my incomplete list of things to do in Puerto Varas.  Let me know what I’ve missed in the comments below!

1. Bicycle Touring:

Bring your own bike or rent one in Puerto Varas – and then do the three-day ride around Lago Llanquihue.  Over the past few years the various towns and villages have created a bike lane that circles the lake and makes the ride even more stress-free. Here is one travel agency’s description of the ride.

cycle tourists resting in the Plaza de Armas

If you are really keen you can also do the ride from Puerto Varas to Bariloche, making use of a boat ride or two to get you to the next road.  I talked to cyclists – Chilean, Argentinian, and European – who were doing exactly this over a two-day period.

2. Climb A Volcano!

This was definitely on my list!  When I got there I wandered downtown from my hilltop hostel and gazed east across Lago Llanquihue to the two main possibilities – Volcán Osorno and Volcán Calbuco.

the view of Puerto Varas from the Hostel Melmac Patagonia

The photos above and below – downtown Puerto Varas from my hostel’s front steps…

another view from the Hostel Melmac hilltop location

looking up to the Hostel Melmac on the hilltop

My first afternoon view of the two volcanoes – Osorno and Calbuco.  The clouds have moved in and covered their tops.  A couple of days later I would be standing on top of the one on the left side – Volcán Osorno!  Check out the details in this related post –

Climbing Volcán Osorno In Chile’s Lakes Region

3. The Cruce Andino To Bariloche

If you want something a little less active – I know I did after my volcano climb! – then there is a boat ride or two you can check out.  Sailing on Lago Llanquihue  – or on the next large lake to the east, Lago Todos Los Santos – is a popular day trip with many visitors.  The most ambitious one – and the most expensive at $280. U.S. – is the Cruce Andino, a twelve-hour journey through the Andes by bus and boat that takes you through some stupendous scenery.  You can spend a night or two in Bariloche on the Argentinian side and then take the boat back – it is half-price for the return! – or, like me,  take the bus via Villa La Angostura and Osorno.  See the post below for photos and maps of the Cruce Andino option –   By Bus And Boat Through The Andes – The Cruce Andino

4. Relaxing In Puerto Varas 

The downtown section of the town is a very manageable couple of main streets with an assortment of restaurants, hotels, and shops selling outdoor gear and clothing.  To no surprise – given the German/Spanish roots of the local culture and the abundance of seafood – I did not find many places that have embraced vegetarian cuisine with any enthusiasm!  The one vegetarian restaurant Masala Chai is located within one hundred meters of my hostel so I ate there four times over my three-day stay!

5. Walking Along The Puerto Varas Waterfront 

The shore of Lago Llanquihue draws many of the town’s visitors.

  • Some are there for the view of the volcanoes on the other end of the lake;
  • some are there for the beach;
  • some visit the town’s Tourist Information Centre;
  • some walk along the road to the food trucks at the far end of the bay.

canoes on the shore of Lago Llanquihue

I grew up in a mining town on the Canadian Shield with its countless lakes and rivers and seemingly unending boreal forests. It was the homeland of the Anishinaabe until they, like the Mapuche, were overwhelmed by more numerous newcomers with superior technology. Well, maybe not in the case of those Algonquin-style canoes! I was surprised to see a version of them sitting on the beach of Llanquihue.

And as I walked along the waterfront I also passed by a hotel with the name Radisson, the last name of the very same Pierre Esprit –  coureur de bois and hero of my youth!  Why is there a hotel in Puerto Varas named after a seventeenth century adventurer  who made a name for himself on those rivers of the Anishinaabe world?

The Casa del Turista sits on the top of a manmade spit that juts into the lake; behind it park benches and grass invite visitors to sit down while they turn their gaze to Osorno.  I love the Lonely Planet’s description of the scene –

“Two menacing, snowcapped volcanoes, Osorno and Calbuco, stand sentinel over picturesque Puerto Varas and its scenic Lago Llanquihue like soldiers of adventure, allowing only those on a high-octane quest to pass.”

A bit over-the-top, you’d have to agree!  Osorno is some forty kilometers away and is worth a “wow” on first seeing it but that’s it.  And “snowcapped”  no longer describes Calbuco since it erupted in 2015.  Tour groups leave Puerto Varas for Osorno daily for walks up the slope of the volcano to the beginning of the glacier. That’s where they turn back; only those equipped for a mountaineering adventure continue to the top.  Six hundred climbers a year make it.

There are a few large – and expensive – hotel options in Puerto Varas.  Two of them fill the left side of the panorama below and offer rooms with a view – the Hotel de los Volcanes with its Dreams Casino and the Hotel Radisson.

Hotel de los Volcanes and hotel Radisson in Puerto Varas

Puerto Varas Waterfront and Casa del Turista on Point

view near Plaza de Armas Puerto Varas

6. Checking Out Puerto Varas’ German Heritage:

The tourist office offers a brochure – Paseo Patrimonial – which highlights aspects of its German past, especially as seen in architectural style. I never did pick up the guide but did see a few of the buildings on the list.  If you were really motivated you could spend a day just focussed on this theme!

Still active is the Club Alemán on Calle San Francisco, complete with a restaurant.

Club Alemán – Deutscher Verein on San Francisco in Puerto Varas

My time in the town coincided with an annual celebration of things sweetly German – El Dia del Kuchen – on the first Saturday of February. I walked down to the town square after returning from my Volcano Osorno climb to find the scene below – hundreds of people gathered on a weekend afternoon around tables laden with German-style cakes just like the ones my mother used to make! Also flowing freely were German-style craft beers.

Puerto Varas town square – Dia del Kuchen

Another sign of Germanic influence on the town’s past was the church which is an important part of its skyline.  You can see it in the photo below, which I took from the north end of the shore walkway on a cloudy day.

I did get closer to the Roman Catholic church – the Iglesia Sagrado Corazón – and its three spires. Inspired by Marienkirche in Germany’s Black Forest region,  it is made of wood and is clad with tin sheeting that reminded me of similar construction that I saw in Punta Arenas, a Chilean town some 1300 kilometers south on the Strait of Magellan.

Puerto Varas – Iglesia Sagrado Corazón

A plague in the front foyer of the church notes the financial contribution of the German people to its renovation and maintenance.  The  church was built between 1915 and  1918 after the first one burned down.

 

An iconic Puerto Varas shot – unfortunately not one I thought of taking! – is taken from some distance to  the west and has the church in the foreground and the lake and Volcán Osorno in the background. Click here to see what I mean!  The telephoto lens compresses the scene nicely!

7. Visit Nearby Puerto Montt

Worth a day trip is a visit to Puerto Varas’ big sister of a city – if only to feel the contrast between its hustle and bustle and the laid back scene in Puerto Varas.  It is an inexpensive bus ride or a slightly more expensive trip by taxi.

An upcoming post will highlight some of what Puerto Montt has to see!

8. Hiking In The Nearby National Parks

Something I did not do was hiking on the Chilean side of the Andes, given that my focus was the trails in the mountains near Bariloche.  Not far from Puerto Varas is Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park.  The local trekking/climbing agency I used for my Volcan Osorno climb – Huella Andina Expeditions –   offers hikes of various lengths and difficulty in the park and elsewhere; so do a number of other agencies in town.  It might be worthwhile checking out the various options to see what is possible.

Let me know what you would add to the list!

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Cycling Around Tasmania – Cradle Mountain to Zeehan

Previous Post: From Gowrie Park To Cradle Mountain

cradle-mountain-caravan-park-to-roseberry

Cradle Mountain Caravan Park to Rosebery

It had rained off and on during the night and the tent was wet as I tucked the fly and the inner tent into their separate bags.  With all my gear loaded, I cycled over to the Cradle Mountain Discovery Park kitchen/dining building for my usual breakfast – an oatmeal concoction and a couple of cups of coffee.  It was 7:45 – overcast but not raining.  I was hoping it stayed that way.

The Vale of Belvoir from my saddle on C132

The Vale of Belvoir from my saddle on C132

The first hour of the seventy-kilometer ride to Rosebery, my goal for the day, went along nicely. Even though I was now on A10 and  heading down into the “wild” West Coast,  the terrain was still mostly flat and Monday morning traffic was very light.  It looked like I would be treated to a nice gentle downhill run until I got to that one final uphill before Rosebery that would have me coasting into town.

A10 – B28 junction

And then – it started raining! About fifteen minutes passed and I was cycling along when a vehicle – a pick-up truck – stopped.  The driver waited until I pulled up next to him  and then told me to put my bike in the back and hop in!  I told I was fine and that I’d just keep pedalling. I’m sure he thought I was nuts as he insisted yet again.

Up went the bike into the back with the side bags providing a bit of a cushion; into the cab I crawled, a bit wet.  Next to me was a beekeeper making his rounds of his various bee colonies. He was on his way back to Queenstown on B28 but when we got to the fork in the road he stayed on A10.

My “Hey, no need to go out of your way! You’ve already saved me forty kilometers of road!”  was met with a “No worries – it’s just a couple of extra kilometers” response.  I gathered that this was not the first time he had stopped to give a touring cyclist a hand. He figured he may as well eliminate the biggest hill of my day.  (You can see what looks like a little bump on the elevation chart at the start of this post!)  Our great conversation was over when he stopped at the top of that hill and turned back for B28.  Meanwhile, I got one fantastic ride down into Rosebery with my speedometer showing km/hr in the mid-50’s.  My clothes were nicely air-dried by the time I got to the bottom!

As the photo below of that hilltop shows the rain had also stopped and the sun was breaking through! It would stay nice for the rest of the morning and afternoon.

the top of the hill before Roseberry

the top of the hill before Rosebery

It was about 11:30 when I coasted down Rosebery’s main street (the A10!).  The Rosebery Bakehouse is just a couple of storefronts up from the IGA and that is where I leaned my loaded bike against the front while I went inside for lunch.  A veggie sandwich and a cup of coffee – and wi-fi!  Given my easy morning, I had decided that I would push on to Zeehan, another thirty kilometers down the road. I checked tripadvisor for a place to stay and came up with the Hotel Cecil.  The server was kind enough to phone ahead for me to confirm room availability – so all was set!

Main Street Roseberry, Tasmania

Main Street Rosebery, Tasmania

After lunch I walked across the street to the mine exhibit.  it was a gold discovery in the 1890’s that started this town with a current population of 900; eventually zinc became the primary metal to be extracted and the mine is still open these days. Having grown up in a mining town in northern Canada it was easy to relate to Rosebery’s history.  The sight of the mine mill across from the exhibit brought back memories of Noranda’s Horne Mine mill that I had worked in during my four-month summers off during my university years. It paid the bills for the next year of school and accommodation!

Roseberry mining display across Main Street from the IGA.jpg

Rosebery mining display across Main Street from the IGA.jpg

Roseberry mine mill on the side of main street

Rosebery mine mill on the side of main street

cradle-mountain-caravan-park-to-roseberry

Cradle Mountain to Rosebery

 

 

 

 

As the elevation graph shows, the ride from Rosebery to Zeehan only has one significant hill and even it only involves a rise of about 120 meters.  Also note a negative feature of the Google Map- generated graphs – it always using the same distance from lowest to highest  point of the ride.  The 933 meters on the left graph should really be three times as high as the 334 on the right!

The road was all but empty; I saw perhaps five cars during the hour and a half that I spent cycling to the Hotel Cecil.

a nice bit of downhill road from Roseberry to Zeehan.jpg

a nice bit of downhill road from Rosebery to Zeehan

And then – Zeehan. Another mining town with a population of less than a thousand (728 is the most recent count). It was founded a decade before Rosebery up the road and was built on a silver discovery.  It reminded me of Dawson City (current pop. 1200)  in the Yukon and the center of the 1890’s Klondike Gold Rush.  In both cases, grand buildings on main street provide evidence of a time when these towns were riding high.

I came off the A10 and headed down main street to that red location marker you see on the map below – Hotel Cecil and Maud’s Restaurant.  The owner – a welcoming Filipino woman – was also the cook and she would later prepare an excellent vegan-friendly noddle & veggies lunch for me.

My room was up on the second floor.  During the afternoon I kept my bike locked outside but I did haul it up to my room overnight for total peace of mind.  The hotel has seen better days and needs work but at $50. Aus the room was totally acceptable. The original plan had been to stop at Rosebery and tent there. Given the rain that moved back in overnight I would have had other worries!

zeehan-tasmania-cecil-hotel-and-heritage-center_

Zeehan - Cecil Hotel lobby and a corner of the dining room.jpg

Zeehan – Cecil Hotel lobby and a corner of the dining room

my-room-at-the-hotel-cecil-in-zeehan

Zeehan - West Coast Heritge CentreNot far from the Hotel Cecil is the old downtown area, the core of which makes up  The West Coast Heritage Centre, a commendable community project to revitalize the town.

An admission ticket lets you wander through the various buildings and get a feel for what Zeehan would have been in its heyday when it had a population of 10,000.

The promo above has a list of the various attractions.  My two-hour visit began with the ticket purchase in the Zeehan School of Mines and Metallurgy building on the very right of the image below. It was the conversion of this former school into  the West Coast Pioneers’ Memorial Museum in the mid-1960’s that was the first step towards the multi-building Heritage Centre that exists today.

With my ticket I accessed the other buildings and outdoor exhibits in sequence.

Zeehan's Heritage Centre on Main Street

Zeehan’s Heritage Centre on Main Street

The grandest building of all is the Gaiety Theatre; at one time its seating for 1000 made it the largest theatre in Tasmania.  Given that Zeehan was at the time the third largest town on the island, the seats got filled!

Zeehan's architecture heritage buildings on Main Street

Zeehan’s architectural heritage buildings on Main Street

zeehans-gaiety-theatre-with-seating-for-a-thousand

Zeehan’s Gaiety Theatre – with seating for a thousand!

Zeehan Gaiety Theatre info board.jpg

Zeehan Gaiety Theatre info board.jpg

Zeehan’s Gaiety Theatre – the entrance hall – looking back at the entrance door

zeehan-gaiety-theatre-hallway-to-main-entrance

Zeehan Gaiety Theatre – hallway to main entrance

Unfortunately few mining towns are exempt from the boom and bust cycle. Locals still hope for an upturn in the town’s luck – an increase in metal prices, new investment, a new discovery…and another boom.

zeehan-gaiety-theatre-poster-1904-05

Zeehan Gaiety Theatre - poster 1899

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the Zeehan courthouse

Zeehan’s Masonic Lodge

the centerpiece of Zeehan’s Masonic Lodge

I headed back to Hotel Cecil and a cup of coffee with the free wi-fi.  Later on that evening I was back at the hotel’s restaurant for a second helping of the fried noodles and veggies. During the night intermittent rain fell; if it continued it would make the next morning’s 43-kilometer ride a wet one.

zeehans-gaietry-theatre-and-post-office

Zeehan’s Gaiety Theatre, Police Station,  and Post Office on Main Street

Next Post: From Zeehan To Strahan

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Climbing Volcán Osorno In Chile’s Lakes Region

Volcán Osorno – Basic Background

Each year about 600 climbers summit this glacier-capped stratovolcano (8701’ / 2652m  ) at the south-east end of Llago Llanquihue. On a clear summer morning the reward is an incredible panoramic view of a slice of the Chilean Lakes District (X Región de Los Lagos).  Down below is the lake, Chile’s second largest. To the southwest sits Volcán Calbuco; to the south-east Lago Todos Los Santos stretches some thirty kilometers from Petrohué to Peulla and the border with Argentina. Osorno’s last eruption was in 1869; another half-dozen have been recorded going back to the 1600’s, including one witnessed by Charles Darwin, who happened be nearby in the HMS Beagle in 1835!

Petrohue docks and Volcan Osorno

a view of Volcán Osorno and Petrohué docks from Lago Todos Los Santos

Why Go

  • easily accessed;
  • an excellent refugio at the trailhead
  • great panoramic view on a clear day;
  • fairly challenging hike up a scree trail leading to some glacier traverse
  • and a bit of 60º ice climbing to get to the top
  • you can leave Puerto Varas in the early evening, sleep at the refugio, do the climb, and be back in Puerto Varas at three the next afternoon!

When To Go:

Prime climbing is during the summer months of December, January and February though people do climb it year-round.

What You need:

  • A CONAF permit
  • Mountaineering boots and crampons
  • Harness
  • Climbing rope
  • Ice axe
  • Helmet
  • Waterproof gloves
  • Trekking poles – optional

How To Go – On your own – bus from Puerto Varas to Ensenada at the east end of the lake and then hitchhike or walk up to the Refugio Teski Club.   The road is paved all the way up to the refugio which sits at 1300m.  and was built in its present location after the previous hut was destroyed in the Great Chile Earthquake of 1960.

With a guide – as a solo traveller, my choice!

a view of Volcán Osorno from Lagp Todos Los Santos

When I arrived in Puerto Varas on Thursday afternoon I was a bit tired. Having left Toronto at 11:00 p.m. the day before,  I had missed a night’s sleep as I flew to Santiago and then another one thousand kilometers south to Puerto Montt.  A $20. cab ride from the airport and I was at the Hostel Melmac Patagonia and in the room that would be mine for three nights until my Sunday morning departure for Bariloche.

A  walk down the stairs from the hostel to the downtown area and to the shore of Lago Llanquihue and I  saw the two cloud-draped peaks in the distance. In the panorama shot below, the 2652-meter cloud-draped volcano on the left side is Osorno; on the right side of the image is Volcán Calbuco, somewhat lower at 2000 meters and missing the snow cap since its recent eruption in 2015.

Volcánes Osorno and Calbuco to the east from Puerto Varas

I hoped to start off my Chile/Argentina hiking & climbing trip with an ascent of one of them.  But which one? I needed to find a local guiding agency which could help me make up my mind and then provide a guide who would take me up!

In the evening  I started a flurry of emails with Huella Andina Expeditions (HAE), a local mountaineering agency with a 5-on-5 -star rating at Trip Advisor.  It is family-run and has been in operation since 2009.

This email the next morning (Friday) helped me make up my mind –

To Osorno – The regular program starts today at 7:30 p.m. driving to the Teski hut.  There we eat, prepare equipment, and start the climb at 5 a.m.  We do not use the chairlift because it starts running at 10-11 a.m., so all the way is by foot.
To Calbuco – We start the regular program at 5 a.m. from Puerto Varas, and we arrive with the car at the beginning of the trail at an altitude of 500m.
In numbers: Osorno and Calbuco are both 1,500m of elevation gain and approximately 7 km to walk (one way).
The main difference between them is the character of the climb. While Osorno is a glacier climb, Calbuco because of last eruption is a “rock climb”: basically volcanic scree and to crawl / climb over some boulders in 2 sectors of the ascent: a ridge in the middle of the climb and a 30m climb to arrive to the summit.

Calbuco in the foreground; Osorno behind (with route indicated in orange)

I ended up choosing Osorno.  Even though it is 600 meters higher than Calbuco, the 7 kilometer distance covered is actually the same and in some ways Osorno is an easier climb. Also, there was already a client booked for Osorno which made it cheaper to do than the Calbuco climb with me as the sole client.

click on image to access Huella Andina website

Spoiler Alert!

Huella Andina Expeditions is totally deserving of its 5-star rating on tripadivsor.  Excellent initial communication via email to set the trip up, easy online payment, pickup at my hostel door, accommodation, supper, and breakfast at the Refugio Teski included in the price, first-quality equipment (helmet, ice axe, crampons, harness, waterproof and insulated  gloves), professional guiding by a very competent José Miguel Potthoff Pugin who also turned out to be totally simpatico – a nice guy to spend a day with. The fact that he is fluently trilingual – Spanish, German, English – made communication clear and precise.

I am embarrassed to admit that I initially hesitated at the $280. U.S. price. Given the all-inclusive nature of the package, given the technical nature of the top part of the climb … well, there is a reason why you need to register at the the CONAF hut at the trailhead !  I like that Huella Andina was confident enough in their service that they never offered to lower the price to get me interested!

The Normal Route from the Refugio Teski

José picked me up at about 6:00 p.m. at the Hostel Melmac Patagonia (another service deserving of its. 4.5/5 star rating!). Already in the vehicle was Sarah, an Aussie adventurer who had just recently been climbing volcanoes in Ecuador. We drove along the south shore of Lago Llanquihue to Ensenada and then headed north on U-99 until we got to the turn-off for V-555, a paved road that would take us through lush forest terrain until we came to a series of switchbacks that would take us up steeply to Refugio Teski Club, our base camp for the next day.

You can see the last bit of the road in the Google satellite image above. The road goes as far as the CONAF (Corporación Nacional Forestal)  building just behind the refugio.  We would drop in there first; José took care of all the mandatory registration details and I stepped outside to snap my first photos of the side of Osorno!

early evening at the CONAF center on Volcán Osorno

Behind the CONAF building is a volcanic ash road which goes a bit further to a restaurant. Osorno’s top was covered in cloud; I hoped for a clear morning view when we got to the top!

the Osorno trailhead to the right of the CONAF building

We drove back the 120 meters  to the Refugio Teski Club.  Behind and above the refugio are a bunch of other buildings – the Osorno Ski /Ski lift Centre. In the summer the ski lifts take sightseers up to an elevation of 1670 meters for some fine views. We would only see the ski centre complex the next morning after sunrise when we looked down at where we had come from int he dark!

Google satellite image

The Refugio justifiably gets rave reviews for its magical sunset view of the Lago down below. It is about 43 kilometres from the hut’s restaurant to Puerto Varas and apparently on a clear morning you can see all the way back. Evening cloud and haze  and dusk itself meant we had to be content with dramatic streaks of red on the horizon as the day ended!

the Refugio Teski Club and Lago Llanquihue

the dusk view from the Refugio Teski Club on Osorno

Refugio Teski on Osorno – restaurant area

By 9:30 or 10 – after a dinner that arrived soon after we did thanks to José (I think) phoning ahead the order – it was lights out and we all crawled into our sleeping bags. We were perhaps the only guests at the refugio that night so we each got a room of our own. When it is busier,  up to four people are bunked in those same rooms!  At 4 a.m. we were up for our day’s adventure.  I had slept fitfully – in fact, since I had left Toronto three nights before I had gotten less than half of my regular snooze time!  I would be dragging my butt a bit this morning – and it would mean I would get lots of great shots of my two fellow mountaineers ahead of me!

six a.m. on the slopes of Osorno

looking down from the slopes of Osorno at 6 a.m.

Instead of my usual Sony A77 and an assortment of lenses I decided on this three-week trip to go very light.  Left at home was all the fancy camera gear.  Along for the ride was my Fuji X20, a camera I love to shoot with, knowing full well that it is just not in the same league as my “better” cameras. Instead of the 420 sq. mm. of an aps-c size sensor, for example, it has one that is perhaps 1/8th the size!  Its low light, high iso performance is not the greatest. On the plus side, the X20 has a sensor which is twice the size of  an iPhone or p&s camera and has an excellent 28-112 zoom lens.   It weighs twelve ounces/350 grams and I am really glad I decided to take it instead of the usual 3 kilograms.  The 12 megapixel raw files that I came home with were quite acceptable given that none were going to be turned into billboards!

It did take a while for me to figure out exactly where to put the camera. On this first trip I had it tucked inside my jacket. I would later come up with a much better system – I nestled it between the back of my neck and the top of my pack and was able to access it very quickly as I walked along the trails!

moving up Osorno  scree slope to the glacier-capped top

With the putting on of the technical gear – the harness, the crampons, the helmet – the day’s hike became a mountaineering trip.  One trekking pole was collapsed and put away, replaced with an ice axe. My light gloves – totally inadequate for a sustained stretch of hands-on ice climbing – had been replaced by José with a more substantial pair. (I am really glad he noticed. I would have had some seriously cold – frozen? – hands! What was I thinking?)

putting on the crampons on Osorno

view of Osorno and Lago Llanquihue

Once the trip got more serious –  maintaining a certain tightness on the rope, taking care of where and how I stepped, wathcing the climber ahead of me – the photos mostly stopped.  A couple of times when we took a brief rest we would snap a few shots – but that would be it until we got to the very top. So – the forty-minutes of 60º ice and snow slope that we kick stepped our way up – no photos! See the end of the post for a Youtube video of a climber who attached a GoPro to his helmet during the ice climb section. It will give you a good idea of what it was like!

a photo stop just before the final ice climb to the top of Osorno

Jose and my climbing partner before the final scamper up the ice/snow slope of Osorno

a view east from Osorno summit

And finally – the top! Hi fives all around and a few photos! then it was time for a quick snack as we stood in the clouds. I pulled out my orange goretex jacket and slipped it over the other two jackets I was already wearing – it was a bit windy as we stood up there. As the following pix will show, we had an obscured view that morning! José mentioned that on a clear sunny day we would have lounged up there for up to an hour enjoying better views. Instead, we were on our way back down after twenty!

break time at the top of Osorno

a view of the way back down Osorno from the top

The hike to the edge of the glacier is do-able by anybody  and we did meet a few people on our way back to the refugio who were doing exactly that.  However, there is a reason why only 600 people summit Osorno each year.    – once you are on the glacier and, even more, when you are faced with the final 60º  ice and snow climb to the top, it is a completely different situation. You are now in the realm of mountaineering; lack of necessary gear and lack of experience up there as the weather suddenly changes for the worse and the results could be fatal.

the view west towards Lago Llanquihue – 9:30 a.m.

More cautious kick-stepping as we made our way down the steep part of the volcano cone. Already I was beginning to feel my quads and calves tighten up.  The stress of keeping the muscles tight and engaged would mean that the last few kilometers of the walk back to the Refugio Teski would be a bit painful.

Less than an hour to get back to the edge of the glacier where we took off all the technical climbing gear and packed it away. We were at the 2000 meter level; still to go was the 700 meter descent to the refugio and a cup of coffee!

back down at the bottom of the glacier – Osorno suit in the clouds

our pile of technical gear getting put away on Osorno

my gear on top of my pack on Osorno slopes

Thanks to the tightness in my legs, I got a few nice shots of the other two as they motored on down ahead of me!  Since it was still dark when we had walked up this stretch, it was neat to see it now in daylight – and as the clouds swirled around they added a bit of drama to the scene.

the scree path back down to the Refugio Teski

Somewhere along the way I noticed the plaque below; it was  a reminder that there is always an element of risk involved when you set off for a mountain top. No details given but you wonder – avalanche? crevasse? rockfall?

memorial plaque for two climbers who lost their lives on the slopes of Osorno in 1981

faint outline of a path as we descend Osorno scree slopes

the final bit back to the Refugio Teski on Osorno

With the refugio in sight, I told José and Sarah not to wait for me while I descended at a somewhat slower speed!  They had stopped every once in a while on our descent from the edge of the glacier to allow me to catch up.

two happy climbers at the end of our Osorno summit

a view of the buildings on Osorno – including the Refugio Teski

At the refugio more high fives and that feeling of elation of having succeeded!  We went through our gear and made sure that José got back all the stuff he had lent us.  I sipped on  a cup of coffee and did some leg stretches to counter the tightness.  Then – the ride back to Puerto Varas and my hostel, a shower, and the a quick lunch with my climbing partner at Masala Chai, the nearby vegetarian restaurant.

Additional Info:

I brought my Spot Connect (no longer available) to record a gps track of the route but for some reason the device would not work and 5:00 a.m. with two waiting climbing partners was not the right time to fiddle around with it – so no tracks! It may have been a battery issue – the device has always been reliable.  It was working again a few days later!

Wikiloc users  have uploaded gps tracks of the Osorno climb.  This one by Claudio Riveros P titled “Ascensión Cumbre Volcán Osorno” comes closest (I think!) to the route we took to the summit. Just click on the image to access –

 

The middle part of the Youtube video below captures the feeling of the ice climb to the top. If anything, the GoPro attached to the climber’s helmet makes it seem much more challenging than it was! Check out some of the other Youtube videos too for some nice bits of filming!

Puerto Varas town square – Dia del Kuchen

It was late afternoon when I wandered down from the Hostel Melmac into the image you see above.   It was Dia del Kuchen in Puerto Varas!  I knew all about kuchen (it means cake in German) thanks to my  mother who was born near Hanover – and here were the townsfolk celebrating at least one part of their cultural heritage!

I still had an evening to spend in town before my early morning departure for Bariloche across the border. I had already bought my Cruce Andino ticket before setting off for Osorno.  My quads and calves were looking forward to a day of rest on the series of buses and boats that would get me to Bariloche!

el Dia de Torte in Puerto Varas – the cake giveaway.

Next Post: By Bus And Boat Through The Andes – The Cruce Andino

Posted in Chile, hiking/trekking, mountaineering, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Bariloche – Argentina’s Outdoor Playground Capital

Previous Post: By Boat And Bus Through the Andes – The Cruce Andino

San Carlos de Bariloche – to use its full and official name – is a city of about 113,000 in Argentina’s lakes District on the east side of the Andes mountain range. Located on the south shore of Lago Nahuel Huapi,  it is the administrative center of Argentina’s oldest national park.Travellers intent on an extended visit to the country will probably pass through it at some time during their journey.

I came to it on the plush but over-priced Cruce Andino from Puerto Varas in Region X (Región de Los Lagos)  on the Chilean side, which also has the same combination of stunning lakes and mountain peaks to dazzle travellers.

The map above shows the more common trajectories – and the significant travel time involved to get there from Buenos Aires or Ushuaia, especially if you take the bus to save some pesos!

So – why go to Bariloche?  The main reason is not for the town itself but for what it is close to.  In the winter months (July-October) it becomes South America’s skiing and snowboarding capital, thanks to the trails – groomed and off – at nearby Cerro Catedral, twenty kilometers to the west. In the summer months (December-April)  those same trails and a series of mountain huts – mostly owned and maintained by the Club Andino de Bariloche – become a mecca for hikers and rock climbers.  During my visit I spent about ten days hiking those trails. Before, between, and after my hikes I got to know at least the downtown area of Bariloche. What follows is my list of things worth checking out in the time you spend in Bariloche –

  1. the Centro Civico (town square)
  2. Avenida Mitre (the pedestrian mall)
  3. the chocolate shops
  4. Catedral Nuestra Señora del Nahuel Huapi
  5. the Nahuel Huapi waterfront beaches
  6. the artisanal beer district

downtown Bariloche – a compact area to explore

The Bariloche town square  faces the Lago on its north side and is flanked by a museum, a arch gateway to Avendia Mitre,  municipal government and police buildings and a hotel on the other sides.  Noteworthy in its absence is the religious component – the church!  The square is about seventy years old. It may be that by this time the hold of institutional religion was waning in Argentina.  The cathedral was built around the same time but few hundred meters away.

Bariloche – panorama del centro civico

During the day a number of St. Bernard Mountain Dogs are on the square, ready for what seems to be an Argentinian custom of getting your photo taken with one of them!  This custom – along with architecture and skiing and the obsession with chocolate and beer –  is just one of the many echoes of the Swiss and German roots of the town.

St. Bernard Mountain Dog posing with turistas at el Centro Civico

As busy as the square is during the day, it takes on a more charming look at night thanks to the lit-up buildings and the buskers entertaining the tourists and passing their hats in hopes of a donation.

towards el Centro Civico at dusk

el Centro Civico de Bariloche at night

At the center of the square is a statue of a horse and rider. It is the hero of standard Argentine history – General Julio Roca, Minister of War and long-serving President of the country.   150 years ago he was responsible for dealing decisively with an uprising of the indigenous people known as the Mapuche whose area this was before the Europeans arrived. (The very name Nahuel Huapi apparently means “island of the tiger” in their language.)  Roca’s strategy was summarized as “extinguish, subdue or expel”.  On the front of the horse I noticed some graffiti –  someone has recently  scrawled the term “genocide”.

From the town square, a walk through the arch below takes you east  to the pedestrian mall made up of five or six blocks of Avenida Mitre.  I must have strolled up or down this totally tourist stretch of shops a half-dozen times during my stay. Many of the major sports labels have a presence here; if it isn’t their own outlet then it is in the display windows of other shops. Patagonia, North Face, Salomon…you get the idea!

the east end of Calle Mitre in Bariloche at dusk

street musicians at dusk on Mitre in Bariloche

I was surprised to see that the city had decided that February – prime summer tourist season – was the best time to rip up two blocks of the street and do whatever it is that needs to be done. Then again, the same thing seems to happen in my home town – so perhaps town bureaucrats the world over are just on the same wave length!

infrastructure work on Mitre, Bariloche’s pedestrian mall – not a pretty sight!

A Germanic touch on a not so charming part of Avenida Mitre in Bariloche

a block of Mitre in Bariloche

Of all the towns I have visited in Patagonia – from Punta Arenas on up to San Martin de los Andes – Bariloche  is one of the largest ones. It is also the one most clearly dependent on the tourism industry with shop after shop selling stuff that is clearly not meant for locals.

There is a chocolate shop like Mamuschka on every block of Avenida Mitre. They all have enticing window displays and promise choco-fueled ecstasy to those who enter.  As a strict vegetarian – i.e. vegan – I never did step inside though it would have been interesting to see if they bother catering to potential customers looking for non-dairy versions of their products!

The window display below – not chocolate – did catch my eye for another reason. It looks to me like Ojibwe dream catchers – a cultural artifact from the boreal forests of the Canadian Shield.  I had also seen them in store windows in Puerto Varas and in the window of the kitchen hut at Refugio Frey.  These were certainly more gaudy and tacky than the ones I have seen back home. Each time I was left wondering – What is this doing here? Perhaps the inherent poetry of the artifact helps explain why it has become a part of global culture?   If you know what’s going on – a comment would be appreciated!

Ojibwe dream catchers reinterpreted in Bariloche

street art on wall off Avenida Moreno

another chocolate shop window

Stepping inside a rather plain looking front entrance I had a WOW moment as I walked into the Galaria del Sol on Mitre.  the atrium has an almost cathedral-like look; the wood beams and glass make for a striking combination.  Shops surround the dramatic middle space on two levels.

Galeria del Sol on Mitre in Bariloche

On the east end of the downtown area and one street closer to the water – is  the neogothic-style Catedral Nuestra Señora del Nahuel Huapi. Built in the early 1940’s,  it is the powerful statement of the Catholic Church’s presence that I missed seeing on one of the sides of the Centro Civico.

Bariloche catedral interior

While I did see a few petitioners during my visit, I wondered about the fervour of Argentinians for the Church and for traditional religion even with one of their own as the current Pope.

 

As is custom, the cathedral’s front door is on the west side and the altar and apse  at the east end.  It is the grandest church that I have seen in Patagonia on either the Argentine or Chilean side.

Bariloche is strangely cut off from the shore of Lago Nahuel Huapi.  The very busy Avenida Bustillo/Roca/12 de Octubre  goes right across town from west to east along the shore.  I walked to the west end of Avenida San Martin, crossed the road and made my way to the water. Over the 45 minutes  I walked the 1.2 kilometers from the left side of the map to the swimming pool on the east side  before heading up to the cathedral.

green marker in the map center is El Centro Civico

Bariloche properties lining the beach front

vamos a la playa – Bariloche

wooden statues on the shore of the lago

promenade – Bariloche lakefront

Stretches of the waterfront are fairly derelict and the swimming pool pictured below has definitely seen better years.  It was summertime;  the pool should have been packed with people in one stunning setting.  Given the year-round tax dollars generated by tourism in the city,  the pool should not look like this!

the Bariloche swimming pool

One street above Avenida Mitre is the main shopping street of the city. West of Morales it is named San Martin; to the east it becomes Moreno.  This street has the banks, many hotels, and a number of restaurants.  I had chosen my hostel on Juramento – Hostel 41 Below – because it offers a vegetarian/vegan supper. It is located one street above Avenida San Martin.  On my first morning in Bariloche I also discovered my first vegetarian restaurant in Patagonia! Between my hostel and Ren all my food needs were (deliciously) met!  East of Morales I later found another another Ren restaurant!  Perhaps the fact that Bariloche is not only a major tourist center but also a university town explains this openness to vegetarian food choices?

Ren on Avenda San Martin – la cocina vegetariana en Bariloche

The presence of  a woman who seemed to be the boss and who looked Chinese made me think of a possible explanation of the restaurant’s name.  One of the Five Confucian Virtues is Ren (Jen).  After my first visit I googled Wikipedia for more info. The next afternoon I asked one of the servers why the restaurant was named as it is and she confirmed my guess by noting some of the points in the Wiki quote below! What a great name for a vegetarian restaurant!

Jen (pronounced “ren”) is translated into English as “humanity” or “humaneness.” It is the highest Confucian principle. People cultivated by it are humane individuals who exhibit benevolence and care toward others.

My hostel was a five-minute walk from Ren.  It was also in el district de cerveca artisanal. If you were to walk up Juramento during the day you would not know this!  The pubs are closed and cars line the street.  See below for the daytime look!

Avenida Juramento during the day

Hostel 41 Below on Avenida Juramento in Bariloche – view from across the street

However, come back at dusk – and on the weekend –  and it is a different scene! On the Sunday night that I arrived on Juramento, I stood at the bottom of the steps to my hostel and looked back down the street. It looks pretty deserted, right!

Calle Juramento looking west from my hostel front steps

dos astronautas coverHere was the scene looking in the other direction!  I had walked into a street party with customers of the three pubs on the street sitting at tables on the street or just standing and taking in the music.  And what music! The amplified instruments put out a dreamy guitar-based rock sound – echoes of Pink Floyd guitar filtered through U2 and Coldplay. I became an instant fan!  (Back home I downloaded their Campamento cd from  iTunes.)

Dos Astronautas on Calle Juramento on my Sunday night arrival

The band’s name – as Konna’s sign board says – is Dos Astronautas. I dropped off my duffel bag in my room, had some leftover supper that the staff put togther for me, and headed back out to the street for the music and an incredible updated hippy vibe that reminded me evenings on Yorkville Avenue in Toronto in the late ’60’s!

Here is a Youtube sample of their sound. Appropriately the band is playing on the town square in Bariloche.  All that is missing is some nighttime atmosphere.

Dos Astronautas on Juramento in the Beer District Bariloche

Just beyond the Konna Bar and the Dublin Bar is Los Vikingos Pub and across the street is a Mexican restaurant.  Around the corner were a couple more pubs and another band playing!   I walked around the neighbourhood with my Fuji x20 on my first evening in Bariloche certain that I had stumbled into a little magical corner of the universe!

Los Vikingos Pub – Juramento/20 de Febrero

El Mexicano on Morales across from Juramento

Well, there you have it! Bariloche through the eyes of a 65-year-old first time visitor whose Spanish language skills are pretty basic!  Maybe your Bariloche includes more beer and more hanging out at the various clubs that only open around ten or eleven?  By then I was probably dreaming about the next morning’s bus ride to the trailhead of my next hike!  See here for why I call it Base Camp Bariloche!

Base Camp Bariloche & The Hiking Trails of Northern Patagonia -planning advice

Day-By-Day On The Nahuel Huapi Traverse – Pix, Maps & Route Info

Posted in Argentina, Easy Travelling | 6 Comments

By Boat And Bus through The Andes – The Cruce Andino

Previous Post: Climbing Volcán Osorno In Chile’s Lakes Region

How to get from Puerto Varas, Chile to San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina?

I had a choice to make.  The  Andesmar bus takes seven to eight hours and the price is a reasonable 22,000 to 27,000 Chileno Pesos. (i.e. 33 to 41 US dollars.)  Get a seat on the right-hand side of the bus and some nice views may be had!

puerto-varas-bariloche-bus-route1

There is another option.  It is:

  • much shorter in terms of distance covered
  • takes an extra five hours and
  • costs seven times as much!

That’s the one I took!

Known as the Cruce Andino the trip is a combination of bus and boat that takes you over water and back roads travelled by few.   On a clear and sunny day the views  as you cross, for example,  Lago Todos Los Santos are fantastic.  And thanks to the $280. U.S. cost it is a journey that few can justify!  I had read the reviews (see tripadvisor here and here) and they were mostly very positive.  Excellent weather was forecast for the day I wanted to go so I decided to splurge.  Read on – and check out the pix I took – to find out if it was worth it!

The map below shows the Cruce Andino route from Puerto Varas.   It is made up of the following bus and boat segments –

  1. Puerto Varas to Petrohué – 65 km. by bus along the south shore of Lago Llanquihue
  2. Petrohué to Peulla – 35 km. by boat across Lago Todos Los Santos
  3. Peulla to Puerto Frias – 26 km. by bus across the border and over Paso Perez Rosales
  4. Puerto Frias to Puerto Alegre – 4 km. by boat across Laguna Frias
  5. Puerto Alegre to Puerto Blest – a 3 km. bus ride
  6. Puerto Blest to Puerto Pañuelo – 25 km. by boat across Lago Nahuel Huapi
  7. Puerto Pañuelo to various hotels in Bariloche – 18 km. by bus

Three boat rides and four bus rides – that alone would help explain some of the additional expense. Instead of  one person putting my luggage into the bus in Puerto Varas and taking it out in Bariloche, there would be at least a dozen Turis staff along the way handling the bag and making sure it got there.  They have the routine down; everyone’s luggage made it!

I bought my ticket at the Turis Tours office in Puerto Varas on a Friday afternoon, a couple of days before my Sunday departure.  A few hours later I headed for the Refugio Teski on the side of Volcan Osorno for the start of a climb of the volcano that I had arranged with Huella Andino Expeditions.  Now it was Sunday morning and while the climb had been a great success, my calves and quads has seized up and I could barely bend my legs as I carried my duffel down to the pick-up point by the Turis office!  A day of passive boat and bus riding would do my legs good!

In the satellite image below you can see the snow-covered peak of  Volcan Osorno (2652 m or 87o1′) on the east side of Lago LLanquihue.  It and Volcan Calbuco (2015 m or 6572′) are the two striking peaks you can see from Puerto Varas, with Calbuco no longer having its snow top thanks to a recent eruption in 2015.

When I first got to Puerto Varas I stood on the shore of the lake and got a shot of the two cloud-covered peaks.  Osorno, the one on the left,  is 47 kilometers away while Calbuco to the south-west is 31 kilometers distant.

Volcans Osorno and Calbuco to the east from Puerto Varas shore

Our Cruce Andino tour bus left at 8:30 and took me back along the road to Osorno.  On the way we stopped at a couple of spots for photos;  the two below are the ones I got from the side of the road of the two volcanoes.

Volcan Osorno from the road to Petrohué

Osorno

It is a 65-kilometer ride to Petrohué and the first boat. The elevation along the lakeshore is about 65 meters; by the time we got to Petrohué we were at 195.  The 130 meter gain in altitude? Well, that would be the Saltos del Rio Petrohué – the Petrohué Falls – a scenic drop in the river as it makes its way south to the Pacific Ocean.

Google satellite view – Puerto Montt to Bariloche

We stopped there for perhaps 45 minutes and walked through the building pictured below to access the trail to the falls themselves.  I walked up to a line-up – and yet one more expense –  a ticket to see the falls!  Noticing another tour group just walking right through the entrance , I ended up just joining them instead of waiting for my chance to buy a ticket.  Given what Turis is charging,  this additional ding is annoying.  Entrance to the falls should be included in the $280.! How is that for rationalizing my action?

gift shop/snack bar/entrance ticket sales

As for the falls, While I have paddled up to and portaged around many more dramatic ones on my canoe trips, what makes the Saltos distinctive is the backdrop of Volcan Osorno to the north.  It was especially neat to look at the volcano and think that twenty-four hours before I had stood on top!

first view of the Rio Petrohué waterfalls

the view from Petrohué Falls to Volcán Osorno

While it seems like the volcano is fairly close, it is actually about eight kilometers from the falls to the top of the volcano.  Its looming presence is one of the highlights of the day’s journey and we would see it from various angles as the hours passed.

my fellow travellers getting their own copy of the above shot!

the mirador at Salta de Rio Petrohué

panorama of the Petrohué Falls Area

Our photo taking done, it was back to the buses for the last bit of the ride up to Petrohué. Returning to the parking lot a bit early, I did not see our bus anywhere. My sense of panic led to a brief conversation with a bus driver who told me that my Turis bus had just taken the baggage to Petrohué and would be back soon to pick us up.  Whew! And then other people from the bus that I recognized started showing up and I knew I could relax!

back to the Turis Tour bus to finish the ride to Petrohué

My lack of patience is undoubtedly my worst trait!  This trip would give me many opportunities to practise the art of waiting without getting all stressed out.  Line-ups to get off the bus, on the bus, on the boat, off the boat – over and over all day! My camera did give me something else to focus on, as did potential conversations with my fellow passengers.

the line up to get on the boat at Petrohué

I felt a special connection with the bicycle tourists that I saw at the dock.  Months before my plan had been to join an organized bike tour of the region but I had waited too long to book a spot.  So I decided to go visit the Lakes region on both sides of the Andes anyway – but with a hiking instead of a cycling focus.

a bicycle tourist waiting to get on the boat at Petrohué

The boat ride across Lagos Todos Los Santos is one of the two long sections of the day spent on the water. The Google satellite image below captures the lake from the left (Petrohué)  to the right and east end (Peulla).  It took us about two hours to cover the about thirty-five kilometers.

The view of Osorno with Petrohué in the foreground was one of my favourites of the day.  It would pop up in most of my shots for the first hour or so!

Petrohué docks and Volcan Osorno

While I did have a window seat inside on the first deck I spent most of my time outside framing shots without any glass between my lens and the scene!  Also out there were an Austrian bicycle couple whom  I started chatting with about their trip. They were on their way to Bariloche and were going to bicycle the road parts. Their mountain bikes with 45mm tires were  perfect for the gravel roads they would be dealing with until they got to Puerto Pañuelo a couple of days later.

on the boat deck on Lago Todos los Santos

heading east on Lago Todos Los Santos

bikes on the rear deck of the Turis boat on Lago Todos Los Santos

At about 1 p.m. we got to Peulla at the east end of Lago Todos Los Santos. This was to be our lunch stop before we hopped on to the bus for the twenty-six kilometer bus ride through and over the Andes.

a shot from the Peulla docking area

looking back at our boat at the Peulla docking area

From the docking area it is a pleasant half-kilometer walk up to the Peulla Hotel. There is a shuttle bus for those who are not keen on walking or who want to get to the hotel and the restaurant faster. I walked along with the two Austrian cyclists for a bit and then it was time for them to push on.  They would have some altitude to gain before they stopped for the night at Puerto Frias on the Argentinian side.

a walk from the Peulla dock to the hotel and restaurant

two Austrian bike travellers from the boat

The Hotel Peulla is certainly in a nice location. Some travellers stretch the journey into two days by spending the rest of the day here and then continuing on Bariloche the next day. It gets mixed reviews from trip advisor contributors! (See here for the latest reviews.)

the Hotel Peulla – our lunch time stop

Hotel Peulla dining room

The recommendation made by most guide-books is to bring along a lunch from  Puerto Varas or Puerto Montt, given the cost of lunch – and its mediocre quality – at the hotel dining room. Being a vegan limits my food choices even more! I ended up walking back over the bridge to the take-out spot and checked out their menu.

My question  “Tienes algo vegetariano?” got me a couple of corn empanadas which hit the spot once they arrived about twenty-five  minutes later.  The small kitchen was swamped with orders! I was clearly not the only one who had decided to make it a picnic instead of a white-tablecloth lunch!   I found a shady spot and a log to sit on and framed the two photos below  while I waited for my name to be called.

the Peulla take-out counter with the vegetable empanadas

the Peulla take-out dining room!

The actual crossing of the Andes would be the focus of the next part of our trip – the bus ride from Peulla at 192 meters a.s.l (above sea level) to the Paso Perez Rosales at 1092 meters and then back  down not he Argentinian side to Puerto Frias at about 780 meters. The elevation chart below gives you an idea of the elevation gain as you travel the 26 kilometers of gravel road.  Along the way I saw the Austrian cyclists. They had pulled off the road to let the bus pass; we were stirring up a lot of dust! Luckily for them other than the tour bus there are almost no vehicles on this stretch of road.

peulla-to-puerto-frias-elevation-chart

the 26-km. bus ride across the Andes from Peulla to Puerto Frias

As we made our way up the river valley towards the pass, we stopped at a spot where I was  were able to get close to the river and get a shot of Cerro Tronador (3478 m), along with Volcan Osorno on the west side of Lago Todos Los Santos, the  dominant peaks in the area. The sign looks like it has been there for some time!

Cerro Tronador view from the road near Casa Pangue

The three Tronador peaks are about 13 kilometers away from where I took these photos. About ten days later I would be on the north side of Cerro Tronador in my tent above the Refugio Otto Meiling, but still five kilometers away of the summit! In the Meiling refugio that night I would chat with a guide and his two clients. They  would be getting up at 3 a.m. for their walk across the glacier and then a bit of an ice climb to the top. While I had considered doing the climb,  the $600. U.S. seemed a bit too steep for me.

a satellite view of the valley leading up to Cerro Tronador

Cerro Tronador de Mirador Casa Pangue

After our photo-op stop  it was back in the bus for some serious altitude gain!  From the river at about 300 meters a.s.l. it was another 700 meters on a series of switchbacks  as the bus engine groaned its way to the top at Paso Perez Rosales. Somewhere along the way we crossed the border;  the Turis staff had organized things so that there were no border formalities to take care. A quick ride down the other side of the mountains and we were in Puerto Frias, Argentina!

panorama – Puerto Frías – Lago Frías

The boat crossed Lago Frías to Puerto Alegre where waiting buses took us for a quick ride to Puerto Blest.  We would line up to get on board our second – and shortest at 3 kilometers – ride across the lago.  I scanned the side of the small lake as we motored across and given the steep terrain I could see why they’ve  never undertaken a road to cover the short distance.

the Turis boat at Puerto Frías taking on passengers

On the other side is Puerto Alegre, not much more than a dock and a parking lot where the shuttle buses were waiting to take us down to Puerto Blest. My lack of photos tells me it all happened very quickly.  I think I was also getting a bit tired and blasé about the trip by this time as the scarcity of images for the rest of the trip – I’ve posted three down below – probably indicates!  It was about 5 p.m. and we had been on the go for eight hours.  Our finest views were behind us.

Puerto Frias – Puerto Alegre – Puerto Blest

We had a bit of a wait in Puerto Blest; the boat was not yet there.  Some passengers went into the restaurant attached to the small hotel.  I walked down to the end of the Peninsula, a narrow spit that goes out into Brazo Blest, an arm of Lago Nahuel Huapi, the lake we would be cruising on all the way to Puerto Pañuelo. I did notice a number of hikers with their packs.  There is a hiking trail  from Pampa Linda that ends here; they would be joining us for the boat ride back to Bariloche.  I talked to one hiker and she was aghast at how much the ride cost.  She gulped when I mentioned the $280. U.S. I had paid! (The Cruce Andino  is 25% cheaper if you are a Chilean or Argentinian – $220.!)

Puerto Blest dock – waiting for the boat to arrive

The Turis boat arriving at Puerto Blest

There is about 25 kilometers of water to cross from Puerto Blest.  The Google satellite view below shows Lago Nahuel Huapi and Bariloche to the east.

Lago Nahuel Huapi de Puerto Blest a Bariloche

I did not realize it at the time but as we approached Brazo Trieteza I took the shot below. That is Cerro Lopez looming over the water; a week later I would tenting near the Refugio Lopez on the side of that mountain!

Cerro Lopez at the entrance of the Brazo Trieteza

Rather than go by boat right to Bariloche, we debarked at the dock at Puerto Pañuelo, some 25 kilometers west of the city. Just above us as we docked was the Llao Llao Hotel, one of Argentina’s more  famous. I meant to get a shot from the water but waited too long – a missed opportunity! Once we were on land my focus changed to trying to spot my blue Helly Hansen duffel bag. There it was!

One more bus ride – and one tired bus rider! When we bought our tickets in Puerto Varas we were asked to provide the name of our hotel.  Now as we headed east on Avenida Bustillo and then on Avenida San Martin, the bus stopped at the various establishments.  I had reserved a room  at the Hostel 41 Below on Juramento, just off  San Martin and very close to the Hotel Bariloche Edelweiss, a five-star business-class hotel.  That is where I got off the bus.  It was now past eight o’clock as I lugged my baggage up Juramento towards the hostel.

I was amazed by the scene in front of me!  Juramento is apparently the heart of “el distrito de la cerveca artesanal” and I had walked into a street party!  As I approached 41 Below a rock band was putting out an incredible trippy sound. I was totally enchanted – and rejuvenated by the energy on the street and in the music.  Over the next few days I would get to know Bariloche better and that first very positive impression would remain.  Soon to come – a post on Bariloche – What To See and Do Before, After, And In Between Hiking Trips!

Bariloche – Calle Juramento – Dos Astronautas at work!

As for the Cruce Andino, all in all I had enjoyed the twelve-hour journey from Puerto Varas. If the point of  travel is to experience things a bit out of our ordinary, then it had been a success. There were  memorable views and great photo-framing  opportunities as the day unfolded. Kudos to the Turis crew for making it all happen seamlessly – with no drama, very little waiting, and no one left in a panic over lost luggage.

Would I do it again? I think so – even though the $280. cost is maybe $100. too much.   While backpackers in their early twenties will almost certainly be on that $40. bus from Puerto Varas to Bariloche, if you can afford it, I’d say “Go for it!”  While you are not really cruising in a catamaran through the Andes – it is more like you approach them  by water on the Chilean side, take a bus through and over them, and then boat away from them on Lago Nahuel Huapi once you get to the Argentinian side – it is still a great trip.

As my photo of the line-up  of mostly older and financially secure travellers – and that would include me! –  shows, I was not the only one who was able to rationalize the extravagance!

Bon voyage!

P.S. – If you have Google Earth installed on your device and want to see the actual route of the Cruce Andino, get the kml file here in my Dropbox folder.

Next Post: Bariloche – Argentina’s Outdoors Playground – Things To See and Do

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Patagonia’s Nahuel Huapi Traverse – Day 5 (Refugio Lopez to Bariloche)

Day 4: Refugio Manfredo Segre (Laguna Negra) to Refugio Lopez

To the side of the Refugio Lopez is a tenting area; my spot was the flat area  with the ring of rocks as a boundary that you see on the bottom of the image below. That rocky slope is the one I had come down the previous afternoon from Pico Turista.

Unfortunately, I didn’t think to take a photo until I packed away the tent! The spot was quite exposed and normally I would not even have considered it as a place to pitch my tent. However, the weather continued to be exceptionally kind – no wind during the night and no rain. And now it was morning and the clear sky promised yet another fine day for walking.

my tent spot near Refugio Lopez

Well, not a day of walking! Maybe a two-hour downhill to the road at Arroyo Lopez where the trail ends on the side of a small snack bar.  In fact, the end is so close that many hikers do not stop to spend the night at Refugio Lopez, preferring to keep on going to the road and then returning to Bariloche at the end of Day 4.

Refugio Lopez above Lago Nahuel Huapi

The Refugio Lopez was not very busy and there were few people who overnighted, my porteño campañero de sendero Diego being one of the few. Unlike me he had not brought a tent along, though he did have a sleeping bag and sleeping pad.

Refugio Lopez interior – eating area

Since I didn’t  have a place to stay in Bariloche the night before, the Refugio Lopez made for a great place to chill with the few other hikers and enjoy the evening views.  I used the dining area to have both supper and breakfast.  Since “cooking” only involved adding water to my dehydrated Pad Thai supper and to my oatmeal breakfast, I just got the kitchen staff to boil up some water for me.

Nobody was up in the morning except for my buddy Lopez when I walked onto the refugio porch.

Lopez – a border collie? – on the refugio porch

Refugio Lopez- counter and snacks for sale

Breakfast done, I got a bit more hot water and made a second cup of coffee and joined Lopez and a few hikers on the front porch of the Refugio.

There were a couple of dogs at the refugio. One, a chocolate brown Labrador retriever,  is the hut dog and living the good life. That’s him inside the hut –

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lopez was the other dog; he had wandered up to the hut a couple of days previously and was still hanging around.  The night before I had spent a half hour deburring his fur while taking in the sunset views.  So here he is in the photo above the next morning with his paw on my right knee, a signal that he wants me to keep giving him attention – as in ear scrunchies and belly rubs!  I hope he is being taken care of these days. Maybe he just wandered away from his people at the bottom of the hill for a little adventure.  It would have been reassuring to see a collar on him!

the view from the front porch – a lazy start to the day at Refugio Lopez

The upscale Llao Llao Hotel was visible down below on a narrow strip of land between the Lago Moreno and Lago Nahuel Huapi. A few days previously I had ended my boat trip through the Andes from Puerto Varas on the Chilean side at Puerto Pañuelo just below the Hotel.

A warning about the pronunciation of  “Llao Llao”! With what I thought was my passable castellano, I pronounced it Yao Yao; I had no idea what Diego was talking about when he said Shao Shao.  What he was doing, of course, was speaking Spanish the Argentinian way, the Porteño way. More than once he had me completely baffled!  Llamar became shamar and castellano became casteshano!

Llao_llao

Wikipedia source – here …Cerro Lopez and the Refugio  in the background!

I never did visit the hotel, perhaps Argentina’s most famous.  I had intended to bicycle out to the hotel on my first or second day in Bariloche -it is a 30-km ride there – before I set off on this hike.  I figured a cup of coffee or maybe lunch there would give me an excuse to walk around and get some neat photos. Unfortunately my calves and quads were still seized up from the long stretch of serious ice climbing I had done to get to the top of Volcan Osorno on the Chilean side a couple of days previously. I needed to recuperate from that before I did something crazy like bicycle 60 kilometers!

the view of “Shao Shao” from the Refugio Lopez front porch

panorama – the view from Refugio Lopez

Refugio Lopez to Arroyo Lopez trailhead/Highway 77

Sometime around ten Diego and I set off for the end of the trail at Arroyo Lopez. It is six kilometers – and a drop of 770 meters in elevation –  from the Refugio down to the road (Highway 77) and the trailhead behind the snack bar at Arroyo Lopez. The trail runs on the east side of the creek bed as it makes its way down the valley.  It was a bit confusing at first and Diego and I got separated down near the creek bed.  After waiting a bit for him to catch up, I decided to keep going. More trail markers at regular intervals made the way much more obvious.  For some reason  I also stopped taking photos!  The couple below are  almost all of them. There were certainly no grand vistas to capture – mostly a shaded forest trail taking me to the exit.  I was already thinking about how I was going to get back to my hostel in Bariloche for my first shower in five days!

following the red dots to the end of the trail from Lopez

In fact, I ended up googling for some pics of the trail; this Argentinian blogger had a couple I ended up “borrowing” just to remind myself – and show you – what it was I walked by. See his post here for the next two pix – and a lot of other good shots. He took them on the way up to the refugio!

Parador Roca Negra on the trail from Refugio Lopez to the road

About 45 minutes from the and I came to a dilapidated shack – the Parador Roca Negra – which has a restaurant. There is a switchback road that comes up to this spot and a couple was standing there as I came cruising by.  They asked me if I was el canadiense!  It seems that Diego, who I thought was behind me, had somehow ended up in front of me!  He had told them to pass on the message when I came by.  My waiting for him at various points on the trail had only increased the lead he had on me!  Relieved that he was doing fine, I continued on down the shady trail, which is carved out of a massive glacial sand deposit.

Finally the end of the trail – and the beginning of the road back to Bariloche.  The map on the display board in the photo below represents the trailhead of the path to the Refugio Lopez. Next to it was a small restaurant/snack bar with some tables. Parked on both sides of the road were vehicles, left by people who had gone for a hike. There is apparently a problem with cars being broken into when hikers leave them sitting there for a few days!

the trailhead to Refugio Lopez at Highway 79

I didn’t even stop for a celebratory can of Coke at the snack bar. Putting down my backpack on the side of the road, I stuck out my thumb at the occasional vehicle that came by.  Within ten minutes a young couple with their 18-month old boy sitting in the back stopped and offered me a ride. I hopped in even without asking exactly where they were going – if it was east it was good!

I was hoping for a ride all the way to Bariloche; they were going as far as Colonia Suiza!  I amused my fellow passenger in the back seat as we travelled along the gravel road to their restaurant destination in the village. He soon had my index finger in a deadlock!  We got to Colonia Suiza and bumper-to-bumper traffic.  It was a Sunday afternoon and clearly Colonia Suiza is on the list of must-visit places when in Bariloche!  Restaurants and crafts stores and specialty food shops seemed to be the big attractions.

Given that the roads are not paved and it hadn’t rained in a long time, the vehicles stirred up clouds of dust.  I felt sorry for the cyclists doing their Circuito Chico; this cannot have been what they signed up for!  After five days on the trail all  the commotion and the dust were the last thing I wanted.  How to keep going east?  There is a bus that comes through Colonia Suiza – the #10 – which takes passengers to a connecting point for another bus – the #20 – which goes right into Bariloche.

Told that the #10 had just passed by and that the next one would be in over an hour I decided to press on, walking down a road  that would take me to the one road leading out of the village and to Bariloche.  Within ten minutes of setting off,   someone stopped – and gave me a ride right to the spot where the #10 bus deposits its passengers for the transfer to #20. Even better – we got there within seconds of the #10 I had missed!  On the other side of the road the #20 had just pulled up and was letting off its passengers before turning around for the return to Bariloche.  Buena suerte!  I was on my way back to town!  I pulled out my  rechargeable bus pass card and paid the fare after the #20 pulled up.

Hostel 41 Below supper table – all veg

When I got back to Calle Jugamento and the Hostel 41 Below I was expecting to be spending the night in a room with two bunk beds and three other sleepers. The room I had all to myself for the first three nights was supposedly booked for the night of my return. But – more luck! – the room was available after all.  (Probable reason – it costs four times more than a bed in a room shared with three others!)  I showered and lounged on the bed and had a nap and waited for that evening’s vegetarian supper. And yes – now that I was no longer off the grid, I checked my email and read all the latest about the smash media hit of the season – the ongoing Trumpland saga.  Sad!

The Nahuel Huapi Traverse had been much more than I was expecting: challenging trails, terrific vistas and viewpoints and photo ops, and helpful fellow hikers on the trail … two days to do laundry and rest up and make arrangements and I would be off on my next hike, a shorter one up to the Otto Meiling Hut and Cerro Tronador. That post will be up in a week or so – but here is a photo taken from my tent spot –

Next Post (Coming Soon): The Refugio Otto Meiling and Cerro Tronador

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Patagonia’s Nahuel Huapi Traverse – Day 4 (Laguna Negra to Refugio Lopez)

Previous Post: Day 3 – Laguna Jakob (Refugio San Martín) to Laguna Negra 

Day 3 had been a big day made even more exciting thanks to a brain cramp on my part.  Less drama on the trail was my wish for the day! Sometime during the night I had woken up and plugged my iPhone into the battery charger; it was now fully charged and the GPS track was ready to be taken more seriously!

my tent spot near Refugio Italia at Laguna Negra and the trail sign to the refugio

As I crawled out of my tent space – super-well-sheltered! – I could see why it was still available at 9:20 the previous evening! I had bumped my head on some of the branches the night before as I put up the tent. Clearly everyone else had decided that it was too enclosed and too small a space. In the photo above it is barely visible on the left-hand side!

Refugio Italia and Laguna Negra

I walked down the trail to the refugio; it sits quite exposed on a long stretch of rock outcrop. I couldn’t get over my luck with the weather; every day so far had been clear and sunny and relatively wind free. In worse weather, the traverse  would become   much more of a challenge, not just the route (i.e. red dot!) finding but also tenting at the end of a wet and windy day.

Refugio Italia (Manfredo Segre) at Laguna Negra)

Refugio sign at Refugio Italia (Manfredo Segre)

Out came my simple breakfast  – the ziplock bag filled with oatmeal and an assortment of other ingredients (chia seeds, hemp seeds, raisins, cranberries, walnuts). All you need to do is add some hot water. The concoction is a canoe trip staple that  my brother and I take along and it keeps us going for hours.  Also essential is a hit of caffeine but unlike the cup of filtered coffee we make when canoe tripping,  I contented myself with some instant.

inside the Refugio Italia at Laguna Negra

The hut was fairly quiet. Given its location the refugio does not get the visitors that Frey or Lopez do. I looked around for Diego but he was not up yet.  Given the potential for trouble on the Jakob-Negra section you need to sign a waiver as well as check in on arrival. I had not bothered to walk down to the refugio the night before since I was almost dark when we got to the camping area. I put up my tent and crawled inside and hoped that Diego, who was sleeping in the refugio, would let them know. I knew he had when one of them looked up for the coffee pot she was preparing and asked me if I was el canadiense!

Laguna Negra - Refugio Lopez

Before I left the refugio Diego walked in.   I told him I’d be ready to go in about 45 minutes and , after leisurely taking down the tent and packing,  wandered back to the refugio with my pack.   He was nowhere to be seen.  I waited for about ten minutes and assumed he had started off without me. So off I went. I would never catch up to him!  And why? He hadn’t left yet!  We’d meet at the end of the day at the Refugio Lopez – at the top end of that red line you see snaking from Refugio Italia. It is about a ten kilometres walk and

Refugio Italia (Manfredo Segre) from the other side of Laguna Negra

The first part of the day’s walk involved curling around the east and north shores of the laguna, an easy walk except for a bit of scampering over a gnarly rock outcrop. To help those passing through I noticed  a climbing aid – ropes fastened to the rock. Not quite a first since I did see permanent rock bolts on Day 3 in the section above Laguna Témpano.)

Looking back at Refugio Italia on Laguna Negra

climbing aid on the rocks around Laguna Negra

At the far end of the lake I want down to the water and filled up my water bottle and waved my Steripen in it for a minute, not wanting to take any chances.

a last chance to fill up the water bottle  at Laguna Negra

From the laguna the sand and scree trail goes up to the ridge which I then walked north as I passed Cerro Bailey Willis. Compared to the previous day’s trail this one is very well-marked with lots of red paint, cairns, and signs to show the way.  And if nothing was visible all I had to do was turn around to see markers for the way back to Laguna Negra!

the path up to the ridge above Laguna Negra

laguna negra to refugio lopez - first half

sign for Lopez – the next Refugio

looking back at Laguna Negra – from the trail to Refugio Lopez

looking west to Cerro Tronador from the trail to Refugio Lopez

From near the top of the ridge I looked west.  Hola, Cerro Tronador!  Even though it was about 25 kilometers from where I was standing,  it still dominates the neighbourhood.

Tronador from the ridge above Laguna Negra

A few days later I would be at the Refugio Otto Meiling and learn that there are actually three peaks – Pico Argentina, Pico Chileno, and the highest of them, Pico Internacional. My tent above the Otto Meiling hut was still about seven kilometers from the peaks! The photo below shows the sheltered spot I found to put up my tent for the night!

tent spot below Tronador above Refugio Otto Meiling

four days later – tent spot below Tronador above Refugio Otto Meiling

Back to that ridge near Cerro Bailey Willis – it was time to finish off the climb! To get there I wove my way through the pile of rock rubble, aided by that occasional red paint dot.

a look back at a couple of day hikers working their way up the slope to Cerro Bailey Willis

looking up at the rubble in search of a trail to the top of the ridge

the path for Refugio Lopez cuts over to the saddle – Cerro Bailey Willis on the right

transition point on the trail from Negra to Lopez – the saddle below Cerro Bailey Willis

Over that saddle in the image I went and past the gentle west slope of Bailey Willis – no more shots of Laguna Negra now!  A different landscape started to open up ahead of me – the top of a green valley and the Cerro Lopez massif. It was shortly after noon – 12:15 – and another scorching day in the sun.  I got the sunscreen out and applied a bit more on my exposed bits – i.e. hands and face and neck.  I decided to postpone lunch until I found a shady spot down along the Arroyo Goye.  I’d also be able to fill up  my water bottle there too.

a look back at the trail I have just walked from Refugio Italia (Manfredo Segre)

In the photo above I had one last look at the rock tower that looms above Refugio Italia; when I turned around I was looking at Cerro Lopez and the upper section of the valley I’d be crossing.

the view from the Bayley Willis Col towards Refugio Lopez

walking down to the top of the Arroyo Goye valley – the view ahead

the Arroyo Goye running down the valley floor

looking back at the saddle and the scree slope

the path to the Cerro Lopez ridge

in the meadow below the Cerro Negro ridge

When I came to the small trickle of water that becomes Arroyo Goye and found some trees with a leafy canopy I set down my pack and got out the empty Nalgene water bottle and the lunch fixings.  As I sat there the X-ray like look of the clouds floating by caught my attention.

wispy clouds in the valley below Cerro Negro

With lunch over I had the hike’s last section of uphill scrambling waiting for me.  Given the stunning mountainscape,  I had every reason to stop and set up a quick photo every once in a while.

a plateau half way up to the Cerro Lopez ridge

Cerro Tronador from a plateau below Cerro Lopez

And then – this!  Over the hour and a half I  made my way up the scree slope until I was standing on the ridge you see running along the top third of the photo. Where you end up is near Pico Turista, a popular day hike destination for those coming up from Refugio Lopez.

the last bit of uphill for the day – up to Cerro Lopez ridge

looking up at the scree slope to Cerro Lopez ridge

When I stepped to the north side of the ridge my reward was this awesome scene – Lago Nahuel Huapi in the distance and Lago Moreno a bit closer and in between the two the Llao Llao Resort. And I turned my gaze a bit further to the east I could see Bariloche.

a grand view from Pico Turista of Lago Nahuel Huapi

a view of Lago Nahuel Huapi. up to Bariloche

To the west there was Cerro Tronador veiled in afternoon cloud.  This spot by Pico Turista was just one of the many on this traverse where the sheer beauty of the views made the price of getting there – the aches and pain and tedious scrambling up scree slopes – worth it!

the view west from Cerro Negro ridge

And then it was down, down, down!  For a long time I did not even see the refugio! the first landmark was a small glacial lake that I would soon get to.  three people are visible in the two photos below. I would eventually end up talking to them as them rested on the side of the laguna while I refilled my water bottle yet again.

the laguna on the way to Refugio Lopez

down at the Laguna – on the way to Refugio Lopez from the Cerro Lopez ridge

looking back at a bit of down scrambling from the laguna

The Refugio Lopez – finally!  And no Diego sitting there waiting for me!  The hut keeper surprised me with a question about his whereabouts; there is obviously communication between refugios about who and how many are on the trail each day. I guess we were the only two that day!  Diego would come down that slope pictured above about an hour later.  We would compare notes for the day, one that we agreed was happily much less challenging than the day before.

a different perspective on the Laguna Negra – Refugio Lopez Hike

Unlike the others on the Nahuel Huapi Traverse, The Lopez hut does not belong to the Club Andino de Bariloche.  Instead, it is privately owned and looks well-maintained.  I would find a flat tent spot not far from the hut – somewhat exposed for my liking but given the great weather and lack of wind it did the job nicely.  Nearby were another three or four tents; hikers can camp for free. I did make use of the hut for supper and breakfast and spent a bit of money at the food counter.

the Refugio Lopez

Refugio Lopez above Lago Nahuel Huapi

Next Post: From Refugio Lopez To the End of the Trail at Arroyo Lopez/Highway 77

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Patagonia’s Nahuel Huapi Traverse – Day 3 (Laguna Jakob to Laguna Negra)

Previous Post: Day 2 – Refugio Frey to Refugio San Martín (Laguna Jakob)

I was  in the kitchen of the refugio by 8:15 or so for breakfast. With  my cup of refugio coffee finished it was time to meet with the others and talk about the plans for the day. On the plus side I had the following:

  • another sunny and windless day with no forecast of sudden weather change
  • no  snow on the higher upper sections of the trail (it was early February!)
  • other hikers who were planning to do the trail

The poorly marked trail from Laguna Jakob to Laguna Negra has some semi-technical climbing involved.  Doing it alone  was never a consideration.

I would set off with those who were going to do the section and then –

  1. after checking out the climbing section above Laguna Témpano and deciding it was something I could do, continue the nine kilometers to Laguna Negra; or
  2. decide it was too risky to do and turn back to the refugio.  From there I would do the easy but long 18 km walk down along the Arroyo Casa de Piedra to the highway and then hitchhike over to Colonia Suiza where I would spend the night at a campground.  The next day I would walk up to Laguna Negra from there and continue the traverse.

On the map below

  • Option #1 is made up of Routes 9 and 7  to Laguna Negra.
  • Option #2 is Route 3  following the Casa de Piedra down to Highway 79.

I must again acknowledge the website I took the above map from, TrekBariloche.  It is the single best online source of information of hiking in the Nahuel Huapi area.  The writer has  walked these trails for the past 18 years and it shows in detail found at his website.

a Google satellite view with my Spot Connect GPS tracks roughly indicating the route to Laguna Negra

There were four of us – Moritz and Daniel, the two German guys; Diego, the hiker from Buenos Aires; and me.  We eventually found ourselves signing the waiver  form to acknowledge our intent to do the route to Laguna Negra via the Laguna Témpano ascent.

The hut keeper also brought out a scrapbook with perhaps 40 or 50 photos that he talked his way through.  They illustrated major points in the route. I will admit that after twenty images or so my mind drifted away  – information overload!  There is no way you can remember all that stuff. Detail piled on detail!   Had I been thinking I would have taken some photos of his photos with my iPhone so that I could consult them during the day.

Another thought that came to mind was this – why don’t they just provide hikers with better information – a brochure, for example –  that they could take with them. That, and more clearly marked trail, which would not take more than a day’s work to do,  would eliminate most of the issues  with this section of the traverse.  Of course, this would only encourage more people to do this section and thus increase the possibility of bad things happening!  As we would learn, the most difficult part of the day comes in the first hour and a half with the scamper up the rock face above Laguna Témpano.

looking back at the Refugio San Martín on Laguna Jakob

Lots of red dots and blue and white paint as we left the refugio and headed towards Laguna Témpano. The photos above and below show the gradual uphill of the terrain.  Then the markers start to become more scarce and you have to look a bit more carefully as you continue.

the trail to Laguna Los Témpanos

At about 10:30 – as seen in the photo below – we  found ourselves on a ridge below Pico Refugio.

a view of Laguna Témpanos from the SE

The lowest of the GPS tracks in the satellite image below is where I took the above photo from.  We were about to see what all the fuss was about!

the route above Laguna Los Tempanos – follow the one-every-ten-minutes GPS tracks!

This is where  the scrambling up began, Moritz and his GPS track in the lead, Daniel not far behind, and then Diego and finally me, the old guy of the crew and a bit more winded than them! I was feeling fine with the terrain, having done a few summers’ worth of Alpine Club of Canada trips in the Canadian Rockies and some of the minor ranges to the west on very similar rock.

los cuatro amigos arriba de Laguna Témpano – Daniel, Diego, me, Moritz

I did notice a rock bolt or two drilled into the rock face as we made our way up. Perhaps a guide would make use of those bolts with clients not used to being in this kind of terrain or in case wind or rain or snow  made it necessary to secure everyone.  I cannot say that any of us ever felt that uncomfortable as we made our way up.  The fact that we had perfect conditions did not hurt!  We  took it slowly and deliberately, stopping every once in a while for photo ops!

the technical part of the day’s walk to Laguna Negra via Cerro Navidad

Laguna Jakob and Laguna Temprano

Laguna Jakob and Laguna Los Témpanos

On on of those little breaks I turned toward the Laguna below and got this panorama that stretched all the way back to Laguna Jakob on the left hand side of the image.  Then I turned around to get a shot of the remaining part of the climb – and Mortiz and Daniel working their cameras!

Daniel on photo duty before we embrace the climb above Laguna Los Tempanos

Five minutes later we were on the move again: Moritz leading, Daniel following, Diego in the bottom right of the photo and me looking up and taking the photo.

Moritz leading the way up the rock face above Laguna Los Tempanos

And finally – thirty minutes later we were on top.  We had done it!  The hut keeper had told us that this exposed section of the trail represented 80% of the day’s difficulties and that the rest would be more straight-forward.

It had taken us two hours (9:45 to 11:45) to get there from the refugio.  Handshakes all around – and maybe some relief that we were spared any drama. Then it was time to say good-bye to Moritz and Daniel.  They were going to be switching into warp speed, leaving Diego and I to move along and a more leisurely pace!

Laguna Jakob to Cerro Navidad

Laguna Jakob to Cerro Navidad

I did have a GPS track which had the rest of the day’s hike on my iPhone. (I found it at the Club Andino de Bariloche website a few months ago. It no longer seems available.  See here for a downloadable copy.)  Unfortunately the Osmand app and maps that I had installed would inexplicably freeze – sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t.  We did have the read trail markers  and occasional cairns to lead us on. They were scarce as we made our way towards Cerro Navidad, a major point on the route and the highest one of the day.

looking over to our next objective

The photos above and below were taken around 11:45 after the two German guys had sped onward. After aiming my camera toward the ridge we were heading for, I turned around to get a shot of Diego and our packs.  We were on the col below Pico Refugio and took a little break before moving on.

Diego and I  were both travelling somewhat heavier than the two guys up ahead; Daniel may have had three kilograms in that tiny backpack of his!  He was travelling so light he did not even have a sleeping bag with him!  I had a tent, sleeping bag,Thermarest pad, Goretex rain gear, food for five days … it all added up to about 15 kilograms. Diego’s pack weighed  a bit less since he was sleeping in the refugios each night.

taking a breather to the left of Pico Refugio

A helpful bit of paint on the rocks – the red/while square – told us we were on the “trail”. We would climb up to that low section you see between the two peaks. There is a vertical stick at the top of the cairn in the middle of the shoulder.

paint on the rocks – the path to Cerro Navidad

Jakob to Negra – middle section over Cerro Navidad

We would stay high above Laguna Navidad until we got to the ridge which led us to Cerro Navidad and its wooden cross.  This part of the trail is very poorly marked and we were sometimes left wondering which way was the right way.

Diego surveys the scene above Laguna Navidad

looking back at Diego and the faint trace of a trail on the way to Cerro Navidad

working our way around Laguna Navidad – Diego approaching over a boulder

a view of Cerro Tronador from above Laguna Navidad

Laguna Navidad and the trail to Cerro Navidad – Diego is to the right of the bounder in the image center – we had come down from the ridge on the top right of the image

Cerro Navidad ridge on the left, Laguna Navidad, and the terrain we are traversing to get there

You can see our approximate path on the satellite image below as we crossed the scree slopes high above the laguna

the path above Laguna Navidad

Once we got across go to the west side of the Cerro Navidad ridge we searched for some sign of a trail to continue.  We finally found it descending  a bit on the other side of the ridge before climbing back up towards Cerro Navidad itself.  In the photo below we are at Cerro Navidad summit, having spent about four hours (minus a number of rest breaks and lunch) to get there from the Pico Refugio col.

Cerro Navidad with Cerro Tronador in the background (26 kilometers away!)

a view from the top of Cerro Navidad

It was a nice twenty-minute walk down from Cerro Navidad across a fairly flat stretch of trail marked with the occasional cairn and splash of red paint.  We stood on the ridge with a valley to either side of us.  Looking down to the right we saw a snow patch which seemed to have footprints crossing it.  I remarked to Diego that the footsteps maybe belonged to our two German speedsters.  Any older than a day and the sun would have melted their distinct impressions away.

And then – we – or I – made a strange decision.  Somehow I figured the trail and the valley we wanted to descend to was to the left!  No footprints in the snow – but in the distance on the rock wall at the other side of the gorge, a splash of red.  So we headed down the steep scree slope, making very slow progress.

Cerro Navidad to Laguna Negra

It somehow did not feel right but we kept on, me in the lead and Diego behind.   Every once in a while I would check my GPS app on my iPhone.  It kept freezing up.  And then the moment of realization – that red trail marker that I was heading to –  well, it turned out to be a bunch or red flowers! We had spent a half hour floundering in the heat on the exposed slope heading to an imaginary red marker!

I turned off the iPhone and waited a few seconds put it on again.  That seemed to resolve whatever issue the osmand app was having.  This time it worked and what it told me this – “Buddy, where do you think you’re going! You need to get back to the ridge!”

a false descent – the La Chata Valley! Que stupido!

So back up we went, not yet seeing any markers but the app was on and it showed that we were getting closer to the GPS track.  Finally – relief when we reached a point that corresponded exactly to the GPS track location!   We had recovered from our one-hour waste of time and energy.   And now – to make it even better – we  spotted a red dot painted on the rock ahead of us.  We were on our way again!

As we looked down we saw again the snow patch with what looked like footprints crossing it.    Well, a few days later in Bariloche I met Daniel at the only vegetarian restaurant in town and he confirmed that they had indeed walked across that snow.  Had we only clued in right away!

the descent to the Arroyo Negra Valley

Diego and I filled our bottles with the water slowly trickling downhill from the snowpatch and then began the long three-hour scramble down to the Arroyo Negra Valley.  It didn’t seem to want to end and it made for difficult walking, even more so for Diego since he did not have trekking poles.  He was definitely faster than me going on the ascent; my poles were making a difference on the down part that did not seem to end.

Diego at the top of one of the many drops down to the valley – 300 meters in all

the Arroyo Navidad valley

Diego on one of the final drops to the valley floor

We were headed to the point where the trail up to the Refugio Italia meets the trail coming up from Colonia Suiza. I know that now – but did not at the time!

I was maybe ten minutes ahead of Diego at this point and it was about 8:30.  Fatigue had definitely set in and I just wanted to get to the refugio, put up my tent and crawl in!  Had I only known what to look for I would not have walked right past the trail which goes up to the refugio.

As my GPS tracks indicate I was instead headed on a wonderful downward sloping trail to Colonia Suiza! Luckily for me some hikers were coming up the trail and when I asked them if  Laguna Negra was up ahead, they straightened me out very quickly.  They were headed up to the refugio for the night so I turned back with them. I did stop at the junction point while they continued.  I assumed that Diego had not yet caught up so I waited there for him.  A few minutes later he came down the trail and we both headed up the home stretch to Laguna Negra.

the Arroyo Navidad – Arroyo Negra junction

Once we were on the trail up to the refugio it was all walk and no photos!  The one below is the only one I took over the next forty-five minutes as we made our way up that gorge and onto the ridge to the left.  It was 9:20 when we got there! Diego kept walking to the refugio itself while I looked around for a flat sheltered spot where I could put up my tent. Since hikers are supposed to check in when they arrive, I hoped that Diego would let the hut keeper know that el canadiense had made it!

the final ascent up to the Refugio Italia on Laguna Negra

I looked up and noticed the full moon shining over the camping area and then crawled into the tent and into my sleeping bag,  relieved to have survived my misadventures. A few sips of water, an energy bar,  and an extra-strength Advil  and I zipped the tent door shut.   I was done for the day!

For a 2015 report of the route from Laguna Jakob to Laguna Negra check out this informative account here, complete with lots of great photos. To get an early start the hikers –  Richard Hughes and his wife Patsy-  set off at 8:00 rather than wait to hear the hut keeper’s trail talk at 8:30. Their crossing was less eventful than mine!

Next Post: Day Four – Laguna Negra To Refugio Lopez

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