By Boat And Bus through The Andes – The Cruce Andino

Previous Post: Puerto Varas – A Quick Town Tour

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 shorter in terms of distance covered but 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 in 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.

Posted in Argentina, Chile, Easy Travelling | 1 Comment

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

Posted in Argentina, hiking/trekking | 2 Comments

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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Patagonia’s Nahuel Huapi Traverse – Day 2 (Refugio Frey to Refugio San Martin/Laguna Jakob))

Previous Post – Day 1: Villa Catedral To Refugio Frey

Another sunny day in Patagonia! By 8:30 everybody was ready for their adventure of the day.  Outside of the refugio a couple of dozen people milled about, busy with their packs and water bottles and sun screen. Maps were out and being examined.

Refugio Frey to Refugio San Martin:JLaguna akob

Day Two – Refugio Frey to Refugio San Martin:JLaguna Jakob

On the menu for the day were a few different options:

  • Some would be staying and doing some rock climbing. The hut is at the centre of some excellent rock climbs as I could see by the number of people with the necessary gear.
  • Some would walk back down the trail to Villa Catedral (see 1 on the map above).
  • Some would return by route 2 to Villa Cathedral via Laguna Schmoll and the trail to the right of the cancha de futbol, which  is the at the junction where the trail splits in two – to the right back to Villa Catedral and to the left to Laguna Jakob.
  • Some like me would be walking route 8 to the Refugio San Martin on Laguna Jakob.

the eating area in the Refugio Frey’s cook shack

I boiled some water on the kitchen stove and prepared my oatmeal breakfast. I also had that essential cup of coffee – a no-frills Nescafé instant with some coffee creamer. Then it was out to join the others as we discussed our various plans for the day.

a busy Refugio Frey at 8 a.m.

Mine involved a walk along the shores of Laguna Toncek and then a scramble up the scree slopes to Laguna Schmoll. From there it was another bit of rough uphill to the split in the trail at the “Cancha de Futbol”.  The trail would eventually lead to a ridge at the top of the Rucaco Valley.  From there it was a clear view to the  west and Laguna Jakob and the refugio.

Before I left the refugio the first of perhaps four or five helicopter drops for the day began. Lowering down food and other supplies and taking out a load of waste or whatever, it kept the staff busy hauling stuff to and from the landing zone  for 45 minutes. I watched for a while and then headed along the shore of the laguna. Ahead of me were some other hikers, people I recognized from the previous day. Only one of them – Diego from Buenos Aires – would still be on the same trail with me the next morning.

helicopter dropping off supplies

a view of the helicopter drop from the side of Laguna Toncek

a view of the helicopter drop from the side of Laguna Toncek

looking down Laguna Toncek towards the Refugio Frey

Looking back at the Refugio I saw the last of the drops for the morning.  Twenty minutes later when I snapped the photo below I was at the other end of the lake. Next up was the ascent on a scree slope to Laguna Schmoll.  The “trail” markers – sometimes just a red circle, sometimes a red circle inside a black one, sometimes an arrow in red or black, sometimes a word! – are painted onto the rocks.  Looking for them becomes a part of journey; not seeing one for a while and you start worrying that maybe you are lost!

See if you can find any red dots in the three photos below!

above Laguna Toncek - scampering up the valley to the Laguna Schmoll

the trail up above Laguna Toncek – scampering up the slope to Laguna Schmoll

the top of the ridge between Laguna Toncek and Laguna Schmoll

the top of the ridge between Laguna Toncek and Laguna Schmoll

the real top of the ridge above Lagunas Toncek and Schmoll

looking back towards Laguna Toncek from the trail to Laguna Schmoll

At the top of the ridge I turned around to get one last shot of where I had come from; then I turned forward and faced Laguna Schmoll.  Since there was no wind, he glacial lake was ripple-free. I found a spot by the edge of the laguna and sat there for a while, taking in the scene. Forty meters away a hiker had put up his tripod and was taking in the scene.

Laguna Schmoll – stunning lake above Laguna Toncek

contemplating photo possibilities on Laguna Schmoll

Not far from where I was sitting was the plaque you see below; it explained the origin of the laguna’s name. It is a memorial for an Austrian climber – and perhaps member of the local alpine club – who lost his life on Cerro Paine in Chile’s Torres del Paine Park.

Herbert Schmoll memorial plaque

With my water bottle out, I also reached into my pack for a snack. Not too long afterward I got visitors! A couple of birds, tentative at first, but then hopping fairly close to where I was sitting were clearly wondering if I had anything for them!  Let me know if you can identify the kind of bird they are!

a view of my rest stop on the edge of Laguna Schmoll

Laguna Schmoll visitor

bird on the rock at Laguna Schmoll

the view from the trail above Laguna Schmoll

My rest spot had been on the shore just above that small point you see jutting out into the laguna. Now – thirty minutes later – I was looking down, having scrambled up that mess of rocks you see below.  Visible in the middle of the photo are a couple of fellow hikers coming up behind me.

hikers making their way up to the pass above Laguna Schmoll

In the photo below I am already looking back at the top of the ridge I had just climbed; Laguna Schmoll is behind and below that wall of rock you see.  I was now  standing in a fairly flat open area which has earned it the nickname “cancha de futbol”, a totally appropriate name for futbol-obsessed Argentina!

panorama – the top of the pass to the upper Rucaco valley and Laguna Jakob

On nearby rocks arrows pointed in the directions of both Catedral and Jakob. While the Catedral trails follows the ridge the right, the indistinct path to Jakob goes down a fairly  scree slope on the left.

the ‘Cancha de Futbol’ and the sign for Villa Catedral

the ‘Cancha de Futbol’ and the sign for Laguna Jakob

panorama – upper Rucaco Valley and Cerro Tres Reyes

Laguna Jakob is located below the ridge on the top left hand side of the photo above. To get down into the forest  from the cancha de futbol requires 45 minutes of  heavy-duty scrambling down a fairly steep scree slope.

Ahead of me on the down slope was a hiker – a guy in his early thirty’s  from India – who was having a rough time.  He was  slipping and sliding and losing his balance and facing in  to the slope as he made his descent.  One of his problems? He did not have trekking poles!  The extra points of contact provide more stability.  Years ago I had laughed when I saw Chamonix walkers using them; these days I know better and would never go hiking without them. Live and learn!

As I caught up to him we stopped for a brief chat on the challenge of the scree slope.  I offered him one of my poles but when he declined I told him to follow me.  He had been trying to go straight down;  we went down more gradually in switchback fashion and that seemed to help him.

the scree scramble down to the upper  Rucaco valley floor

In the photos above and below I have stopped and pointed my camera back up at the terrain I have just negotiated.  You can see my fellow hiker in the photo above.

looking back up at the scree trail

The reward for the scree slope scramble was a nice walk up the Rucaco Valley on a flat dirt trail.  I stopped for lunch in the cool of the forest; it was hot out there in the full sun and the shade was appreciated!  The Indian guy came walking down the path; he was keen to keep moving so did not stop for a break.  I’d catch up to him a bit later in the afternoon as we made our way downhill to the refugio.

the forest trail on the upper Rucaco valley floor

After lunch it was on to the end of the wooded area before the trail heads back up above the treeline to more scree and indistinct trails marked with the occasional red dot or stone cairn. Along the way I refilled my water bottle from one of the side streams coming down the slopes to the Rucaco valley.  While it is probably perfectly safe to drink the water in this area without treating it,  since I had brought my SteriPEN along, I did make a point of using it. It weighs about 100 grams and uses UV light to make the water safe to drink.

panorama of upper Rucaco Valley back to Cancha de Futbol Pass

a last look at the Rucaco Valley before Laguna Jakob

It had taken me three and half hours to descend from the Cancha de Futbol, walk the Rucaco Valley and ascent to the ridge above laguna Jakob. I looked back one last time and took the photo above, complete with the helpful arrow pointing hikers toward the Frey hut!  Then it was on and mostly down to my next tent spot, the bush behind the Refugio San Martin.

Laguna Jakob in view – and the next day’s route too – click on image to see the “trail”

approaching Laguna Jakob and Refugio San Martin from the east

San Martin Refugio and Laguna Jakob

As we neared the refugio, my Mumbai buddy and I crossed the bridge and walked what is apparently a new path for the final half-kilometer.  Oddly, when we got to the refugio  I just took off my pack and relaxed and chatted with a couple of other people who had just come in.  What I didn’t do is take some close-up photos of the refugio and surroundings! The one you see here  I “borrowed” from the Club Andino de Bariloche website.  See here.

Already on my mind was the next day’s hike, the one from Refugio San Martin to Laguna Negra via a steep climb above Laguna Témpano and Cerro Navidad.   It was the most complicated and poorly marked – and least used – section of the entire traverse. Since the guys who had just come in – a couple of German guys in their twenties, Moritz and Daniel – were planning to do it, I was keen to talk to them since I clearly was not going to be doing it by myself!   The fact that Moritz had the gps track for it was definitely a good sign!

my tent spot near the Refugio San Martin

Not far from the refugio I put up my tent on a bed of sand in the shade of some overhanging branches.  Then it was back to the refugio for supper – and more discussion and assessment of the next day’s possible adventure.  The Lonely Planet Trekking Guide-book had the following bit of advice about the next day’s section –

This section of the trek, following a high-level route, is harder and more hazardous than other stages. Ideally for very experienced trekkers, it should not be attempted unless the weather is very good. At any time – most commonly, early in the season (until about mid-December) – crampons and an ice axe may be needed to do the route safely. The hut warden at Refugio San Martín (who has photographs that clarify the route) can give further advice, and will ask you to fill in a form and hand it in on arrival at the other end.  

from Lonely Planet’s Trekking in the Patagonian Andes (2009)

Lots to think about and different options to consider.  As always, time – or maybe the title of the following day’s post! – would reveal all!

Next Post: Day 3 – Refugio San Martin to Refugio Italia (Laguna Negra)

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Patagonia’s Nahuel Huapi Traverse – Day 1 (Cerro Catedral to Refugio Frey)

Previous Post: Base Camp Bariloche and the Hiking Trails Of Northern Patagonia

And so the hike begins.  Step #1: get to the trailhead! There is a bus from downtown Bariloche that goes right to the Villa Catedral parking lot at the foot of the ski hill.  The night before I had topped up my SUBE card.  (If you bought one in Buenos Aires it will work in Bariloche too!  It takes the place of bus tickets – just swipe the card as you enter the bus and you’re done.)

Catedral bus Route from downtown Bariloche

I walked almost to the east end of Agenda Moreno to the correct bus stop.  Unlike the other route stops on Moreno and the buses themselves, which have numbers, the stop and the bus (officially #55) to the ski hill are indicated by the sign  Cerro Catedral or  Catedral.  A bus makes the trip  every hour during the summer.

We went west along Moreno and then turned south on to Morales and west on Neumeyer, where it stopped to pick up some backpackers.   We had come back to within 200 meters of my hostel! I remember thinking that I had done a lot of walking for nothing given that I too could have gotten on here .  I later asked the person at the CAB info desk why she had told me to catch the bus on Moreno and she explained that the bus route alternated between Avenidas Bustillo and Pioneros so the safest thing to do was to catch where I did.

The bus ended its run to Villa Catedral shortly after 11. As people got off the bus, some headed towards the trailhead to Frey.  Others backpackers  headed for the ski lift and the ride up to Piedra del Condor or Punta Nevada. The two maps below show the choices hikers have at the starting point at Catedral:

1. hiking above Lago Gutiérrez and up the Van Titter Valley to the Refugio Frey

2. riding the cable lifts to Piedra del Condor or Punta Nevada and then hiking the ridge to the Cancha de Futbol and then a scree slope  scramble down to Laguna Schmoll. From there it is down to Laguna Toncek and a walk to the refugio at the other end of the glacial lake.

Day 1 – Villa Catedral to Refugio Frey

And here is a section from the more detailed official park map.

Of the two ways of getting to Refugio Frey, #1 is the easier and #2 the more scenic. For someone just intending to go to Refugio Frey and Laguna Toncek, #1 and #2 together would make a nice loop with a night at the refugio to break it up. If you’re planning on continuing on to Refugio San Martín (Laguna Jakob), then #1 makes more sense since you will only have to walk once the section from the Frey hut to the trail junction called  Cancha de Futbol.

The parking lot at Villa Catedral

I set off at about 11:15, having taken out my trekking poles and set up my Spot Connect GPS tracker so my wife could follow along as I did my walk in the park!  Keen to do some walking, I headed for choice #1 – the trail up the Van Titter Valley. In the image below the trailhead sign is barely visible on the far side of the parking lot.

Villa Catedral estacionamiento – and trailhead to Refugio Frey

Refugio Frey Trailhead sign

At the far end of the parking lot I found the small wooden statue of a hiker next to the sign board for Frey. I stepped back and got a shot of the hiker with my trekking poles and then continued.     For the first 100 meters or so the trail is actually a gravel road but soon enough I reached the point where a sign pointed to the off-road start of the trail.

the trail to Refugio Frey as it leaves the gravel road at Villa Catedral

Trail Map and Info at the start of the Trail to Refugio Frey

Since 2016 hikers need to book a space at the refugio if they plan on sleeping there overnight.  This is true even if you are going to tent. I had made my reservation at the Park Info Centre in Bariloche a couple of days before and had a voucher to show at the registration desk at the refugio when I arrived. Frey is the only hut which requires pre-book.  Given its easy accessibility, the hut, which sleeps 35,  is the busiest of the CAB mountain huts. See here for the 2017 price list.

Refugio Frey por Catedral sign

On the first section of the trail Lago Gutiérrez is on your left as you make your way to the point where a second lower trail from the lake joins the main trail.  There are a few bridges  – like the one on the photo below – that cross over small streams tumbling down to the lake.  A section of the hillside with charred tree trunks was a reminder of the fragility of the ecosystem. In the park wood fire are not permitted, campers being required to have their own butane or gas stoves.  I had left mine back in Bariloche, having decided to make use of the refugio kitchen instead. I figured it would also give me the right to sit in the comfort of a warm dining area if the weather was bad.

looking back at one of the bridges on the first section of the trail to Refugio Frey

hikers on the trail to Refugio Frey above Lago Gutiérrez

the trail to Frey above Lago Gutiérrez with a view of Bariloche

looking back at the junction of the Catedral and Gutierrez trails

When I came to the junction of the two trails, the second section of the walk began. It is a very pleasant walk up the Van Titter valley with its many mature trees and the arroyo or stream flowing down.

The following four images will give you an idea of what it looks like. It was about 1 p.m. on a very warm sunny day as I made my way up the valley; I was very happy about the leafy canopy which provided some shade.  While no one will rave about the stunning mountain views on this part of the trail, it clearly has its own soothing and quiet beauty. I stopped to fill my water bottle with some cold Arroyo Van Titter Nouveau and for a while listened to the stream as it trickled down to Gutierrez.

the trail to Frey as it heads up along the Aroyo Van Titter

the Frey Trail as it crosses the Aroyo Van Titter

walking up the Van Titter valley on the Frey Trail

easy walking up the Van Titter valley towards Refugio Piedritas

When I came to the clearing pictured in the panorama shot below I took off my pack and joined the dozen or so other hikers in the shade. Out came the water bottle and the energy bar.  There was just two kilometers to go but they would be the most work, given the altitude we needed to gain before we got to the refugio.

panorama – Refugio Piedritas – a rest stop one hour from the Refugio Frey

Built over the cavity in the corner of the rock pictured below is half of a hut! Inside the shelter I saw a wooden platform which would give hikers a dry floor for the night if needed.  There was also lots of space around to put up a tent or three, though given how close you are to the refugio from here it would really have to be an emergency to make you want to stop here. The views up top at the refugio are also far superior!

Refugio Piedritas – a bivy shelter built into the sloping rock face

Time to move on – and up!  I watched as a family with two young children – the boy was 6 and the girl  5 – made their way in front of me.  I would see them again in the refugio kitchen, impressed again at their cheerful, non-whiny attitudes. When I mentioned how impressed I was, the father  smiled and said they were experienced hikers who had done a few walks already.  They were going to overnight at the Frey and then head down the next morning.

two families start the final ascent to Refugio Frey

The Frey Trail above Refugio Piedritas

This last section of the trail above the Refugio Piedritas was the roughest of the day. It was also the most exposed as we lost that leafy canopy that had provided shade on our way up the valley.

a fellow hiker coming up the trail to Refugio Frey

As you spend time on a hiking trail you come to recognize people as you pass them by – only to have them do the same a while later! In the photo above I can see Diego, the guy from Buenos Aires, who I did not know yet.  We would end up walking together on Days 3, 4, and 5 of the Traverse.

Finally the refugio came into sight! Still a half hour to go but there it was. That red arrow in the photo below is actually pointing at the bathroom/shower building; the refugio itself is just to the left of it.

Refugio Frey comes into sight!

Refugio Frey – close but still a way to go!

Refugio Frey and Toilet:shower building

The first thing I did was check in at the desk, showing my permit to tent overnight. It was about 4:00 when I arrived and gathered outside was a crew of scruffy hardcore rock climbers sitting there with their collections of rock bolts, belays, carabiners, helmets, harnesses, ropes … I looked around and could see a dozen amazing climbing objectives that could keep these guys and gals amused for days.  I was quite happy just to be walking by!

the Refugio Frey with the add-on cook shack

I had decided to leave my cook stove and gas canister behind in Bariloche. Instead, I figured I would pay the nominal fee to use the kitchen facilities and also give myself a reason to be inside if the weather turned bad.  I spent n more than $10. US at any of the four refugios I stayed at on the traverse, tenting each night and preparing my food in the hut.

Refugio Frey and Laguna Toncek from the helicopter pad

panorama: Refugio Frey and Laguna Toncek from the helicopter landing area

The views from the refugio and from other vantage points were wow-inducing!  I had left my “better” dslr-quality cameras at home (my Sony A77 and my Sony A6000 with their various lenses) because of weight and security concerns. Instead, it was my Fuji X20 with its 28-112mm zoom lens that came along.  While its sensor is small compared to the one in the cameras left at home, it is still twice as large as the sensors most point and shoots and smart phones have.  The fact that it shoots raw image files meant that I was usually able to avoid the blown-out sky problem that smaller sensor cameras like my Canon Elph 330 have. I had it around my neck the entire hike and it was ready to go at a moment’s notice!

one of the many climbing peaks near Refugio Frey

an available tent spot near Laguna Toncek shore

I left the refugio, having checked in at the desk, and went looking for a tent spot. I considered the empty space you see in the photo above but decided that in spite of the attempt to create a wind break, it was still too exposed.  I walked past the helicopter landing area – no camping there! – and headed down the slope. As I did the wind disappeared. “Much better!” I thought.  That is my tent – the small sand coloured one behind the North Face  mountain tent.  It is a Big Agnes Fly Creek UL and weighs 2 pounds (1 kilo). I made sure I secured the tent so that it wouldn’t blow away and then headed back to the refugio.

Actually, I ran back!   As I was finishing with the tent I reached into my pocket for my wallet and –  it wasn’t there!  I had left it out on the counter in the refugio when I had taken it out to show the young woman my registration slip.  Various horrible scenarios came to mind as I rushed back to the hut. As I stepped into the refugio she said – “Your forgot something!”

a more sheltered – from the wind – spot on the other side of the ridge

I looked at the registration list. A few other hikers had checked since i had left to put up my tent. Most of the hikers were Argentinian with two from France and me the lone Canadian. I did also notice that I was a bit older than most of the others!

the Refugio Frey cook shack window decals

The cook shack is an add-on to the refugio itself.  It has a basic stove and pots and kettles, running water, and utensils and some plates and cups.  It can hold perhaps 12 people on the benches around the three tables.

the kitchen facilities in the Frey cook shack

the kitchen facilities in the Refugio Frey cook shack

One thing that caught my eye is the circular object you see below. It is a “dream catcher” and it comes from a world I am more familiar with, that of the indigenous people known as the Ojibwe or Anishinaabe who inhabit the boreal forests of the Canadian Shield. To see it hanging at the Refugio Frey, some twelve thousand kilometers from its place of origin, was to realize that it was one of those cultural creations which speak to something universal in the human spirit. In March of 2016 in the display window of a surfers’ shop on main street in Bicheno on the east coast of Tasmania I had also seen one. Small world!

a Ojibwe dream catcher at the Frey hut

another view of Refugio Frey and Laguna Toncek

After my supper in the cook shack – I had one of my Backpacker’s Panty suppers – I scampered up above the laguna and the refugio for a slightly different perspective on things.  In the image below I am looking at my tent and the valley – the Van Titter – that I had walked up in the early afternoon.

an evening view of the Frey tenting area at the top of the van Titter valley

More conversation in the refugio with my fellow hikers, including that couple with the two amazing children.  The boy had spent the evening playing chess with anyone who was willing!  Also there was a Taiwanese couple currently living in Buenos Aires . They too also had their six-year old boy along for their overnight at the Frey. Both couples were going back down the next morning by the same trail we had all come up on. But first they had a night up on the second floor of the refugio; there were about thirty people booked.

My tent spot, had it been raining, would surely have had a stream of water running through it. But – I had perfect weather  – no rain, very little wind, and a temperature of about 10º.  So, no worries this night – in fact, not  on any of the four nights of my hike. It would have been a more messy and challenging and potentially dangerous trip with rain or strong winds or snow on the high trails.

My sleeping bag (good to -10ºC)  and my Thermarest NeoAir sleeping pad with 5 cm (2 in.) of air to cushion me assured a restful sleep. The day’s exertion also made falling asleep very easy. In my dreams I wondered what the next day would bring!

Next Post soon to be uploaded – Refugio Frey To Refugio San Martín (Laguna Jakob)

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Base Camp Bariloche & The Hiking Trails of Northern Patagonia

Coming Soon: Images of San Carlos de Bariloche

San Carlos de Bariloche is a city of some 113,000 located on the south shore of one of Argentina’s larger glacial lakes, Lago Nahuel Huapi. It is on the northern edge of an area known as Patagonia which stretches all the way down to the Strait of Magellan and Tierra del Fuego.

Also running south is the Andes mountain chain, next to the Himalayas the most impressive of the world’s mountain ranges. Its peaks and the flow of rivers from its slopes determine the border between Argentina and neighbouring Chile.

Bariloche is known for various reasons these days –

  • the cultural and architectural veneer left by its first European settlers -i.e. German and Swiss farming people
  • the number of stores on main street selling chocolate
  • the field trip destination of choice of Argentinian high school students celebrating their graduation year,

However, the main draw is undoubtedly those mountains.  Since the 1930’s they have made nearby Cerro Catedral, 20 kilometers west of the city,  one of South America’s premier skiing destinations during the southern hemisphere winter from late June to early October.  And in the summer the focus changes to hiking and rock climbing as people arrive to walk the trails, many of them leading to one of a series of  refugios maintained by the Club Andino de Bariloche (CAB).

bariloche hiking area

 

The red oval on the map above indicates the general hiking area to the west of Bariloche.  You can easily fill up a couple of weeks with moderate to strenuous hiking that will usher you into some stunning mountainscape. Glacial lakes are surrounded by steep valley walls of scree and scraggy ridges and peaks.  Since the trails – and the peaks – are not super-high (with 2100 meters being the highest you’ll probably get), acclimatization is not an issue here.

Nevertheless, there is still an alpine look and feel. Sometimes trails will descend through lush canopied forest and meadow on their way to another scramble up an indistinct path on the scree slope. There will be some huffing and puffing – and on more than a few occasions you will stand on the top of yet another ridge and say  – “Wow!”

Laguna Jakob and Laguna Témpanos

i have just returned from Bariloche after a too-brief sampling of the hiking possibilities inside that red oval; what I found was much more than what I  expected  and I was left wishing I had allocated more time.  As it was, I was already committed to a climb of Volcan Lanín to the north of San Martín de los Andes so I off I went, leaving unwalked some great trails. Maybe reading this post will mean you don’t make the same mistake!

the view west from Cerro Negro ridge (Pico Turista)

I titled the post Base Camp Bariloche…” because for hikers that is what Bariloche becomes as they plan and do their various trips.  Hikes start from and end up back in the city, as people leave their duffels behind at their hotel or hostel with the surplus stuff they don’t need to carry on the trail.  Transportation can be quite cheap -e.g. the city bus to Villa Catedral – or reasonably priced -e.g. the CAB (Club Andino de Bariloche) mini-bus to Pampa Linda. Other than registering for Refugio Frey, there is remarkably little paper work to do or fees to pay.

Numerous  camping stores have the supplies you may need to get before setting off – trekking poles, tents, sleeping bags, butane gas canisters, dehydrated foods, etc. though it really makes sense to arrive from home with the gear you need.  If you choose the refugio option – as opposed to tenting and cooking your own meals – then many of the above items will not even  be necessary.

Once I checked in to my hostel,  I started off by visiting the CAB info kiosk next to the main building for maps and guidance and recommendations; I followed that up with a walk across the street to the Park Information Center to register. Near the CAB office is a small grocery store for last-minute food purchases. My room at Hostel 41 Below was a two-minute walk away from all the above!

another view of Refugio Frey and Laguna Toncek

When To Go:

Prime hiking season corresponds to the two-months that students have off for summer vacation – i.e. January and February.  By then whatever snow was covering some of the higher trails will have melted and the weather should be at its best. The additional hikers on the trail provide an additional element of safety in case of emergencies. However,  once you go beyond the more popular sections of the trail you will see almost no one!  The shoulder months of December and March also have less rain and warmer temperatures and the trails will be even quieter than during the peak months.

Refugio Frey is open all year; the other refugios are open from at least late November to April but see specific refugios for exact dates. Snow may still be an issue on some of the higher trails in December.  The CAB staff will be able to provide the latest information.

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

Useful Sources Of Information:

There are a number of excellent webpages – trip reports, blog posts, etc. –  that you can access on the web to help you get a handle of hiking possibilities out of Bariloche.  The following gave me an idea of what was available –

  1. The Lonely Planet‘s Trekking in the Patagonian Andes. hard copy and digital

Since it was published in 2009 some things have changed – for example, recommended bus routes and connections, prices, trekking-in-the-patagonian-andes.jpgsome refugio rules and regulations , etc.

However, the descriptions of the various trails and the information on flora and fauna remain useful and accurate.

The book can be difficult to find; the Toronto public library system has two copies.  A while ago Lonely Planet stopped offering the digital copy available for download. You may be able to find a pdf file of the book floating around.  The chapter on northern Patagonia treks includes the following in the Nahuel Huapi region-

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 7.47.14 PM

2. Trek Bariloche website

Trek Bariloche header

The Trek Bariloche home page header with its photo of Refugio Frey and Laguna Toncek

The Trek Bariloche website has tons of accurate up-to-date information and advice. Each of the menu items in the header above opens up to a dozen more web pages. The site is maintained by someone who lives in Bariloche; he mentions that he has been hiking in the area since 1999. Thanks to his enduring passion,  other hikers can easily find the info to plan their own outings.

see the Trek Bariloche website for the best information I have found online for the various route possibilities

3. Club Andino de Bariloche

Club Andino de Bariloche header

The Club Andino de Bariloche is another essential source of information if you are planning to spend some time hiking in the area.  Already noted above is their information kiosk on Calle 20 de Febrero #30 just a street above from the Park Building.  I spent twenty minutes there getting briefed by one of the club members. (While I try to keep to Spanish, both of the people  at the desk spoke some English too.)  Their website also has a lot of info.  Since it is only in Spanish it will also provide you with a ready-made opportunity to learn some new vocabulary, words 100% related to the hiking you are about to do!

4. Hostel 41 Below

hostel 41 below

I found the staff at my hostel on Calle Jugamento to be very helpful.While they have undoubtedly heard all the questions I asked before, the staff pointed me in the right direction for bus tickets and hiking permits and last-minute food shopping! As a vegan, I had picked this hostel specifically for its vegetarian breakfasts and suppers; I was not disappointed with the all-you-can-eat portions of tasty food that staff prepared each day.  When I went on my various hikes they put away my duffel until my return to the hostel, which became a home away from home for my ten days in Bariloche.

wispy clouds in the valley below Cerro Negro

lunch time stop – wispy clouds in the valley below Cerro Negro

Where To Go – Some Hiking Options

I just realized that I keep using the term “hiking” while all the material I recommend uses the term “trekking”!  Perhaps there is no real difference between the two but to me a trek is an organized  multi-day journey with a guide where pack animals – yaks, llamas, mules – carry the bulk of the equipment – the food and sleeping and dining tents and fuel, as well as the personal gear of the paid clients – while I get to walk with a few things in my day pack. A hike (at least to me!) is a self-supported walk where I carry everything myself.  It can be a day hike; it can be multi-day… but when I hike I am also the pack animal!

Is that how you see it?  I think part of it is that trekking just sounds more exotic.  Do  the two terms mean the same thing to you? Let me know!

If you just have a day or two: (1 and 2 on the Trek Bariloche map above)

The most popular hike is the one from Villa Catedral at the base of the famed ski resort to Refugio Frey.  With an early morning start you could walk up to the hut on the shore of Laguna Toncek, have some lunch and then walk back to Villa Catedral.  Another approach makes use of the ski resort cable up to the top of and then a walk down the scree slopes of Laguna Toncek and a walk along the shore to the refugio before descending the Von Titter valley on the trail back to Villa Catedral. You could break the hike into two parts by spending the night at the refugio. The Catedral bus from downtown Bariloche is all the transport you need.

Another popular day hike (5 on the map above) is the one up to Refugio Lopez and then back down. An overnight at the hut would give you time to hike up to Pico Turista with its fine 360º views including a great one of Cerro Tronador.

A third popular overnight hike is the one to the edge of the glacier below Cerro Tronador. A bus ride from the CAB office takes you to Pampa Linda where you start your hike up to Refugio Otto Meiling, a CAB hut with room for 60.  Tenting is also a possibility.

an available tent spot near Laguna Toncek shore

If you would like to add a second refugio to your hike: (1 + 8 + 3)

You could combine the walk to Refugio Frey with one to the next refugio (San Martin) before heading back down to the road and a bus back to Bariloche.

If you want something more challenging:  (1 + 8 + red trail 9 + 7  + 6  + 5 )

The Nahuel Huapi Traverse is a five-day hike that takes you to a different refugio each day. After hiking to Frey and then San Martin on the first two days, you have a choice.  You can take on the demanding hike from Laguna Jakob to Laguna Negra on a poorly marked path after having signed a waver acknowledging that you understand the risks!  If that sounds a bit much, you can descend to the road and a hitch a ride to  Colonia Suiza where you can tent overnight. The next morning  you go up to Laguna Negra on an easy woodlands trail. From Laguna Negra the traverse goes to Refugio Lopez before coming down to the highway below. The reward for your effort: perhaps the best single multi-day hike in Patagonia!

Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy near El Chalten at the north end of Los Glaciares Park

Revisiting An Old Post!

Argentina’s Hiking Capital: El Chaltén And Monte Fitz

I wrote the above post on El Chaltén four years ago after a three-week visit to the area as well as to Torres del Paine on the Chilean side.  It had been a  good trip.  From my very limited Argentinian hiking experience, I created what I thought was an eye-catching title for my post. Well, I have learned that it is not true!

Since there is yet more of Argentina to explore, I won’t now go ahead and declare that actually Bariloche is  “Argentina’s Hiking Capital”!  BUT – When I compare the Nahuel Huapi Traverse and the other nearby trails to what I walked  in the Andes above El Chaltén, the hiking trials  west of Bariloche  are without a doubt more spectacular, more challenging, and much more extensive.

It is not that Fitz Roy is a waste of time; it is just the Bariloche area gives you more “wow” for your time and effort.  Of course, if you are going to be in southern Patagonia you have to visit El Chalten!  However,  to spend all that time getting down there just to do Fitz Roy while not going to Bariloche and Nahuel Huapi – well, that does not make sense!

The map below shows the traverse and a number of different variations. I followed the solid blue line except for the Day 1 section where I took the broken line route to the Van Titter valley and then walked up to the Refugio Frey. The Lonely Planet Day 1 makes use of the chairlift ride as shown in solid blue on the map.  My next post will have all the details!

Lonely Planet (2009). Nahuel Huapi Traverse and Variations

Nahuel Huapi Traverse map from the Lonely Planet guidebook

the view from the trail above Laguna Schmoll

Another multi-day option (10 +12)  – one that I did not do but got a rapturous review of from a couple of German hikers – is the one that would take you from Pampa Linda to Colonia Suiza over five days.  They combined it with a visit to the Otto Meiling hut.

a view of my rest stop on the edge of Laguna Schmoll

The Ultimate Multi-Day Adventure: On Day 2 of my Nahuel Huapi Traverse I met Moritz at Refugio San Martin. He had started off at Villa Catedral and was headed for Peulla on the eastern shore of Lago Todos Los Santos on the other side of the Andes in Chile! We did the steep climb above Laguna Témpanos together and then he was gone, travelling at a speed  beyond the one that Diego and I were able to manage. After he got to Laguna Negra he apparently headed west on the trail marked #12 on the map above. How he crossed the Andes is still unclear to me.  I really need to send him an email and get the full details!

Cerro Navidad with Cerro Tronador in the background

There are enough incredible trail combinations and possibilities to keep you going for two or three weeks. Stunning views of craggy peaks and glacial lakes with be interspersed with difficult scree scrambles up and down steep valley walls.

Other than the beginning day of the hike you will probably see few people. You really need to be prepared for the worst in terms of weather and possible injury; having a hiking partner or knowing that there are other hikers coming up behind is always a good thing!

I had my Spot Connect, a GPS tracker and SOS device.  While I did start off  my hikes on my own, in all cases I ended up walking with another person or two and occasionally looked out for them on the trail when we got separated.

Refugio Italia and Laguna Negra

I used the refugios – and the tenting spots nearby  – as the end points for each day’s hike. Knowing that a foam mattress in a mountain hut is available in case the weather turns bad is always a comforting thought! Luckily the weather during the ten days I spent in the Bariloche area was a succession of sunny days with little wind and not a spot of rain.

My time in San Martin de los Andes, however, was marked by steady rain and high winds and much cooler temperatures. Up on the slopes of Volcan Lanín some ten to fifteen centimeters of snow fell. Needless to say, I did not do my Lanín  climb!  I did, however, get  to know San Martin very well during my four-day stay!

above Laguna Toncek – scampering up the valley to the Laguna Schmoll

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

If you want to get more details on either the Nahuel Huapi Traverse or the hike up to the Refugio Otto Meiling, clicking on any of the titles below will take you to the specific post –

Patagonia’s Nahuel Huapi Traverse – individual posts on each of the five days

Coming soon!

  • Up Close To Cerro Tronador: Hiking From Pampa Linda To The Otto Meiling Hut
Tronador at dusk

Cerro Tronador at dusk from the edge of the glacier

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Cycling Around Tasmania – Rest Day at Dove Lake & Cradle Mountain

Previous Post: Gowrie Park To Cradle Mountain

cradle_mapA day off the saddle – a day to make use of the hiking boots that make up 1.2 of the 20 kg. load of “essential” stuff I decided to bring along for my ’round Tasmania bike ride.

From my Discovery Parks tent site I wandered over to the huge kitchen/dining building and made some breakfast. By 9:00 I was over at the Welcome Center/Transit Depot with my ticket and my park entry form – ready to catch the next bus into the park itself.

There are a number of stops along the way to Dove Lake, the end of the line. At some of these stops hikers got off for their choice of day hike.

My plan was to walk along the Dove Lake trail and then make my way up to the path going to the summit of Cradle Mountain. The image below sets the scene – it is what I saw after I left the bus and walked across the parking lot to the trailhead.

view of Dove Lake and Cradle Mountain from the trailhead

view of Dove Lake and Cradle Mountain from the trailhead

“You are here” the map reads. I would take the right hand trail and start my walk. I looked out over Dove Lake and beyond to the series of peaks in the distance. I’d be getting to know them much better from various angles as I walked around the lake!

view-of-dove-lake-and-cradle-mountain-from-the-trailhead

dove-lake-trail-map

Dove Lake Walks Sign

Dove Lake Walks Sign

The peaks at the other end of the lake may have been the ultimate objective but first up was the boatshed (built of pine and dating back to 1940) sitting on a gravel beach with the trail passing behind it.  I got one shot of it and then waited for some fellow hikers to walk into the image and give it a human element.

Dove Lake boat shed

Dove Lake boat shed

Dove Lake boat shed and Cradle Mountain

Dove Lake boat shed and Cradle Mountain

Some of the Dove Lake path is wood boardwalk and some – as the image below shows – is stone. Some stretches have a wire mesh nailed on top to provide better traction for walkers of the eight-kilometer Dove Lake Circuit, clearly the most popular of the walks in the park.

the Dove Lake trail with Cradle Mtn up ahead.jpg

the west side Dove Lake trail with Cradle Mountain to the south

Cradle Mtn reflection in Dove Lake

Cradle Mountain  reflection in Dove Lake

I left the Dove Lake Trail at the south end and started up on the rather steep path to Wilks Lake.  The trail got steeper and steeper and – after an initial section with mesh covered boardwalk to reduce erosion – it also got rougher.  In retrospect, I probably picked the wrong approach for my planned hike to Cradle Mtn.  summit. As the map below shows, there is a more gradual ascent that starts shortly after the boathouse.

map-fo-trails-to-cradle-mountain-summit

Dove Lake trails

I didn’t even get as far as Wilks Lake before I decided to pass on the uphill scramble. No trekking poles, a bit of a kink in my left knee, and just not enough motivation to git ‘er dun!  I walked back down the track to Wilks Lake I had just gone part way up and was back down at lake level.

dove-lake-circuit-elevation-chart

Revised objective: do the walk around the lake!  I had already down the most difficult bit of the circuit – the steep up and down walk across the peninsula on my way to the south end of the lake. (Note: I had started on the right side of the chart and was making my way to the left side.)

boardwalk up from Dove lake

boardwalk up from Dove lake

rough path above Dove Lake

rough path above Dove Lake at the south west end

back down the boardwalk trail on the slopes above Dove Lake

back down the boardwalk trail on the slopes above Dove Lake

From different angles the peaks seemed to shrink or get higher relative to each other. The actual figures go like this:

  • Little Horn – 1355 meters
  • Wiendorfer’s Tower – 1459 meters
  • Smithie’s Peak – 1527 meters
  • Cradle Mountain – 1545 meters
a view of Cradle Mountain from the trail at the top end of Dove Lake

a view of Cradle Mountain from the trail at the top end of Dove Lake

a view of Cradle Mtn from the east side of Dove Lake .jpg

a view of Cradle Mtn.from the east side of Dove Lake

As I walked along the east side of the lake back to the starting point I looked back more than once to take a look at the series of iconic peaks that define the park.

trail on east side of Dove Lake

trail on east side of Dove Lake

east side Dove Lake gravel beach

east side Dove Lake gravel beach

The photo below looks over the lake toward the boathouse on the west side; the stretch of the shore with gravel is where it is.  I took this shot from Glacier Rock, a dramatic view-point that comes up near the end of the walk if, like me, you have done it counter-clockwise.

a view of the Dove Lake boat shed from the east side of the lake

a view of the Dove Lake boat shed from the east side of the lake

a view of the Dove Lake boat shed from the east side of the lake

a closer up view of the Dove Lake boat shed from the east side of the lake

That is Glacier Rock that some fellow hikers I have left behind are standing on.

taking in the view from Glacier Rock on Dove Lake

taking in the view from Glacier Rock on Dove Lake

looking south from Glacier Rock on Dove Lake

looking south from Glacier Rock on Dove Lake

And here is Glacier Rock again for yet further away; it certainly provides a magnificent vantage point from which to enjoy the views.

looking back at Glacier Rock on Dove Lake's east side

looking back at Glacier Rock on Dove Lake’s east side

back to the north end trailhead of Dove Lake

back to the north end trailhead of Dove Lake

After a couple of hours I was back at the beginning. I was feeling somewhat guilty for having wimped out on the hike up to the top of Cradle Mountain – it would have doubled the eight kilometers I walked around the lake and more than doubled the views. However, the Dove Lake Circuit had been an enjoyable way to spend the morning. As i neared the car park and bus stop area my thoughts turned to lunch at the restaurant attached to the Visitor Center. I’d eventually get back there but I first hopped off the bus for a half-hour visit to the Park Museum.

the car park just behind the trailhead at Dove Lake

the car park just behind the trailhead at Dove Lake

The photo from the early 1900’s of a hiking party on Cradle Mountain summit – no trekking poles in evidence, no hiking boots, but clearly lots of motivation!

Cradle Mountain summiteers photo

Cradle Mountain summiteers photo

And then I saw the following recreation of wintertime Dove Lake.  Hanging on the wall was a pair of Algonquin-style snowshoes from the boreal forests of the Canadian Shield!  A few days earlier I had seen another object from back home in Canada in a shop in Bicheno – it was a dream catcher, an Ojibwe creation which has been embraced by New Agers the world over as an expression of spirituality.  It is fascinating how bits and pieces of cultures from far away pop up in new contexts – not stolen so much as embraced for their ingenuity or poetry.

recreation of a Dove Lake cabin and winter gear

recreation of a Dove Lake cabin and winter gear

That afternoon some rain would move in and I spent some time in the kitchen/ dining building reading and planning the next leg of my journey.  Strahan was the next major destination and I hoped that with morning some better weather would arrive!

Next Post: Cycling Around Tasmania – Cradle Mountain To Zeehan 

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Cycling Around Tasmania – Gowrie Park To Cradle Mountain

Previous Post: From Deloraine To Gowrie Park Via Sheffield

Click on the More Options prompt to get the full screen view.

gowrie-park-cradle-mountain-elevaton-chart

I got up to blue skies at Gowrie Park’s Wilderness Village and headed for the kitchen area for breakfast.  The sliced whole wheat bread and peanut butter and fruit juice from the previous day’s visit to the IGA in Sheffield were followed by a mug of instant coffee.  After I dropped off the key at the reception desk, it was time to get rolling.

As the elevation chart above shows, the gentle uphill on first setting out was followed by an exhilarating but short descent down to the River Forth. In the satellite view below you can see the switchback making its way down to the River Forth; you can also see the bridge that crosses the river.

What you can’t see is the amount of energy I expended moving myself and the loaded bike (36 kg. or 80 lbs. in total!) up a seemingly never-ending series of switchbacks! Definitely the most difficult climb – a sustained one hour – since I had left Hobart!

from-gowrie-park-to-the-river-forth

from Gowrie Park to the bridge over the River Forth

The one good thing was that there was very little traffic on the road. I had thought that given that Highway C136 goes right by Cradle Mountain it would be busier; perhaps the fact that it was a Tuesday morning in autumn with schools back in session explain the lack of traffic.

Hwy C132 switchback on the way to Cradle Mountain

Hwy C136 switchbacks on the way to Cradle Mountain

looking back at a bit of uphill on C136

looking back at a bit of  C136

When I got to the junction of C136 with C132 I stopped at the Cradle Forest Inn for my reward – a second cup of coffee. It would have made an alternative stop to Gowrie Park, albeit at $140. a night instead of the $10. for my unpowered tent site!  I enjoyed the ambiance and chilled for a bit before getting back to the job at hand – getting to Cradle Mountain and the Discovery Parks property.

approaching the junction of C136 and C132

approaching the junction of C136 and C132

looking out from the Cradle Forest Inn's restaurant area

looking out from the Cradle Forest Inn’s restaurant area

the view from the back porch of the Cradle Forest Inn

the view from the back porch of the Cradle Forest Inn

Tasmanian wines on display at the Cradle Forest Inn

Tasmanian wines on display at the Cradle Forest Inn

For some reason I thought the climbing was done when I got to the junction and had my little break.  Not quite!  Still another 300 meters to gain – and lose and then take back again.  Back on the road again here is what was on the menu for the next 1 1/2 hours –

c136132-junction-to-cradle-mountain-discover-parks

For the last 12 km of the ride the terrain was basically flat and the road took me across a treeless plateau.  It looked like there had been a fire in the area in the past decade or so. Again, without really trying, I was getting lots of pics with no vehicles in them!

on Hwy C136 to Cradle Mountain

on Hwy C132 to Cradle Mountain

road sign on C136 on the way to Cradle Mountain

road sign on C132 on the way to Cradle Mountain

a flat stretch of road - the C136 to Cradle Mtn.

a flat stretch of road – the C132 to Cradle Mtn.

the Middlesex area on C136 - on the way to Cradle Mtn

the Middlesex area on C132 – on the way to Cradle Mtn.

desolate fields in the Middlesex area near Cradle Mountain

desolate fields in the Middlesex area near Cradle Mountain

I got to the side road that takes you from C132 up to Dove Lake at about 1 p.m. A last bit of uphill and I turned in at the Discovery Parks entrance for the reception office. (It is  3 kilometers in from the highway.) Dove lake is another 8 kilometers or so further along the road.)   I had pre-booked two nights’ accommodation months ago bacon Toronto.  The satellite view below sets the scene –

The road in from C132 to the Discovery Parks Cradle Mountain property - cabins, tenting, caravans

The road in from C132 to the Discovery Parks  property – cabins, tenting, caravans

I was quite impressed with the place – great facilities – showers, gigantic cooking and eating areas,washrooms – everything worked and was well-maintained.  The only thing that didn’t work was the wi-fi.  You realize what an addiction it has become when you sit there with fellow internet junkies in front of the reception office – the only hot spot on the property – and try to get a hit – um, that should read “try to get online”!  it is annoying when a place advertises wi-fi and then does not deliver!

cradle_map

 

Immediately across from the Discovery Park property is the Welcome Center where you’ll find  a Park store with maps and last minute supplies for hikers doing day and multi-day hikes in the park. You also buy your park pass here.  Connected to it is a restaurant.

Out back in the parking lot are shuttle buses that leave from here  for Dove Lake and other stops along the way.  The actual park boundary is two kilometers down the road from the Visitors Center.

The shuttle service is meant to encourage to park their vehicles – especially their campers – and make use of the buses and thus cut down on traffic congestion. It has apparently cut down traffic by about a third. At Dove Lake there is a parking lot that private vehicles can drive to but it is often full in the prime time summer season.

the-road-from-discovery-park-to-dove-lake

From Discovery Park on the right to Dove Lake on the left via Park bus

It was a bit late to be setting off for Dove Lake by the time I got myself set up at my tent spot so I decided to leave it for the next morning. I planned to the day off the saddle and in my hiking boots walking the trail around Dove lake and maybe to the top of Cradle Mountain itself.

The next morning I would get my own version of the iconic shot of the boat house on Dove Lake with Cradle Mountain in the background!

Dove Lake boat shed

Dove Lake boat shed

Next Post: A Day Off The Saddle – Ramblin’ Around Dove Lake

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Cycling Around Tasmania – From Deloraine To Gowrie Park via Sheffield

Previous Post: Launceston To Deloraine – An Easy 50 km Sunday Morning Ride

Click on the More options prompt on the top left corner for a full screen view.

I left my Meander riverside campsite by 8:30  on Monday morning and found a restaurant on Emu Bay Road. A cup of coffee and a quick nibble and it was off for the morning’s ride.  The goal for the day was a tent spot at Gowrie Park but I would first cycle to Sheffield for lunch.  The elevation chart above shows the morning ride through genteel Tassie farm country. I saw very little traffic on the road, even on the A1 that I followed from Deloraine to just before Elizabethtown.  The B and C series roads were even quieter.

I wondered where all the other cyclists were!  My seventh day on the road from Hobart and I had only seen one solo American cyclist in Triabunna and a Canadian couple at St. Helens putting their bike on the bus. That was it – far fewer fellow cyclists than I figured I’d see!

early-morning-scene-on-the-road-from-deloraine-to-sheffield

Early morning scene on the road from Deloraine to Elizabethtown

a-stretch-of-the-b13-to-sheffield

a stretch of the B13 to Sheffield

The B13 took me on a long downhill to the Mersey River.  At the Mersey River I made a sharp left turn on to C156 (Bridle Track Road) which eventually runs into B14 perhaps 3 kilometers from Sheffield. Given I was in the middle of farm country it was no surprise to learn that Sheffield is a farm supply center for the region.

late summer fields near Sheffield Tasmania

late summer fields near Sheffield, Tasmania

fields, farm sheds, and pond near Sheffield in Tasmania

fields, farm sheds, and pond near Sheffield in Tasmania

approaching Sheffield - watch for equestrians!

approaching Sheffield – watch for equestrians!

sheffield-tasmania-street-map

Sheffield, Tasmania intersection Main and High Streets

Sheffield, Tasmania intersection Main and High Streets

I cycled down Main Street looking for a cup of coffee and a wi-fi connection so I could check my email. I found it at Fudge ‘n’ Good Coffee, a popular spot with a steady steam of tourists coming in.

sheffield-mural-the-1920s

Lunch and email done, I had to check out the wall murals for which the town has become famous.  On another bicycle tour on Vancouver Island back in 2001 I had cycled through Chemainus and been impressed with the murals scattered around the downtown area. It was part of an effort to revitalize the town and create a tourist attraction at the same time and it worked. Well, apparently Sheffield heard of the project and applied the idea to their own town. As the Lonely Planet Guide to Tasmania (2015) notes –

Sheffield is now a veritable outdoor art gallery, with more than 50 fantastic large-scale murals and an annual painting festival to produce more.

equestrian theme on Sheffield street mural

equestrian theme on Sheffield street mural

I spent about an hour walking around and framing shots of various murals that caught my eye – lots of nostalgia and creativity and a bit of whimsy were on display!

sheffield-tasmania-street-mural

sheffield-bible-college-wall-mural

Sheffield Bible College Wall Mural – As you sow, so shall ye reap.

central-panel-of-sheffield-bible-college-mural

Sheffield Tasmania mural of Thylacine

Sheffield Tasmania mural -

Sheffield Tasmania mural – “Celebrating Community”

outdoors wall mural in Sheffield Tasmania

Sheffield mural - The Blacksmith Shop

Sheffield mural – The Blacksmith Shop

Main street Sheffield Tasmania

Main street Sheffield Tasmania

After a quick visit to the local IGA for some fresh fruits, nuts, and water it was time to finish off the day with the ride to Gowrie Park. It started with a slight climb on my way out of Sheffield and then after a nice ride downhill to the Dasher River was followed by a slight uphill all the way to the Wilderness Village and my tent spot.  Shower and laundry facilities, as well as a small kitchen/eating area  with microwave and kettle and dishes – all very well looked after – not a bad base camp if you wanted to stop and do some day hikes in the immediate area.

Sheffield-Gowrie Park elevation chart

Sheffield-Gowrie Park elevation chart

leaving Sheffield for Gowrie Park - a bit of a downhill

leaving Sheffield for Gowrie Park – a bit of a downhill to the Dasher River

a view from the road of farm fields near Gowrie Park

a view from the road of farm fields near Gowrie Park

That evening I wandered down the road from the Wilderness Park to a nearby restaurant,  Weindorfer’s. (It was up for sale when I was there in March 2016 and may be under new ownership.)  While there was nothing vegetarian indicated on the menu –  a common theme in Tasmania –  the kitchen did put together a simple pasta with vegetables dish that hit the spot.

abandoned farm house at Gowrie Park

abandoned farm-house at Gowrie Park

Below is a satellite view of Mount Roland (4045’/1233m), a part of the Great Western Tiers that I had first looked at from Deloraine the previous afternoon.  There is a hiking trail that takes you up to the ridge.

gowrie-park-with-mount-roland-behind

The total distance as an out-and-back from Gowrie Park is about 16km with an elevation difference of about 900 meters.  The  round trip time from the car park is about six hours, including breaks.  Apparently the face of Mount Roland even has rock climbing potential  – see here for some challenging route ideas that I googled my way into.

Mount Roland behind the Gowrie Park tent site

Mount Roland behind the Gowrie Park tent site

Tempting but not possible  –  I would not be hiking up to the top the next morning.  I had already prepaid a tent site at Cradle Mountain for the next two nights so I had to stay on schedule!  A good thing too since Cradle Mountain was completely booked when I arrived.

But, of course, the price of prearranged accommodation is that it does not allow sudden changes in plans if you come across worthwhile options that you could not have been aware of when you first made them.

Coming up – Cradle Mountain and a chance to slip on those hiking boots for a morning’s walk around Dove Lake. But first – I had to get there.

gowrie-park-and-mount-roland-massif

Next Post: From Gowrie Park To Cradle Mountain 

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