Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Nahuel Huapi Traverse, Bariloche, Argentina (4 days)

If I were Argentinian, I would live in Bariloche. Though very touristy, it´s a good-sized town on a big lake in the beautiful Argentine Lakes District. Bariloche is surrounded by steep mountains, many very blue lakes, and lots of picturesque forest. In the winter it´s close to several ski resorts, and in the summer, to endless hiking. We were there at the start of their fall, and the weather was fabulous. In the area for 9 days, there was clear blue sky for pretty much every single one. Even better, we missed the swarms of horseflies that characterize the hiking in the area in the middle of the summer.

The Nahuel Huapi Traverse is a hike that starts at a ski resort just outside of Bariloche called Catedral. The hike is properly a 5 day hike and is quite demanding. We heard many stories about the difficult middle day where you go over two mountain passes. Some people said there was ice on it at this time of year, others that you need a guide because the route is not obvious. Therefore, reluctantly, we decided to do a shorter version of the hike where we hiked out down a long valley on the third day. However, since we had brought enough food for 5 days, we opted to stay an extra day at the second camp to enjoy the sunshine at a high mountain lake at the base of a glacier.

We started the hike on a chairlift from the ski village Villa Catedral, not very heroically! So we gained a lot of elevation the easy way. Once on top, we traversed along the edge of the mountain by climbing over large rocks- the going was slow. Ali had a hard time with the steep angle of the mountainside that fell away to the valley below, a little taste of vertigo. We then hiked down into a valley where Refugio Frey sits on the edge of a lake. There were a few rock climbers there, climbing the steep granite faces of Catedral. Met british Dan at camp and later gazed at the incredibly starry night for a long time, until it got too cold to bear to be outside.

Next morning, woke early to watch sunrise on peaks of Cerro Catedral. Reflection in lake very impressive. Long hike day involved climbing back up and out of the valley, then down the other side on a huge scree slope. Here, it was a different sort of motion, where you would place one foot and it would slide a ways, then the other and slide on it, and so on and so forth. Ali found with her low boots that rocks were constantly needing to be shaken out. Down on the valley floor, we hiked along the edge of the lenga forest with views out to the lenga scrub in the valley. Being fall, the leaves were all changing colours to red and yellow. Hiked up other side of valley to pass where we got incredible view of mountain peaks as far as the eye could see. My favourite view of the trip yet, partly because it was well earned. Tired, then hiked down another scree slope down to another valley to the Refugio San Martin. This refugio sits above a lake on a rocky outcrop. Spent the night sussing out the next day´s possibilities, but with so many scary stories about likelihood of full-on rock climbing with full packs, decided to hike out from this refugio down the Arroyo Casa de Piedra. However, since we had enough food for a couple more days, decided to stay an extra night at the refugio San Martin to enjoy a day of restful exploration in the Andes.

Spent most the third day at Laguna de los Tempranos. This spectacular little lake lies within a south-facing cirque with sheer rock walls that tower above its icy, blue waters. Perfect for an afternoon swim of course. The sun was warm and got to dry off on the polished limestone slabs that line the lake. These rocks are covered in scratch marks left by ice age glaciers. Spent that night in refugio getting to know a british guy, John and an american. The refugio was lit with candles on all the heavy timber tables, most romantic. Next day, finished hike down valley Arroyo Casa de Piedra to Ruta Provincial 79, which was a very long hiking day of 25km. Caught public bus back to Bariloche, passing through lots of fancy ski-resort-type accomodation and restaurants that line the Lago Nahuel Huapi. Love Bariloche!


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