Bariloche and the Amazing Nahuel Huapi NP
Mar 20, 2005
We were happy to wake to a clear sky. The few clouds in the sky showed no threat of rain.
Today was a designated rest day. We simply walked around town to see what it had to offer. We soon found out that the chocolate shops like to give out free samples, so we had great fun visiting chocolate shop after chocolate shop for the tasty treats.
Bariloche is definitely very touristy and not particularly interesting as a city. Many of the buildings have a swiss look to them which makes it look a little cliché. However, we soon found out that Bariloche has heaps to offer in terms of its location. There are so many things you can do. Horseriding, rafting, skiing (in winter of course), hiking, mountain climbing and bike riding, etc. and you can do all this in an absolutely amazing setting of mountains and lakes. It really is a beautiful place.
We spent the evening catching up on this site and planning the next few days.
We woke up to a beautiful sunny still day and decided to go and walk part of Cicuito Chico, the name for a common cycling route.
We caught the bus to Bahia Lopez. The bus took us through Colonia Suzia and also the point from which most of the photographs of Llao Llao hotel are taken from. It is a gorgeous spot and a pity we couldn't get out of the bus to take our own photo.
From Bahia Lopez we walked on the road beside several lakes until we hit the walking track into the bush. This track followed the bank of Lago Perito Moreno. This would be a beautiful area to live in. The lakes look beautiful, especially in this good weather, when the mountains surrounding the lakes reflect in their waters. It is obvious why this area is such a popular holiday destination.
The walk finished with us exploring Llao Llao hotel. Damien was drooling over the hotel Golf course! From here we caught the next bus back to Bariloche where we bought supplies for the 5 day trekking trip we planned to start the next day.
22.03 (Damien giving Kim a break from typing - beware of spelling)
Day 1: Villa Catedral - Refugio Grey - Cascada Rucaco (our best day of trekking yet!!)
It was a relief to find great weather this morning as we boarded the bus to Villa Catedral. The first 2 hours of walking was a gentle ascent most of the way. A great warm up for the tough climbing to come later in the day. The morning clouds were still visible at eye level which added to the pleasant surroundings.
Our first rest point was Refugio Piedritas - a very small refugio constructed underneath an overhanging rock. There was also a memorial to a doctor which looked like a small outdoor church. There was a huge cross with a bell above it and the memorial to the doctor lying below. I hope he wasn't in the box! It was a very pretty spot. Kim spotted puma tracks in the mud (about the size of Kim's hand) near the refugio. We had heard about the possibility of spotting pumas in the area. Exciting thought, but one experience we were hoping not to live.
The last hour of the walk to Refugio Frey was tough, but the scenery unfolding in front of us was spectacular. As we climbed above the tree line the landscape completely changed. The trees and forest were replaced with rocky and gravel. The refugio is situated on the banks of the beautiful Laguna Toncek. The mountain peaks surrounding the valley were completely different to anything we had seen yet. The craggy spires of Cerro Cathedral and the adjoining peaks just blew us away. We did not think a landscape dominated by rock outcrops would be so impressive. We could have easily setup camp for days at this spot, but the weather was just perfect and we had heard about a cold change being possible in the next few days so we reluctantly pushed on.
As we crossed the valley the task ahead of us started to become clearer. We would have to climb and descend two mountain ranges in order to get to the next refugio. The weather was great and we still had 7 hours of daylight so we started the first accent to Laguna Schmoll. This was a tough climb! The track was not clear, it was cold in the shadow of the mountain and to top it off we required some mountain climbing to complete some of the vertical sections. We both had heavy packs on as well which made the climbing hard and to top it off there was sections of ice to contend with! I found it difficult as I had the tent and food for 5 days in my pack. This made maneuvering and balance impossible in parts. There were also parts when Kim didn't have the strength to pull herself up during the climb, so I would have to stand on the ledge above, grab her bag and pull it (with Kimmy attached) as she climbed up the ledge. It sounds dangerous (well yeah it was I guess), but we took our time and we enjoying the challenge and teamwork.
The scenery just got better and better as we went up. It is hard to explain the satisfaction we got when we reached the peak. The quote of the trip so far came from Kimmy at the top when she looked at me and said 'I never imagined places this beautiful could exist on Earth'. She was right on the money. The 360 degree views from Cancha de Futbol were brilliant. We could see the entire lakes district around Bariloche. We could also see Mount Tronador in the distance which was our destination on day 4 of this hike. Simple physics say that what goes up must come down. The track at the top of the ridge showed a simple red arrow point downwards over the edge. The reality hit us as we walked over and looked over the edge. Lets just say if either of us had vertigo we would still be sitting on that mountain. It was the most vertical, scary and knee busting descent we had ever endured. We spent a lot of time on our bums as the loose gravel and rock surface gave way as we slowly moved down the mountain. It is the first time Kim and I cursed our height with our higher then average center of gravity being a huge disadvantage L
By the time we reached the next valley at Cascada Rucaco we had been walking for over 8 hours, fully loaded with packs and had walked over a huge mountain range so we decided to stop for the night and camp next to a pretty waterfall. We sat there eating dinner and looking up at the mountains we had just crossed. We looked at each other, smiled and nodded. Job well done.
Day 2: Cascada Rucaco - Refugio San Martín - Laguna de los Tempanos
We woke up stiff and sore this morning but the weather was once again perfect and inspired us to move on. The walk to San Martin started with another stiff climb through steep loose rock to reach Paso Brecha Negra. This broad reach had superb views with Laguna Jakob and the Refugio clearly visible below. To get there we once again had a steep descent through coarse gravel. It was not as long as yesterdays climb and descent but our knees certainly felt it.
The final approach to San Martin found us in a boggy area where the navigation was difficult as we followed footprints going in the wrong direction. I found my way into knee deep mud while the force of the mud sucked my shoe clean off my foot. I found myself balancing on one foot while I tried to pull the shoe free from the mud. It wasn't working, so I had to put my foot bag in the mud for leverage and balance. This gave me enough strength to pull against the vacuum created by the mud. I saved my shoe in the end with the whole episode enjoyed by Kim who stood back and laughed. Thanks for the help honey. (Hey, what could I do??? There was nothing I could do but laugh, plus you must admit it was pretty funny!).
Laguna Jakob was beautiful and we spent the afternoon laying on a rock beside the water. Late afternoon we did a short walk to Laguna de los Tempanos. We both enjoyed this spectacular lake.
Bangers and mash were on for dinner and went down a treat. The almost full moon was brilliant tonight.
Day 3: Route change, Refugio San Martin - Bariloche
The clouds moved in this morning and Kim woke up feeling weak from a cold. It made us reconsider our route today as we originally planned a 7 hour trek along a river, in a valley to Lago Mascardi. With rain looking likely we decided to head back to Bariloche for the night and head to Otto Meiling in the morning on an early bus.
The walk out was a long 4 hours before we reached Ruta 79 - a back road to Bariloche. Luckily the weather cleared and we avoided getting wet. There was little traffic and we had to walk another 40 minutes along the dusty road before the first car came into view. We hitched a ride with an Argentinian couple on their honeymoon. We strapped our packs on the roof of their mini and headed to town.
Once again we ran into Arne and Carolina (we'll see you in Holland guys!) and joined them for a tenedor libre where I again made a spectacle of myself with my appetite.
Day 4: Trek to Mt Tronador Base Camp (Refugio Otto Meiling)
Our luck with weather continued as we saw a clear Mt Tronador with not a cloud in sight as we reached Pampa Linda after a slow 3 hr bus trip from Bariloche. With Kim and I feeling a little under 100% we decided to reduce our pack weight and leave the tent in Bariloche (a decision we would later regret) and stay at the Refugio for the night. After the tenedor libre last night (5 plates of meat and 3 bowls of dessert), I had energy to burn and even Mountain Goat ten Hacken had trouble keeping up (she blamed her cold).
After a side trip to a waterfall, we completed the climb well under our anticipated time. After a final rocky section we arrived at the amazing setting of Otto Meiling Refugio. WOW! The refugio has a glaciar at either side, a permanent snow line infront and the peaks of Mt Tranodor visible from every angle. We had an afternoon walk with Jim and Tash from the UK and literally touched the glaciar landscape. Very cool! We then walked up the snow covered slopes of he mountain and watched a great sunset.
As the sun went down so did our moods. The Refugio is designed to sleep a maximum of 40 people. There were 100 people staying at the Refugio tonight. It was Good Friday and as well as numerous tourists there were a large number of Argentinian families and a bunch of teenage girls who had decided to spend Easter on the mountain. The sleeping arrangement was ridiculous. Two people were assigned to each single mattress, which were lined up right next to each other to cover the entire floor. Inbetween the two lines of mattresses was a line of mattresses running perpendicular to the rest. This is where we were. At one side we had snoring heads literally centimeters from our faces and on the other side was a line of smelly feet. We were also being used as the passage way between the toilets and beds, which meant we were trod on a number of times as well as being blinded by torches. To top it off, the condensation on the centrally located pipes dripped on us all night. To say we were uncomfortable is the understatement of the year. We really question why this Refugio cannot take bookings like many of the other Refugios are prone to do.
Day 5: Otto Meiling - Pampa Linda, Glaciar Manso and Ventisqueno Negro (the black glaciar)
After no sleep it wasn't hard to wake up for the sunrise (as we were already awake). We were above the cloud line for a rewarding sunrise. The clouds moved in and we had to follow the water pipe to make our way back to the Refugio.
It was a difficult descent after breakfast until we reached the tree line. At this point a number of condors were flying over our heads. A number of times they came so close they were at eye level and we could hear their flight. Their huge wing span would cut through the wind and create a loud zoom sound. It was great.
Once we reached Pampa Linda we hitchhiked in the back of a ute of an Argentinian family to the end of the road towards Glaciar Manso. We walked the last 15 minutes to the glaciar but were a little disappointed. I think we are becoming scenery snobs! The guide book had warned us that this view of the base of Mt Tronador was more impressive at the beginning of the season. There were a few glaciar waterfalls falling down a large black rock wall.
We walked back to Ventisqueno Negro which is at the bottom of a large valley leaving from a glaciar from Mt Tronador. Mt Tranodor is Spanish for Mountain of Thunder. As the ice from the glaciar falls into the valley it makes a huge thunderous noise as it smashes against the rock below. We heard this thunder numerous times in the two days we were there. It didn't fail to impress us each time it was heard.
At the black glaciar the ice that falls down picks up black rock and mud before it reform in the valley below. With the black mud and stone the glaciar is black instead of white. As this glaciar breaks down into the lagoon infront, black icebergs are formed. It is very interesting and looks very impressive but we think the white ones are more beautiful.
We returned to the hostel in Bariloche that night and had dinner for the third time in a cheap eatery close by. The owner actually recognized us and wondered where Arne and Carolina were.
28.03 Back to School
Kim and I decided to do something about our lack of communication skills with the locals and enrolled in the La Montana Spanish School for the week. So it is back to school this week, hopefully our brains can stand up to concentrating for 4 hours a day. We have done two days so far and although it is hard we are really enjoying it. We do ok on paper but the actual conversation part is really hard.
The school also does activities in the afternoon. The school gives the students an opportunity to volunteer at an Orphanage for abused and abandoned kids. Kim and I took this opportunity up yesterday afternoon. It was so rewarding for us both. We spent about 5 hours there.
We first played soccer with the kids so that they felt comfortable around us. We then joined them for afternoon milk (warm with rice). I won over a few young lads who laughed at my eating style and when milk got caught in my beard. It was great to see them smile. After this we had the chance to help the teenage kids with their English. I ended up taking a class with 6 kids. It was difficult at first as the kids were at the very basic level (just like we are with Spanish). I helped them with the alphabet and drew pictures of Australian animals and taught them the names. It was really great. Maybe we will so some more volunteer work with kids in Peru.
It has been great to stay in one place for a few weeks. We head off on the weekend for San Martin de los Andes and then onto Pucon in Chile to hopefully climb Volcano Villarica.