Sunday, April 26, 2009

Back in Bariloche

When we arrived back in Bariloche (after a night of heavy drinking), we started researching our Epic Journey to Chile. Our first stop was to check out the Club Andino Bariloche (Andean Mountain Club). The guide there was quick to squelch our dreams. He pointed out the obvious to us: We were at the southern end of the world in the winter with little to no experience. We weren't convinced and kept prodding for more information. Finally, he told us we could do it, but we would need a guide and would have to rent or buy a lot of extra equipment. The total price was around 5000 pesos for the journey, which would take about two weeks. That bit of information was the straw that broke the camel's back.

Our next thought was to check out one of the more local trails that would take us closer to 3 days. We found the perfect trail head about 20 miles outside of town. The Frey trail would take us on a circuit that would last about two and a half days at a minimum, and with me always trailing back to take pictures, closer to three. We bought a map from the park ranger building in town, bought the food and gear we would need and sprinted after the bus headed for the trail head just as it was getting ready to take off.

Fortunately for us, a snow storm was creeping over the horizon, promising an exciting ascent. The first flakes started to fall as we unloaded from the bus at the ski resort adjacent to the trail head. The storm became heavy about an hour in and we were soon wading in knee to waist high snow. Luckily, a group of five more experienced climbers passed us right away, so we had a trail to follow. We would have been hopelessly lost other wise.

La FreyKeeping up with 6'5" and 6'8 hikers is a challenge, even in the best of states. It was not long before I was regretting the previous night's drinking, and lagging behind. Regardless, we made it to the top of the trail in 3 hours and 45 minutes, which was a full hour faster than the advertised time required. We were quite proud of ourselves.

When we arrived at the shelter it was really snowing hard, and we were hoping for a blazing fireplace or at least a decent wood stove to warm us up and dry out our soaking wet clothes. We weren't prepared to find a small cabin devoid of any heat. there was a wood stove about the size of two shoe boxes stacked one atop the other. It gave off heat in less than 2 foot radius and was absolutely useless for anything but drying socks.

The caretaker of the refuge was a member of the Andean Club, where we had earlier done our research for the trek. He was very kind, and for a small fee cooked us dinner and made us cups of hot chocolate. I think his name was David, but I can't remember for sure. He assured us that this was the end of the road for us. Without better gear and a proper guide, we would not survive the attempt to finish the 3 day hike. Despite his advice, Broos was determined that we weren't men if we didn't continue the next morning. It took a lot of convincing to get him down the mountain the next day.

La Frey RefugioWhen we woke up the next morning, I cooked up some pasta and what was left of our dried sausage for our breakfast. A warm meal was welcome after passing the night in a cold floor with only a thin mat between us and the ground.

After breakfast, we headed outside to find a dazzling blue sky. We all took pictures for a while and then said our goodbyes. The group that had passed us earlier the previous day struck out first, thankfully. Any trace of the trail had been obliterated by the storm the night before and we would never have found it.

We practically sprinted down the mountain, and after a while grew tired of following the trail. We were overlooking the valley, on the other side of which was the town we were headed for. A river meandered in the general direction we wanted to to, so we made or way away from the trail down the slope. Eventually we made it to the stream and started following it. The banks were at first low and the water shallow. Soon we found ourselves stuck in waist deep water with steep banks on either side. The water, while freezing, was refreshing. I was wearing way too many layers and steaming from the head every time I removed my cap and hood.

Shortly we arrived back at the ski resort and caught the first bus back to Bariloche. We were soaked to the bone, tired and happy. And we had a plan to make up the lost Chile adventure. We would take a road trip to Ushuaia, the southern most city in the world.