Sunday, September 30, 2012

Bariloche and Refugio Frey, Argentina 9/1 - 9/7

To celebrate Quarup's 30th birthday, we took a trip down to Argentina and started our adventure in Bariloche, located in Northern Patagonia.
Northern Patagonia's Andes mountains.

In the 1930's, Bariloche modeled its city center after Swiss alpine villages and earned themselves the name "Little Switzerland". As the city became more popular, its commerce sprawled beyond the original alpine building style to cater to incoming throngs of tourists, thus losing much of its original charm. That being said, we still found many chocolate shops and a good fondue restaurant.
Tiramisu chocolate.

But let's face the truth, we came to Argentina wanting to try their famous beef steak. Shortly after settling into our hotel we were on the hunt for meat. Our expectations were definitely met at dinner with a huge slice of bife de chorizo. Laure set aside her vegetarian preferences so she could fully experience Argentinean culture.
Bife de chorizo is an Argentinian signature steak.

On our first full day, we checked out the nearby ski resort Cerro Catedral. Sadly, the mountain did not receive much snow this season. On the bright side, this was Laure's first time snowboarding since her surgery last year and she was excited to be back on the slopes. The view from the mountain was breathtaking. The large alpine lake Nahuel Huapi is visible from the towering mountains that surround it. The mountains themselves seem to go on forever into the heart of Patagonia.
Laure in front of Nahuel Huapi Lake.
Quarup and the Andes.

On the following day, we set out on our four day backcountry snowboarding trip with our mountaineering guide, Federico Arletti. Federico grew up playing in the Northern Patagonian mountains and became in charge of the avalanche advisory for some of the surrounding area.
See animation video of our route or download the Google Earth KML.

We jump-started our journey by taking two ski lifts from the base of Cerro Catedral ski resort, which felt very strange with our huge backpacks. We then made our way out of the resort, across the ridge over to the adjacent valley, which was a little scary with the strong winds and the lose rocks. We descended with our snowboards and big backpacks one person at a time in order to minimize avalanche danger.
Crossing the ridge to the valley.
Crossing streams with big backpacks sucks.

We skinned our way up to the hut named Refugio Frey, where we would be staying for the next three nights. The hut is part of a network of alpine huts created by Clube Andino Bariloche, an organization similar to the Sierra Club in the United States. The hut is removed from modern amenities and service roads. It has a humble restroom without flushing toilets or showers. On a more positive note, the hut has a keeper that cooks very good food and maintains the place tidy. Within recent years, they started extracting hydroelectric power from a nearby stream, which provides some lighting and heating to the common dining area. Guests are responsible for bringing their own sleeping bags for use in the common sleeping area. Food and other supplies are carried in by foot during the winter or by horseback during the summer; trash is carried out similarly.
Refugio Frey surrounded by towering peaks.
See our virtual video tour of Refugio Frey.

Besides the warm food and heater, the most rewarding part of the hut experience is meeting a lot of fellow adventurers from around the world - including travelers from Argentina, Canada, France, Belgium, UK, and throughout the US. Everyone was friendly, respectful, and modest even if they had tons of experience and talent. Through casual conversation, we found that one of the guests had been guiding heli-ski tours in Alaska for 15 years.
Camilla, Blaine, and Chris.

Next day, Laure decided to rest at the hut while Federico and Quarup lapped a nearby slope near the tallest tower peak named "La Principal" a couple of times. That is where Quarup experienced the best skiing in the trip. Although the top portion was a little too hard and the bottom portion was a little too soft, the middle portion had the perfect "corn" consistency that is as good as Spring gets.
Everyone heading to the surrounding peaks.
La Principal is the tallest tower on the left.
Quarup is the tiny black dot in the snow between the towers.

On the third day, Laure rejoined the team and we ventured north in search of more "corn". Much of this side of the mountain is shaded in the morning and required the use of crampons to climb the icy slopes. At the top, we took our time and enjoyed the spring weather and breathtaking views.
Cramponing up to Lake Schmoll.
Romain the Pensive.
Recent rains ruined this snow but not the beautiful views.

Upon returning to the hut, we enjoyed our lunch outdoors and shared stories with our new friends. We also used some of this time to drill avalanche rescues.
Laure, Quarup, and Federico enjoying pizza and drinks outside.

On the last day, Federico and Quarup went halfway up to "La Principal" again, but the snow was soft and Quarup had less energy, which resulted in a slow ascent. We skied back to the hut and had pizza outdoors before bidding adios to our new friends. We took a different route back to Cerro Catedral ski resort, through the valleys using the traditional hiking route. We snowboarded down for a kilometer and then switched to hiking due to the lack of snow at lower elevations. It was a beautiful four hour hike down along streams and waterfalls.

So long, snow.
A typical bridge crossing.
Adios.

When we got back to Cerro Catedral ski resort, we enjoyed some drinks with another guide Jorge Kozulj and the crowd from Tahoe that we had met at the hut.

Once back in Bariloche, we checked into a Bed and Breakfast, where we enjoyed the comforts of a warm bed, a shower, and a flushing toilet.