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Bariloche had a double attraction for us - not just being the prime town in the Argentine lake district, but also being the base for treks in the Nahuel Huapi park, which contains a lot of the mountains and lakes.
Our plan was to do a 3 day hike, but at the end of the third day camp on the trail, for free, rather than paying for another night of accommodation in Bariloche, which is quite expensive due to it being a favourite national destination and peak holiday season.
As the shops were shut on the 1st of January, we had to do all our shopping for the trip on the morning of our departure. By the time we got to the start of the trek, at Cerro Catedral, a little ski village out of Bariloche, and had lunch there, it was 3.30pm.
We were extremely lucky with the weather - a perfect summers day, about 23 degrees and minimal wind. The majority of the day was easy walking, on the trail, slight uphill with gorgeous views across more lakes.
The last part of the day, 3.5 hours later, was all uphill to Refugio Frey and the campsite. Hard going, especially with packs with 3 days of food. The hardest part for me though was the very end. To get to the campsite, we had to cross the creek which came from Lake Frey using stepping stones.
Now, I am pretty uncoordinated at the best of time, but jumping on stepping stones with a heavy pack and tired legs was too much of a challenge. I got half way across, until Dave had to come back and rescue me, as the next step was too much for my short legs and lack of balance, and help me across the second half of the creek.
The first night campsite, at Refugio Frey, was located on a lake which was between two massive hills, or maybe mountains, both sides with snow still on a lot of the mountains. Wind came racing down the valley created by the mountains, and so the whole campsite was very windy. Wind shelters had been made from rocks by previous campers, but this only blocked the first metre of wind.
We were setting up the tent, which we had carried for the entire trip, when disaster struck. Or rather became evident - when packing the tent I had not put in the centre ridge pole.
So there we were, in a very windy campsite, with a much researched and now semi useless tent. We put it up anyway, as it could still hold its shape without the pole, but would not be as solid. We spent that night listening to the strong wind trying to blow us and the tent away. It was really loud, and niether of us got much sleep, but in the morning the tent was still standing.
I was a bit nervous about day two of the hike, having read on Daves friends website, Haydee and John, that it was really tough. That was an understatement.
The day started easily enough, walking around the side of the lake, but then we had to cross straight over one of the two huge mountains. This involved walking through packed snow onto more stepping stones, then clambering up boulders for a good two hours - very tough with a pack, which would sling me to one side if I was on all fours (and I often was) and slightly off balance.
After the boulders came a short interval of walking across snow, then more boulder scrambling to the top.
Surely down would be easy - but no. Down was a 45 degree slope (maybe steeper) entirely of loose gravel, and a long way down to a lower valley than from where we had come. It took us at least 2 hours to get down to the bottom of the hill, most of it spent surfing our way down through the loose rubble, and a lot of time on my arse. We had come less than a third of the distance of the days hike, and it had taken us about 5 hours.
Fortunately we had a brief respite walking through the nice valley, through some forest even, and we considered just camping there, as it was already 6pm (though it was light till about 11pm), but decided to climb to the top of the ´hill´to see what was next.
The hill was a mountain that never seem to afford a look out, so we kept climbing. The last bit I hated, going up maybe a 30 degree slope covered in snow, using previous hikers footsteps as steps. Then more boulder scrambling to the very top.
From the top of the second mountain we could see our destination Refugio San Martin by Lake Jacob. But to get to it was another loose rubble surfing down the mountain, this time shorter in distance, but steeper.
Eventually, after wandering around the bog, and more stepping stones which Dave again had to help me across, we reached the campsite - 9 hours and two mountains later.
Day three was easy - walking through a beautiful valley following a river all the way out. That was good, as both Dave and I were really sore, and me covered in little bruises from banging myself on boulders, from the day before. In particular, going downhill was sore, due to the two lots of rock sliding the day before.
The first lot of stepping stones for the day had a overhead wire to hold on to get across, however I still managed to fall in the water on the last big step. The water was not deep, and I just got my trousers wet, but Dave was laughing too hard to be of assistance.
While the third day was easy, it was still long - about 6.5 hours of walking, and 20kms or so. We camped by a beautiful creek, and it was nice to get into camp early and just relax.
The next day we just had to walk an hour to the road to a bus back to Bariloche and a hot shower! We then rewarded ourselves by heading back to the microbrewerys that were closed on New Years Eve and drinking our way through the menu.
More photos can be seen here.