Patagonia – Part 2

San Carlos de Bariloche is located on the southern shore of Lake Nahuel Huapi, right at the boarder of the Nahuel Huapi National Park, established in the 1930s. The town is considered to be the gateway to the so called Argentine Lake District and to the Patagonian Andes. This is why Jorge lives here! From everywhere you are around the lake you can clearly see the three main peaks of the area, Cerro Catedral, Lopez and Capilla. The local ski resort, Cerro Catedral is only about 20 minute drive from downtown Bariloche

The main objective of the trip is to go touring in the area exploring the surrounding peaks. As always, as a general “life rule” of mine, I don’t have any expectations about the terrain, the weather and the snow conditions which, considering the weather forecast for this week, rain, rain and more rain, is a good thing. As I have already mentioned in the previous post, given how close we are to Chile and therefore how exposed these mountain range is to the low pressure systems and strong winds generated on the South Pacific Ocean, the storms around here can last for days and normally bring winds with speed up to 100km/h and intense precipitations. So Jorge suggested using Bariloche as a base during this first week and moving to Frey hut, a remote hut in the mountains as soon as there is a window in the weather. It sounds like an excellent plan, especially considering this is not exactly a bad place to be stuck in the rain. This is the view from the B&B I am staying in:

I am about 7 km out of town, right by the lake on the way to the local ski resort, Cerro Catedral. While I eat breakfast, I can’t stop staring out of the window. I notice seagulls and a couple of not identified birds of prey flying around. There is something special about places near the water like this one. One of the reasons is certainly to be found in the general sense of peace and tranquility they able to transmit without you having to do much other than being there

Jorge can’t wait any longer to show me his backyard so we decide to brave the elements and go out for a tour even if he rain is still falling heavily. Although here around the lake we are at 700 mt., we hope that once we reach an altitude of around 1,300 mt the rain will turn into snow. While we are in the car Jorge tells me that he needs to ask permission to access the mountain we are going to. When I ask whose permission we need, he tells me we need to ask the owner. Oh, I didn’t realise you could own a mountain around here! As we drive along the lake, weather conditions seem to be slowly improving

 

This is the gate at the bottom of the mountain we have to go through to access the track

We drive for about 20 minutes on a very narrow track on which cone trees branches have grown making it even narrower. Although the ride is a bumpy one, Jorge doesn’t seem to be too concerned about road conditions and drives confidently his Toyota truck, Carmensita, like a skilled rally driver

We have finally reached the snow which means we can stop here and put skins on. Richard and Jorge are getting ready while I enjoy the views and see for the first time in 4 days some blue sky

skins on, we keep following the main track until we come to the end of it and enter the forest

It’s such a beautiful hike. I have always thought that if single trees are extraordinary, trees in number more extraordinary still. Robert MacFarlane, one of my favorite writers, put it nicely in his book “The Wild Places”: to walk in a wood is to find fault with Socrate’s declaration that “trees and open country cannot teach me anything, whereas men in town do.” Time is kept and curated in different ways by trees, and so it is experienced in different ways when one is among them. The discretion of trees and their patience are both affecting.

The clean thick and soft blanket of snow covers almost entirely every branch of the trees, from the smaller to the bigger ones, giving the forest a magical feel and appearance. This is a very happy Jorge in his natural environment

Once out of the forest we are rewarded with lovely views on the lake

 

This landscape reminds me a lot of the mountains I have seen in British Columbia (Canada), Norway and in the south island of New Zealand. The combination of snowcapped peaks, thick forests and water makes these mountain environments unique and truly special; certainly among the most stunning places on earth. I have a quotation in my little travel notebook but I don’t remember the source of it: landscape was here before we were even dreamed, it watched us arrive

We are not too far from the top now. We only have to go through these bushes and then hike the ridge on the right hand side. Jorge tells us that later on in the season there is usually a lot more snow up here. These bushes are almost entirely covered. The snow is excellent. The visibility has been changing every minute so far so I guess that’s something we will have to get used to because it’s not going to change!

We are almost at the top now. However, with no visibility as the weather just closed around us, and the wind picking up by the minute, we agree that start making our way down sound the most sensible option. Although the snow is increasingly heavier as we enter the white magical forest, the gaps between the trees are wide enough to make the skiing/riding very enjoyable

Back at the car we eat a sandwich and start driving back. Dark clouds which have been on the horizon for quite some time seem to have finally reached us now and the rain starts to follow again. Nothing new there

It’s now 11pm and it’s still raining. It’s been raining intermittently for the past 4 days. It almost feels normal now going to bed at night and waking up in the morning with the sound of rain. The good news is that all this rain down here is going to be snow high up on the peaks so I am pretty sure we will be rewarded for our patience

For the first time since I got here, 5 days ago, I wake up with a blue sky. Although there are still clouds hanging around, comparatively to the previous days, the cloud cover is only marginal. We therefore waste no time ad right after breakfast we head off to the local ski resort, Cerro Catedral. I know, the thought of a crowded ski resort doesn’t sound too appealing. However, after the 28 hour journey to get down here from Europe and the short and very wet tours of the previous few days, I have to confess that I quite like the idea of spending few hours around a resort, especially because I know the snow is going to be excellent! We also need to check snow conditions at higher altitude before venturing into the backcountry tomorrow

Driving on the way to the lifts

As expected, after only a few laps on the chairs, although the snow is excellent and there aren’t too many people about, my resort allergy kicks in so I ask Jorge whether we can go hike somewhere away from lifts and people. He takes us to a ridge at the border of the resort. The wind is still blowing as there was a tornado approaching and as I lose my balance during a particularly strong gust, Jorge shouts at me: welcome to Patagonia! So the walk on the ridge is not exactly pleasant. However, the views are

 

 

For the second time in the last few days I have the chance to look around and see what’s around us and this combination of water, mountains and snow is stunning. Jorge tells us that the people who work for the ski resort can be quite lazy and tend not to open this long lift often. Which suits us extremely well as it makes it a perfect long powder run just for us! I have been looking forward to making some nice long turns in powder since I got back from Greenland in May

As we make our way down I notice that the clouds seem to have made a final sound decision and they are leaving us, showing a cobalt blue sky behind them

It’s now 6pm and without the shadow of a doubt, this is the most pleasant evening we had the whole week. This is definitely the window in the weather we have been waiting for. Tomorrow we can finally go the Frey hut. It’s going to be great

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