Hiking in Bariloche, a Birthday Trek

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Bariloche hike view through the trees Birthdays on the road are a mixed blessing; you are far from family, friends and the comforts of home. However, if you are up for some adventure, and down to meet new people, then a birthday in a foreign country can be a truly memorable occasion.

My traveling companion Jess was lucky enough to fest her 23 birthday in stunning Bariloche, Argentina. We decided to take advantage of our scenic surroundings and hike one of the many trails in the area. A stroll through posh touristy downtown and a quick glance at the hostel note board leads one to believe that activities in Bariloche are expensive, don’t be fooled! The hills are there for the exploring, and on shorter day hikes public transportation, a bottle of water, and a sense of adventure are all you need. A mere three pesos buys your bus fare from downtown to the base of Cerro Catedral, a popular ski mountain in the winter. A well marked trail leaves from the West end of the parking lot, and from here you can embark on a day long zigzagging trek to the top of one of the areas less known peaks, Mount Frey.

The shores of the lake in Bariloche, Argentina We awoke early in the morning and fuelled up on traditional hostel fare, a poor excuse for a cup of coffee, sliced white bread and Dulce de Leche. Since none in my crew were serious hikers, we tied up our flimsy tennis shoes and zipped our sweatshirts to brave the Bariloche morning chill. Though technically late spring, the wind still had a bite and a windbreaker and sunscreen would have been wise packing choices. We caught the early bus, hoping to make the most of the celebrated day, and took the scenic thirty-minute ride to the largely deserted ski resorts base. We found the signpost marking a 10 km climb to the peak and the Refugio on Mount Frey, and we were off.

Flowers in bloom in Bariloche, Argentina The first two hours follow an easy path curving slowly around the base of the mountain, in and out of melted snow waterfalls and sparse forest. Views abound of the shimmering blue lakes that give the region its name. We sang old Beatles songs and enjoyed the cloudless day and fresh air. After several leisurely kilometers, the path turns to the backside of the mountain and the real climb begins. A few kilometers in a lush forest provide needed respite from the sun, and a moment to gain strength for the last ascent to the frozen summit.

The last two kilometers of the hike, the thighs begin to burn, the sweat starts to pour, the heart pounds, and it is mind over matter and one foot in front of the next. For skilled hikers this won’t be so bad, but for those who haven’t been hiking in a while it is an effort, and a snowy one. Steadily increasing in difficulty, dirt turns to rock turns to snow, the small Refugio comes into sight and you know you have almost made it and success and a warm, if tiny, shelter awaits you. The last chunk of the hike was snow covered when we visited, and I imagine it is at most times of the year, so good hiking shoes are key.

Jess, spirits high on her birthday, charged ahead and was first of our group to reach the mountain top cabin. Refugios – small cabins and shelters for long term hikers – dot the mountainsides throughout the Lake District and provide stopovers for those true outdoorsman and backpackers seeking a longer term expedition into the wilderness. Though we had only been on Cerro Catedral a few hours, the heated and cozy structure was an extremely welcome resting point. Hot soup and salami sandwiches were on the menu and we ate with relish. We admired the frozen snow covered lake outside the window while we ate and warmed our bones. A rowdy group of physical trainers on a two-week trek joined us and soon the crowded room was singing a boisterous version of Happy Birthday, in Spanish and then in English.

When our meager lunch had been devoured, and introductions had been made, we stepped back out into the sun and snow and joined our new friends for Maté. As the hot tea was passed from one to the next, we got to know our Argentinean mountain mates and they, through a series of borderline inappropriate questions, us. Sitting atop a mountain, crystal white snow peaks surrounding us, deliciously bitter maté warming us, and our new circle of friends entertaining us, we all agreed, this was the best Bariloche birthday ever.

The day continued. We descended the mountain and returned to our hostel in Bariloch, bruised, tired, and sunburned, but with a feeling of satisfaction and exhilarated by the days activities. Despite Argentina’s endless coastline, seafood is not ever present in the diet. So for dinner we gorged ourselves on the local Bariloche specialty, trout. Desert was an unidentifiable pie with ice cream and pink champagne, complements of our friendly waiter. For a moment our otherwise classy restaurant was transformed into a disco as the lights were lowered and yet another version of happy birthday was pumped through the sound system.

Despite the achy physical exhaustion that we, and most active visitors to the Lake District, felt at the end of the day, we decided to pretty ourselves up and go for a night on the town. Bariloche may seem a little stuffy but it has a few fun bars, which are easily located towards the towns centre. The cold night air had us ducking into the first bar we passed, which luckily happened to be one of the towns happening nightspots, South Bar. Though a little overrun with tourists, this bar can get rowdy and fun, and if you tell the bartenders it is your birthday you might just get a free shot of tequila, or two! We followed the crowds to other hot spots, Wilkenneys, a type of Irish bar with a techno DJ and gyrating Bariloche youths. Various nightclubs were mentioned, the most popular and recommended from all passers by was La Roca, but alas a long day on the mountain does not a party girl make, and my friends and I snuck back to our hostel and our warm beds for a much needed night of rest.

Another birthday had come and gone, ingrained in our memories as a success on all levels. Between hiking in the snow, drinking champagne and making dozens of new friends, we all had an amazing time. Since birthdays only come once a year, and therefore unlikely that you may have yours in Bariloche, I recommend you celebrate a very merry un-birthday party climbing the peaks of Bariloche’s Lake District.

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[…] A friendly man was there to greet me and escorted me off the appropriate side of the chair lift. The moment my feet hit the ground I rushed off to the nearest lookout point, reaching for my camera. Fantastic panoramas, fresh mountain air, and breathtaking scenery had me feeling as if I was in my own Oz. The mesmerizing mountains were surrounded in blue with the wide open sky up top and the huge lake waters of Nahuel Huapi and Perito Moreno down below. I could see for miles in any direction until my line of sight was stopped by another one of Mother Nature’s beautiful mountain peaks: Cerro Otto, Cerro Lopez, Cerro Goye, Cerro Catedral, and Cerro Capilla to name a few. I saw Hotel Llao Llao stretched across the Llao Llao Peninsula below, the enchanting Isla Victoria, and looking back to the east, I saw the town of Bariloche. It didn’t take long at all to understand exactly why Cerro Campanerio has received so much attention. […]

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