El Bolsón, Argentina – Impressions

For my final stop in Patagonia I caught a bus 100km south of Bariloche to the small town of El Bolsón.

El Bolsón is known in Argentina for the typical Patagonian trekking and mountaineering experience, fly fishing, art, its regular markets, micro-breweries and for being a hippie town. The label of hippie town was what caught my attention and is the tag line that draws most other travellers to the town.

wpid-dscn2439-2013-05-21-15-401.jpg

I only spent a couple of days in El Bolsón and while it did seem like a nice small community in a great location, I didn’t find a lot to actually make it a hippy town. The sculptures in and around the town centre were pretty cool, but the markets were fairly typical selling many of the usuals: home-made jewellery, carved wooden things, sewn items and a myriad of different semi precious stones.

wpid-dscn2432-2013-05-21-15-401.jpg

El Bolsón sits between two great rocky ridges, a 2km tall range that got a powdering of snow on my second day…

wpid-dscn2438-2013-05-21-15-401.jpg

…and one 1,600m tall range. The trekking did look amazing but El Bolsón is in Patagonia. But since my visit was during a rainy last week of autumn, I hadn’t planned to go hiking.

wpid-dscn2434-2013-05-21-15-401.jpg

While my visit to El Bolsón was inexpensive and relaxing, with winter arriving, it was time to head to warmer climates.  After a brief stop off back in Bariloche, I headed north into the desert to the wine region of Mendoza.

Some things to do in El Bolsón:

  • Kayak Lago Puelo
  • Hike Cerro Piltriquitrón
  • Walk up to Cabezo del Indio – Indian Head Rock

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Advertisements

Cerro Catedral, Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi, Argentina

After a week studying español in Bariloche it’s time to get back out on the trail. This weekend, myself and a companion from my hostel are planning to climb Cerro Catedral (yes it’s spelt correctly) to Refugio Frey, where we plan to stay the night and do some day walking around the lakes.

wpid-dscn2359-2013-05-20-15-28.jpg

Our original plan was to do a 3-day hike, walking on to the refugio after Frey, but the amount of ice on the higher trails meant the climb beyond Refugio Frey would be too dangerous.

We packed and caught the bus for the 20km trip to the township of Catedral, a town set up for the ski slopes above it. The weather was beautifully clear when we headed out and remained that way for the entire weekend. A rare weekend for this time of the year in Bariloche and perfect for the hike.

We headed out along a wide dirt road away from the huge car park for the ski fields. After a short walk, we left the road and walked up a short thin trail to the official beginning of the trail and a wooden hiker…

wpid-dscn2358-2013-05-20-15-28.jpg

The first part of the hike meandered south along the base of the rocky edifice of Catedral Norte, heading away from the chair lifts and the ski fields.

wpid-dscn2366-2013-05-20-15-28.jpg

Along some parts of the trail sat snow from an earlier snowfall, although much of it had melted leaving a thin layer of mud.

wpid-dscn2365-2013-05-20-15-28.jpg

The trail continued on its fairly flat way across the southern base of the mountains heading towards Lago Gutiérrez…

wpid-dscn2371-2013-05-20-15-28.jpg

The trail crossed many small arroyos flowing down from the mountain, many flowed beneath a layer of ice. This created some very beautiful natural icy sculptures.

wpid-dscn2364-2013-05-20-15-28.jpg

The trail rounded the base of the mountains, with a clear view of the lago as we headed west up the gully towards the refugio. The trail became icy as we walked and we had to watch our steps to ensure we didn’t slip off the path. There were sections of the trail that looked like normal dirt but you could occasionally put your foot right through it leaving a 10 cm deep hole. Ice forms in layers beneath the mud, pushing it up and making it fragile. Some places it was obvious, but other places you didn’t know it was there until your foot went through it. Beneath the ice was more dirt, so it wasn’t dangerous, just strange to walk through the icy mud. The ice itself hardens into layers of hexagonal rods about 3cm thick, and there always seemed to be three layers of the ice.

Walking through a cold forest gully, we avoided as much ice as possible. The climbing began across some muddy tracks until we came to a flattened areas where an emergency hut had been built under a massive boulder. The boulder slants down making the inside back wall of the hut. Inside there is a flat platform to sleep perhaps 3 people and a fireplace.

wpid-dscn2381-2013-05-20-15-28.jpg

With the light starting to fade, we pushed on along the gully, sighting the roofs of buildings at the top. As we walked, the top of the Cerro Catedral range could be seen off to our right with a light dashing of snow around its jagged peaks. We continued climbing up through some slippery mud until we came over the crest and crossed an icy arroyo to see the refugio ahead of us.

wpid-dscn2391-2013-05-20-15-28.jpg

Refugio Frey is expensive to stay in and provides little more than a mattress upstairs and no heating. We cook our food in a tucked away corner and settle in for the night with several other people including 3 young and rather noisy preteen boys.

It wasn’t too cold for most of the night, but as it headed towards day break it began to grow a little colder. I arose just before sunrise and headed outside with camera to catch the sun upon the mountains at the back of the valley beyond the frozen laguna. I watched the sun shine pink on the mountains opposite before lighting them up in a golden light.

wpid-dscn2396-2013-05-20-15-28.jpg

We decided to climb the wall of the valley to Laguna Schmoll. To get to the other end of the valley we decided to walk across the frozen lake. This was rather fun as it was fairly solid. The children at the refugio got out on their ice skates and stayed there for much of the day. At the far side of the laguna is the arroyo that feeds it, we walked across the ice but this wasn’t as solid and I broke through on two separate occasions. Thankfully, my trusty boots are waterproof, so it wasn’t too much of a worry.

The climb up the rocky wall of the valley was fairly easy, although there was snow in several places and some ice. This part could have been climbed with packs, but it was the next part that we weren’t supposed to do without crampons.

wpid-dscn2410-2013-05-20-15-28.jpg

Another pair of hikers had also climbed to the laguna, but they couldn’t speak english and I’m not totally confident with my spanish yet, so I left my companion to chat with them while I investigated this new valley.

wpid-dscn2411-2013-05-20-15-28.jpg

After stopping for lunch, my companion and the two other climbers decided to climb the icy wall without crampons (or packs). I scouted it a little and decided against it and let them go. On the other side of the lower valley is a ridge that leads to another set of peaks. This is sun drenched and has no snow or ice on it, so I decided to climb this instead.

I made my way back down the rocky wall and around the side of the laguna towards the short ridge, with the refugio across the lake.

wpid-dscn2420-2013-05-20-15-28.jpg

Then in the warmth of the sun, I made my way up the side of the ridge. It was an easy climb and standing atop it could see down both valleys. This is the mountain Pico Bara at the end of the ridge…

wpid-dscn2407-2013-05-20-15-28.jpg

The climb up Pico Bara was fairly easy and there were several different ways to climb it. It was a lot of fun, crossing from the back side with some snow, to the sunny side and back again. The views from the top were pretty impressive, both looking back along the valley…

wpid-dscn2429-2013-05-20-15-28.jpg

…and down upon the refugio a couple of hundred metres below.

wpid-dscn2427-2013-05-20-15-28.jpg

After a brief stop in the chilly wind, I headed down again. It didn’t take me very long to reach the bottom, where I met up with my companion and donning our packs we headed off back down the mountain.

The trip down was a lot quicker than the climb, as you can imagine. It had taken us about 4 hours under pack to climb to Refugio Frey and 2 hours and 30 minutes down again. We were really pushing it, but still missed the earlier bus by 15 minutes. We waited another hour over a couple of beers and caught the next bus back to Bariloche for a well deserved shower.

The Trail Wanderer

Bariloche, Argentina – Impressions

Nestled in the foothills of the Andes and alongside Lago Nahuel Huapi is San Carlos de Bariloche.  While there were no direct buses from Pucón in Chile, I took a bus for 4 hours across the Andes and south to the city of San Martin de los Andes.   There I waited for several hours before catching another 4-hour bus south to Bariloche.

Somehow I’d messed up my booking at the hostel and there was no room for me when I arrived.  But they were kindly able to arrange a room in an empty hostel nearby for the night.  I returned the following night when my booking was actually due to start.

DSCN2355

While Bariloche is set up for hiking, mountaineering and skiing, there’s more to the city than just the standard Patagonian wonders.  With a heavy Swiss influence, Bariloche has become famous for its chocolate with more than a dozen boutique chocolate vendors in the city.

DSCN2351

The mountains near Bariloche have plentiful hikes, but as it was nearing winter many of the longer trails were closed. I chose a couple of shorter hikes to work in with a two-week spanish course I’d booked, to revise what I’d learned and to help with my confidence.

Booking the course was easy, the hostel manager rang for me and that afternoon I went down to meet to the director of the spanish school, took a placement test and sat in on a spanish cooking lesson.  Beyond the lessons there were additional means to practice the language such as the cooking class, a city tour and going out for drinks.

DSCN2353

My hostel was 41 Below and was owned by a kiwi guy, although he’d retired from running it. There I met a lively bunch of people and enjoyed several dinners and nights out with them – just not so much on school nights!

Because of the Swiss influence in the area, the city’s architecture has a European feel, especially the cathedral – which was actually built in 1946 to resemble the buildings of Europe a thousand years earlier.

DSCN2347

The state buildings around the city centre also have a European feel…

wpid-dscn2343-2013-05-14-13-30.jpg

Worked around my spanish course:

  • I had great steak and red wine meals at Alto el Fuego restaurant
  • I climbed Cerro López to Refugio López on a day walk.
  • I hiked up Cerro Catedral for an overnight stay at Refugio Frey
  • I tried chocolate from each of the different vendors
  • I caught a bus south for 100km to the hippy town of El Bolsón

Other things to do near Bariloche:

  • Sail on Lago Gutierrez in summer
  • Ski Cerro Catedral in winter
  • Hire bikes and ride the 60km Circuito Chico
  • Explore Llao Llao peninsula

After returning from my foray in El Bolsón, I headed north out of Patagonia to the wine region and the city of Mendoza.

The Trail Wanderer

Cerro Lopez, Parcue Nacional Nahuel Huapi, Argentina

In the mountains around Bariloche there are many different walks. I had originally planned a hike called The Nahuel Huapi Traverse. This is a-4 day hike through the mountains from Cerro Catedral to Cerro López, starting about 20km from Bariloche. But since it’s almost winter much of the trail is closed because of extreme ice and snow. There is, however, still access to some of the refugios that I’d have been staying in. So, I have split the hike into two shorter ones. The first is what would have be the final day of my longer hike, up Cerro López to Refugio López.

From the hostel in Bariloche three of us from the hostel, two ladies and I, have to catch a bus the 20km to the start of the walk. It’s sunday and we have to put money on our loaned bus card and when we get to the store to do that, it’s closed. So we have to run 5 blocks to get to the next store. It’s very cold this morning, but after a five block run in my warm clothes, I’m more than hot.

Forty minutes later we arrive at the beginning of the walk and it feels icy. We headed off through the forest on a rocky trail. The wind is very brisk and there’s a mix between being hot from sweat and being frozen.

wpid-dscn2299-2013-05-14-13-16.jpg

The climb began steeply up the mountain and was challenging, especially after a few weeks of little hiking. We pushed on in the light but chill wind and stopped for a break to look back at the lakes…

wpid-dscn2305-2013-05-14-13-16.jpg

After 5 minutes, the sweat down out backs had turned to ice, so we pushed on following the red dots…

wpid-dscn2308-2013-05-14-13-16.jpg

The first 1/3 of the climb was perhaps the hardest and steepest, the second 1/3 flattened out a little, although was still fairly intensive until we came over the ridge to a lodge over looking the lakes. The lodge was closed for the season.

wpid-dscn2312-2013-05-14-13-16.jpg

The scenes of the lakes was just too vast below us to fit into one photo. Looking back towards Bariloche, the lake actually looks bluer than the other portions.

wpid-dscn2314-2013-05-14-13-16.jpg

On the peninsula below us there’s a clear patch where Hotel Llao Llao is situated. For some reason the sun only wanted to shine on this particular area.

wpid-dscn2323-2013-05-14-13-16.jpg

From the Lodge, we continued walking steeply up the hill and as we walked could see the pink Refugio Lopez perched on a ridge high above the autumn coloured trees.

wpid-dscn2338-2013-05-14-13-16.jpg

We followed the trail that became a slippery dirt trail. It lead to a 4WD track and we followed it for a while before it rounded the top of the gully and headed up steeply towards the refugio. Another 20 minutes later and after a short scramble we arrived. We knew it was going to be closed, so didn’t plan to stay longer than to eat some lunch.

wpid-dscn2330-2013-05-14-13-16.jpg

We could have continued walking up the mountain to the top, there are markings, but it’s not recommended because of the new snow…

wpid-dscn2327-2013-05-14-13-16.jpg

After a while we headed down again, faster than the climb. The slippery part was more difficult coming down and I slipped, skidding down on one knee, but kept my graces by not actually falling over.

Once we arrived at the bottom, we realised that we had 2 hours to wait for the bus. There’d been two other groups on the trail, one being two local guys waiting for a ride. One of the girls in my group asked it they had room in their car and next thing we knew we were being driven into town. The locals here are fairly friendly…

Today was a good if not strenuous walk with fantastic views of the lakes, and while it was supposed to rain it held out. Even more thankfully, it hadn’t snowed, although a few flakes had fallen. For the next week I’m taking a spanish course, then one of the girls and I are planning an overnight hike up to Cerro Cathedral, what would have been the first part of the traverse.

The Trail Wanderer

Villarrica Volcano, Parque Nacional Villarrica, Chile

Situated just over 20km south of Pucón is the Villarrica National Park and its most prominent feature, the three volcanos that cross the Andes. The main cone of the three is the smoking Volcán Villarrica with the others being Quetrupillán and Lanín behind it when looking from Pucón.

wpid-dscn2271-2013-05-11-15-57.jpg

I’d originally planned to walk the Villarrica Traverse, a 6-day hike starting on one side of Volcán Villarrica and around the southern base of both Villarrica and Quetrupillán to a small town called Puesco on the other side of the National Park. But after waiting for days for the late autumn rain to clear for an extended time, I unhappily cancelled my plans. While I don’t mind walking in the rain for short periods, walking in the rain at a temperature of 2 degrees celsius is not something I really enjoy doing.

So, I decided to do the most popular and busiest attraction of the Parque Nacional, climbing to the crater of the 2,800m snowcapped top of Volcán Villarrica.

I was up at 5.30am for a 6.30am pick up. Breakfast was supplied by my hostel, who was also providing beer and a BBQ afterwards, all included in the price. We were taken to another hostel and provided with the gear for the climb. I opted for my own boots, but took everything else – including crampons and an ice ax. We were then driven along the pot holed dirt roads up the volcano to the ski resort at the base of the climb.
wpid-dscn2273-2013-05-11-15-57.jpg

We unloaded form the bus and gathered for the talk. We’d be walking to the base of the snow cap and stopping, waiting for the guides to check the wind speed and determine if we could continue.

The climb would be in four parts, the last being the snow cap. We set off along the steep lower face of the volcano, the scree and dirt being soft and slightly difficult to climb. As we climbed, we split into groups, the younger group, the two larger American ladies, and me. There’s a reason I call myself the Lone Trail Wanderer, I like to walk alone in the serenity of nature and the quiet. The young group just yabbered away the entire climb and the less fit american girls quickly dropped back.

wpid-dscn2276-2013-05-11-15-57.jpg

In the quiet, I climbed the steep trail, zig-zagging up the side of the mountain, and trying not to be blown over by the wind, which was gusting rather strongly, blowing dust and pebbles around me. Up ahead, I saw one of the young crowd stumble in the wind and nearly lose her footing. Looking back, the lake below could be seen, and the volcanoes to the south, while sitting below the sun, and while not making good photos, still looked amazing.

wpid-dscn2274-2013-05-11-15-57.jpg

We continued walking and climbed along a gully of rocks out of the wind and took some respite before topping the ridge and heading towards the first stop, the top of a ski lift and a large wooden building, again out of the wind. We stopped for a rest and some photos before heading on. The next stop, an old burnt out ski lift building a little further up. Just before we left, the two larger girls finally arrived wondering why they had decided to climb the mountain – in words I won’t repeat here.

wpid-dscn2281-2013-05-11-15-57.jpg

The next stage was easier and again I let myself drop back to walk in the quiet again, we walked behind a ridge for most of the way, so enjoyed the lack of wind ripping at us. We stopped at old burnt out brick lift house but didn’t go in.

wpid-dscn2283-2013-05-11-15-57.jpg

The third leg became steeper again and the volcanic sands made each step harder. I again drifted back from the ongoing and incessant chatter from the other group. There was no sight of the american girls behind us and I would later discover they hadn’t gone past the second stop. We came to the base of the snow cap and were briefed on the next stage. On went the warmer clothes, the gaiters, and out came the crampons and ice axe. The guides then climbed the ice shelf to test the wind. 10 minutes later they returned to tell us that the wind was blowing 80km/hr and it wasn’t safe to continue further. Okay, no problems, they knew what they were doing, so all good. This led to half of the group arguing with the guides for the next half an hour, trying to persuade them to take them anyway. Eventually, the guides were persuaded, but I decided it more prudent to not go. The views were amazing though, although I discovered that the lens of my camera had failed. It had been giving me grief much of my trip. Time to buy a new one…

wpid-dscn2284-2013-05-11-15-57.jpg

The four of us who hadn’t gone waited for 30 more minutes in the icy wind for them to return, but when they didn’t, we headed down. Down was very quick. Because of the volcanic sands, you could slide each step and when running you skidded down rather quickly. Back at the first chair lift building we collected the two American girls and continued down, arriving at the base soon after to wait for the other climbers. They arrived an hour later and we all were back in the bus and heading back to Pucón for beer and BBQ.

It was a shame we couldn’t get right to the top – even the four that tried didn’t make it because of the clouds rolling in quickly. But the weather rules supreme in Patagonia and you must bow to its might.

The Trail Wanderer

Pucón, Chile – Impressions

Ninety minutes by bus north of Osorno in the Lakes District of Northern Patagonia is the town of Pucón.  Nestled between the shores of Laguna Villarrica and the imposing cone of Volcán Villarrica, the large town has the reputation as somewhat of a party town. Like the rest of Patagonia, the tourism industry here is rather rife based around climbing the volcano in summer or skiing it in winter.

DSCN2271

I had come in Pucón with the intention of hiking the Villarrica Traverse, a 6-day trek around the bases of Volcánes Villarrica and Quetrupillán, but the weather hadn’t looked so good. The forecast had spoken of some rain followed by a week of sunshine, not surprising for the end of autumn, so I decided to wait it out.

The first hostel I stayed in was El Refugio and had a couple of kiwi guys working there. The good thing about it was that it was right next to the bus terminals. The bad thing about it was that it was right next to the bus terminals. There was nothing wrong with the hostel beyond it being the busiest one in town, even in the low season. To accommodate that fact, they’d built a pair of large dome tents in the back yard that slept 6 in bunks. Because it had been so busy, I only stayed a couple of days before moving to another hostel, Paradise Pucón, this one owned by a kiwi guy.

DSCN2294

Paradise Pucón had a reputation as being a party hostel in high season. But as it was low season, the parties had mostly died down.

wpid-dscn2295-2013-05-10-19-08.jpg

Unfortunately, the rain didn’t let up with no sign of respite, so I took advantage of it by catching up with my writing. Long term travelling works best when you take long breaks between periods of movement. I located a nice cafe in the centre of town that made good coffee and scrambled eggs – Cafe Agora – and got to work. I also found an awesome restaurant for dinner run by an American couple which had the best burgers and a nightly happy hour. Latitude 39 is a must visit if in Pucón.

wpid-dscn2292-2013-05-10-19-08.jpg

There are numerous hot springs near Pucón and one night the hostel owner drove a group of us guys to one.  Bringing plenty of beer we sat in a pool about the size of a regular spa pool drinking and enjoying the heat.  Then after a while, as a group, we climbed down to the river and threw ourselves in, before climbing back into the hot pool. A great night!

The next day Pucón hosted the annual chocolate festival – chocolate production being very big in this area of Patagonia. There were many tables for tasting and buying different chocolates, and in the corner of the tent there was even a chocolate volcano.  The volcano proved popular with the kids as at the end of the festival it was broken into pieces and handed out.

wpid-dscn2269-2013-05-10-19-08.jpg

The party life in Pucón is pretty good, I was taken out by the owner and one of his workers – another kiwi guy – to a couple of the local clubs. Three kiwi guys on the party… Gringos are treated highly in clubs in South America and this being the first one I’d been in, I felt everyone’s eyes on us. Being the only three gringos in the club, we were also getting great drink deals. 6 drinks for the price of 2! It turned out to be a great night, even though I couldn’t talk to many people.

wpid-dscn2270-2013-05-10-19-08.jpg

Then, after being in town 12 days, I decided to give up on the traverse and just climb Volcán Villarrica, a popular day activity.

Overall, Pucón was a lovely place to spend a couple of weeks, I made some friends and caught up with my writing. Next, I crossed the border into Argentina to the Chocolate capital of South America, Bariloche.

Things to do in Pucón:

  • Climb Villarrica Volcano
  • Hike the 6-day Villarrica Traverse
  • White water raft in Trancura River
  • Ride horses in Lancura Valley
  • Visit the thermal springs, of which there are many

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Osorno, Chile – Impressions

Just an hour by bus north of Puerto Montt is Osorno, a small city in the Lakes District of Northern Patagonia. Osorno sits under the volcanic cone of Volcán Osorno, is home of the National Cattle Ranch of Chile and has a heavy german influence.

wpid-montaje_de_osorno-2013-05-2-14-59.jpg
Collage courtesy of Wikipedia

Osorno is typical Chilean city with some very spanish markets, far too many stray dogs and cheap beer. I stayed at Hostal Vermont, 10 minutes walk from the bus terminal in the city centre. The main streets and shopping malls are characteristic of larger cities with many bustling shops and people.

I came to Osorno for one reason, a hike in the neighbouring Parque Nacional Puyehue called ‘Baños del Caulle’. The hike climbs the side of Volcán Puyehue to the rim, walks around the side and down to a set of hot springs, the ‘baños’. This had originally a 4-day hike but I discovered that two years earlier, an eruption on the baños side of the volcano had destroyed the hot springs. I decided to do the hike anyway, climbing to the volcanic crater and camping further down.

As I prepared for the hike, the hostel owner informed me that one of her previous guests hadn’t returned from the hike. Three other’s had seen him there and had returned, but he had not. This didn’t worry me, and it turned out two other guests at the hostel would be doing the hike also.

To get to the national park in low season I had to catch a bus to a point about 20km from the trailhead and hitchhike the rest of the way. I was finally picked up after walking 12km and dropped off at the hike’s registration point where I could see the cone rising into the clear blue sky. On arrival I was told the police had closed the hiking trails as they were conducting a manhunt for the missing man.

That night I stayed at a small hotel next to the National Park called Anticura.  Close by was the river and several waterfalls.

DSCN2253

By morning, they still hadn’t located the missing hiker and park was still closed  as they were continuing the search. The weather had also turned, so I decided to head back. I flagged down a bus heading from Bariloche, Argentina to Osorno and an hour later was back in town.

The next day, I boarded a bus to Pucón, the party capital of Chilean Patagonia, where I was planning a 6-day hike around a pair of volcanoes.

The missing walker did eventually turn up on day three of the man hunt.  He’d gotten lost on the route.

Things to do in and around Osorno:

  • Visit Lago Puyehue
  • Climb Cerro Pantoja
  • Relax in the Termas Aguas Callientes – Hot Springs

The Lone Trail Wanderer