The hike to Refugio Frey is one of the top things to do in Bariloche, so I did it as soon as I arrived because the weather was best for the first couple of days. The night beforehand, some fellow travelers at the hostel who had just completed the hike complained about it being long (22km) and hot, with annoying biting flies along the way…a little off putting, but I still had to see for myself!
The hike starts at the Catedral ski area, one of the most popular ski areas in South America. However, in the summer, it’s completely dead, so don’t expect much. No place to recharge your Sube card (which you use to pay for all public transportation), no open ATMs, and no open shops except for a single kiosk that shut its doors at 6:30. There is, however, a lift that is open if you want to take it up to see the view. Some people I ran into before highly recommended taking the lift, but it’s a separate path from Refugio Frey, so I passed on it this time.
Because it’s such a popular hike, there are always people going and I found a group from my hostel to go together. We took the hourly 55 bus up to Catedral, the last stop.
When we first got there, it wasn’t really clear where to go. We wandered into the village with all the closed shops until one of the locals pointed us in the right direction, towards the other end of the parking lot. There, we found confirmation for Refugio Frey:
The hike starts out fairly flat, circumventing the mountain. We crossed many little wooden bridges along the way, and were treated to beautiful panoramic views:
It’s a dusty dirt road, so prepare for all of your clothes and belongings to be dyed the same light brown at the end. And those horse flies: they’re a constant nuisance! They’re triple the size of ordinary flies and they bite even through clothing, which sends a sharp little stab of pain. We probably expended almost as much energy dancing to chase the flies away as we did actually hiking.
About two hours in, we arrived at a cabin that was literally built under a rock, Refugio Petricek. At this point, we saw signs saying that we were an hour away from the top. It didn’t feel like we had gone that far yet, but I’ll take anything in my favor!
Unfortunately, this is also when the uphill trudge started. It thankfully didn’t last long, though, and occasionally when the trees cleared, we were also treated to a great view:
Pretty soon, we could see the roof of the refugio in the distance. However, there was one last obstacle left: a river crossing. There are just enough stones that you might make the crossing without getting your shoes wet, but not quite enough for you to be confident that you won’t fall face first into the river. Thankfully there is a rope to hang onto, but it’s high up for us short folk and it’s not the sturdiest hand hold in the world. To be safe, I took my shoes off when i first crossed, but on the way back, I took a risk – and actually made it!
Almost directly on the other side of the river is the refugio:
Visitors are asked to check in, and you can also buy some food and snacks here if you need it.
The view from the refugio is amazing, an icy lagoon surrounded by tall, jagged peaks.
After about an hour of eating lunch and relaxing by the lagoon, we made our way back down. The first downhill portion went by extremely quickly, but the flat area was seemingly never-ending. The last hour especially was hard on the feet, so I was extremely relieved to be sitting on the bus.
The hike was a bit tougher than I anticipated, maybe because I was influenced by the people complaining about it the night before in my hostel and maybe also because I was coming down with a cold. Yeah…let’s say it was that last one. In any case, I have a lot more hiking coming up as I go further down south into Patagonia, so this was just a warm up for me to get into shape!