After getting a taste of the Grey Glacier in Torres del Paine National Park we decided that we needed to get even more up close and personal with one of the more accessible parts of the Southern Patagonia Ice Field; the Perito Moreno Glacier. The Grey Glacier made our hearts skip a beat, as it was our first look at the second largest ice field on the planet. But there was something about being able to stand directly in front of the Perito Moreno glacier, see the ice cracking and splashing into the water below that made us yearn to get even closer.
People wait for hours hoping to catch a glimpse of a giant section of ice plunge into the water, or even better yet, to see the “ice bridge” collapse, which happens about every four years (and happened only one week after we saw it!)
We decided to go out with a guide for our first glacier trekking experience. We strapped on our crampons and headed up one of the slippery, icy ridges on a side of the glacier that had hit land. There were pools of deep blue water that had formed from melted glacial ice and rivers we could feel underneath our feet making tunnels and mazes. Our guide encouraged us to take a drink from one of the pools, as it would be the purest water we could ever drink. So we did, each of us sticking our whole faces straight into the water. It was the only water we’ve ever tasted that could give Lake Superior a run for its money. We felt like we were in a different world.
In every direction there were towers of ice in all shades of blue for as far as we could see. Every now and then we’d have to take a leap over a dark, deep crack in the ice, which would snap us back into reality. When we came to the end of our trek we came up to a single wooden table close to the edge of the glacier. On the table were a few glass tumblers and a bottle of whisky. Our guide pulled out his ice axe, chipped some ice from the glacier straight into our glasses and poured us a round. It was the icing on the cake after our unforgettable day trip on Perito Moreno.
From Perito Moreno we headed north on a 24 hour bus to explore a different neck of the woods, a city called Bariloche. The town wraps around the southern shore of Nahuel Huapi Lake, lined with stony beaches and rock-ribbed bluffs.
After a couple of days getting a feel for the city and enjoying the lake we headed out to hike to a place called, "The Frey," which is a popular climbing destination and just one of many beautiful hikes in Nahuel Huapi National Park. We took a city bus to the trailhead, only about 30 minutes from the heart of Bariloche. The trail was bone-dry and the sun was hot, a change that felt so necessary after the continuous wind and cold we’d been experiencing for the couple of months previous. We couldn’t have been happier to be hiking in our shorts and have the option to take a water break without having the sweat freeze to our backs. The trail never felt so good. Spirits were high as we trudged along the first section. It held it's elevation for the first half and then took a drastic turn straight uphill, reminding us that if we wanted to reach our campsite we would have to work for it. This was one of the most challenging stretches of trail we'd come across up until this point, but damn, was it worth it.
A small lake had formed at the top from snowmelt, and surrounding it were the most broken, craggy looking rock faces that looked like enough wind from the wrong direction would send them tumbling over. It was like someone went around making gigantic rock cairns and topped them all off with a piece that didn't quite balance right. So, naturally, we had to climb them.
One of the best days we've had on our trip was the day we spent scrambling all around these enormous, highly stacked boulders. Hours and hours of climbing as far as we could get without a rope, we were in our happy place. From the top we were level with the towers that seemed so overpowering from the bottom. We had panoramic views of the hills and valleys, and Refugio Frey which seemed to blend in with the rest of the house size boulders. It's bright red shutters were our landmark from up above.
Refugio Frey is a small, rustic style cabin with a full kitchen, dining area and sleeping quarters in the loft. It usually offers full meals and a small selection of wine and beer for a fair price. Those who hike up to Refugio Frey with packs full of climbing gear and no room for a tent can pay to sleep on a bunk in the loft. Refugios are common in National Parks in Argentina and Chile. They're a great alternative if you don't have room to pack all of your camping gear but still want to experience places you can only get to by foot. While we opted for the camping option, we'd be lying if we said we didn’t assist with the kicking of the keg of artisanal beer they had on tap.
Hiking around this different side of Patagonia was a good change of pace for us. We couldn't wait to see what else the "Lake District" had in store for us.
There have been a few times on our trip when we've felt moments of going back in time. Even for just a few seconds we can feel it profoundly. It makes us take a second look at our surroundings as we simultaneously do a mental past-vs-present comparison. It's a privilege we don't take lightly, finding ourselves in areas where time seems to stand still and local practices continue to hold their importance. A place called Cochamo in Chile was one of those places.
Cochamo was the hardest place for us to get to this far. We hitchhiked from a city called Puerto Varas to Cochamo and from there walked to the trailhead just outside of the main part of town. Hitchhiking is very common for travelers and locals in Chile. They're often very generous and will take you farther than they had originally planned to go out of the kindness of their hearts. Some people we've met along the way had hitched their whole trip, making it their main form of transportation. Usually whoever would pick us up would have us hop in the back of their truck with our packs.
It took us roughly 3 hours to hike from the trailhead to our campsite called La Junta, in the heart of Cochamo Valley. After hiking through continuous mud under the thick rainforest canopy we finally reached an open green pasture where cows were grazing around the scattered tents. We felt like we’d arrived in Yosemite National Park 100 years ago. There were maybe 50 other people camping in the entire valley while we were there and we rarely passed other people on the trail. There were rugged Patagonian Gauchos on horses, immense granite outcroppings hanging over our campsite and trees that were thousands of years old.
One of the things we wanted to do when we got to Cochamo Valley was a hike called Arco Iris, which is notorious for it’s steep path. Some stretches were so steep they had established old climbing ropes to use to help shimmy your way up the rock.
This was by far our favorite hike in Cochamo Valley. From the top we had the most incredible view of the Valley and surrounding mountains and volcanoes. Definitely worth the demanding 10 hours on the trail.
Cochamo Valley wrapped up our time in Patagonia. All together it was a rollercoaster of weather, challenging hikes, and rewarding, incredible scenery. We had originally planned a much shorter time in Patagonia, but once we got there we knew it would be hard to leave. We took our time and enjoyed every step along the way. We did Patagonia big, and we won’t soon forget how it felt to be in the presence of these amazing places.