The day after Christmas, I decided to spend some time out in nature and seeing Nahuel Huapi National Park. Refugio Frey is the most popular refugio to hike to in the park and it is possible to go for the day or for a night. For those who don’t know, a refugio is basically a building in the backcountry of Patagonia and you can pay to sleep there versus bringing a tent to sleep in. They also have meals and drinks you can buy. I opted to go to Refugio Frey for the night and camp outside of the refugio (the only place in the park it is legal to camp). I then hiked from there to Refugio Jakob on Laguna Jakob. Originally, my plan was to then continue onto Refugio Laguna Negra but unfortunately the mountain pass was still closed due to snow.
The hike to Refugio Frey starts outside of the city in Villa Catedral and can be accessed by bus #55. The cost to get there is $30 pesos or so and you need a SUBE card to use for the bus. The card can be purchased at several kioskos in Bariloche and it is also the same card that is used in Buenos Aires! When you get off the bus you head across the parking lot to the dirt road and follow the trail from there. The hike started out pretty easy with a steady but not to steep incline. The trail circles around Lago Gutierrez and is very beautiful. After an hour and a half or so, we started climbing uphill a little more and were working our way through the woods and up the valley. The trail was very easy to follow and had a lot of foot traffic.
After three hours we arrived to Refugio Frey. The hike was estimated to take 3-4 hours and I was able to complete it in 3 hours with my pack. Upon arrival, I checked in at the refugio and got my tent number to camp. That afternoon, I enjoyed visiting with day hikers and admiring the view of the mountains and lake. There was also a huge group of rock climbers summiting a mountain nearby which was fun to watch. After dinner, I met two girls from Philadelphia and we had a fun time talking that evening. We also met a group of guys from Neuquen and General Roca and it was nice talking with them since I had just left that area.
The next morning, I started hiking around 10am. The hike to Laguna Jakob started out by circling the lake leaving Refugio Frey and once upon the other side of the lake, it started climbing. The trail was well marked and had a nice resting spot halfway up the mountain. At this rest spot, there was another lake and great views.
On this portion of the trek there was still a little bit of snow but the incline wasn’t very steep so it was easy to navigate. After an hour and a half or so I arrived to the top of the first mountain pass. The view was absolutely spectacular with views of the lakes and nearby mountain range covered in snow.
The hike down from the first mountain pass was fairly challenging and you might as well have been skiing with the amount of loose rock. Every step you took involved about a foot of sliding. Eventually you got used to it and the trip started going a lot faster. Upon arriving to the bottom of the first pass, you hiked along the valley through the woods. This portion of the hike was very tranquil and many people (including me) stopped for lunch in this section of the hike. The downhill and hike through the valley took about 1:30-2 hours. Upon arriving to the end of the valley, you start climbing up the next mountain range. The hike up is a very steady uphill and also pretty straightforward. The last 1/4 mile was definitely more challenging because it too was covered in snow. I also happened to be the first hiker to arrive to this part of the hike so I was the one foraging my way through the snow and it was a good bit steeper than that snowy section before.
However, the arrival to the top of this mountain pass was equally as stunning as the first and very windy. The view of the Refugio and Lake Jakob down below was amazing. The hike up took around an hour and a half and so did the hike down. The hike down was just as steep as the first section of downhill but was less loose pebbles/sand and more loose rock. I was definitely tired after this day of hiking but I would absolutely recommend it to anyone who enjoys hiking!
That evening I visited with some of the other hikers and enjoyed sleeping in the next morning. I started hiking around 11am to head back to Bariloche. The hike started out with a decent decline but nothing compared to the day before. It also quickly leveled out a good bit and was a beautiful, fairly easy, hike back to town. The path followed the river through the valley and lead past several waterfalls. The hike down took around 4:30 hours. After arriving to the bottom of the hike, we had to walk along a dirt road for a while and then we were lucky enough to hitch a ride with a couple back to the main road. (Note: If you are not able to find a ride with someone or arrange a ride beforehand, the portion adds around 5-6km to the hike until you reach a bus stop.)
This hike was stunning and I enjoyed every part of it. While there were other people on the hike, it was only around 15-20 people that hiked from Refugio Frey to Refugio Jakob which made it much less congested than the hike that goes to Frey. For anyone wanting to do a several day hike near Bariloche I would definitely recommend this one!