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Campfires & Glacier Lake Swims

Welcome to the Argentine Lake District, and its wonderful capital of San Carlos de Bariloche. Or rather, Partyloche, as we liked to call it.

I spent two eventful weeks in the area, road-tripping with friends, hiking to waterfalls, and sampling all the local specialties, from craft beers at the lakeside Patagonia brewery, to chocolate ice-cream waffles at the legendary Rapa Nui. The stories are endless from my time spent in and around Partyloche. The nickname came from the many memorable and unexpected nights we had, from St. Patrick's Day (in Argentina of all places) to an illegal rave at nearby town El Bolsón. But rather than focusing on that, this story is about catching a break, and detoxing with some crisp mountain air and fresh glacier lake swims.

The essence of two weeks in Bariloche.

Three others joined me for a four-day hike in the Nahuel Huapi national park. I’d met Kaitlyn, from Canada, at a bar in town crowded with people reveling to the sound of bagpipes and Irish dancing. Jack, from England, I’d met at a rowdy game of Touch the Cup around a tiny wooden table in a local hostel. And Dutch Emily I’d met two weeks earlier on a cargo boat in the middle of nowhere. The four of us were keen to get away for several days in the wilderness. Equipped with two tents, sleeping bags, food, and (only) one bottle of red wine, we set off on a sunny late summer day from Villa Catedral.

The first day was a breezy hike up to the rock-climbing haven of Refugio Frey.

In the evening sun, the glacial waters were always too appealing to resist.

Over the four days, the trails alternated between dense green forested valleys and dry martian rock faces with no signs of life, and everything in between. We conquered two high passes, from where we were greeted with sweeping views of the lake district, complete with snow-capped volcanoes in the distance. In true Andean style, the days were hot and sunny, while the nights were cold and windy. We saw more condors gliding over our heads than we met other hikers on the trails.

On the first and third nights, we camped out next to lagoon-side refuges. The waters were frigid, coming straight from glaciers high up in the mountains, but the feeling of diving in after a long sweaty day of hiking was unmatched.

Sunrise on our tent and rock shelter after the first night.

Kaitlyn in the Frey valley.

After learning that a high mountain pass we wanted to take was shut, we changed our plan on the second day and decided to overnight in a quiet valley with nobody around. It was a beautiful forested spot, with a stream to get drinking water, which we followed to a waterfall where we had our daily swim in the rock pools. Even though it was only late March, the valley was already bathed in warm autumnal colors. With no one for miles around us, no lights or sounds, just a campfire and the stars above, there could be no better place to relax and enjoy nature.

Our camping spot for the second night.

Our reward after another sweaty and dusty day.

Jack at the pools, and in front of our campfire.

In sharp contrast with the surrounding valleys which were entirely green, the plants at our second camping spot were colored in vivid oranges and reds.

Distant views of Refugio Jakob, our destination on the third day of hiking. It was a steep descent along the loose rock mountain-face to the lagoon.

Our giant bath for the third day of the hike. Another idyllic camping spot.

Golden hour on Laguna Jakob.

On the final day, we followed a long forested river valley down from Refugio Jakob and out of the park, to a road where we were able to catch a ride back to Bariloche. That evening we celebrated in classic Argentinian style, with a half-kilo Ojo de Bife cut of steak each, and bottles of local Malbec wine at the amazing Alto el Fuego restaurant. We cheered to an epic adventure in the mountains.

One thing led to another, and a few hours later we were dancing at a crowded techno bar, beers in hand. One thing was clear: Partyloche was still alive and pumping. Good thing we had detoxed.


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