My near death experience – Bariloche, Argentina

There were no overnight buses from Pucon to Bariloche (most likely due to the border crossing from Chile to Argentina), so Sophie and I took a day bus and had a travel day.  As the  weather out was not suitable for being outdoors, it was a bit of a relief to know we weren’t spending a nice day out on a bus. The views of the seven lakes en route to Bariloche were also special and made the bus ride worth it. It was raining when we arrived in Bariloche and the weather forecast was not in our favor for the next couple of days, but we were hopeful!

The following morning, we woke up to a sight of snow outside our window. The snow didn’t last long and the skies began to clearly quickly in early afternoon. The views from our hostel (Penthouse 1004) were incredible as they offered 360 degree views of Lago Nahuel Huapi and the surrounding snow-capped mountains. After breakfast, Sophie and I met up with Mark and Deb, an Australian couple we met in Pucon, to explore Bariloche.

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As we ventured out, we realized it would have been a bit difficult to do a ton with the treacherous winds. Luckily, as the streets of Bariloche were populous with a variety of chocolate shops and cervecerías (breweries), we came up with our own Chocolate/Brewery Crawl. We began the crawl with a couple different chocolate shops, tasting and buying chocolates and sipping on hot chocolate. We then made our way to the cervecerías, only to discover the majority of them did not open till 5 or 6 pm (afternoon Siestas, I have come to learn, are very common in almost all of South America!).

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To kill some time and avoid the long wait, we headed to the supermarket to buy some steak to cook for dinner as we had heard meat was a cheap product in Argentina. After the market, we dropped the groceries off at the hostel and decided to cook after our beer crawl. We went to two of the more popular cervecerias, Manush and Antaras. I had a honey beer at Manush, which was light and refreshing. At Antaras, Sophie and I split a taster of 4 beers. I had no idea Argentinans liked and brewed beer but it was fun and interesting to see a side of the country I hadn’t discovered before.

After our satisfying beer tastings, we headed to the hostel to cook our steaks. Mark cooked them perfectly and the meat was tender and full of flavor without even bothering with seasoning. After dinner and with our bellies full of meat and beer, we called it a night and headed to bed.

The next morning, as Sophie and I desired a little adventure in Bariloche, we headed up the mountains to stay at a Refugio (a little hut with beds). After talking to an organization — Club Andino, whose main purpose was to help people choose what trails to hike, what to take along, and what best fits their fitness level — the previous day, we ended up deciding to hike Refugio Frey, along with an overnight stay there. The lady at Club Andino told us we would need snow shoes because it had snowed a decent amount the previous night. With all our rented gear we were prepared for our hike into the wilderness or so we thought. It was beautiful at the start of the trek, the sun was shining, the wind was tame, and the scenery breathtaking. I haven’t realized how beautiful the scenery was going to be on our 4 hour journey up to the Refugio. We started off with views of the lake and snow kissed mountains that later turned into forestry sprinkled with white. Although we didn’t end up using our snow shoes the first day, we sure looked professional and badass.

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The mixture of people inside the Refugio were either hikers or talented backcountry skiers. I had never heard of Frey before I arrived in Bariloche, but if you are an avid back-country skier, it is one of the top destinations to go to in the winter. Besides us, there were 6 other hikers, a couple from Portland and four Argentinian boys. The mood of the Refugio that night was a bit odd. We had come on the night where management was switching for one person to the next. Therefore, that night it was managed by one person and the next morning when we awoke it would be managed by another. Club Andino, the owner of the Refugio, decided that it wanted new management for the following season, therefore not renewing the contract of the current manager (who had been there the last 8 years). There was a bit of tension and you could tell the current but soon to be ex-manager was heartbroken, but making the best of the situation. That night, we went to bed thinking we would have another gorgeous day on the trail the following day.

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It snowed throughout the night and I mean really snowed (about 4 feet). It continued to snow or shall I say blizzard thought the morning as well. Seeing as it didn’t look as though it was going to get much better, Sophie and I along with the couple from Portland (Lindsay and Brandon) decided to head down. We strapped on our snow shoes and hoped for the best as we made our descent. Since we couldn’t see the path as clearly because of all the snow, it was difficult to know exactly which way to go. I had remembered crossing over a river to get to the Refugio and I could see the river from the day before. Sophie and I headed towards the path we remember, while Lindsay and Brandon headed towards the ridge. As we continued to walk, I could see the path as well as footprints in the snow up ahead further so I had assumed I was going in the right direction. Little did I know there is a very specific spot you should cross when making your way to the path. Within a matter of seconds, I had fallen through 4 feet of snow and down into the river and once I felt water I began to freak out. In that moment, I genuinely feared for my life. I didn’t know how deep the water was or how long I could hold grip of the snow around me. Many thoughts were going through my mind, was the river strong enough to take me down and how was I going to gain stability with stupid snow shoes on, to name a few. As I made eye contact with Sophie, I began to worry that she would also fall through. I had no idea how strong the snow was beneath her, all I knew was that I had to get out somehow. After calming myself down long enough to pull my snow shoe out of the water and secure it on a rock, I pulled myself up so I could see Sophie more clearly, thankfully the snow around me holing tight. She grabbed my hand pulling me out and after embracing for a few seconds, we quickly got out of the area. It was one of the scariest moments of our lives. I’m sure the pure panic on my face was enough to make anyone nervous. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t as dangerous of a situation as it felt, but if that rock or Sophie had not been there it could have been a lot worse and an entirely different situation.  And he best part is Sophie got it all on camera!

Be Careful Where You Step…(Click for Video)

Since we were not far from the Refugio, we headed back to wait for anyone else going down who knew the trail better than we did, which was pretty much anyone. One of the cooks was headed down, so we started to follow him and then soon caught up to the other 4 Argentinian hikers (Christian, Emmanuel, Julian, and Demian) who had been at the Refugio the night before as well. The second time around we had a nice group of 9 people and I instantly felt safer. It turns out I had been going the right way all along, but I crossed over to far up the hill, where it was apparently less stable. After safely crossing the river I instantly felt calmer even though we were still hiking through blizzard like conditions. Everyone hiking down with us were amazing, always making sure we were doing okay. We ended up hiking down with the 4 boys the majority of the time and when I no longer needed my snow shoes one of the boys even carried them for me. It was incredible the change in weather between the two days. The first day was beautiful clear skies as spring should be and not even 24 hours later it was snowing. It was though we were hiking through a winter wonderland, snowing the entire journey back down. For it to be snowing as much as it had that day was incredibly rare for this time of year. I thankfully made it down in one piece even with my near death experience, sneakers, and cotton gloves!

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We parted ways with the boys to go shower and defrost but made plans to meet up with them later for some dinner and beers. Only one of them spoke English, but it was helpful to practice my Spanish and for them to practice their English. They are a bunch of really fun, sweet guys as well as very generous. I’m hoping I can go visit them in their hometown on my way back up to Buenos Aires before I fly home. I fell asleep that night within a matter of seconds after such an eventful and exciting day. Safely back in the hostel, I can now laugh at the entire situation!

The next day the weather was once again not as nice as I would have liked, a mixture of rain and snow creating a sort of slush. I was planning on going to see a viewpoint, but instead stayed in the hostel all day catching up on emails, blogging, and just staying warm. Sophie and I parted ways, she was headed to Puerto Mont and I was headed to Puerto Madryn on an overnight bus. I am hoping to catch her again in Torres del Paine. I had a blast traveling with her this past week. She is sure to be someone I will never forget both as a friend who shares very similar interests and as my rescuer from the sunken hole in the snow!

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