by Eric Gresham:
Normally by July, Bariloche, Argentina is a month into ski season. However, this winter has been marred by the potent combination of Chile’s Volcán Petrohue’s eruption, whose ashes have disrupted flights all over Argentina, and a rare lack of snow. Consequently, many have shied away from Bariloche this season, paralyzing the local economy.
But I would not. After an interview with the regional manager of Andina del Sud, a Patagionian travel firm, I was offered a space on the “Cruce Andino.” The trip transports tourists from Puerto Varas, Chile, to Bariloche, Argentina. Via boats and buses, travelers cross several lakes and wind their way through the Andes Mountains.
So on Thursday night I arrived in Bariloche, snowboard in hand. Whether it was luck or my stubborn belief that Bariloche in July would equal snow, I was rewarded: my taxi could hardly enter the parking lot of my hotel due to the meter of powder blocking our path. After such a welcome, I was shocked when the receptionist told me, smiling, “Oh, no — the only people who have skied so far have walked. The lifts are opening tomorrow!”
Only here for two days, I refused to waste one inside. After asking around town, I found a trail leading up the mountain, and commenced a two-hour hike up to a lift’s base camp. Unsure of where to go from there, I prepared to make my one descent of the day, first seeking shelter under a nearby wooden lodge to warm up. But as I walked under the porch, I realized I was not alone.
A scent of smoke wafted my way, and I heard the laughing and jabbering of eight skiers and snowboarders huddled together passing around a cigarette. They paused a moment at my appearance, and I asked in broken Spanish if they were going higher up the mountain. One chuckled. “Much, much higher,” he replied. Seeing that they were leaving, and following a second of self-deliberation, I asked if I could join.
Meanwhile, their German shepherd “Daisy,” came over and sniffed me out; she approved. Ten minutes later, we were making our ascent up a trail I never would have found by myself.
Three hours into the hike, my legs were burning. I guess squats and lunges hadn’t prepared me for trekking through waist deep powder. The surging fear of cramping combined with the fact I had no idea where we were going started to wear on my original optimism for the adventure. But the camaraderie and awesome views were more than enough to push me through.
Another hour later, we arrived at our destination. Taking off soaked gloves and jackets, we shared what food and water we had left.
The toil of the hike was well worth the reward. Even with lifts open the ensuing day and the entire resort to explore, no run would compare to that day’s half-hour ride through untouched powder. I will remember Bariloche for its otherworldly views and the ability to ski eight hours straight without repeating the same trail. But most of all, I will remember it for a brutal six-hour hike with eight strangers and their dog, enjoying the day as that mountain’s creator must have intended.
If you are interested in reading the article I wrote for the Patagon Journal about my time in Bariloche, you can find it here: http://www.patagonjournal.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2070%3Abariloche-argentina-todavia-paraiso-invernal&catid=100%3Aexcursiones&Itemid=249&lang=en