Immediately after my race had finished we returned to the small town of Bariloche. As if I was jet lagged after a long flight, I spent the evening deliriously wandering around the town before picking up some food and heading back to my hotel.
After a fairly restless night, it was a treat to wake up in a bed knowing that I didn’t have to run. I did have to do something though, I couldn’t just sit in my room when I was surrounded by such beautiful landscape.
I had overheard some of the team talking about a mountain hut not far from where we had finished the race the day before. Refugio Frey, Bariloche.
According to them the hut stood proudly beside a lake on the hillside at 1700 meters above sea level and had become a mecca for ski bums during the winter and climbing nuts and travelers during the summer months. The suggested three to four hour hike to reach it was a daunting prospect having just completed one hundred kilometers of similar trail over the last three days but I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see this place for myself.
I packed up a small bag along with my bivvy sack and camera and made my way to the trail head at Cerro Caterderall.
I set off on the trail early evening with the intention of finding the hut, eating there, sleeping and returning the following morning. The forecast was mostly clear with very little wind to trouble me.
As I pushed on, I realized that the beginning part of my route up the mountain had actually formed part of the trail that I ran during El Cruce. It was an unexpected opportunity to remind myself just how incredible the last few days had been.
The hike took me about two and a half hours, around the mountain, through the woodland and eventually up towards the summit. As I reached the tree line, light had faded but the moon line only seemed to exaggerate the sharp, rugged outline of the mountains in Chile that this region was so famous for.
Before long, I reached the hut. At night it didn’t look like much but I made my way inside and sure enough the place was packed with climbers from all over the world sharing stories over mugs of wine.
I spoke with the people in charge of the hut and asked about staying the night. I didn’t make a reservation before heading up the mountain but it is strongly advised that you do so before leaving. I was given the option to sleep outside or take my place in the dormitory upstairs. With the weather looking favorable, I opted for a night under the stars. With my decision made, I inquired about food. As if I would be disappointed I was told sympathetically that the only food available was pizza. I really was in paradise!
I ate and listened as people explained how and why they were at this hut. After finishing, I headed out to find my ‘room’ for the night. I found a little decked area by the lake behind the hut.
Shadowed by the mountains I rolled out my sleeping bag and climbed inside. It was late by now and with nothing left to do but lay back and watch the stars that’s exactly what I did. With a few deep breaths I settled in and drifted off to sleep.
Around 7AM, I woke to complete silence just as the morning glow began to work its way down the mountain faces opposite my ‘camp.’
I ventured into the hut one last time to refill my water and say my goodbyes before heading back to Bariloche.
On the way down, I paused to reflect on what I had achieved while in Argentina as well as soak up the beauty of the surrounding landscape one last time.
I thought about the hut and how it had become such a paradise for such a variety of people. Some taking a break from school. Others ticking off their bucket lists but everyone had one thing in common. They all loved the outdoors as well as the people who they met on their travels. A community of people who didn’t care who you where, where you were from, what language you spoke or even what you believed in. They cared that you had become part of their journey and shared this experience with them in some small way.
It was the type of acceptance you never wanted to give up, a place you never wanted to leave and one I will never forget.