My partner Tess and I have just wrapped up part 1 of our 3-stage Argentine climbing adventure. Below is a look at our experience at The Frey.
Situated 800 meters (2600ft) higher and a 4-hour hike from Bariloche’s famous “Catedral” ski resort, the Refugio Frey is a mountain hut that serves as the center for all things climbing in the Frey area.
While paying guests can spend the night in the Refugio and enjoy home cooked meals at the hut’s restaurant, most overnight visitors forego such amenities and set up camp along the neighboring hillside. For some visitors, this is just the first stop of many along a popular 4-5 day circuit trek that winds its way through these mountains. For most, this is the final destination where they will camp for a night or two and then return to civilization. But, for a select group, this place will become basecamp while they explore the vertical world that surrounds.
Most of the climbing at the Frey can be found on the faces and cracks of the numerous granite towers and monoliths that are scattered about the two cirques that surround the Refugio. While the climbing itself can be quite varied, ranging from single pitch sport climbs up to 12-pitch alpine horror shows, most routes are trad climbs between one and three pitches in length. Crack climbing is generally the name of the game here, but many (bold) face routes can be found climbing the huecoed and wind-sculpted granite.
This area was one of the first to be climbed at in Argentina and offers a very old school feel with its stout grades and heady routes. With the constantly relaxed, party-like atmosphere at camp and enjoyable cragging, I was surprised more than once how quickly the climbing took on a more “big mountain” feel on the multi pitch routes. Route finding, down climbing, and choss wrangling skills are all must-haves on even the most popular long climbs.
While the weather was unbelievably dry and clear for us (we only had one day of periodic rain during our two-week stay), the wind was an issue both on and off the rock. In camp, it was standard for the wind to blow so hard at night that Tess and I would be woken up by sand coming through the mesh in our tent and blasting over our faces, even with the fly pulled in tight. On the rock, the wind made for some cold days when we climbed a route on the shady side of a tower (luckily this didn’t happen often).
The biggest drawbacks of this area are the often long approaches and knee-destroying descents. All but one climbing area involve a hike from camp of almost an hour or more, and often for only 60 to 90 meters (200′-300′) of climbing. Even when moving between close features the talus-filled slopes and short cliff bands made travel a slow process. One advantage of the committing approaches though is that we would often have the feature completely to ourselves.
While I might not be in a hurry to return to the Frey, our two weeks there have done their job. Tess and I have been able to lay a solid foundation for our expedition partnership, covering everything from working efficiently as a climbing team to getting all our viral Youtube video quotes sorted. In addition, the meters of Argentine granite that have now past beneath our hands and feet have allowed us to develop a feel for the intricacies of climbing on this specific type of stone. Lastly, we have had the opportunity to experience another of the world’s premiere climbing destinations, an opportunity I am most grateful for.
…. And lets not let us forget the toilet paper. In most of Argentina (most of South America for that matter) the toilet paper is not flushed away, but rather disposed of in a waste basket. To help cut down on the unpleasant oder, much of the paper is “scented”. Stange, but (possibly?) effective.
Now, it is time for Tess and I to begin this show’s main act. We have two days to prepare ourselves for a one-month climbing journey into the Piritas Valley. Looking forward to sharing more with you when the opportunity allows.