After Mendoza, I headed down to Bariloche which is the outdoors capital of Argentina, situated in the beautiful Lake District. Quite luckily I managed to get a room in one of the best hostels going. Suitably called the Penthouse, it has a stunning view out over the town and lake:
There I met the lovely Amanda:
and w spent the next few days enjoying what Bariloche has to offer. First off was obviously a night out in the local Irish bar which oddly was the least touristy bar in town and the place were all the Argentinians went to.
Argentinians don't go out until about 1am and then stay out until dawn. This obviously dented our attempts to be up and out early the next morning but we managed in the end to head off for the the Circuito Chico; a 30k bike ride through some stunning lakes stopping off for small walks and swims along the way.
Very highly recommended but make sure you have plenty of time – we finished in about 7 hours as there is so much to see along the way.
Next we went for a bit of a hike. The most famous walk in the region is the Refugio Frey walk but I would highly recommend doing the Frey por el Filo trek instead. These both start from the Cerro Cathedral ski resort. The first is a return walk to the Refugio Frey – a mountain hut – but there has been quite a bit of damage to the trees along the way and much of the beauty has gone. The Frey por el Filo trek is long enough to give you a bit of a work out but short enough to comforatbly get done in a day – about 6 hours in all with a few stops included. It takes you up to the ridge above the ski area
and then an excellent, not too challenging scramble along the back of it
with superb views off to the side:
from which you drop down to a small lake and then drop down again into the valley with the Refugio in it and from there back to the resort.
Final day was a frustrating one trying to find the 6 Nations on anywhere. Despite Argentina being a rugby country, they are keener on their siestas and none of the traditional bars seemed at all keen on opening up mid afternoon for us. We found it on ESPN but rugby is not the same without Eddie, Brian, Jonathan or any of the other usual suspects so we ended up watching it over the internet - or at least as much of the games as wasn't being skipped given the poor internet feed!
After some fun days in Bariloche I was ready for a bit of a challenge. One of the attractions in the area is the beautiful Siete Lagos (seven lakes) road from Bariloche (890m) up to San Martin de Los Andes (930m) via Villa la Angostura (850m) and there are numerous buses doing day trips up and back. It is about 400km in all but the roads are in very bad condition despite the continual governmental promises over the past 20 years to pave them. Talking to some of the bike shops in town it certainly seemed possible to bike the route but they were unsure about doing so without camping in between nights in the towns along the way. Obviously I knew better - and did not want to go to the hassle of taking a tent and sleeping bag along! A completely full and rather heavy backpack seemed a much better idea at the time…. Below is the photograph of the poster in the bike shop that I used as a map for my trip.
A rather chilly start cycling under heavy clouds and busy roads along the shore of the lake – but at least this provided some real atmosphere to the scenery.
The road then left the lake to cut inland slightly and head up a very long and gently rising valley – not only was there little to see but it also almost perfectly hit the cold, strong wind head on. Hard work and not made any easier by constantly being passed by the day trip busses hooting gleefully at me in my misery. Finally the valley ended and road started to wind through the mountains again affording me a view, sun and protection from the wind for lunch.
More twists, turns, ups and downs followed before getting to Villa la Angostura at about 15:30. This is a very nicely presented tourist town or at least as far as the main street goes, things aren’t quite so well cared for even a block either side of it. I was pretty tired, hungry and hot and had promised myself some food and a cold drink - but of course all kitchens were closed for a siesta. Eventually found a Panini and then got some very good ice cream for the short journey to the hostel – not the easiest when wheeling a bike as well – but delicious and refreshing. I was looking forward to an early night but I had failed to plan for the others in the hostel – all Argentinians and so music, chatting and cooking started at about 11pm and went on until 2am!
This is the main day with route winding between a number of lakes with continual stunning views to either, if not both, sides - apologies, but I seem to be running out of different adjectives for how beautiful this region is and the number of amazing views there are.
Albeit cracked and in poor condition, the road starts out paved and I was lulling myself into a false sense of security that the warnings were rather exaggerated and the morning breeze provided a wonderful temperature for cycling.
However, after about 30k I hit the road works and then the stony track that twists its way over and through a number of steep mountains. I am pretty convinced that there is a lot more uphill than downhill today so it will be interesting to see what the way back is like – hopefully lots of downhill rather than me just being a bit weak.
For anyone planning this in future, and who is looking to do this ride in a more sensible fashion, I would recommend camping at Lake Falkner - a good distance between the towns and more established campsites than the rest of the route. It is also shortly after the tarmac starts again so at least you have got that out of the way! Perhaps this was what the people in the biks shops were referring to?
A bit later, and after a reasonable climb to a pass, I entered an oddly round valley with steep mountains on all sides. I surveyed this with an impending sense of concern as I realised that there were no real exit points that looked as though they contained a road apart from the highest, furthest corner which had a large, road like scar running up to its top left. The road into San Martin is a famed 10k descent which would probably need a decent height to start at. Sure enough the road rose relentlessly up to that point, even throwing a good few false summits in for fun.
The final stretch lived up to its reputation with broad sweeping turns and a fast, but not too steep, descent into San Martin. The route is hugely popular with day trippers from the town and there seemed to be a whole host of us rushing back to get a dip in the lake before the sun dipped behind the surrounding mountains.
The day starts with the 10k climb back up out of the valley and down into the next one (retracing the end of yesterday) which is all great fun before heading left onto the new path.
This also coincides with leaving the tarmac and the start of the 67km ride on the gravel track back to the main road. The good: for most of the next 40k or so the road follows lakes and rivers and is a beautiful track, flowing gently downhill. The bad: the track is very corrugated which means it is both painful (the body is constantly being jarred) and tiring as the bumps drain any speed that you manage to generate.
Then after about 40k, the road leaves the water behind and the valley broadens out with no sign of anything like a ground level exit.
Sure enough, the road soon starts to climb and quite a while later reaches the Cordoba Pass at about 1,350mts. It has been quite a climb given the heat, road surface and distance cycled so far but what traffic there is is all very encouraging with shouts, cheers and waves as I trundle on.
From the pass, I am hoping for another sight of a smooth, flowing paved road down to Confluencia. Unfortunately it is not to be as the surface gets even worse and the road twists and turns and is either steep up or down.
By this point both my back and brakes are on their last legs and creaking horribly – I wonder if either or both will give out before I finish today. There is not much to see after a while and it is just a schlep to bounce and bump along until I turn a corner and see a large river and tarmac road in the distance, Confluencia, where there is a shower, bed and meal waiting for me.
Marvellously, despite displaying an ‘abierto’ sign the hosteleria is locked and there is no one about. I am told at the service station opposite that they have seen the owner / manager that day but have no idea where she is and that she does not have a mobile phone so if she is not in the hostel it is not possible to contact her. The choice is therefore to wait and see if she turns up or start on the remaining 70k back to Bariloche and hope to make it before it gets too dark and cold – it is now about 18:00 and not wanting to be stuck outside at night I wearily remount and start back to Bariloche.
The road surface is good and generally downhill for the first 50k so I can make decent time for a bit. The last 20k is round the lake back to Bariloche and the wind picks up as the sun sets and I hit the confluence of evening traffic coming into town – marvellous again! I finally pull into the bike shop at 20:29 just one minute before it closes; cold, tired and weary to drop things off before I head off for a beer and bed. Not always the best at the time but pretty satisfying to look back upon.
Overall a cracking trip but you do need to be pretty fit to be in any shape to enjoy the scenery.
Accounts and photos of completing the Explorers Grand Slam - 2 Poles and 7 Summits. By Sebastian Merriman. Aconcagua, Ama Dablam, Carstenz Pyramid, Denali, McKinley, Elbrus, Everest, Kosciusko, Kilimanjaro, North Pole, Arctic, South Pole, Antarctic, Antarctica, Vinson, vertigo, climbing, mountaineering, skiing to the pole, skiing to the poles, seb2poles7summits, seb27, Seb Merriman, seb2poles, mountains, poles