Reaching the top of Cerro Lopez: The time I learned to always follow the red arrows
When I caught a glimpse of the red and white arrow painted on to the rocks in front of me I felt a wave of relief, finally back on track. At first I thought it pointed towards the top, Cerro Lopez here we come, but then I noticed the white text below it: “R. Lopez” it said. Last time I checked Cerro (mountain) started with a c, so it could be no other than the way back to Refugio Lopez. So that was the way we were supposed to have come!
The last half hour or so we had struggled up a steep moraine, with small loose stones constantly slipping away from under our feet, it was even worse than my climb up to Mount Ngauruhoe in New Zealand last year. It’s definitely one of the most complicated descents I have done, and I have traversed quite a few moraines in my life. I was so afraid of losing my footing that I ended up climbing up through a narrow slip in the solid rocks next to the moraine. I had stopped more than once to look at the path behind me, contemplating on how the hell I was supposed to get back down again. Getting up is one thing, going down, especially when you have more or less been climbing at parts, is a completely different story.
But still we continued. We were going to reach the top! Also, going up seemed like a way better idea than going down at the time, no need to worry about the difficult descent until it was absolutely necessary. I knew we had lost the track a while ago, we hadn’t seen any red signs or cairns since we were down at the pond, about halfway between the refugio and the top, but I also knew that at if we just continued up, we had to reach the top at some point, and as the top was our goal it didn’t seem like such a bad plan.
How glad I was when I saw that arrow, it meant that there was another path down, and no way could it be any harder than the one we had just come up.
The pink house on the hill
Before my travels I didn’t know much about Bariloche, except that it was in the lakes district of Argentina, that it was a very popular destination, very touristy, very many find it too touristy, and that they supposedly had really good chocolate and ice cream (I can’t verify the chocolate, I didn’t try a single piece, I was too occupied devouring quarter kilos of delicious ice cream). I didn’t know anything about the mountains or hikes around it.
When I was in El Chaltén and decided that I wouldn’t do any more hikes in a while someone showed me some beautiful pictures of the Tres Lagos hike, trying to convince me to change my mind. I didn’t contradict them on the fact that it was a beautiful hike, the views amazing, the clear blue color of the lake incredible, that it would definitely be worth the steep climb and that you can’t really go to El Chaltén without doing this particular hike. Still, I had made up my mind, no more hikes in El Chaltén – I was completely done for.
They also showed me some other pictures, from another hike, which caught my attention. Lakes dotted with forest clad islands and mountains rising in the distant. It was the green that got me. Most of Patagonia is just vast yellow wind swept steps, it rarely rains and you can sit on a bus for over 20 hours and have the same views the whole time. You have lots of beautiful spots, most noticeably around the Andes, but even a lot of those places tend to be pretty dry and barren, like El Chaltén. The landscape in the pictures though was lush, and there, on the top of a hill, half way up a mountain, was a pink building. From far away it almost looked as it was clinging on to the side of the mountain. The place was Bariloche, the building refugio Lopez. I was definitely going there!
Now if only the bus would come
When I finally reached Bariloche I was determined not to leave the place until I had climbed cerro Lopez. I was lucky with the weather, sunny or slightly cloudy almost every single day. I went biking around the circuito chico with a group of people from my hostel, I ate tons of ice cream, I went on a slight hitchhiking detour for a couple of days with Antonella and then one day I decided today is the day. I was going to climb to the top of Cerro Lopez.
I went to the bus stop, I had no idea when the bus would leave, but for some reason I thought it went every twenty minutes, which it definitely didn’t. After 40 minutes I finally took a look at the little slip of paper I had received when I bought the bus ticket card thing you have to have to take buses around Bariloche. It was a timetable for where I was going, I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t taken a look at it before. There was only one bus every second hour or so, the next were supposed to leave in 20 minutes, there went my plan of starting early (it had kind of gone already, but it flew even further away). The map of the area said it was 4-5 hours return to Refugio lopez, but I was going further than refugio Lopez, if the map was right it would maybe be 8 or 9 hours return and I was getting nervous if I had enough time. Still I kept up with my plan, it would probably work at somehow.
Volcanos and “fjords”
As soon as we had found the right track again everything was easy, it didn’t take long before we reached the summit of cerro Lopez, a rounded hill piled up of stones. That wonderful feeling of being on the top of a mountain, to get views in all possible directions. An older Austrian woman that stayed in my hostel in Bariloche had been to Refugio Lopez the day before. When I told her that I wanted to go there and then further, all the way to the top because I love the feeling of reaching a summit, she snorted and said that she had hiked to many mountain tops in her life and that when I got older maybe I’d finally be able to enjoy the walk and not hunt for the tops. But for me it’s not so much about reaching the tops as the feeling of just being there, the amazing views you get there, whichever direction you look you can see the landscape unfold in front of you. The views and the tranquility, that’s what I love.
And the views were even more stunning than I had expected. At one side we could see down to Nauhel Huapi Lake, and the little Lago Perito Moreno that I had biked around the other day. Trees covered the landscape, and in the background tons of mountains were rising. It was the same view we had had the whole way, but we were way higher and could see further.
The real magic though, happened when we looked the other way. Long, narrow lakes sided be tall steep mountains dominated the landscape. The views reminded me of the fjords of Norway, except for the two volcanos that rose far away in the background. Two of the many volcanos of Chile.
The Austrian woman can enjoy her walks as much as she wants, I will continue to enjoy and cherish my mountain tops.
Never walk alone in the mountains
Walking up had taken shorter time and been easier than I expected (except for the part where we got lost and walked off the trail). I had started out alone, rushing up the steep trails. My pulse racing, sweat constantly running down my face. I must have looked completely exhausted because people kept telling me “falta poco” (not much left/almost there). Hadn’t I been hiking a lot during my time in Argentina? Shouldn’t I be in better shape? As soon as I reached the refugio I felt a lot better though when I realized that it had only taken me one and a half hour instead of the normal two to two and a half. All the hard work was finally paying off. It might still be hard to walk up steep hills, but at least I was walking them a lot faster.
While sitting on a bench outside the pink painted building, enjoying the views and eating a bit of my lunch, I met a middle aged guy from some European country, can’t remember which, who had been travelling for eight years. The last two had been spent in a car that he had driven all the way from the Canadian border and down south, heading for Ushuaia in Argentina. The car broke down a couple of weeks before I met him, but he was still heading for Ushuaia, by bus. He was also heading towards the summit of Cerro Lopez so we decided to go the last bit together.
You have a little set of “rules” in Norway when it comes to hiking in the mountains. One of them says: Never hike alone. I abide by it most of the time but not always, and this was one of the exceptions. As soon as we started on the trail leading from the refugio up to the summit we were both glad we had found some company. The path was steep, and a lot harder to traverse than the path up to the refugio, we had to use our hands and almost climb a lot of places. Also, we didn’t meet many people, just a German on a multiday trek through the area, and two Argentinian day hikers on the summit. If I had gone alone and something where to happen, like if I sprained my ankle (which is not unlikely with my weak ankles and something I always fear, especially when I wear my sneakers without ankle support instead of my hiking boots) there would be no one to help.
Follow the red arrows
When we walked down again we made sure to follow the signs. Sure, it was steep and hard to go down in places, but it wasn’t even as near as hard as where we had come up. When we got back down to the little lake we realized where it had all gone wrong. We had been misled by some other red arrows and dots taking us to the left of the lake, instead of to the right, which is where the path continued. Now that we knew where the path really went we couldn’t understand how we could have overlooked the signs leading in the right direction on our way up. We might not have taken the easiest route but we managed anyway, and my hiking burnout was officially over.
As soon as we reached the road we hitched a ride back into town. Really starting to get the hang of catching rides now.