Trip Report    

Backpack Across the Northern Patagonian Andes through Argentina's Nahuel Huapi National Park

A fun and rewarding Global Adventure Feb 12-22, 2023 on a stunning, remote backpacking trail across high ridges with a glacier-covered volcano in the distance and lakes everywhere!

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
    • The trailhead at Colonia Suiza is accessible by public transport from Bariloche, though our trailhead  transport was provided in a van by our outfitter
    • The trails on this route are mapped well on Gaia but generally not signed on the ground.
    • The trails are quite rugged in many places with lots of boulders, slabs, steep scree and occasional class-3 (perhaps sneaking toward class 4) terrain where we were very happy to have our guides and porters giving us a hand.  There was one VERY steep and sketchy descent from the saddle near Cerro Crystal which I would not recommend to anyone without scramble training unless you have a support crew to assist like we did.  Everyone needs to have excellent balance and good joints as well as comfort with moderate exposure.
    • The trails on this route are more strenuous than their distance and gain indicate (and take more time) because of the very rugged terrain.  Participants need recent experience on strenuous backpacking trips, and leaders need to plan more time for each day than you might otherwise expect on a typical groomed trail in the US.
    • We had one glacier crossing, which our outfitter supported with harness, crampons and ropes.  The crossing would have been relatively easy to do without these, but the snow WAS soft and the guides pointed out and led us around a number of places where the snow was melting into holes and snow bridges.
    • Camps were plentiful where we stopped and we saw almost no one until Laguna Ilon (which was a mob scene because close to a road).  
    • The weather in late February was just about perfect!

This Global Adventure (the second I've led on this trail) began in Bariloche Argentina with an optional dayhike around Llao Llao national park (rode the bus from downtown), and then a guided dayhike from the top of the Cerro Catedral chairlift along and around the ridges to amazing panoramic views to the lakes and valleys around Bariloche.  This was an excellent way for all of our group members to get an intro to the "trails" and hiking conditions around Nahuel Huapi National Park, and for our two guides to see what we can do.

Then we started our 8-day backpacking traverse across Nahuel Huapi from Colonia Suiza to Puerto Frias, right under the Tronador volcano, where some participants took the Cruce Andino boat back to Bariloche and some took the bus-boat to Petrohue in Chile ($295 for the one-way ride).    The gaia folder for all the daily routes can be found at this link.    Total distance was almost 66 miles, with 21509 feet of gain and 22627 feet of loss, high point 6725 feet.  See photos from the trip at this link.

We used a local outfitter Andescross which had supported us very well on our last visit in 2017.  They did a fantastic job again, attending to every detail and providing top-notch guides and assistants.  They aren't the cheapest but you don't want to cheap out on a route like this.  As an example, two of our participants had to leave early for family emergencies during the trip and Andescross spent hours helping them make arrangements.  They were also very supportive through the pandemic as this trip had to be postponed twice - they didn't charge us any money until we actually were able to commit to go.  I hired an outfitter for this trip in order to faciilitate all the custom transportation arrangements and to ensure that we had good guides to help with the extended off-trail sections and more sketchy boulder hopping and scree descents as well as with the Glacier Alerce crossing which wouldn't otherwise have been allowed within the backpacking activity standard.  They also provided food (otherwise really complicated to either bring in or buy all of our backpacking food) and helped to carry it and the stoves etc!  I wanted to ease the load in the group's backpacks so paid extra for two assistants to help carry a lot of the food, though we carried a lot of the lunches and snacks.

There were formed trails much of the way (though also major sections over boulders that weren't marked on the ground) and the whole trail system could be mapped on Gaia.

Our days were as follows (starting at day 2 - I normally add a free day in town on my itineraries so that flight and baggage delays don't cripple anyone on the trek):

Day 2.  Loop hike past Cerro Catedral and Refugio Frey, including transport, guide and lunch.   10.6 miles 2670' 4646' 6725'

A great dayhike starting with the Catedral chairlift and a loop hike traversing and ascending/descending ridges with vast views.  No real trail but easy to move along - lots of steep scree.  This was mostly a shakedown to allow guides and participants to get acquainted and familiar with one another's skills.

Day 3.  Transport to Colonia Suiza - trek up Arroyo Goya to Manfredo Segre Mountain Hut.  Camp near the hut. 6.4 miles 3411' 827' 5347'

This day was straightforward, mostly on very good trail through forest with a very steep ascent to the Italia/Manfredo Segre hut at the top.  Plenty of water along the way.  We camped in the low forest near the hut.  Plenty of spots for us and a few others who were there.  It got quite windy but we were protected under the trees.  Notes on the hut:  they had some strange pizza options and other snacks for sale as well as wine and beer, and the standard dinner and breakfast service was meager by American standards:  a bowl of lentil soup with bread for dinner and toast with jam for breakfast (plenty of coffee).  This is normal Argentine custom and we rolled with it which is what you do!  Only toilet is outside the hut.

Day 4.  Traverse around Laguna Negra and climb to a high saddle then down to the Lluvu valley.  Climb back up to our camp beside Laguna CAB. 4.1 miles 2426' 2831' 5854'

A glorious day but slow going, with several sections steeply climbing and dropping between boulders and slabs (with cable and fixed ropes), to our first major views of Tronador!   Then negotiated a steep scree descent to the Lluvu valley.  Despite the short distance, this took us until lunch.   From the Lluvu valley we climbed steeply (sometimes  through thick tree trunks and brush, often very close and hot) back up to where we reached Laguna CAB on a bench above.  We circled Laguna CAB (requires wading) to the camps on the far side, which were wonderful!   Got into the 20s that night, hard freeze on all the clothes hanging out to dry and any water bottles left out.

Day 5.  Descend to Mate dulce valley, skirting the Cristal mountain to Creton lagoon and deep blue Azul lagoon.  Camp there, no facilities.   4.1 miles 2493' 2159' 6283'

The most 'technical' part of the trip, lots of crossing of boulder fields and slabs, plus a really sketchy long very steep scree descent.  Do-able by anyone who can handle a bit of exposure and has good balance and sound joints, but we were glad to have the help of our guides and assistants along the descent!  Again despite the short distance this section took all day because the going was very slow.  Amazing views, hours between water sources but good ones at lunch and in the last few hours.  Plenty of room to camp near Laguna Creton - great stars and sunrise!  No facilities.

Day 6.  Ascend along Jujuy lagoon. Climb along a ridge and then descend to Illon lagoon with sandy beach and great view to Mount Tronador.  Camp by the lagoon.  Hike from camp to Doctor's Viewpoint 2 mi each way. 11.2 miles 3327' 3865' 6356'

My favorite section, including traversing above multiple lakes and walking a long ridge (be sure to take this detour to the end!) with a 360-degree panorama including several lakes and Tronador close enough to touch!   Clouds came in so we didn't go to the Doctor's Viewpoint (and it doesn't offer better views than what we saw earlier in the day).  Downside is that the Ilon camp is now a mob scene because of an improved trail down to the road, with yurts and a food service (which we didn't use) and lots of tents along the beach.  We booked the group camp which we shared with some others.  Toilet in the group camp.    Still lots of lovely views and sunrise.

Day 7.  Descend to the village of Pampa Linda, and stay overnight at Hosteria Pampa Linda. 4.8 miles 504' 2256' 4783'

An easy day, descending to Pampa Linda through forest with lots of flowers!  There is now a bridge over the river at the bottom so wading no longer necessary.  There is a lovely lodge at Pampa Linda with nice rooms (private bath) and food service, as well as a bus back to Bariloche that you can pick up at the lodge.  Wifi but pretty poor/sporadic and only available by sitting outside the ranger station a little ways down the road.

Day 8.  Hike up to Ref. Otto Meilling past glaciers and waterfalls coming out of Glaciar Castaño Overa.  Night at Otto Meiling hut. 7.2 miles 3717' 353' 6148'

This day was another highlight - climbing through large old growth trees, then coming out into the open and climbing on steep rocky but straightforward trail with views of glacier and waterfalls abounding!  Otto Meiling hut was a basic place - same pretty minimal food service (but beer and wine!), and a noisy bunk room upstairs with mattresses on the floor.  Gorgeous sunset and sunrise across the valley and up to Tronador, foreshortened just above us.

Day 9.  Cross the flat snowfield of Glaciar Alerce (no technical skills required) and hike down to Paso de las Nubes.  Stay at the Agostino Rocca hut. 2.5 miles 248' 1753' 6230'

Our outfitter broke out the crampons, harness and ropes and led us across the soft snow capping the mostly flat glacier.  A few places where we had to avoid snow bridges and holes, otherwise no safety concerns.  From the other side of the glacier it was a very steep rocky descent to the Rocca hut.  This is the newest hut on the route, and had more options for food as well as semi-private rooms (4-6 person bunk rooms, toilet down the hall).

Day 10.  Hike through the Frias Valley in rainforest to Lago Frias.  Take a boat on Nahuel Huapi Lake to Llao Llao and transfer by van back to Bariloche hotel;  or board our transport into Chile for the second segment. 7.1 miles 1133' 3163' 4657'

We started pre-dawn on this descent - steep muddy trail through forest, then mostly flat along the river through ancient very interesting forest including the Alerce or local redwood.  We arrived at the Frias boat dock with plenty of time to spare and hung out in the grass enjoying the sun.  The boat was on time and it was easy to transfer luggage to the bus for those going on to Chile (though this cost an extra $25 each and had to be pre-arranged with someone from our outfitter's office coming on the boat with our Chile-bound bags).  I wouldn't have wanted to arrange this without a local outfitter!