After spending a day skiing wind-affected snow around Refugio Frey, we decided to go on a ski tour over to nearby Refugio Jakob. The two huts are part of a five hut system that is commonly traversed in the summer, and crosses the range of mountains outside Bariloche, Argentina. I’d heard of some people doing it in the winter, but that doesn’t seem to be done very often, and we were unsure if the current conditions were conducive to doing the traverse. Either way, the weather was forecasted to worsen in two days, so we decided to simply do an out-and-back trip to Jakob.
We started out in the morning from Frey, and spent the day finding our way to Jakob. Many slopes were wind loaded, so we stayed on low-angled or wind scoured slopes, and made it to the refugio well before night.
Skyler and I decided to go for a short tour and check out the route to the next refugio. As we suspected, the route ahead crossed several exposed, steep slopes, not at all safe in the current conditions. As I was standing looking at the route, holding the map, a sudden gust of Patagonia wind crashed over the ridge like a wave, and swept me off my feet, onto my back. Soon after, we retreated to the comfort of the sturdily built refugio.
That night, as the wind howled and snowflakes started to fall, we discussed our options. The avalanche slopes we crossed were obviously getting wind loaded, perhaps dangerously. Our only avalanche safe option was an 18 kilometer hike out down the valley, in ski boots. Not a welcome option, but perhaps a necessary one.
We woke in the morning, and decided to attempt the tour back to Frey. We chose to ascend a rocky ridge, until it petered out into an avalanche slope, evaluate the snow, and make a decision there. We ascended the ridge, then I ventured out, on belay, on the adjacent slope, and dug a snowpit. The pit looked solid, so we decided to go for it, and ditch the long hike out the valley bottom. Soon after, the already substantial wind picked up, and it started raining. After several hours we found shelter and a place to dry our saturated clothes at Refugio Frey. That night we set up our tent in the midst the storm, only to be woken up at 5am with our stakes melted out, and the tent flapping inches from our faces. We quickly dismantled the shelter and retreated to the comfort of the bunks in the Refugio, our tails between our legs.
The next morning dawned clear, but the rain had melted over half a meter of snow in the area around the hut. To leave the hut one can skin to the top of Cerro Catedral ski area, or hike down the summer trail that we followed to get to the hut. We decided to ski down to the valley and hike out, an easy decision since our hiking shoes were stashed down in the bottom of the valley. Unfortunately the ski down had melted out significantly with the previous days’ rain and warm weather. We completed a Cascade-worthy bushwhack, and finally made it back down to town.
We stuffed ourselves with $5 “pizza libre” (all you can eat) in Bariloche, and discussed what we wanted to do next. I happened to look at the weather forecast for Cerro Torre in the far south of real Patagonia. Surprisingly the weather looked good, with sun and low winds for the next week. It was decided. We’re heading south!
Louie Dawson earned his Bachelor Degree in Industrial Design from Western Washington University in 2014. When he’s not skiing Mount Baker or somewhere equally as snowy, he’s thinking about new products to make ski mountaineering more fun and safe.