There Refugio Frey (Frey's Refuge) is, tucked away amongst the jagged peaks of the Andes, snuggled up next to a lake of the purest glacial water. The stone and wood building, built in 1957, is dwarfed by its surroundings. This mountain hut is only accessible by foot. At night, a spattering of bright stars illuminates the sky above--there are no city lights here to drown them out. The wood fire inside pushes away the chilly mountain air. All supplies and food are carried up the mountains by the caretakers and their helpers, on foot. Spending a night in this secluded mountain lodge is truly a unique experience.
Starting Out At Cerro Catedral
The traditional way to get to Frey's Refuge is by starting at Cerro Catedral, near the city of San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina. Worldwide, people know this peak for its spectacular skiing. Often, people call it South America's most modern ski resort. Hikers can get there by driving a rental car from Bariloche's airport or taking public transportation (bus number 55--Catedral Line) from the center of Bariloche. Getting there should take between 30 and 45 minutes.
Cerro Catedral is more like a small town than a simple ski resort. It offers thousands of hotel beds, a shopping center, and a wide range of dining. Skiers take the chairlifts up to the ski slopes, but hikers headed to Refugio Frey only need to follow the signs to the trail leading off from the parking lot. One of the signs for Refugio Frey is, in and of itself, a sort of landmark. The weathered wood sports large white letters and an arrow pointing to the path.
Ski season is June through October, but some of the businesses at Cerro Catedral stay open all year. Refugio Frey continues to welcome guests through the summer and the winter. Hikers planning to visit during the snowy months should check the conditions of the path and the weather before heading out. Hikers must keep in mind what time the sun sets to complete the trek before dark falls.
Making The Hike
The path winds up the mountains, through native forests, and past glittering lakes. When conditions are good, the trek takes around four hours. People need to plan for another two and a half hours for the return trip if they don't want to spend the night at Refugio Frey. In the rainy autumn months, visitors have to wade through small streams, plod through mud, and go over icy patches. That makes the trip longer. In the winter, snowy ground requires special equipment like crampons.
Refugio Frey's website reminds hikers to always check the condition of the path before heading out. The area also has periodic avalanches, so keeping safe means being well informed. In the winter, when days are short and conditions are rough, it's important to start out early to arrive before dusk. Anyone planning to follow the path should leave their information and hiking plans with the rangers at Nahuel Huapi National Park.
The Mountain Hut
Many visitors decide to spend the night at Refugio Rey after trekking through the mountains. The caretakers there offer hikers hearty stews, a warm fire in the wood-burning stove, and there's always great company in the common room.
"Coming from Villa Catedral it is one of the most amazing hikes that I've done. The refugio itself it's very cozy, sells drinks (recommend the hot chocolate) and from 1 pm sells food like pizza. Very unique atmosphere, I recommend getting here early because around 1 pm it started to get more crowdy. Maybe aim to arrive before 1 pm just in time to order some hot food. I had a look at the dorm and wouldn't mind spending a night there, must be pretty cool," wrote Petr Vasicek in his Google review.
The refuge offers 35 beds and a campground. Anyone who wants to stay in the hut or set up their tent outside needs to make a reservation at least three days ahead of time. Guests should bring their own sleeping bags and cash to pay for services since the caretakers don't accept credit cards. The refuge is simple but cozy. Visitors should keep in mind that this is not a hotel, but rather a mountain hut maintained by a local mountaineering club.
Services at Refugio Frey:
- Bed for the night $25
- Campsites free of charge
- Large dinner $20
- Simple dinner $15
- Breakfast $11
- Bathroom $2
Near the refuge, visitors will find excellent sites for rock climbing, skiing, and more mountain paths to explore. Hikers may want to follow Picada Eslovena, a trail down the slopes to lakeside beach, Playa Muñoz. Then, this track continues to a gorgeous waterfall called Los Duendes (the dwarves). From there, it's just three more kilometers to the Villa Los Coihues bus stop. There, visitors can catch number 50 back to the center of San Carlos Bariloche.
These hikes leave visitors breathless, mostly because they're beautiful, but also because of the slopes. Anyone who wanders these paths through enchanted woods, along the shores of bright blue lakes, and between stark mountains will savor the memory for years to come.