Sunrise light on Refugio Frey

Going light and having more fun

During our recent time in Bariloche Argentina, we decided to do a classic 32km hut to hut trek through the nearby mountains. Wanting to make the trip more fun for the kids and have more time for photography we decided to turn the normally two-night trip into a slower paced three-night trip. After catching a bus to the base of the local ski resort, we hiked up to the incredibly popular Refugio Frey for two nights. As it turns out it seems like everyone in town was also staying at the Refugio Frey. We found ourselves in an overcrowded hut, with no ability cook the food we had brought despite having been told we could have access to the hut kitchen by the park rangers before we left. Turns out the hut is run much more like a guest house with a staff cooking and serving meals from the kitchen, and guests having no kitchen access.


Luckily, we met a wonderful American family at the hut with a stove who were on sabbatical and spending a year living in Bariloche with their kids. After a very overcrowded night in the Refugio in which someone stole Kai’s bunk (Kai and I had to share a bunk), I was up early shooting a frigid sunrise around the lake. Once the sun reached the Refugio the kids all got up and started playing a rousing game of Uno while Jen and I enjoyed a warm cup of coffee with our new friends and their stove. When our friends learned we were planning on spending two more nights in the mountains they were kind enough to loan us their entire cook set and stove before they headed back to town. Knowing the following day was going to be a hard hike, we spent most of the day relaxing at the far end of the lake swimming, bouldering, and shooting photos.

Sunrise at Refugio Frey

The following morning after a slightly less crowded night in the Refugio we were on the trail early hoping to make the big climb out of the valley while it was still in the shade. Knowing the trail was more of a route than a formal trail, with high winds predicted during the day and a storm coming in that night we knew it was going to be a long hard day, so an early start was key. Once close to the ridge the trail quickly turned into an easy class III scramble which was quite exciting for the boys. Knowing we had to make it over two passes that day, we didn’t linger on the ridge, only stopping for a quick snack and a few photos. As it turned out the uphill climbs were the easiest part of the day, while the more difficult descents were thousands of feet of loose scree and boulders in a howling wind.

Hiking in Bariloche

By the time we reached the second pass the wind was raging and threatened to knock us over. With a hat lost to the wind and a few tears we made the second ridge and started another endless scree decent. This decent had several spots where we needed to spread out to avoid knocking rocks down on each other. By far the hardest and most technical hiking the boys have ever done. Towards the end of the decent Kai had reached his limit. The hours of technical terrain, wind, and exposure had gotten to him. It took a 30min snack break, and my taking his pack to get him back on track. Once he was well fed and relaxed, he cruised the remaining decent and wanted his backpack back before we reached the San Martin Refugio. Saying “I want everyone to know I came from Refugio Frey today”.

That night we splurged on a wonderful home cooked hut meal while the weather came in and it started to rain. Snug in inside the modern and less crowded Refugio, we sat by the big windows enjoying a glass of wine with the few other hikers who had made the challenging crossing that day. The incoming weather being the topic of discussion as now snow was forecast for the next day. After a warm and cozy night in our private bunk room, we were on the trail early. As we hiked the easy 13km back to the trailhead it threatened to snow the entire time. Hoping to avoid getting caught in the coming storm without winter clothes, we did the entire hike without a break. Knowing the trailhead was still quite far from town, we didn’t know how far we would need to walk before we could catch a ride. After a quick lunch stop at the trailhead, we started walking the dirt road back to town. Turns out there was quite a bit of traffic on the road, and within a few minutes we were able to catch a ride in the back of a pickup truck, making it back to town just as it started to rain.

Sunrise Refugio Frey

The following night over beers and tacos at our new friend’s downtown apartment, we returned their stove and shared stories of adventures in the mountains with kids, and dreams of raising our families overseas. A great end to a great adventure.

Camera: Going light was the name of the game for this trek. To make the trek as fun as possible for the boys we tried to keep their packs light. Being that Jen and I only had day packs, and we were carrying three days of food, clothes, and sleeping bags (actually, I carried two sleeping bags so Kai’s pack would be smaller). I opted to only bring my tiny Sony RX100 point and shoot, which I kept clipped on the shoulder strap of my pack. As much as I wished I had my bigger full frame Nikon Z7 when I was shooting sunrise, it turns out the hike was much harder than we had expected and there was no way I could have carried the Nikon in my day pack along with all the other gear we needed. As usual I still shot hundreds of images during the hike, but there is something liberating about not having a big camera to deal with during a hard hike.

While not as ideal as real tripod, using a backpack in a pinch can stand in for the tripod at sunrise.