Altitude 1685m a.s.l
View from the Refugio Frey. © Tim Clarke
Granite spires in an uncomparable setting, free camping, ridiculously friendly locals, beautiful cracks, and an abundance of classic, airy, challenging lines: this is Frey. I'll never forget my first view of this area. Nothing on the 4-hour approach prepares you for what you find after pulling over the last rise to Laguna Tomcek: an emerald tarn stretches to the end of a bowled-out cirque. White and pink granite spires reflect on its surface. As you lift your gaze your hands begin to sweat: they're everywhere, needles in every shape and size, riddling the sides and rims of the cirque. It's a surreal landscape: The Fool, The Monk, The Grandfather, The Lunar Rocket, The Old Woman, The Splinter, The Three Marias - each spire has its own character. Condors weave spirals in the deep blue. You've made it to climber's heaven. Frey, as a climbing area, is divided into two cirques that share a col. Picture two teacups that have been fused together on one side. Most people camp in the northern cirque, alongside Laguna Tomcek. Plenty of water - some people were using purification but we were fine without. To minimize impact, campers must use the toilets at the refugio, and must NOT make campfires. The refugio, from which Frey takes its name, charges about 50 pesos/night for a bed. You can use the kitchen or just sit around, play cards, and get warm even if you're not a guest. Meals and beer are sold here. Access to the spires from the camping area can be anywhere from 5 min. to 3 hrs. The furthest towers, those that line the rim of the cirques (Torre Principal, Campanille Esloveno), involve somewhat strenuous hoofing up scree and snow fields. The climbs are invariably worth the effort. The climbing itself is excellent and often outrageously excellent. Nearly every climb ends on an ultra-exposed summit with views of the Patagonian Andes stretching away down the planet. Few of the summits we stood on could have held more than two or three people at a time. Some of the ratings in the local guidebook felt a bit sandbagged. Sandbags that can be appreciated. Most routes are stellar crack adventures, though face climbing always comes into play. There are a limited number of sport routes. Very few superfluous bolts have been put up, making for the occasional obligatory runout. Usually bolts at the top for abseil / rappel. Nothing special for the rack: whatever gets you by when you climb trad will work here. Cams are a must in all sizes. Some pitches are long (40, 50 meters) and two ropes are a must for many descents. Feel free to hire a guide to show you around for a day as the area is huge and confusing. Then either stick with him or team up with the Americans who go there for 'the season' I used Gabriel Frey as I was on my own. International Guide qualified and a great guy. You can contact Gabriel on firstname.lastname@example.org English speaking Argentine, married to Anna from California who will probably respond to your e-mail.
From Bariloche, catch the Villa Catedral colectivo downtown. Costs about 20 pesos. A pretty spin around the E end of the lake will get you to the last stop, a big parking lot in Villa Catedral where the ski lift goes from. From here, walk S across the lot toward a wooden sign that reads "Refugio Frey/Laguna Tomcek". Hop on this trail and 3 hrs. later you'll be dropping your pack at the refugio. A mellow hike through a burn area and up a forested ravine. Little water is available for the first two hours.
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