We’re back in the town of Bariloche gearing up for a trip into Frey for a bit of splitboarding. We’re all a little worked from the pack trip, walking it off with stiff backs and legs. Chief is itching to skate. He takes off with local snowboarder Manu Dominguez. Heavy storm clouds float down from the Andes and hover over Nahuel Huapi Lake. Off in the distance, we can see the craggy spires of Frey, a few thousand feet higher in elevation. Caked in snow, the serrated skyline is both alluring and foreboding, the age-old contradiction that attracts men to mountains.
Leaving Rincon Grande we make a quick detour to Valle Encantado where School Boy introduces some of the guys to rock climbing. But it is only a tease. School Boy can’t handle it anymore. We’ve been able to see the mountains of Frey the entire trip and it’s taunting him. We’re all supposed to hike into Frey tomorrow afternoon but he wants to go now. So we go, School Boy and I, with heavy, towering backpacks, into the forest for a long trek into the mountains.
Last night we slept head to toe in a small tent as it dumped snow and sleet. Now we are post-holing through steep snow, punching our gloved hands in deep to gain purchase as we make our way to the base of a climb. It’s not the season for rock climbing in Frey, unless you’re into mountaineering, which we aren’t. We have no ice axes or crampons. Nonetheless, we make due and top-out on a couple of formations, one of which is a steep spire surrounded by puffy clouds and patchy, cobalt skies. Far below a group of skiers are leaving the ski hut, skinning across the frozen lake in single file. The scene is straight out of a Tolkien novel, more fantasy than reality.
The rest of the crew arrives the next afternoon, exhausted from the arduous, 6-mile trek in and a few thousand feet in elevation gain with 50 pound packs. Chief had to bail so they replaced him with a local shredder, a kid named Toto. It is drizzling, cold and wet. Tents are pitched on the side of the hill while a few of us find newly vacated beds in the hut. Dinner is pizza and beer. We drink and eat and scheme about tomorrow’s activities.