I was 15 when I lost my oldest brother to a car accident; by the time I turned 18, the sadness became overwhelming. The only sure place I knew to find happiness was with skis on my feet, so I ditched the states and started ski bumming around South America. This is when I first stumbled into Refugio Frey. It captured me from the first moment, appearing like a secret mountain palace, far removed from the complexities of modern life. I earned my stay by cleaning and helping the hut keeper. I found refuge in Mother Nature. I laughed. I skied some of the best and most beautiful lines in my life. And I healed. Since then I’ve been back four times, but on this trip, I came with my brother Alex. We’d both had a rough couple of years dealing with our youngest brother’s drug addiction. I knew Frey would provide the perfect landscape for us bond and take solace in the passions we’ve pursued as a way of life: climbing and skiing. Pushing ourselves physically—me as a skier and him as a rock climber, stirred a lot of emotion, but none more than joy. We had some pretty wild conversations hanging 300 feet up a rock wall and slotted between a couloir. I learned a lot about him out there, and before our week was over, we left with a new understanding and respect for each other. Frey has and always will be my sanctuary in the mountains.
It’s easy to feel completely removed from civilization at Refugio. You watch as the wild winds of Patagonia push clouds over the ragged spires that ring the lake and hut as they have for ages. But, as the crow flies, you’re really only a few miles from the Cerro Cathedral ski resort and about 15 miles from Bariloche. The journey from the base of the Cerro Cathedral ski resort to Frey takes you through various beautiful environments. Initially the hike is warm and dry, passing over several creeks, charming wooden bridges and rocky terrain. You then climb up in the thick forest with tall trees all covered in beautiful green moss. The journey feels like transcending backwards through seasons: summer to spring and eventually winter.
We were set up on Volk’s new carbon fiber backcountry ski: V-Werks Katana. We used skins to approach the couloirs and crampons to boot pack up the steeps. The lines in the cirque right outside Refugio Frey are world class.
The snow in South America can vary dramatically. We got lucky with a fairly good late season, spring snow pack and even a big storm that coated the mountains with just over a foot of fresh powder.
In addition to its skiing, Frey also has first class alpine climbing. Splitter crack, rocky spires, face climbing and plenty of sandbag route grades make Frey a world-class rock climbing destination. In this photo Alex is leading the way up the 5th and final pitch of the day. I watched Alex climb with ease and grace, letting out the occasional laughter. It told me that he was in his happy place. Cold, tired and never having climbed crack before, I followed behind him struggling with the concept of shoving my hand in to a fissure so deep that I could then make a fist to pull myself up it.
The biggest variable in this region are the Patagonia winds.
The mountains have a very unique and magical look to them. They almost remind me of Dr. Seuss drawings.
Alex and I set up a small, lightweight tent at the end of the lake, a short ten-minute walk from Frey. This served as our private daytime base camp, providing solitude from the sometimes busy hut. We would head out from Frey in the morning, ski a line or two and then stop by this base camp to eat a brick of cheese and cheers the successful day with a bottle of chilled red wine. Malbec of course—we are in Argentina.
The Cerro Catedral Mountains are visually stunning. The granite spires upwards into a sharp and prominent fortress.
Refugio Frey doesn’t take reservations, but it will accept anyone in need of shelter. This means the hut is often fully occupied, so it’s a good idea to bring a tent and sleeping gear as a back up.
On stormy days warm bodies pack together in the small space to weather out the fierce Patagonia storms with games, conversation and books. Buena onda (good vibes in Spanish) is a mandatory part of the experience. Everyone brings a unique story from a different part of the world. Simplicity is celebrated. Stress melts away.
Everyone gathers just outside the cabin in the evening to enjoy the last of the beautiful sunset over the mountains. There is a unified stillness amongst all of the travelers as everyone smiles at the moment.
The darkness brings an impeccably clear sky, but also the cold. Everyone quickly ushers inside for dinner and what each night comes to seem like a celebration of life. Wine bottles begin to pop around the three communal tables where stories and laughter are traded.