If you’re looking for a good day hike in and around Bariloche, Argentina then give Cerro Lopez some consideration. It is accessible by public bus and even with moderate fitness you can make it to the refuge which is about 2/3rds of the way to the summit. Those with a little more energy can try for the summit though be warned it’s a very different climb after the refuge.
We caught the number 10 bus from town (buy a card for $17 at a kiosk in town and preload with money) and asked the driver to drop us at Cerro Lopez. After a scenic drive around the Lake the bus will turn onto a gravel road and head to Colonia Suiza but not without dropping you at the corner first. There is a small sign on the bus shelter indicating the way but basically follow the bitumen upwards for another couple of hundred meters and you will arrive at the start of the Cerro Lopez trail.
We started at around midday on a sunny day at the end of January so it was pretty hot before we even got started but it didn’t curb our enthusiasm. Following the red markers painted on rocks and trees we headed off and attacked the beginning of the hill with great gusto until we soon got puffed, hot and sweaty and slowed down to a more considered pace so that we could enjoy the walk and still maintain a conversation. The beginning is well marked and even the many off shoots of the trail all link back up eventually so don’t get too concerned if you haven’t seen a red dot for a while (so long as you’re still heading uphill).
The trail up to the refuge is coated in a fine powdery dust that can make it tricky to get your footing and will cover your shoes and legs (or pants) in dust so be prepared to get dirty. There are some great views on the climb and even a restaurant about half way if you want to rest the legs and not carry your own food or drink. The trail eventually intersects with the 4wd/quad track that can also be used to access the refuge but takes about 3 times longer to walk than the other trail. The last few kilometres to the refuge are on this road and makes for easier walking with a lot more flat areas and less steep inclines but it’s just a tease until you get right below the refuge – then its steep, steep, steep for the last few hundred meters until your there.
Once at the Refuge you can sit and relax and enjoy the view or, as many people do, just use it as a base to go exploring further into the backcountry. You can sleep overnight here but it will cost you $300 ARS (approx. $35 US) and for that you get a feed and a bed in a dorm which is kind of expensive in my opinion. People do camp as well and I heard rumours they still charge for pitching a tent but I did not confirm this.
After a long rest and overeating from all the food we bought we finally headed past the Refugio and upwards for the summit at just before 4pm. Once past the Refugio the trail changes from being a powdery track to a scamper over rocks where you are literally using all your limbs to climb. The trail is well marked with red dots but you will have to constantly stop and look around to find it before picking your next line of attack at the next section of rock face. After what feels like forever but is in fact about half an hour you will reach a Lagoon which is beautiful and worth the climb in itself.
It was getting pretty late in the afternoon by this stage and we could not see the summit so debated on whether to continue. Eventually we did and after more of the same of scampering over rocks and hauling ourselves up using long forgotten arm muscles we eventually made it around 5pm. Even at the end of January there was a small section of snow that needed to be crossed but was well marked and the trail well used so you won’t need crampons so long as you have reasonable grip on your shoes.
The summit is well worth the effort and is a spectacular view both back over Bariloche and towards Monte Tronador and Chile. Many people continue down the other side and into the back country as a way to Laguna Negra and beyond however we only intended to summit Cerro Lopez so after the obligatory pictures at the top as proof and enjoying the scenery briefly we headed back down the way we came. The way back down to the Refugio took equally as long as the way up just due to the difficulty of the climb and trying to constantly pick your path and footing. Be prepared to engage some muscles you may not have used for a while and while it’s tough on the knees a walking pole will only help you in limited places as its tricky to place it on some rock faces that need negotiating.
Once back at the Refugio we stayed only long enough to eat the rest of our food and refill water bottles then headed down. As this was the easier section we made good time on the way down and if you have dodgy knees a walking pole may help you in this section as I slid several times in the fine dust. Eventually after 19kms and 8 hours we made it back to the start of the trail and were down as the sun set over the mountains. A quick walk back down to the bus stop and a short wait for the number 10 bus and we were soon headed back to Bariloche for a well-earned shower and a couple of beverages.
- Take your own food and water. A can of coke at the Refugio was the equivalent of $4 USD and a single granola bar was $2 USD.
- We drank the water from the Lagoon above the Refugio and neither of us got sick but treat it first if you have any doubts. You could also obtain water at the Refugio.
- Confirm weather conditions before attempting to summit. My friend had attempted this climb on three previous occasions and this was the first time she could get up there.
- Confirm the bus times for your return or be prepared to hitchhike. We timed our walk to only wait for half an hour however there was a couple at the bus stop that had been there for over 2 hours waiting.
- We were only carrying day packs and both had a moderate level of fitness so it may take you longer/shorter depending on fitness and how much you are carrying.