While in Bariloche, Argentina in February 2015 my friend Laura and I decided to try hiking the Cinco Lagunas (5 Lagoons) trail as we both wanted to experience the mountains for a few days. Laura had walked this backcountry trail several years previously so we loaded up with camping gear and food and set off on what we thought to be an enjoyable few days hiking in Patagonia.
Day one we were up early and on the first bus out of town to Colonia Suiza to get an early start but once off the bus we couldn’t find the trail which if you were a superstitious person would say set the tone for the next few days. After a lot of wasted energy and time walking around trying to find it we eventually headed off on the right track towards Laguna Negra. (The bus dropped us at the corner – walk back in the direction you just travelled and you will see the trail head on your left).
While hot it was a relatively easy 14kms to Laguna Negra (1/5 of the Cinco Lagunas) where we stopped for lunch and a quick nana nap in the shade before pressing on. We should have called it at Laguna Negra as once past it was a tough climb up and out over the next mountain and an even worse steep descent down to where we eventually found a creek and a makeshift campsite. Both of us were knackered by this stage and had been walking for about 9hrs which was way too much on the first day with heavy packs which neither of us were used to.
The next day saw the start of the rain as we broke camp which made life a little more interesting especially on the steep ascents and descents. We eventually got to Laguna Lluvo (2/5 of the Cinco Lagunas) which was again a tough climb but achievable but then lost the trail again. Before we left, Laura had said they don’t mark the trails well in the back country as they try to discourage people from going there but she had a map and had walked this trail 7 years ago so we felt confident we could walk it now – wrong! After again wasting a lot of time and energy trying to find the trail we eventually just made our own way along the shores of the lagoon and cut our own path until we found the real one again.
The climb out of the lagoon and up the C.A.B was memorable purely for the scenery and for the fact that once above the tree line and on the exposed rock face a storm front came in which brought thunder, lightning and hail just to make life a bit more difficult since hauling ass with a backpack up a mountain wasn’t tough enough. I wasn’t particularly worried about the hail though I could have done without the distraction of getting hit all the time while climbing but being the tallest thing on an exposed mountain side did concern me when the lightening was right above us. Thankfully neither of us got struck or slipped in the rain and we made it to what we thought was the top in time for the weather to clear.
We had been told by several people that when at the top of the C.A.B you need to stay left or you end up going over a cliff – handy advice we thought so decided to follow it and stayed left only to find ourselves going down a ridiculously steep and outright dangerous rock face. Both of us fell several times and how we got to the bottom without injury or death I still don’t know. Once at the bottom in a really steep valley we realized we had actually just climbed down the wrong side of the mountain and were now completely off the path and stuck in a valley with no obvious way out.
I was kind of pissed we had again wasted time and energy in going the wrong direction but wasn’t particularly worried for our safety as I knew we had food, water, shelter (tent) and that we had registered our walk so, if nothing else, something should happen in 4 days’ time when we didn’t appear at the end (not that I was going to sit around for 4 days and wait but nice to have a security blanket). This was more than I have had during some of my previous adventures and while our situation wasn’t good we still knew where we were and weren’t in any immediate danger so with another storm front now on top of us we could only find somewhere relatively dry for the tent and worry about it tomorrow.
Of course the next day saw the storm front still on top of us and for obvious safety reasons there was no way we could do anything but hunker down in the tent and hope it passed. Eventually it did and we decided to try to climb back out the way we came rather than risk trying to find an alternative way to meet up with the path and get lost even deeper into backcountry. The climb out was literally a climb with both of us on all 4’s trying to haul ourselves back up this mountain. Again how we didn’t injure or kill ourselves I don’t know but we both made it to the top and looking back down and knowing we had just survived that without safety ropes etc. just seems ludicrous even now. So now we are back at the supposed top of the C.A.B and back to where we were the day before and again fail to find the path. Eventually we found a little red dot which are the markers and a pile of rocks and finally headed in the right direction (finding a red dot painted on a rock is tricky especially when all the rocks have what appears to be Iron in them so naturally red anyway. Also trying to find a pile of rocks on a rock face can get tricky as it’s not always obvious what has been created by man and what is natural hence the losing of the trail so much.)
Once back on the path we both felt better about things so when we came to the swamp where we were meant to have camped the previous night we decided to push through and try to make it to the next lagoon and make up time (obviously failing to take note of Day 1 when we pushed too far and paid for it). The walk through the swamp was pleasant enough and even the climb out up the next mountain was relatively easy in comparison to what we had done that morning. Once at the top and again on the exposed rock face we got caught by another storm front that came in quicker than either of us expected. Of course at the top we had lost the trail again so had split up trying to find a marker but then couldn’t communicate with each other as the sound of the wind and thunder meant our voices didn’t carry. It was about now that driving torrential rain started and things were looking pretty bad but fortunately Laura had just got back to within several meters of me before the cloud rolled in or we would have been in serious trouble and never found each other again.
So now we are together but still no path and no visibility with torrential rain on a rock face and lightning right over us to the point I could feel my hairs stand on end it was that close. I probably should have been scared at this point but I was too focused on trying to pick my way down the mountain and was more in awe of the force of nature and the noise of lightning and thunder reverberating around the mountains than I was scared. I did have a moment when a rock slipped out from under me and sent me over a ledge though. I managed to catch myself right on the edge of the second ledge or I would have been dead for sure and the force of trying to stop myself with the downwards momentum and the weight of my pack meant I busted a few toe nails from the force of it but I’d rather a few busted toe nails than a busted neck. Even Laura made mention of that moment that night in the tent so it must have been close.
Eventually, and again I don’t know how we didn’t injure or kill ourselves, we were now down off the mountain and into another swamp. We knew there was a camp site that was meant to be close but we again lost the trail in the stupid swamp that wasn’t even on the map and got stuck. Both of us are cold and very wet and Laura is starting to visibly shake and when the local starts to shake you know you’re in trouble. Now our focus has shifted from trying to find the trail to just finding somewhere for the tent but we are both fatigued and starting to make stupid small errors in judgment. While exploring for a camp site I then slid in some mud and twisted my leg badly so that my knee and hip went at a weird angle which hurt like crazy but since standing in the rain crying about it wasn’t going to help us there was nothing for it but to take a few deep breaths, say a few choice words rather forcibly and get on with it. Fortunately I could weight bear so I knew I hadn’t done anything too serious but it still wasn’t good. Eventually we found somewhere for the tent and Mother Nature gave us one last “fuck you” by hailing on us while trying to put the tent up.
Thankfully the next day the rain and lightning had stopped only to be replaced by a freezing cold driving wind which was awesome when getting dressed into the previous day’s wet clothes because you have nothing else to wear. We again wasted a considerable amount of time trying to pick the trail back up and eventually did close to an hour later.
The rest of the walk was relatively tame and incident free in comparison and when we arrived at Laguna Ilon (5/5 of the Cinco Lagunas) which was the last lagoon I felt kind of empty. It was nice to just relax by the shore and stare at Monte Tronador again especially from closer and a slightly different angle than I saw on Cerro Lopez but at the same time it felt anticlimactic as well. I know I always get kind of sad when I finish my walks as the thought of returning to civilzation and all that it entails sometimes depresses me but it seemed weird to be finishing this walk with a clear sky and the sun shining after all we had been through in the previous days. Don’t get me wrong – I like the conveniences of the ‘real world’ as much as the next person but after however long of only concentrating on the basics of food, water and shelter (and in this case survival) I never know what I am meant to do when I get back from any of my walks and it takes a while to process and readjust.
The last day we woke up to clear skies and only had a few hours walk downhill to Pampa Linda which was a little hick town in the middle of nowhere and where we would then get a bus back to Bariloche. The walk down was fine and just as we are about there we come across a river crossing that Laura had failed to mention previously. Being glacier water and with no alternative but to wade across I made Laura go first while I tried to psych myself up for it. Sure enough I am half way across squealing like a little girl cos the water is so cold it burns and with my pants hiked all the way up my legs so they wouldn’t get wet there appears a group of guys heading the other way – busted.
So now the walk is finished and we are both a bit bruised and battered and covered in horse fly bites as when it wasn’t raining those little monsters were ferocious but I loved every minute of being out there and would love to go again. They say travelling with someone really tests the relationship but I would have to say trekking with someone especially in the conditions we just survived makes that saying even truer. There were numerous times where either of us could have reacted differently and it would have been a long few days out there with no escape but we still managed a few laughs and got through it so yay for us. On a side note now that we are back we have since heard that the storm we survived while exposed on a mountainous rock face actually destroyed fruit crops, killed birds, closed roads both to the north and south of Bariloche from causing rock slides over 2 meters deep and has everyone in town talking about it so thanks to whoever was watching over us for letting us get down alive off that mountain.
I know several of you are wondering why we even went out there when it sounds like we were unprepared. In fairness having a map and someone who has done the walk before gives you a fair amount of confidence but for sure we could have gotten more information before we left that had better detail than ‘turn left at the top’. As for the weather well that was just plain unlucky. It hasn’t rained in over 3 months in Bariloche and the timing of us getting caught exposed on the mountain as opposed to safe in a tent would have been an hour or so which we really couldn’t have prepared for and we certainly couldn’t have predicted the severity of this storm as no-one else in town did either.
- This is a physically demanding trail so a good level of fitness is required.
- This is also a remote trail with limited access for emergency services and no facilities apart from Laguna Negra so be prepared.
- Check the weather forecast before commencing this hike
- There are shuttle services from Pampa Linda back to Bariloche – we haggled on the price and then managed to get a ride with a guy who departed earlier than the shuttle we booked onto.