Frey refugio turned on a sunset to die for last night to send us off to bed, blazing skies erupting from behind the row of soldiers that form the amphitheatre around the lake. From a beautiful sunrise we are brought into a new day in which we farewell this amazing place on the walk to refugio San Martin. It’s different to nine years ago but no less spectacular, our visit then took in a short walk around the lake afoot the refugio and up to another smaller lake, that time in snow, this time in baking dry sand and rock. How times have changed yet how our feelings don’t seem to.

Atop a short but steep rise we come to the other lake, called laguna Schmoll in all it’s pure crystal water glory, not a frozen patch this time. A little puffed from our sharp ascent we pull up a rock near the shore for a bit more of that glorious Bariloche chocolate, it really is what Bariloche does well. With a delicious chunk of bitter heaven we’re bathed in sunshine and watch the world go by to the sound of the lapping shore. In a rare quiet moment free of breeze the regular irregularity of the lapping sound becomes oddly the principle sense in our world. It’s a discordant chop and flop of sound that seems to conjure some sense of rhythm, a pacifying droll that’s calmly deafening. To this sound I sit gazing at large boulders clearly visible under the water surface, clarity often reserved for tropical reefs, for a moment I’m content to finish the day and we’re barely even started. 

But on we move, my trance broken by an unspoken farewell for a place that anyone might dream of when planning a holiday. In no time at all we’ve skirted the smaller ridges of Catedral and emerged out to the opening of a monster valley granting a view from up high on a depth and breadth that is really quite disorienting. The broad sweep of a river scythes through the valley floor below spines of bounder outcrops that are just made for photos so photo time it is, an excuse to rest on this long day of trekking. The world seems so big from here.

This day takes us up to pristine lakes hanging high in mountain cradles, through forests, valley floors, across windswept barren desert like expanses, waterfalls and close by to snow; it’s got it all. This long day takes us through three major valleys as we endeavour to stop more than usual and enjoy the scenery. We often walk fast but today is a time to appreciate where we are more than trying to get somewhere, the variety of scenery on this hike demands constant re-appreciation in the place of determined walking. This long day continues, a final push for what should be our last summit is barren and exposed to the beaming sun, our regular stops giving us the energy to push up a steep rocky climb. 

We can see a summit but we know all too well by now that the summit you see is never the last one, on we push. As our eyes slowly draw level to the top of the path we are confusingly confronted by no rearing mountain to obscure the sky, for now it’s only blue. A griping sense of denial from so many false hopes constricts our joy, it’s impossible, we can’t be there. Only when we start down again are we freed of the restraints of our previous disappointment, we have actually made the top. The elation of seeing blue sky straight ahead calls for high fives and in about ten metres we gaze down to an oasis of shining jade and blue surrounded by harsh desert like mountains, that’s our refugio. We’re nearly there and this big day of varied wonder has saved the best till last, a fitting reward for those who have made the trek. 

We scamper down the hill crunching over the loose rocky scree bounding for home on tired legs faring better than this long day should permit. We can’t stop marvelling at this water; we’re at the highest catchments surrounded by pure untouched snowmelt of unbelievable clarity, this is the starting point for purity of natures very best. Our refugio is atop a small rocky point out into the lake, this is what we walked all this way for. Standing atop the rocky outcrop the purest of the pure shimmers below us, inviting us. A quick count to three and we’re temporarily cradled by the rushing air before being embraced by the object of our flirtation all this time. Into the freshness we’re no longer viewing this place but now in it’s icy charge, we know we’re alive. 

I can’t believe it could only be us, it can’t be; surely this feeling is what people travel for. Before arriving to Bariloche we didn’t know this refugio existed, it’s just a small fantasy escape for anyone willing to take the time to see, just sitting here ready to destroy any expectation that also crests the mountain above. Finding an oasis unburdened by preconception delivers emotions of exclusiveness and captivation; this instant highlight not on the map until we crested the last mountain to see it first hand. We share our refugio with a rag-tag group with which we now have something in common beyond the warmth of the cast iron stove preparing our dinner, we’ve all discovered this secret and for today it’s ours. 

Sadly we have to move on tomorrow but we could easily stay here for days, longer. So often herded like cattle into the more promoted areas that manage to rise to popularity, some inexplicably and some for good reason but not today, today is a discovery, a revelation. As amazing as any big ticket place is there’s a little touch of magic that simply can’t be replaced by finding an unexpected gem that feels like your very own. We took nine years to revisit Frey that captured our imagination and never left, lets hope it’s not so long till we rediscover this little secret that to us shall ever be all our own.