After arrival in Bariloche, we immediately visit Club Andino, located right in the middle of town and the perfect resource for information about hiking in this area. They provide us with all the necessary information for our next adventure: a trip to Pampa Linda and hiking up to Refugio Otto Meiling. We buy ourselves a hiking map, get a copy of the local Patagonia Trekking Time (in English!) and stock up on supplies. After a good night’s sleep in our 4* hotel (you just have to spoil yourself every now and then, right?) it’s time to head out and explore the Argentinean side of the Andes mountains.
When planning our trip, we actually found out about Pampa Linda by accident. All tourists who visit Bariloche seem to head out to Circuito Chico, Ruta de los Siete Lagos, Villa la Angostura, El Bolson … but while reading Lonely Planet (no trip without that) we got enthusiastic about hiking up to Refugio Otto Meiling. When Googling pictures of this mountain hut, my jaws dropped and all I could say was: “WE MUST GO!” And so we did…
After spending quite some time in poor weather, we were happy that the weather had turned for the better. Our day started with a drive down on Ruta 40. We were warned that the road down to Pampa Linda would be horrible but this part of the road was paved and just fine. After about 40 km we found the exit to the right towards Pampa Linda and Cascada los Alerces.
From here, the road gradually gets worse. At the Guardaparque you pay 65 Pesos entrance fee and then you are ready to go … at least when it’s 10.30 am, which is when the road to Pampa Linda opens up for incoming traffic. It’s a challenging one lane dirt-road that you should not attempt to drive with you rental car unless you have a high clearance vehicle. Even though you may see locals do it, I’m sure your rental company won’t be happy when you return your car. Even our 2WD but high clearance Mitsubishi Katana had trouble plowing through the dirt every now and then. Since the road is single lane, it opens up for travelers driving down to Pampa Linda from 10.30 until 14.00 hours. For going back, it opens from 16.00 until 18.00 hrs. If you go between 19.30 to 09.00 hrs, be prepared for oncoming traffic because this is when the road opens in both directions. If you are unable to travel to Pampa Linda by car, the Club Andino has a daily hikers bus that heads out there. It needs to be booked in advance and leaves from their office.
After 10 kms the road splits, one way will take us to Pampa Linda and the other to Cascada los Alerces. Although it sounds tempting, we realize we don’t have time for the additional drive so we just turn right to Pampa Linda. Soon, the first stunning vistas come into view. And they are good: Lago Mascardi unfolds itself and is surrounded by wooded mountains and accompanied by a clear blue sky. We are happy and relieved: after spending a couple of days in the soaking rain in Cochamó right on the other side of these mountains, we are now able to enjoy this area in its full beauty.
After a couple of picture / peeing stops (believe me, a road like this definitely makes your bladder weaken) the valley widens and soon we get the first views of Cerro Tronador. This massive two-peaked mountain is actually a dead strato volcano, its last eruption was at least 300.000 years ago. Measuring 3.491 meters, Tronador is the highest mountain in this area and is located right on the border of Argentina and Chile, inside its two connecting national parks: Nahuel Huapi and Vicente Perez Rosales. We stop to admire the view but then realize it’s time to move on as we still have quite some plans for that day… We can even see Refugio Otto Meiling all the way on the moraine. Today’s final destination!
Upon arrival at Pampa Linda it’s earlier than we expected so we continue our drive up to Ventisquero Negro, or The Black Snowdrift. This black glacier is located another 9 kms down the bumpy road and even though we have no idea how long the hike up to Refugio Otto Meiling will take us (we plan on spending the night there) we decide to push on because we’d love to see it now that the weather is good, who knows what it’s like tomorrow, it’s the mountains after all…
So off to Ventisquero Negro we are. The road here is a bit better than the one up to Pampa Linda and before we know it, we have arrived at the parking lot at the bottom of the Ventisquero Negro Glacier. This is one of the seven glaciers that surrounds Cerro Tronador and is well-known for its black ice. Ofcourse the ice isn’t really black but there’s a lot of sediment in it, which makes it looks black (or rather said, dark). What happens is that ice falls down from the Manso Glacier that is about 700 meters above Ventisquero Negro. While crumbling down, it takes along a lot of sediments from the mountain, resulting in its dark color. At the parking lot there is also a signpost (both in English and Spanish) that perfectly explains what happens to the glacier. It was my first ever “black glacier” and although I heard mixed stories about it, I found it quite impressive. After sitting in silence for a while, to listen to the ice moving and chunks breaking off and plunging into the lake, it was time to head back to Pampa Linda.
If you decide not to go to Refugio Otto Meiling, there are a few other options for hiking. You can partly walk the route and hike up to Mirador del Valle (about 2 hrs one way based on looking at the hiking map, however we found no indications on the spot so we might be completely off here) or you can do a short trek to Saltillo Las Nalcas. It’s about 30 minutes from the roadside and we really enjoyed it a lot. It was pretty quiet on the trail and the pool below the waterfall makes a great place for a picknick. You can either walk from Pampa Linda (first, follow the way to Ventisquero Negro until you arrive at the trailhead) or you can drive up and park your car at the trailhead, depending on the amount of time you have. From Pampa Linda, there are plenty of other multi-day hikes to refugios and mountain tops which really makes us want to come back one day to explore more.
But … we came here to get up close and personal with Cerro Tronador, so after registering with the small office, it was time to head off. More about that adventure in our next blog!
Useful information when planning you visit to Pampa Linda:
– If you don’t have a high clearance car or don’t want to use the hikers bus offered by CAB, you can book daytours with various companies from Bariloche.
– There are various options to purchase meals at small restaurants, however expect to pay up because everything has to come from far.
– When we were at the registration office, we were told that a few days earlier cars were broken into. Even though this may seem like a harmless little spot, don’t leave your valuables unattended!
– Driving tip: if you are behind someone that is extremely slow (just our luck, various times) you have three options. The first one is staying begind them and be super annoyed for 45 kms. The second one is stopping as much as you can to give them some space and to enjoy the incredible views in the meanwhile. The last one would be to overtake, which can be quite a challenge. If you choose this option: make sure the driver of the car in front of you has seen you (it can get quite dusty), good luck and be careful!
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Thanks for sharing!