VIDEO: BD athlete Zack Giffin skiing around Cerro Catedral in Argentina
Black Diamond athlete Zack Giffin moved on from Chile last month to the snowy peaks of Argentina to ski around the famed Cerro Catedral. Below is his inspiring trip report and video, which includes some unique helmet cam angles.
I first heard about Frey Refugio in early September while skiing with the CAF (Club Argentinean Freeski) crew around Cerro Catedral. At the end of a long day, we crossed some skin tracks in the bottom of a valley behind the ski area. My partners informed me that we were a half-hour from “the Refugio”. So, when one afternoon Molly Baker and I dropped off the backside of the boundary at around 4:30 with the intention of finding that place, and then the hut, there were some questions about the certainty of my directions. After a number of “are you sure”s and other challenges to my reliability, we found ourselves deep in the valley with no easy way back, the sun long set behind the church-like-spires that give Catedral its name. Everything was just how I remembered it; a small break in the forest with a creek twisting its way up through tight brush trees in the direction of the setting sun.
After a short distance, we crest the ridge to find the refugio set atop a glacial moraine, near the tail water of a long flat frozen lake. A horseshoe shaped ridgeline of jagged spires surrounding. Not knowing what to expect, we drop our gear and open the door to Frey. From the common room comes plucking sounds from an un-tuned guitar, clanking pots in the kitchen sink, and quiet conversation in a mix of accents and languages. To our pleasant surprise the refugio, which in summer months can hold over fifty people, has only two other groups; an Austrian, his Argentine guide Lucas, and two other North Americans. Alan, the caretaker checks us in and breaks down the rules: three meals, one nights stay for $35, plus wine, beer, and chocolate are available for purchase.
We stayed for four nights. Waking up to the smell of toast and coffee and the promise of snow. For lunch, we had plain cheese,cured meat sandwiches, and chocolate. For dinners the menu changed daily, but never ventured far beyond typical mountain fare: pizza, pasta, torta, and as always, chocolate to round it out. Mate was a constant. Cups were filled in the morning with the dried leaf until almost overflowing and then brewed over and over again throughout the day. How many times a cup of Mate can be brewed, I don’t really know, but from what I saw there seemed to be no limit.
Our days were filled with exploration of snow-covered peaks and couloirs surrounding the lake on all sides. Many lines that first looked to be nothing but slivers through the rocks turned out to be nicely spaced chutes twisting through aesthetic spires. The days turned out to be sunny and warm. The light dusting of powder that fell in the days preceding our stay turned into smooth high-speed corn and as the days went by we were blessed with spring conditions optimal for confronting exposure. By the end of the fourth day, we had skied almost every chute and couloir visible from Frey and had ventured to a few other areas that were hidden from view. Each night we returned to the hut to relax with a cup of Mate and try to converse with the other groups about the lines of the day.
Over the four days we stayed at Frey Refugio, people came and left. Each rotation seemed to bring people from a different part of the world. A group of French students on holiday, a Canadian-Aussie, a French Canadian film crew, an Englishmen, and a Spaniard, were all part of the experience. Time flew and before we knew it our time was up. A handful of skied lines, empty cups and chocolate wrappers all blend together in my mind like the many different languages spoken in the common room. Frey Refugio was the furthest we traveled, on this trip to a faraway place, and somehow it felt closer to home than anywhere else we had been.
- Zack Giffin