With winter upon us, and TRs dropping from locations where winter is already occurring, before it’s too late to be busting out any summer skiing, I want to throwdown some southern hemisphere pow stoke to get people extra fired up for 2012-2013
Before going further, however, I should first disclose that this will be another bulky TR in terms of photos. Nonetheless, for the attentive shredder and patient mouse scroller it should not disappoint in terms of content.
The story begins in AK with a freshly filled freezer of salmon and not much else going on but endless rain. My bro CK was trying to motivate me to fly south for a shred sesh. I finally caved and found myself en route to Santiago (didn’t I just stop snowboarding for the season a few weeks earlier?).
What a joy to transmit oneself from the wet, cold non-summer of the north to the warm palm forests of the south.
With the climatic adaptation behind me, after a night in a luxury hotel in the heart of downtown Santiago it was time to transmit myself into the High Andes.
First up, some quick fix sea-level to 10,000 ft. acclimatization strategies urged on by a drunken Chilean dude.
Next: a warm up run down some sweet terrain in 40cms of fresh.
Super shreddy for the 1st run of the year. Here’s the little cool-er we discovered for the 1st shot.
As the day ended the skies went blue and all of the glory of the Andes shined in the evening light.
That evening we rendezvoused with splitboard.com Forum legend Steepy and he briefed us on his morning plans: to go deep and high and shred a monster cool-er he had been scoping. We were fired up.
Views from the morning drive solidified the stoke, as well as the intimidation.
‘The Nar’: The tallest peak in the world, outside of the Himalayas: Aconcagua in all her ferocity (22,841 ft.).
We are heading into the High Andes, but not to try and shred Aconcagua, thankfully. Neither are we going to try and shred the monster Volcan San Jose (19,213 ft.), but we are going to be skinning around on her lower reaches, where the blower snow is holding.
The access road is scenic and a bit snowed in. We will rally the rental car as far up as we can and then begin skinning into the High Andes.
Along with the constant view of the 19,213 ft. Volcan San Jose looming above us, amazing mountains with amazing alpine snowshredding terrain open up to our view with every further step.
This a wild scene: a massive, glacier filled couloir
Steepy leads the charge towards the gigantic rock buttress center right in the frame.
Steepy has his eye on this lineup of cool-ers.
We pass right underneath the absolutely enormous 19,000+ ft. Volcan. Everything around us is just BIG. Wow.
Steepy’s couloir is unbelievably huge, in terms of overall girth, the largest couloir I have ever had the honor of stepping into. Just look how small we are in comparison to the width of this thing.
After several hours of following Steepy’s steps (and not keeping up, which is something I am used to when I hike with that guy ) we briefly congregated and geared up to send this thing. Did I forget to mention that the couloir was holding about 50cm s of blower pow? Steepy took the well-earned honors. We had three different cameras going. Here’s the show:
Hopefully the photos speak for themselves, but I will briefly add that we were very very happy with this run. Steepy does it again – instant-world-cup-couloir as a ‘welcome to Chile’ party for Savage! – Off the Couch and Into the Andes-Part II. That guy knows how to do it right.
The chute itself ran about 3,000 ft., the summit of that peak (don’t know the name) was likely around 15,000 ft. or so. After the couloir exit we had another 2 g’s –ish of blower pow down the apron.
But before we shredded that we slayed a sick rock drop at the base of the couloir.
Just to drive the point home about how large this chute is, look at the ‘small’ piece of pepper in center right of the couloir exit in the photo above. See that little speck of rock? This is the drop seen in the photos below:
Now that’s the way to get er’ done for an exit to this giant.
At the base we take a well needed leg rest before sending it to the road.
We drop serious elevation, and the following morning we are kickin it in the desert thinking about a new plan.
Savage takes some time to stretch out the old bones and levitate on thoughts of our next Andean shred-venture.
There is another big storm on the way and we decide to head south, down the Pan-American HWY, where the storm is supposed to be heavier.
We post up in this very comfy cabana.
We are now in the Araucaria Region, the land of the Mapuche, the Termas, and the Volcans
Steepy’s got a new plan; to get after this here Volcan:
Its name is Lliama and it is 10,252 feet.
Approaching the volcano, we reach the sacred araucaria forest, the ‘Monkey Puzzle’ branches stacked thick with a fresh coating of snow.
As a result of some connections we established earlier we get hooked up with a 10 dollar snowcat ride about a 1/3 of the distance up the 6,791 foot ascent.
Grateful to our hombre Christian for the ride and feeling energetic due to avoiding a major portion of the slog, we slap on our skins and begin our ascent. In his classic style, Steepy shoots out a mile ahead of us; thanks for the skin bro!
The clouds move in and out and, although the precip seems to be over, the weather remains blustery and unstable. The cool thing is that the higher we climbed the clearer it became. As we skinned into the upper reaches of the volcan we rose entirely above the clouds. The ridges became windswept waves of hardpacked sastrugi and rime. We switched to booting in crampons.
Our position on the summit above the clouds was exceptional.
Looking into Llaima’s crater (note bellowing steam middle right of frame).
The clouds begin to break and we got a clear view of the shred zone.
Here is CK launching off the summit of Volcan Llaima. This image represents to me what volcano dreams are made up, just floating above the clouds as the alpenglow from the setting sun breaches the snowfield. (Note cold smoke dust cloud, while the texture is sastrugi, it is mega soft-blower sastrugi, the likes of which I have never witnessed before)
The summit pitch gives way to a massive snowfield containing some of the most wonderful deep, dry powder snow of our lives.
After three thousand feet or so of such riding we become engulfed in clouds once again for a short time.
Eventually we emerged from the clouds again. I followed Steepy through another few thousand feet of absolutely amazing volcano gully powder riding. The sun was setting and it was time to be completing our nearly 7,000 vertical foot volcano powder line. The final 500 ft. allowed for some sunset pow turns through the Monkey Puzzle trees.
When I reached the road I could barely find my way in the waning light. What a finish! What a total score of a run! Thanks again Steepy.
Back in our cabana, kickin’ it hard.
The following morning we are up early and fired up for another Volcan shred.
The snow is all-time for volcano riding and there are many different Volcans to choose from, along with other sick zones to ride. So many mountains, so little time…
(this spot out; the Chilean ‘Sierra Nevada’; tough to access but needs a serious exploration)
We settle on Volcan Lonquimay, a peak Steepy and I got shut out on by weather a few years back. Time for a rebate.
Again we are greeted by the araucaria forest….
…and also welcomed by the locals..
The south face of Lonquimay reveals itself through the monkey puzzle branches.
We are planning to drop in here:
…providing we can sucessfuly evade the squadron of Chilean commandos guarding Lonquimay’s base by hiding briefly in a bush of bamboo…
…No problems and it is totally blue, for now.
As we reach the summit the clouds are rushing back in. I snap off a bunch of photos or more sick terrain on the peaks surrounding our volcano.
…there is a lot of seriously sick terrain to be getting into at this spot…I don’t think any of it is getting skied…..
We look down into Lonquimay’s gigantic crater.
In order to reach our drop in point, and the 5,000 foot pow run down the direct south face, we must first ride into the crater (a surreal experience in itself) and the climb out of it on the other side.
As our group converges on the ridge heavy clouds blow in.
We hold on, waiting for a window for about an hour, to little avail. Time is short, we take the best hole nature offers and send it into the clouds.
Despite a lack of perfect light the run was as epic as any 5,000 vert pow lap could be. True nature’s normal manners, the sun finally sheds some light on our line, just as we reach the bottom of it. We admire our tracks from far below.
We are then visited by brother coyote, the trickster, reminding us the games the winds and clouds have a tendency to play.
Here is our descent, as seen in full light. The texture you see in the photo is not tracks, it is wind rippled sastrugi. Our line was chosen because it is where all the snow got blown into.
That night the winds came in heavy and wrecked the snow on the volcanos. We decided to head back up north into to see what came about from the recent storm up there. I needed to rest my legs anyways, so along the way we checked out some sites, hit some fruit stands, bought some local cheeses, and cheered for the local anarchists.
I am, and always will be, a proud supporter of the Black Flag.
That’s right – Viva La Anarchistas – MFers
(I’ll refrain from telling you how I really feel about the state of our decrepit society, its pathological obsession with technology, growth, and control, and its overall effect on this wonderful, sacred planet)
Ok, where was I? Oh, so we ended up back in the High Andes under clear blue skies. The transition to Spring was in play. The snow up high, was looking good; stable and still soft on the protected south aspects.
Savage Dropping – with 16,253 ft. Leonera directly above and 17,795 ft. El Plomo in the background (right side of frame). A frozen Inca mummy was discovered on El Plomo some years back: a high-elevation child sacrifce ritual http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/ic ... -inca.html
mummy dust face shot
CM dropping into a classic Andean splitter.
Once we are down, we look back up to watch a random Chilean shredder running sweep.
And the tour continues…
A few weeks earlier we had scoped out a peak that looked very appealing for some turns.
At the time, the access road to that zone was covered in deep snow, but now the warm spring weather had cleared things up. We decided to head into the cajon for some spring-style camping and riding.
The snow down low had melted much more than we had suspected but we were stoked to be camping out on some dry ground in the scrub. The whole scene brought back memories of my many spring’s riding lines on HWY 395. Actually, to me, the High Andes are a lot like the High Sierras, on steroids.
No Inca mummies up here, that I have seen, but there does seem to be a horse.
This has to be a splitboarding first! Running into a friendly feral horse at 12,000 ft. I think he is stoked we are here to shred.
(later we learned from a local that this is a special Andean horse uniquely bred by the Spaniards to carry heavy loads and survive at high elevations.)
We continued to walk and walk for a couple of hours. No one was complaining, it was a beautiful day for a hike on a ridge in the High Andes.
An Andean Condor swoops above our heads. The Incas considered this condor “the ruler of the upper world.”
Along the way it became apparent to us that most of the lines we had been looking at were heavily melted out and pretty much snow free for a 1,000 feet or so at their base. Thus, we were not really liking the looks of our original options. At this point CK got interested in a distant couloir (seen here in the left frame of the photo) and we started heading that way to get a better look. The high peak in the background (center) is Cerro Altar (17,060 feet). To the right is Leonera (16, 253 ft.)
Leonera (16,253 ft.)
I believe that this is the northside of El Plomo (17,795 ft.)
This is Altar (17,060 ft.) in the back, and in front, with the techy splitter couloir, is False Altar (14,763 ft.)
Another splitter on a random side ridge.
After an extremely scenic, but sluggish, hike, we were gearing up to drop in to CK’s unknown Andean adventure line.
The snow in the upper portion of this cool-er was somewhat scratchy, but once we hit the protected zone it was the duff. But that was just the first pitch, below us lies approx. 4,000 feet of uncharted terrain and deteriorating snow conditions.
We score a bunch of supper fun soft turns for a while and then things start to get thin. CK goes for a scouting mission into what looks to be the crux of our route
After several minutes we get word up from CK that it’s a no go: the couloir ends in a 35 foot icefall. CK lets us know he is climbing out. Our prospects don’t look good. The sun is dropping. We cannot climb out of this behemoth. We need to find a safe way down into the canyon below. I unstrap and go for a rock scrambling scout to rider’s right: nothing but cliffs. Oh shit. CK scouts rider’s left and yells up that he found a way through. It’s super tight, exposed, and super steep but it’ll have to do.
One by one, we billie goat our way through the elevator shaft, tools in hand. We are super relieved to be out of that section, but we still have a lot of billie goating to go. After extended technical maneuvering through a series of rock bands we pop out and score corn turns all the way to valley floor. It’s going to be dark in about 20 minutes.
Here is CM finally getting to open it up on the last pitch.
Here is a view of the lower ½ of our route. The ice fall was a definite no-go. We were very lucky to find a way out of this. We escaped on the margins. I know the photo does not make it look extremely steep, but it was. This is a not a good time to be blind down-climbing Class 4 and 5 rock with patches of ice clinging to it. This is not terrain you want to become benighted in. This is a prime lesson in the old adage “climb what you ski”, especially when you are exploring high elevation peaks in a foreign country. I am guessing the entire descent was between 4,000 and 5,000 feet. I stopped taking pictures because I just wanted to get down. This may be a first descent. I don’t know. (CK elected not to ride the thin boulder strewn corn field at the bottom, which explains the downhiking boot pack seen in the lower part of the photo, just in case you were wondering. After all that, he was just focused on keeping it safe)
This was an epic adventure. We are fired up on our line, despite the dummy factor. Now we have about 3 miles of canyon hiking to do. We will be covering a good portion of that in the dark.
CK takes one last look up the giant snow and ice pocked rock face we just shimmied our way down. When we got a full view of everything we realized that the little elevator shaft chute he found was realistically the only thing that actually went through along a cliff face that spread for about a mile across. It was the only section we could see that would not have required Class 4-5 down-climbing to descend. The condor must have been a sign that “rulers of the upper world” were with us on that day.
My legs are hacked but I am stoked to be where I am, hiking in a big Andean high desert canyon into the sunset.
CK takes off like a rocket, trying to make camp before dark.
Further down the canyon I get a glimpse of the upper part of the couloir we began from.
Here is our route, from an earlier photo, with much more snow on it. My original idea was to ride some of those nice open chutes lower down to the lookers left, but they were really melted out the day we climbed this.
Half way down the canyon the darkness sets in. I am too tired to pull out my head lamp. I just keep charging through creeks, brush, and loose rock letting the full moon, my primal night vision, and the flickering of our campfire in the distance guide me.
We passed out hard under a clear, full-moon, starlit sky while listening the howls of a pack of wild coyotes. There was no more agenda. We had rode hard and were in need of some rest. We pilgrimaged to a cabana on the ocean for a couple of days. It was nice to just chill and enjoy a different part of the Chilean ecology.
After the beach cabana we went exploratory hiking for a day through some amazing desert canyons in the warm sun. Steepy had returned to work at his avalanche forecaster job some days earlier. Well rested, the other guys were fired up to head back into the High Andes in search of more riding and protected, soft snow. As for me, I headed back to AK for the hunting season so I could get some meat put away for the winter. After finally getting that taken care of, I found the time to put together this TR.
So there you have it; a fruitful 20 days in the Andes, August-September 2012. Here’s to wishing you all happy upcoming winter.