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Chile Ski Mountaineering: Reid & Team Summit Sollipulli

With Sergio’s 4x4 driving skills playing a crucial role, yesterday our Hyundai van plowed through the 20 cm blanket of new snow over the road to Las Araucarias, a ski area at the base of Volcan Llaima. It felt like full blown winter leaving the parking lot - snow falling from the sky… We decided to take the optimistic approach and see if we could potentially climb out of the clouds. After an hour or so we were at the top of the ski area, with no reference points above. We were able to fit five of us in a tiny unused lift shack, and I did what I usually so when times are uncertain: put on some reggae. With my iPhone as the sound system and Chronixx filling the air, it was the ideal “out-chill the situation” maintenance break. Properly fueled and motivated, we ascended into the whiteness above. Hours later we found ourselves in the parking lot, this time Sergio’s Hyundai as the sound system, Protoje filling the air, cervezas in hand, smiles on our faces… Llaima (and the weather) said no yesterday, but what a positive day in the mountains it was.

Yesterday evening we drove to another mountain, the Hyundai taking us up and up and up a steep lava rock road in 4LO, into a mysterious and remote mountain jungle. Out of the mist appeared Sollipulli Lodge, a place that inspires your childlike imagination. “Eco lodge” is probably the best term to describe this place - each room is its own incredible yurt-like pod situated on a lagoon, with other beautiful alternative structures connected by boardwalks. Mountain jungle living, combined with incredible comfort, and incredibly gracious hosts - the father and son duo Christian and Robert.

Sollipulli is a volcano with an expansive crater that similar to Crater Lake in Oregon and was once much taller before collapsing inward on itself. This morning we had a beautiful ascent to the summit, using a variety of ski mountaineering skills along the way. The weather was in and out, but eventually we found ourselves back in the “viento blanco” - low visibility, annoyingly windy, snowing…

I learned a new tactic on Sollipulli for terrain reference in whiteout conditions. When you’re in the lead, it can be hard to know what sort of terrain you are on, or about to walk into, and guides will use various tricks in these conditions to ensure they’re not leading the group off a cornice or into a crevasse. These are low tech solutions like throwing snowballs, casting a piece of cord tied to your ski pole like a fishing rod…or bringing along a pack of three golden retrievers who follow you all the way to the summit, clearly loving every minute of it, while also providing valuable terrain reference. These Sollipulli dogs were amazing, and also very competent in the winter alpine environment.

Our Sollipulli descent ended in a wood-fired hot tub next to a crystal clear river, an ideal place to relax in the late afternoon rain.

RMI Guide Tyler Reid


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