Entries from Chile
My last experience on Volcan Lanin was two years ago, and it was severely windy. Since then I’ve yet to talk to anyone who has had a calm experience on this mountain.
Two days ago as our team was climbing a steep gully, with 7,000’ of vertical relief above us, that Lanin wind taunted us. The weather forecast called for things to calm down in the late afternoon, but weather forecasts in southern Chile should be read with a degree of skepticism - there’s simply a lack data points in these parts to expect much accuracy.
At 3:30 in the afternoon I thought to myself, we’ll give it 45 more minutes. The wind needs to mellow out significantly. And we need to find a safe place to camp. Basically some alignment of the stars, or we’re going to have to retreat to the monkey puzzle forest…
At 4:15 I scampered up the steep edge of the gully while our group took a break under a rock outcrop. On a protruding ridge I stumbled upon a perfect, safe, snowy ledge carved out by that Lanin wind. And then I thought wait a minute - where’s the wind? Gone.
We had an amazing evening camped in our fortified perch, looking out on dramatic cloud layers. Darkness turned to what felt like daytime, with a very full moon illuminating our tent walls.
The next morning we started climbing - kicking steps in the frozen snow with crampons on our boots.
Our Chile Volcanoes trip landed in the middle of a very unsettled weather pattern here in Araucania. 1,500’ above our camp on Lanin, the snow started to fall, the wind started to blow, the clouds came in, and my attention started to turn from my surroundings to my GPS.
Time to go down. Good thing skiing is so much fun in and of itself. We were smiling big by the time we rolled into camp, and smiling bigger by the time we hit the snow line on the lower flanks of the mountain. 3000’ or so of perfectly smooth corn…
Thanks Chile for 8 awesome days of skiing, and thanks Lonquimay and Sollipulli for allowing us to visit your summits. Llaima and Lanin…we’ll be back next year. And thanks to our awesome Chile 2015 crew: JP, Stephen, and Wendy. And a special thanks to our amazing local outfitter and guide, Sergio Perez.
Today we’re having a rest day in the town of Pucon with an afternoon trip to the Termas (hot springs). Tomorrow we set out for two days on Volcan Lanin, our final objective of the trip. We’ll keep you posted on how things go the next couple of day but for now, it’s time to rest.
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.
After an adventurous summit on Lonquimay, the last couple days have been focused on simply ski touring in the beautiful terrain this region offers.
Yesterday we drove through the longest tunnel in South America to the Las Mellizas range, touring from the base of an abandoned ski area called Los Arenales. We had lunch on a mini summit called Mirador de Los Volcans and our ski descent dropped us into our first close encounter with Araucarias (monkey puzzle trees).
With 15 cm of new snow and a bit of a break in the weather, today we skied beautiful long laps from another mini summit adjacent to Volcan Lonquimay - warm, smooth powder, definitely the best snow of the trip.
As I type, Sergio is preparing a traditional Chilean asado (barbeque)...an eating experience I have been thinking about for the last year. I have no doubt it will be our best meal of the trip (and the bar has been set high).
Greetings from the Suiz Andina in Malalcahuello! Today was our first day with skis on our feet and it was a beautiful one. We rode the lifts at Corralco, a ski area on the lower flanks of Volcan Lonquimay, a training ground for the U.S. Ski Team. Spring snow conditions and the sun shining through ominous clouds made for an ideal day of remembering how to ski. The vibes are super positive in our crew and we’re psyched for what’s to come. Stay tuned…
Update 8:25 pm PT
Setting out into uncertain weather today with Volcan Lonquimay as our optimistic feeling objective, I wasn’t convinced we were going to see the top. After three thousand feet of skinning we transitioned to climbing mode, and as cool as it feels to have skis on your back, whippet in hand, crampons on your boots…those skis make great sails in a gusty north wind. We climbed the direct route on Lonquimay and despite having to battle the elements on the way up - wind, diminishing visibility, pelting snow and rime ice coating us head to toe… with a take-it-one-step-at-a-time mentality we managed to ski from the cumbre (summit). It was sort of the opposite of a carefree descent requiring precision whiteout navigation and a few other guide tricks, but before we knew it we were back in Malalcahuello sipping on the legendary pisco sours at the Suiz Andina…well earned. Thanks Lonquimay!
Just a quick note that our whole Chile Ski Team is here with all of their gear. Sergio picks us up in 10 min and we’ll be headed out for our first day on skis at the base of Lonquimay. Will try to check in later with more of a dispatch…
RMI Guide Tyler Reid
The journey and people are usually the best part. And better to be back safely than not at all.
Posted by: Keith on 9/21/2015 at 2:22 pm
We launched for the north side of Volcan Llaima with overnight gear, optimism, and our fuel tanks filled to the brim with carne. Our send off from Malalcahuello was the asado of all asados: Chilean grass fed beef, homemade sausages, and lamb slow cooked over a wood fired grill masterfully by Sergio (our Chilean outfitter and owner of the lodge in Malalcahuello).
The wind was steady and the views nonexistent as we toured up an expansive lava field that just five years ago was flowing red. Above the monkey puzzle trees the wind was whipping, and feeling energetic we opted for the storm camping experience. We carved tent platforms into the leeward side of a small rock outcrop and proceeded to build Alaska style wind walls around our camp.
The next morning was frigid. The sun came out and as we packed up our gear for the summit ascent, we had the feeling that everything was lining up. Almost. The nice springlike snow surface we’d skinned up the day before was now a skating rink. Our ski crampons, even under full body weight, were not biting into the ice. This was not the type of frozen snow that softens throughout the day.
About 600 vertical feet above camp it became apparent that the snow wasn’t getting any better. Getting on the face above us - which Katy and I had learned the year before is deceptively enormous and quite steep at the top, was out of the question. Just climbing the 3,700’ would require pitching out full rope lengths and building 40+ anchors.
We ripped our skins and skied east coast style “packed powder” (very loud turns) 1,000’ down to a small sub peak to the east. Views across the way of Sierra Nevada rising above the beautiful Lago Conguillio (a huge lake) began to the open up. We cramponed to the summit of our mini peak, skied down, and as we contoured back to camp, the decision not to go higher on Llaima was further reinforced. The winds ramped up, and visibility dropped to ping-pong ball status. We packed up camp and skied down out of the clouds.
El Niño has had some influence on every one of our ski outings on this trip, whether providing powder turns in September, a deep snowpack and fantastic coverage… or a moist wind that turns a big beautiful face into a sheet of ice. We’ve had a blast every day of this trip, whether standing on summits, or touring in stormy weather.
Overused statement of the trip, uttered multiple times at the end of every ski day: “Well that was an adventure.”
This is a truly amazing place to have skis on your feet.
We didn’t take Sergio seriously when he said “I have a snowcat”. We were discussing the approach to Sierra Nevada, which would typically involve four-wheel drive pickups to get to where the snow starts. As our Chilean outfitter and local guru, Sergio has been with us the whole trip, and here in Malalcahuello we are staying at his ideally positioned lodge, the SuizAndina.
It turns out Sergio has two mini snowcat-like vehicles he recently acquired, and he was psyched to give one of them a try in getting us to Sierra Nevada. If all went well, it seemed possible that we’d found a loophole in the “No Shortcuts to the Top” argument. The mini snowcat would deliver us to treeline, we could spend more time touring in the alpine, and maybe get a few bonus turns at the end of the day.
Apparently the universe is on Ed Viesturs’ side. Before we even hit the snow, the mini snowcat had lost one of its tracks. These are the moments where us skiers start to panic internally. Will we make it to the snow? Will we ski today?
With one track down and Sergio at the helm, the mini snowcat still performed amazingly well in getting us up the gnarly road. When we hit the snow, it was time to earn our turns.
We ascended through mysterious Araucaria forest (monkey puzzle trees) and out on to a long alpine ridge. Cornice on one side, rocks on the other. The terrain became particularly interesting on the upper mountain, with a series of intersecting ridges, alpine bowls, and mushroomy ice features. The weather was perfect, the views endless, and we were able to ski from the highest point beneath the summit (the last 50’ was steep rime ice).
Sierra Nevada is one of those descents that just goes on forever. Photos tell the story better than words.
Chilean ski adventure to the max.
First summit of the trip! We may or may not have had a slight mechanical advantage on the approach this morning (chairlift) to Volcan Lonquimay. We were teased with beautiful views of the mountain, although the wind was clearly howling up high. The visibility started to deteriorate as we climbed high above the ski area. We transitioned from skins to boot crampons where the broad terrain gives way to a semi-sharp ridge, and we climbed up and up into the clouds. The wind came in waves with periods of eerie calm in between. We climbed until we could climb no further, enjoyed some nice celebratory summit time, and clicked into our skis.
The upper mountain required careful turns in the limited visibility, but 3,000’ lower we were able to finally open it up and just ski. The lifts were still spinning after our huge descent, so we snuck in a few extra laps at the ski area before heading for the lodge for chocolate caliente and cervezas. Lonquimay!
RMI Guide Tyler Reid calls from the Lonquimay summit!
We got a casual start on our day knowing that the storm was raging on Villarica. That summiting was not going to be an option for today was glaringly obvious in the forecast, but the skiers mind is slightly different from the climbers mind: stormy conditions yield a bunch of new snow, and a bunch of new snow equals powder skiing. Powder skiing equals the polar opposite of defeat. So like yesterday, we set off into the storm, the only skiers on this mountain crazy enough to go touring (the ski areas on these Chilean volcanoes are above treeline, thus relying on good visibility and not too much wind to stay open).
Yesterday was Volcano Storm Skiing. Today was just plain storm skiing. We stuck below treeline for most of the day and found some great tree shots. With over a foot of new, dense, fast, springy pow, we put in a skin track, and one lap turned into two laps, then three laps, four laps, five laps… To be skiing in an early succession forest with a cauldron of lava bubbling 5,000’ above your head feels exotic.
At the end of the day we toured up into the storm to get a sense of how windy it really was in the alpine (and to line ourselves up for a nice glide back to the parking lot). It was windy. Really windy.