Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A windy week in Camp Donkey

Just returned from seven days camped out beside the Arroyo de los Burros, in what became known as Camp Donkey. This base gave us access to a picturesque valley a few hours touring west from Las Lenas. We were served a generous portion of the infamous Andean wind- it blasted our camp constantly and on the ridge tops was strong enough to blow us off our feet on occassion. These strong winds combined with a rapidly melting snowpack meant that we didn't realize all of the ski plans we had in mind.

Still we enjoyed plenty of laps on the nearby Cuchilla de los Bajos in a variety of different snow conditions from windblown pow, to breakable crust, to boilerplate to corn. 

The approach route alternated between hiking a 4WD track and skinning narrow strips of snow in a creek.

Evenings were spent beside the campfire, enjoying spectacular sunsets, smoking pipes and eating a variety of powdered foods.

 Mel farming corn early in the week 

 Celebrating a new summit.

 Photo by Mel

The snow was mostly wind hammered, however the occassional turn was delightfully soft. (Photo by Mel)

 Every day started and ended with crossing a creek, it wasn't any warmer than it looks. (Photo by Mel)

 This shot shows how windy it usually was (Photo by Mel)

 Photo by Mel

 Our main objective for the trip was Cerro Matancilla, however a lack of snow in the two couloirs on its south face turned us back, going to have to come back next year.

The last turns before arriving back at Camp Donkey

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

La Horqueta and Cerro Soldado

Days number two and three in the Las Lenas area have been stellar, two more quality ski descents on La Horqueta and Cerro Soldado.

La Horqueta is a peak which I'd heard of a while back, with a big south face split by several funnel shaped couloirs, and its clearly visible from Los Molles where I've been staying. With this having been a lean season in terms of snow fall the approach hike to snow line is longer than it usually is, however the lack of any real vegetation and a plentitude of animal tracks make for fast and easy hiking in this area.

Photo by Mel. The line I skied is the main couloir in the middle of the face.

Due to low clouds I started out from Los Molles solo and much later than I would have liked to (around 11am), and followed a 4WD track for about 3 km before crossing a river and following a stream up hill to reach the snow line at around 2700m. Having been told that the water in the creek was drinkable I only brought along 2 litres, however it was so salty and sulpherous that I wasn't really tempted by the idea of topping up my bottles. After a quick transition to skis I started skinning under a hot sun and was sweating so much I realised that my water would run out about halfway through the outing.

Good skinning conditions allowed me to switchback straight up the looker's right couloir without any trouble, which shaved some time off the usual more circuitous route. The summit plateau was predictably quite windy,  and the snow was wind hammered and thin with many rocks exposed, however the slope is really gentle. During the final 100 metres or so I became quite aware of the fact that living at seas level and haven´t yet acclimatised properly.

I reached the summit around 4pm, (about 5 hours after setting out) and filmed a quick video before stripping skins and getting ready for the ski. The upper section of the couloir itself had about 30cm of dry pow and was a joy to ski. Down lower in the choke it turned to breakable crust, however being in such a stunning locale definately outweighed any issues I had with the snow. Lining the couloir were spectacular and improbably shaped rock pinnacles, like gargoyles watching over the line and all seemed to be teetering on the edge of collapsing at any second, as such I didn't hang around in there too long.

The hike out was uneventful, save for the beautiful views over the valley as the sun set, and I arrived back at the ranch just as it was getting dark.

Total vertical: 2630 metres
Total time: 8 hours (5:10 up and 2:50 down)
What I wished I had more of: agua
Here's a hastily edited video of some shaky handed footage 
I filmed on the outing (a bit over a minute long).

Had another late start on day number three and headed up Cerro Soldado (3630m) with Mel. Soldado means soldier in spanish and the peak itself is an impressive solitary tower poking up about 50 metres above the ridge. It is dwarfed by the massive west face of Adrenalina which I stared at in awe during the whole time we spent skinning up- its definately on the list for a future trip.

The snow is melting rapidly at the moment, with freezing levels hovering around 3500 metres, so we were forced to alternate between skinning and hiking on loose scree for much of the ascent. This lack of snow so early in the trip has me quite concerned about what sort of skiing I'm going to be able to find in 7 weeks time at the end of the trip...

We spent about three hours ascending to the col just east of the summit.

We enjoyed some dry snow on the upper slopes, then a 200metres band of the ubiquitous crust before piecing together a puzzle of narrow strips of corn down to the valley floor.

Now a day of rest and organising before heading out deeper into the mountains near the Chilean border tomorrow.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Day one in Las Lenas!

My first day of skiing in Las Lenas couldn't have been much better. Mel and I headed up Entre Rios (ca. 3700m) in the slackcountry. Conditions were great above 3300m in shady aspects with about 15cm of fresh snow, down lower spring conditions were the game of the day with some corn and some crust.

Today marked 24 consecutive months with skiing for me, and it was a fun outing to make the milestone on.

Views from the summit into the mythical Valle Hermoso were very promising. Looking forward to getting in to this zone in the next week.

 It was so warm that skinning sans shirt seemed like a really good idea.
Now I've got a patterned chest: red with white stripes where the straps from my pack sit.

What would skiing in the Andes be without some steep bootpacks on wind jacked snow? 

Skiing the headwall of Entre Rios' east face. (I skied the line 'E-Dreams', whilst Mel went for 'Go or no go')

Buena honda!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

In defense of late summer skiing... (Illustrated with some photos from Frostisen in late August)

Its three months since most skiers here in Norway called the season "done". Most people I speak to about skiing at this time of year are incredulous and more often than not I actually find myself defending these outings. Ha! People don't know what they're missing out on!

Some locals laugh and roll their eyes at the prospect of skiing in late August thinking that the amount of effort involved in the approach hike doesn't really balance with the payoff in turns, others consider the idea of skiing short summer lines as being contrived and others still are simply more focussed on enjoying more traditional summer activites like mountain biking or climbing. In my opinion this third view is the only real valid excuse for not skiing in mid summer.

Firstly, hiking in the summer time is widely accepted, no one really finds the idea of walking around in snowless mountains absurd. Skiing at this time of year can simply be viewed as an extension of hiking: you enjoy some views in the mountains and get a bit of excercise (perfectly reasonable right?), but then instead of tramping back down hill once you've reached the summit you get to ski! And for anyone out there who thinks that ski gear is too heavy- lighten up! My typical setup for these outings weighs about the same as many people who choose to hike with monster day packs complete with stoves and thermos.

Secondly, in terms of this sort of skiing being "contrived", well call me overly excited if you want but I think 700 metres of vertical (about what you can expect for late summer touring in northern scandinavia) is totally worthwhile. Maybe its got something to do with my upbringing in snowpoor Australia, then again many people are satisfied with that amount of vert in mid winter conditions.

Anna doesn't really need any of the above points explained to her, so she makes a great partner for this sort of outing.

We left Sør Skjomen around 10am and hiked up on a muddy access road and then through fields of heather, at about 1050 metres we were able to swap over to skis and link up a few permanent snow fields separated by bands of rock. Around 12.30 we finally crossed the morraine onto the glacier proper, and were greeted with some pretty stunning views. The mountain gods were smiling down on us with bluebird skies and travel conditions were near ideal. A lack of familiarity with the glacier caused up to rope up for the enitre ascent, but any crevasses were super obvious, either way it was good practice for roped skinning.

We threaded our way between crevasses on the SW Face then had lunch on the northern ridge, looking out of a sea of peaks in Ballangen which aren't skied all too often on account of the lengthy approaches which they require.

The summit logbook was all soggy from the last rain, but peeling back the pages carefully we were surprised to see that the last people to have made an entry in the book was an entire year before.

We enjoyed about 500 vertical metres on the decent skiing down the steeper SE face then skated back across the flat section of the glacier, smiling the whole way after another great summer ski descent.