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.

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