Cerro Castillo, the most obvious path.
Cerro Castillo, the most obvious path.
With the support of Sernatur, joining us in this adventure, we started to complete de puzzle: we needed a photographer, a couple of riders and a filmer willing to give it all. This meant to withstand the severity of the Patagonian weather and carrying heavy backpacks on the way to the set goal; but if the weather happened to be good, we would enjoy the reward of sliding down the virgin slopes of Cerro Castillo and the surrounding area.
The team was completed over the following months: two Chileans, Cristian and myself; two Swiss brothers, Loris and Nicolas, two Frenchmen, my friend Timy and our photographer, Jeremy, and the Italian filmer of the group, Guido. So I made it to Coihaique on august 29th, 2013, a week ahead of the rest of the team, to prepare our expedition to Cerro Castillo.
Patagonia didn’t welcome me with the best weather conditions; it had been raining non stop for a week, and the freezing level was at about 1800 m but I didn’t care! I had more crucial things to solve at that time, such as organizing accommodation, transport and food for the expedition.
The whole team in the southern highway; Jeremy Bernard (FRA), Loris Falquet(SUI), Timothée Theaux (FRA), Cristian Anguita (CHI), Adolfo Santa Maria (CHI), Loris Falquet (SUI), Guido Perrini (ITA). Photo: Jeremy Bernard
After a week organizing and exploring the Coyhaique area in the company of local riders, the weather conditions hadn’t changed, and to top it all, the forecast was not looking favorable. As soon as the rest of the team arrived, I gave them an update on the situation and we suggested implementing plan B. That same night, we sat on the table, topography charts in hand, and with the help of local guides, good omens and considering snow conditions of the previous weeks, we decided to try our luck heading south.
With our powerful Ford van loaded with food for a month, our mountain and filming equipment, and an excellent attitude, we set off on our adventure.
The Austral road offers a wide array of beautiful, striking landscapes, unspoiled nature, very steep mountains, glaciers…the massive General Carrera lake became our companion during the following weeks. We were constantly tempted to stop and take pictures, but we had another goal in mind: to slide down those pristine snow-covered slopes, our passion.
We sticked around Bahía Catalina for a few days, a village located at the shores of the Carrera lake, between Puerto Tranquilo and Puerto Bertrand, waiting to see how the weather evolved.
Then the sun came out! After five days stuck there, we got on our skies and snowboards to go riding, finally. We saw a snow covered mountain –whose name I can’t remember, oops, sorry! The approach was just two and a half hours through the Patagonian bush to make it to the snow, which at that point was a bit wet.
The conditions weren’t the best but we were on our skins and off we went! The wind gusts didn’t allow us to progress as we had expected, and the clouds gathered as fast as the wind. We decided to take of the skins at a sheltered spot, and ride down the mountain once and for all, then hike again for another hour and a half.
Austral Road. Photo: Jeremy Bernard
Us Chilean were relaxed, all we could do was attract the good weather with our wishful thinking; the Swiss on their side were starting to lose it, while the Frenchies and the Italian let out no signs of their mood whatsoever. Here comes the rain again! Well, as we’re in Patagonia, it’s time to eat lamb and drink wine!
At the barbecue we met a local guide from Chile Chico who told us there was snow there a week before. After discussing it with the group, we decided to try our luck; in the worst-case scenario, we would traverse the whole Chilean side of the General Carrera basin.
Plan C lead us to Chile Chico. On our way, we stopped and checked the snow conditions, which still didn’t look good. When we finally made it to the village, there was no snow!
Having travelled together for a week and a half, we were at the point where everyone’s true personality started to pop up. Us Chileans, we were still relaxed, conscious that we have no control over the weather and that we still had another week and a half to go. The Swiss on their side were desperate; they came to Patagonia to ski, and just like a good Swiss watch, everything needs to work to perfection. The French nation was divided: my friend Timy joined the Latin American attitude and remained hopeful, on the contrary, Jeremy wanted to head back home. Guido, the only Italian in the crew, stayed neutral: his task there was filming and the trip was turning into a fun reality show.
The forecast showed a 6-day good weather window for Villa Cerro Castillo; we decided to try our luck and play our last card. In Chile Chico, we stocked up on everything we needed. During the crossing on the ferry, we organized the horses to approach to the Kiwi Camp, thus going back to our original “Plan A”.
In the early morning, with steam coming out of our loyal steeds’ noses, we set for a 3 hour brisk pace approach all the way to a big fence showing a sign that read “ “Reserva Nacional Cerro Castillo”. We thanked our “guiauchos” (a combination of guides and gauchos) for the ride; time to be self-sufficient and carry our own gear. The load carried by 9 horses had to be transferred to 7 people: each backpack weighed approximately 40 kilos.
I decided to carry my whole load and make it to the camp on a single go, progressing slowly. The rest of the crew decided to take two trips. After a 6-hour walk through lenga forests, crossing bridges over crystal-clear creeks, watching beautiful rock and ice needles all the way to the camp. Once there, we can finally take a rest and eat warm by the fire, in this valley full of endless lines and stars.
The next day we decided to take the morning off to rest and study the sunlight in the valley. That same day, we did a 5-hour warm-up ascent through 3 different corridors –divided in countries- to end up riding down with violet and orange sunset lights. We were excited; we didn’t know how the snow was going to behave and how stable it would be. Over the radio, we heard the Swiss, this time happy and joyful while skiing down on perfect spring snow. Then it was France and Chile’s turn, while the filming crew captured our moves on the snow, with the Castillo on the background.
First ride in Cerro Castillo in the golden hour. Photo: Jeremy Bernard
After having celebrated our first real skiing and snowboarding day, each group found their own challenges. The Swiss brothers wanted to go for a very steep line, barely hit by the sun over a few minutes at dawn; they would head out at 3am, with their headlamps and the moon as the only light.
Cristián, my Chilean mate, ventured solo down a sick chute and scored an amazing and exposed. My friend Timy and myself decided to head up together on a remarkably difficult ascent; every meter we progressed the slope became steeper and icier. We had to press hard on our crampons and ice axes, turning it on an ice climbing ascent rather than a hike. After a sketchy ascent which lasted an hour and 45 minutes, with rocks rolling down over us and no shelter options, we decided to hike down all the way to a secure spot, where we assembled our splitboards to finally ride down. It was a tough day, but in remote areas such as these, security is the priority.
That tour allowed us to discover things we hadn’t been able to perceive from our camp, such as two massive couloirs that went practically all the way to the Cerro Castillo summit. Us two Chileans had still some energy left, so we decided to go for it on behalf of our country, as all of our Old Continent mates were too tired to accept our invitation.
Timy digging the steepness, snow and the glaciers of the Chilean Patagonia. Photo: Jeremy Bernard
We had breakfast at 05:20 on the most freezing morning in the whole trip: the thermometer marked– 15ºC / 5ºF. After 8 hours and 1,300m vertical ascent, we reached the summit through the couloir, to ride down one of the best lines I can recall: an endless, vertical chute. It was also one of the scariest lines I can recall: if an avalanche of strong sluff occurred, the only way out of it was hundreds of meters down, and a fall could have very serious consequences.
We all learned a lot and gained much experience from this trip. For the Swiss brothers, a trip who was turning into a nightmare ended up being the best mountaineering skiing experiences of their lives, in a country, which meant a big culture gap away from the comfort and security of the Alps back home. For Jeremy, the photographer, this turned out to be the most physically draining trip in his entire life; he doesn’t think he’ll be back! Timy once again enjoyed with all 5 senses his passion for the mountain, overcoming adversity and strengthening his ties with Chile. Us Chileans enjoyed the run of our lives. Our legs, lungs and head proved to be strong enough to overcome difficulties and keep the spirit high, achieving the goals we had previously set ourselves.
Patagonia taught us to be patient, forcing us to pull away from our goal to see other places and other people in this region. I am thankful for that. The best path is not always the most obvious.
Thanks to: my family, Chilebackcountry, Sernatur, The North Face, Spy, Rossignol, Drift, Courant for their support and trust on our adventures.