THE AUSTRAL TRIP

PATAGONIA

It all starts as a vague idea in your head, and then it evolves to become a commitment you do to yourself. The idea keeps brewing consolidating the eagerness on the travel experience, discovering a new place, overcoming the challenge, and the pleasure of travelling and moving around. Not before long, the decision is made.

To put you into context, I’ll briefly introduce you to the destination: Patagonia is a very large region located at the southernmost part of the American continent, and its territory belongs to Chile and Argentina. Along its extension, the Andes mountain range divides it in two parts.The weather is complicated there: cold and wet in some regions, cold and dry in others, resulting in some dry areas and other areas with abundant vegetation, but in both cases difficult to explore.

To make it short: it’s a hostile land, and for us, this implies the kind of attractions which ground our trip: snow, wilderness and adventure. Our budget is limited, as usual, and it always implies an obstacle but once it’s overcome it gives way to planning. From the get-go, we plan to do several volcanoes and mountains in Chile and Argentina.

In figures: 3.000 km on the road and 20.000m of positive vertical drop. A month and a half of adventure for four individuals eager for mountains and riding: a guide whose name I don’t care to remember (the very opposite of a gentleman), Nicolás Salencón (Argentinian FWT rider), Alfons García (Salomon Spain rider) and Juan Aizpuru (professional photographer).

INITIATORY EXPERIENCE

After spending heaps of time on the road, we finally arrived in San Carlos airport, where we hooked up with some Argentinian friends we’d met in previous trips to South America. A few craft beers and some delicious Argentinian meat did the job to get us used to local daily routine, and after an “Argentinian flamenco” concert at La Luna bar, we woke up the next morning to the corresponding hangover; nothing we didn’t expect anyway…

First we took a walk along the Patagonian valley and Nauel Huapi Lake to get used to the environment and to scout some of the mountains we’d outlined for the following days. Then we headed off to Villa La Angostura where the Martin family invited us to get on board their small boat for a whole different way of approaching our mountain destination. The boat trip was really exciting and gave us the feeling that we were about to live a perfect experience. We navigated on Nahuel Huapi Lake for two hours, before arriving in Arroyo Vinagre, a settlement close to our first destination: Cerro Tres Picos, Once settled in the Martin family hostel, we were treated to another delicious asado to get our energy back.

Sunrise is special in Patagonia; astonishing scenery consisting of snow-covered peaks. We loaded our gear on the horses…a proper Patagonian expedition has to be animal-powered at some point. Rather than realizing a dream, it’s more about the convenience of using horses and mules: the approach to the point where we can actually set the skins on our skis and splitboards is long, and the gear is heavy.

“Sunrise is special in Patagonia; astonishing scenery consisting of snow-covered peaks. We loaded our gear on the horses…a proper Patagonian expedition has to be animal-powered at some point.”

Cerro torre

Cerro torre Patagonia. Photo: Juan Aizpuru

“A trip always implies adventure and unexpected events, and horses are unpredictable, amazing creatures that sometimes won’t let you load your gear on their back. It’s no wonder; neither would I.”

We crossed rivers, bordered lakes, rode through sketchy trails and ended up with sore buts, but we finally started to head up towards Tres Picos, The view was amazing: the lake, Cerro Catedral and Frey, as well as many other nameless mountains, maybe ridden by some local rider, or maybe not. We were told we were the second group of riders doing runs on that mountain, but here the locals are brave, and they’re not that keen on claiming their achievements; here, amongst locals, doing something is given way more recognition than bragging about it. We reached the summit of the third peak at 2140m, and even though it felt like a hell of an altitude, in this part of the world latitude is the main thing.

A trip always implies adventure and unexpected events, and horses are unpredictable, amazing creatures that sometimes won’t let you load your gear on their back. It’s no wonder; neither would I. One of these creatures decided he wasn’t going to put up with such a humiliation and took off galloping, while the second one remained there. The group was divided and even though we managed to immobilize the beast, night caught us and our single option was to bivouac on Mother Nature’s own frigid Patagonian ground. Needles to say, dawn light was a blessing and we finally reunited the group at noon. This is the kind of situation where either you make friends forever, or enemies for life and thankfully, we wrapped it up with the former.

Patagonia

FIRST RUNS

Sometimes it’s better not to start skinning up too early due to icy snow, and on the other hand, it’s worth to make the most of the mind-blowing sunset light to shoot photos, but this by no means justifies the fact that it ended up turning dark every single day we were out. This time we set off from Colonia Suiza, 25 km away from San Carlos de Bariloche, a place which was originally a settlement for Swiss farmers, woodworkers and their families, now turned into a snobbish village, nevertheless exquisite.

We skinned through the impressive lenga and coihue tree forest until things got sketchy at higher altitude due to ice and wind. At Filo de las Cabras, one of the peaks at Cerro López, we finally rode down, very aware that Eolo (God of the Wind) was ruling things there and it wasn’t going to be the run of our lives.

Divine plans should never be opposed and the damned-blessed weather is there to proof that. Blessed because it provides snow and cold temperatures to keep it in good conditions. Damned because threatening clouds and altitude winds often made our plans go astray. Wise is he/she who is patient on the mountain, so we enjoyed some well-deserved chill time. Twice blessed.

“Divine plans should never be opposed and the damned-blessed weather is there to proof that. Blessed because it provides snow and cold temperatures to keep it in good conditions. Damned because threatening clouds and altitude winds often made our plans go astray.”

CERRO CATEDRAL AND FREY

To make the most of the situation, we decided to explore Cerro Catedral ski resort’s freeriding terrain. We hiked up to Col del Viento, rode down Van Titter valley and we hiked up to Emilio Frey mountain refuge. A traditional route; a must because of its beauty.

Frey deserves a chapter on its own. Located at an amazing valley at the foot of a frozen Toncek pond, it’s surrounded by endless red granite needles providing sick freeriding lines in between them. We chose a few shoots and luckily for us, snow conditions this time were ideal. Alfons left his signature on Las Tres Marías couloir, and the rest of us signed the ones parallel to it. Action, adrenaline rushes, excitement, freedom and pleasure at its highest. We were finally riding again. We took a second run down the east face of the main needle with a similar outcome.

After a quick stop at the refuge we headed back home feeling exultant and satisfied with our good work. Once again, it turned dark and things got a little messy, but I better not tell – You might think we’re daredevils and it’s not true.

Fizt Roy Patagonia. Photo: Juan Aizpuru

Fizt Roy Patagonia. Photo: Juan Aizpuru

THE IMAGINARY “OTHER SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN RANGE”

“That’s when we found out why Tronador was given this name; the sound of the huge hanging seracs collapsing causes the mountain to roar constantly.”

Day 10 and everything was ready for the Chilean “Volcano Tour”, on the east side of the range. The car was loaded and we took off at 6 am. First stop: Casablanca, great excitement to make it to the summit. We stopped at the border, we showed our passports and everything seem to be cool, except our truck was not quite legal; we were missing some damned paper and customs won. ”No problemo”; plan B was on, we headed to San Martin de los Andes aiming to climb Lanin volcano, where the wind was blowing the ashes of the old eruption of Puyehue (3 years back) giving Nature the winning score again. We went on to attack plan C, 130 km south, at El Bolsón, namely on Cerro Piltriquitrón (2260 m). We looked on the bright side and trusted the threatening rocky walls on the sides, which marked our ascent and descent. Crampons and ice axe in hand, until the sky cleared enough to allow us to enjoy a quite technical run on pretty hard snow. We wrapped this chapter with some tasty craft beer and home made pizza that Fede served us at Piltri mountain refuge.

TRONADOR

It’s one of the colossi; you can’t help feeling overwhelmed by the power of this volcano. We arrived in the refuge after a 5 hike. The next morning, we woke up early to attack the south face with our crampons on. That’s when we found out why Tronador was given this name; the sound of the huge hanging seracs collapsing causes the mountain to roar constantly. We were shitting our pants at fist, but after a while, we understood that it was just natural. We made a speedy run watching the storm that was approaching. We had to point it all the way down to scape from it! That was our goodbye to Tronador. We made it to the top but it wouldn’t let us enjoy its entire splendor.

patagonia-cover

EL CHALTEN

We took a long 19 hour-drive to arrive in El Chaltén. Route 40 is the road that cuts Argentina from north to south, starting in Quiaca to end in Ushuaia. We only drove through 1.600 of its endless kilometers, scoring a moon eclipse while driving on an infinite road. Pure magic.

Once there, the steppe and the mountains impressed us, but the glaciers bewitched us. We traversed the one called Vespiñari, skinning up and down between crevasses. At some point we rode down a couloir on Cerro Eléctrico, only to learn once we were at the village that we’d been the first snowboarders there. Of course we felt really proud and satisfied, and if at some point we’d lost the sense of the whole trip, watching Mount Fitz Roy surrounded by clouds, it all made sense again.

On day 19, Alfons scored a badass line between seracs after summiting El Crestón. We stayed there for two more days, enjoying the company of good people, a pleasant stay and the compulsory asados, before returning to Bariloche safe and sound.

“Of course we felt really proud and satisfied, and if at some point we’d lost the sense of the whole trip, watching Mount Fitz Roy surrounded by clouds, it all made sense again.”

LAST STOP BARILOCHE

Mother Nature treated us to a good dump to celebrate Alfons’ birthday. Days of joy, excellent snow quality and everybody going insane with the long awaited conditions. Once again, Van Titter, La Laguna area and the usual lift ticket issues in this part of the world. Night caught us by surprise at the end of every day; like total beginners, although we experienced feelings of real experts.

The last few days, Tincho Guallani and Tomy Orol took us to El Bolsón, where Perito Moreno (2260 m) allowed us to reach its summit and treated us to a happy end, thanks to a pristine run. We rode an endless couloir, Tomy flew his paraglide over the lines, we slept on our tents, we enjoyed an asado under the stars the way only Argentinians know, and we went back to San Carlos to properly say goodbye to our friends and acquaintances.

¡Gracias Patagonia, gracias Argentina!
Big ups to Satorisan for hooking us up with plane tickets!