Two iconic Roads: Carretera Austral y Ruta 40

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Big Castle, Little Castle, Our Castle: CERRO CASTILLO

Getting the groceries was our first challenge. Food to sustain heavy activity for six days, have some variety, luxury and in addition still not too much to carry. The pick was fast: Oatmeal for breakfast, bread with cut meat/sausage for lunch, soup for the afterburner, ready-made pasta&rice with different flavours for supper and chocolate accompanies well all of these meals and nourishes also in between.

But still, after having arrived at the end of the dirt road that leads to the valley we had to hike up, we found ourselves with very heavy backpacks full of gear and food. For the first 1.5 hours we even had to add the skis and boots to that load. The American Team that already was up there used horse powers but we are stronger than horses… (A&A) After another 2.5 hours skinning while dusk was slowly rolling and it started to snow with wind, we arrived in the promised lands. Thanks to a Argentinian/US group that recently went up there for a shooting, we found a wind-protected, perfectly designed place to set up our tent in the woods. The ready-made rice never tasted soooo good than after the exhausting drag. One question remained while the snowfall began to intensify and the wind shook the trees with more and more violence: How will the weather be the next day?

Zip off and… Bluebird and a piece of pristine Patagonia with steep rocky spires and many lines in between appeared all of a sudden. The sun called definitely for skiing! Did we mention yet that the weather had been bad for ten days before our arrival? As usual when we enter an unknown area, the first day always is supposed to be mellow to get a comprehensive image of conditions and terrain. Fresh snow and a strong wind created a combination we had to pay attention to. At least we spotted some nice lines, got an idea of the snowpack and finally had even some very good turns! Not to forget, that just the feeling of being out here was satisfying enough and made the efforts worth everything. With increasing air pressure and a clear night, illuminated by the moon, our hope rose to ski a signature line at Cerro Castillo the next day…

The night wasn’t calm with raging winds but barometric pressure increased even more. A good portion of porridge provided the necessary power to tackle the major couloir on Cerro Castillo with full throttle! The gusts hit us with full force as well and we could hardly stand upright sometimes. Countless switchbacks brought us up to the bottleneck of this signature line. A hard 300m bootpack finally led us to the end of the narrow and steep couloir, where the view widened to the plains 2200m below and the deep blue Lago Buenos Aires at the horizon. And then it was all about the down! Technical skiing on variable snow squeezed between rocky spires challenged us, before a perfect, filled-in chute completely satisfied our needs. The rest is history and can be summarized with many Yeeeeeeaaaaaaahhhhhhhs and a sustained smile. Ready-made “Knorr” Pasta rewarded our empty stomaches this night for a change. That was the line, we had dreamt about for probably 6 months, when Manu came up with the idea of getting to Cerro Castillo during winter. From then on, everything was like a bonus…

And this bonus came with day 3! The morning routine didn’t take too long because we wanted to take advantage of the sun and the blue skies. Unfortunately the peak we wanted to ski this day was permanently under a disguise and we didn’t want to lose ourselves between séracs and avalanche-prone slopes. Instead we skinned-up to a pass and skied some huge slopes with GS-turns. Plenty of time allowed us to ascend another line, we spotted at the first day. A hanging glacier and threatening spires above us provided the perfect high alpine Chamonix-like background. Against our expectations braking trail became very annoying while we tried to gain verticals in the steep, exposed slopes. A windloaded chute was another negative criteria and finally marked our point of return. Considering the fact that there will be no rescue team at all in case of emergency, our avalanche awareness is more stressed than we are used to in Switzerland. Nevertheless the few turns there were mind-blowing. Back at the base-camp we allowed ourselves a sun-bath before our barometers indicated a decreasing pressure…

Rain and fierce gusts interrupted our sleep this night. A brief look outside the tent in the early morning hours confirmed our concerns, no skiing today! A day of reading books, snoozing, memorizing the days before and eating the remaining food was a welcome experience but didn’t really convince us about sitting out the storm. Anyway our food ran out and we got ready to leave this awesome place after the 5th night. May Cerro Castillo always remember us of the great days, we spent in our small castle!

How to top these days? Heading for El Chaltén, Argentina!!!

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La Carretera Austral 2.0

On my travels the past summer when I hitchhiked all Patagonia from South to North I also spent five weeks on the remote and rough Carretera Austral in the region of Aysen. Despite the rainy weather and many hours walking along the road because traffic is spare I spotted lots of potential for skiing. The few people actually skiing and who are just getting started in exploring the area also were so enthusiastic that I knew I had to get back here.
Always swarming to Dani about Cerro San Lorenzo (one of the most massive peaks of southern/central Patagonia), Cerro Cerro Castillo (I spent four days hiking around it and the Alpinist in me wanted to get closer to the summit) and a lot more of unnamed and unskied valleys along the road or a bit further in and only accessed via the bushes finally  drew my fellow ski buddy down here.

But getting Coyhaique was a long drive, basically starting in Temuco where we had stayed just after our ascent to Lonquimay. The next stop was Puerto Varas where we went to meet some good folks from the hostel/home we stayed in during our prior time (Vno. Osorno). By midnight we left the port of Puerto Montt for a ten-hour ferry ride and a night’s sleep on our sleeping pads under our assigned seats. The ride was so calm that only the nightmares of ripping sleeping bags could disturb our peace for the night.
Our arrival in Chaiten was as expected (for me) unreal as it’s a totally different groove from fancy Puerto Varas. Still suffering from the effects of the eruption of a nearby volcano three-and-a-half years ago that destroyed much of the city and its infrastructure it’s still in reconstruction and power as well as potable water are missing. The deserted city is not exactly a welcoming place as all of the restaurants were closed and we only found some breakfast by the routing of some helpful trucker….

Just after we left the town behind us we wanted to get some luxury back to our lives and went for some hot-springs special treat to get ready for the bumpy gravel road ahead of us.
Already behind schedule and delayed by three hours, at once we caught up with the other cars from the ferry on the snow-covered road. Unsure if we should pass the line and expose ourself to the winding road and the judgements of the Chileans we put on our chains and had an awesome ride up the snowbanked route. La Junta is not so much a place you want to stay too long so we just bought a pack of pasta and something for the morning next day and made our way to sit out the night in our tent on the shore of a nearby lake.

Not being able to shower for a couple of days was a really hard experience for the two of us so we felt – again – the urge for some hot springs. This one was much fancier than the one from the day before and just located on a fjord of the pacific and with comfortable 37°C, if there hadn’t been the temptation to take a dip into the ocean accompanied of close passing dolphins. Phaa, what a life I have. As the condition of me knee didn’t permit me to drive I even had my private chauffeur. The second pass of the carretera with countless switchbacks was much easier than expected and after the visit of the not so visible hanging glacier ( Ventisquero Colgante in the Queulat Reserve) we went off into the dusk.

The detour to Puerto Cisnes wasn’t really worth the kilometers but it already got dark, we were hungry and last time I passed the junction nobody had given me a ride. So it was kind of a missed thing I wanted to catch up. The hospedaje wasn’t very welcoming, the restaurant smelled like cleaning vinegar but at least the salmon was exquisite.
The last stretch of our 900km drive was the most unspectacular as it was almost all paved and Dani could put the pedal down…

For now that’s all and we finally got the real shower after two more nights of camping in Coyhaique and are getting stoked to try out the new terrain as we’ll leave for Cerro Castillo tomorrow to pitch our tent up high in a remote mountain valley.

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A desperate mission to Volcán Lonquimay…

After some down days in Puerto Varas and the prospect of continuation we launched an apparently desperate mission. A single forecast symbol for sun combined with light snow for Lonquimay on that Saturday morning looked convincing enough to drive 500km northward. Heavy rain slowed us down and the experience of hydroplaning on the highway made us questioning the entire mission. Manu had a “slightly” pissed off face and grumpy mood and got some beers intus while I was driving almost the whole drive. Last but not least we drove an unnecessary 120km detour just to find out that we had to approach the mountain from the other side… Finally we made it to Curacautín, a typical Chilean village of no charm and very little opportunities to stay overnight.

The night in a hospedaje including breakfast with sour milk and strangely tasting butter was not really enjoyable but the dusk came with some scattered clouds and freezing temperatures. No question, even Manu became fired up to leave this place and head for the mountains! Few kilometres before we would have arrived the base of the ski-area, we got stuck on the road due to fresh snow. As usual, Chileans are very helpful and it didn’t take long until we had a ride in a pick-up truck. The road was literally carved in the deep snowpack with walls of about 2 metres on each side. Lonquimay got record amounts of snow this year and usually is known for the best snow in Chile… Promising!

We didn’t hesitate to put our skins on and started to hike along the chairlift, that was just about to open up. The ascent of 1350m turned out as fast and but less spectacular than we are used to. After 2.75 hours we already stood on the summit and almost got blown off. Face, hair and sunglasses got covered with a thin layer of icy snow.

Riding the huge open slopes of Lonquimay was good fun with compressed powder. We were back at the base in no time. So, what to do with the rest of this day? Let’s head for the Araucanía forest! Through these unique trees we reached a ridge, from where we intended to ski fun-looking terrain with preserved powder. Somehow the snow was worse than expected and Manu made a bad turn and ate some snow. The later diagnosis in the hospital, a slightly ripped meniscus and a ban on skiing for 10 days…

Did I already mention, that just when we arrived back at the car, it began to snow after almost a full day of bright sunshine? At least the weather was in our favor…

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Volcán Osorno at its very best

Here comes everything in full detail, while the weather gets worse again…

As we already told, we enjoyed the time experiencing water in a different physical condition but days without skiing are just not the same as they are with. And we definitely had many of these days without!
The arrival in Puerto Varas was like a relief. Finally plans became more concrete with the drive to the base of Volcán Osorno on Monday morning. No annoying guardaparques at the entrance to the National Park and a winding road, allowing us to gain meters almost as fast as on our skins, rose our hope to summit this iconic volcano. But all of a sudden the road became snow-covered and icy. Instead of driving uphill our car became a sled and sleds as a matter of fact, prefer only one direction: downhill! After several attempts we gave up and hitch-hiked. The luck seemed to be with us again. A very friendly german-speaking plow-driver gave us a ride up to the abandoned ski resort.

The staff at the resort was just about to check the facilities after a 5 day storm. Everything was caked with tons of snow! Our skintrack was fast as usual but we were still doubting to reach the summit due to clouds obscuring the upper part. Our concerns vanished the higher we got. Perfect blue sky, soft, powdery snow and most unbelievable, no wind! This combination made the ascent very enjoyable with breathtaking vista and the anticipation of skiing all the way down the huge slopes. As usual we tried to skin up as high as possible but getting to the top with skis was impossible and of no use. Huge, icy “coliflores” (cauliflowers) allowed us to reach the very top only by foot. It’s impossible to describe the feelings that took over when we arrived on the culmination. Just to give it a try: overwhelming! Of course there was a strong an very cold wind. Anything else would decrease the genuine volcano summit experience…

Switching the bindings from up- to downhill mode is always a pleasure. Our expectations were not disappointed as the pictures can tell in a convincing way. Manu could hardly stop but volcanic rock was tougher than his will…

Eating an ice cream at the lake shore back in Puerto Varas while looking at this perfect volcano in the distance felt kind of unreal.

Another day, less luck. Our attempt to Volcán Calbuco was ceased even before we put on our  skis. The owner of the property we had to cross to get to the base of the volcano, denied access… This is an annoying aspect of skitouring in Chile you have to deal with sometimes.

Our dreams shifted currently more to the South of Chile but it just turned out that the ferry from Puerto Montt to Chaitén is booked out until next sunday. Another volcano to kill time? You’ll find out soon…

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Escape from the rain…: Chiloé

It’s raining in all the close places with the possibility of decent skiing and we needed an serious alternative. The decision was easy to take and we headed for the beautiful Isla Grande de Chiloé. 9’180 km², 16 UNESCO World Heritage churches, tasty sea food and probably the most annually accumulated precipitation of whole Chile. Here at least it’s raining for real!!! The Swiss owned hostel with its rich breakfast is perfect to take this break from skiing, do some reading, relaxing and explore the old and mostly locked churches around the island…..

Yesterday evening we already noted the rapid increase in pressure (an alpinist skill) and our prayers for good weather were heard and we did an excursion by foot to a remote beach close to Chepu on the west coast.

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Bienvenidos a Chile! Volcán Villarica 2847m

After the annoying border crossing procedure at both customs on Paso Mamuil Malal we finally entered Chile with our sturdy little truck, fully loaded with gear and ski-eager passengers. We went straight to the Termas de los Pozones in order to get clean and be more welcomed in the Hostels of Pucón. After 3 hours of hanging out in the warm pools surrounded by lush green and a super chilly torrent we felt clean and refreshed enough to join the civilization again. On the way to Pucón one can’t avoid to catch a glimpse at this huge white, smoking cone that we already spotted from Lanín: Volcán Villarica, 2847m. A tempting target we didn’t want to miss out on.

After a down day with rain, it looked very promising with bluebird weather, little wind and a considerable amount of fresh snow. In best Russian company from Kamtchatka and Siberia (Thanks to Gregory & Masha!!!) we rushed to the base of Villarica Ski Resort at about 1200m. Instead of using the very old and even slower chair lifts we skinned straight from the base. Very soon we spotted some caterpillar-like looking black caravans slowly climbing up the slopes of the volcano. Ahhh the guided tourist groups we were told about! In no time we passed them and found ourselves on the more and more windy and completely untracked Volcano. The adjective „little“ in terms of wind on volcanoes may not be underestimated… Despite some fierce gusts and a detour caused by the unhealthy exhalation of the Villarica Volcano we made it in 3.5 hours to the smoking „summit“. Right, there is no summit in a traditional meaning so we climbed the highest bump on the edge of the crater. A quite unique experience but you should always consider the direction of the wind otherwise you could easily die of suffocation!

We nearly had no expectations about the descent on the wind-affected faces but it turned out as quite favorable. And finally the Southern Winter taught us a lesson about avalanche awareness as we triggered a considerable slab avalanche remotely. We decided not to follow the ascent route and instead a small valley with powdery snow, covered with a thin breakable layer of ice. The terrain was awesome with crests, chutes and small cliffs to air and stomp or crash… Back on the slopes of the ski area we were stoked about the summit and the line we explored completely unexpected. Not to mention that we had first lines from summit to the beer on the terrace of the restaurant while we were waiting for our Russian friends, who also made it to the summit. To give our readers a glimpse of the future, our next blog will be called „Снег в Восточной“. But until then stay tuned for more epic stories from the South!

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