The Patagonia-Pucon Collection

This trip was ten years in the coming for me. Getting the right person, at the right time in the right place proved difficult. I picked up work in Brazil this summer and travelled from there to meet Michelle in Bariloche. From there we followed the snow along with many other fellow skiers who we crossed paths with several times in both Argentina and Chile. The light, the wind, the ruggedness and most of all the friendly people made this trip one that will guarantee I go back.  Ski South America-12

Michelle walking through the steam at the top of the volcano Llaima (3180m).
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Michelle riding down our first volcano together – Villarrica near Pucon, Chile.
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The mythical Frey hut and Cerro Catedral. The friendly guardians created a chilled atmosphere that had me coming back again and again.Ski South America-29

Brody Levan in the North East Couloir of Lanin on the border of Chile – Argentina. SAMSUNG CSCMe riding amongst the spires of Cerro Catedral.

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The primordial landscape and lava flows below Lanin.Ski South America-7

Local graffiti art seemed very appropriate at this point in the trip when planet Earth had so much to offer.

Ski South America-11This striking landscape of snowcapped volcanoes whose lower reaches are blanketed in auraucaria (monkey puzzle) forests.

SAMSUNG CSCIce skates and hockey sticks hang from the roof of the Frey hut providing the guardians with some pre-snow entertainment on the frozen lake.

Ski South America-26Sunrise at the RIM26 mountain shelter on the side of the volcano Lanin. This ex-military installation was nothing more that a basic concrete shelter but it offered much welcome respite from the wind.  We shared a night there with fellow skiers Adam Clarke and Brodie Leven. We had hired synthetic sleeping bags that were almost as big as my rucksac and weighed as much as my skis, but their warmth was welcome.

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Ski South America-16Ridge line scrambling – Cerro Catedral.

Ski South America-22Michelle letting rip in Bariloche backcountry.

Ski South America-14More Patagonian powder. Michelle near Bariloche.

Ski South America-32Evening light on Llaima. Me skiing.

Ski South America-30Lanin’s North East CouloirSki South America-20

Golden spires of immaculate granite.Ski South America-27The Chilean lake district laid out below Lanin.

Ski South America-28Brody threading the rock bands on the steep North east Couloir of Lanin.

Ski South America-5Going back for more – as you can see from the tracks our first run in Laguna was pretty good. Ski South America-21More wall art.

Ski South America-9Rime ice from the volcano.

Ski South America-6Tree balls.SAMSUNG CSC

Speed.
Ski South America-23Lanin.

Ski South America-18Central Couloir, Cerro Catedral.Ski South America

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One of my favourite spots we got to on our trip.

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We almost didn’t go this day, turned out alright.Ski South America-17Evening ski, Central Couloir, Cerro Catedral.Ski South America-4Ski South America-2Ski South America-8Ski South America-15Happy days.

 

Catedral – Frey – Jakob – Lopez

After our trip to Lanin I had a couple of rest days in Bariloche then with good freeze thaw spring cycles decided to go solo and attempt the Frey-Jakob-Lopez loop in 2 days. Frey Cerro Catedral Jakob-4 Frey Cerro Catedral Jakob-5Good food at beer at Manush.
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The view from the watershed looking down to Jakob on the peninsular on the right side of the lake.
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Looking out the hut window you are greeted with the face you have to climb the next day.Frey Cerro Catedral Jakob-11

During the long hut night the guardian Claudio’s daughter does her homework by candlelight.
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The stars were amazing, shame my photo isn’t!Frey Cerro Catedral Jakob-13 Frey Cerro Catedral Jakob-14 This face shut me down. After climbing steep neve up a ramp from right to left I encountered deep unbonded powder on ice at the level of the buttress in the upper centre of the face and had to downclimb. Frey Cerro Catedral Jakob-15

The 45 degree skyline ridge on the left is the face you have to climb to get access to the plateau.Frey Cerro Catedral Jakob-16Final ski back towards Catedral.

Frey Hut Freeride, Cerro Catedral

After a few days of unfriendly windy weather reminiscent of Scottish winter, I was surprised by a forecast for 2 days of sun and no wind. In the morning I quickly threw some kit in a rucksac for a trip to the Frey hut. I was joined by a fellow traveller who was staying at the same hostel, Ruedi from the Eastern Alps of Switzerland.

From the laguna bowl on Cerro Catedral we downclimbed a short section of broken rock into a couloir that looked promising. A small step led down to a short neve slope before a ledge. Ruedi surprised me by jumping off, landing in the glissade position and arriving at the ledge pretty quickly. I tried downclimbing but the rock was too loose so I lowered my pack down then found a cave route that I was able to squeeze through down to the ledge. We didnt really know where we were going, the maps are not detailed enough to show the complexity of the spires on the ridge, so it was a proper adventure knowing we just had to make it work. Once into the South facing couloir we scored a great run where wind blown powder had accumulated all the way to the valley floor.

Skinning up to the hut was hot work in the Andian sunshine but easy compared to Reudi´s who had to wade without snowshoes. Arriving at the hut we were treated to the magnificent surroundings, an ideal playground for the freeride ski mountaineer with numerous possibilities to have fun – and all untracked. The mountains have tought me to never waste good weather and we headed off in the afternoon to ski a nice couloir line tucked into the shady right side of the cirque. The powder made it hard work putting in the track on the way up but on the way down the snow quality exceeded all my expectations for Patagonia and we rode big turns down the 45 degree couloir and the approach apron below.

The evening at the hut was a real social affair with skiers from Chamonix, UK, Holland, Argentina and the US. Sam Favret and his friends were on a tour of Argentina and making a podcast film and intoduced me to the game of Uno. Needless so say I got spanked. The hut guardians made everyone feel very welcome and its cosy atmosphere and good food was a welcome change to many austere Eurpoean huts that I have stayed in. Outside clear skies treated us with the best starscape I´ve ever seen.

The next day the French left early to get the light for filming and we left next heading for Torre Prinicipal knowing the weather window would close fast. The lower slopes were a real wallow fest with powder over a breakable ice crust and it took us a couple of hours to gain 200 m. After that we followed gorgeous rock ridge flipping from one side to the other around the gold granite gendarmes. Once in the upper bowl we were surprised to find the French guys who had traversed the ridge out of one bowl and into ours. The freeride crew turned on the style for the cameras, hitting drops and pulling big 360s of lips. Shame my camera died in the cold!

Champagne powder here enabled fast flowy riding in playful terrain full of gullies, ridges and natural kickers. With the track in and the sun still shining there was still time for one more lap and we took a steeper couloir that ran down to the valley floor!

Back at the hut we ravenously ate a late lunch and drank coffee while psyching up for the journey home on tired legs. Ruedi and myself parted company here as he wanted to take the summer path down and I preferred to skin back over the ridge to the ski resort. Stories of tree combat and swamps with sinking mud put me off going with Ruedi. A final 500 m vert took me up the ridge as the weather worsened and a short walk brought me out at top of the ski resort andand easy return to the valley.

 

 

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Cerro Catedral, Bariloche, Patagonia, Argentina

Oh, my god, this place is stunning. After a 36 hr nightmare journey South from Rio I was starting to feel a bit twitchy, but the reward of being in the mountains today made it so worthwhile. After 17 days of limited activity at sea level it felt hard ski touring up 1100 m but so good siting at the top of the mountain, eating a sandwich and absorbing the landscape, the familiarity of the mountains letting me relax deeply but aware that I’m out of tune with the mountains, at least for a few days.

On the way up I spotted a couple of 45 degree lines and managed to link them both on the way down, my first turns and my first adrenaline rush for 45 degrees. A choke section where the snow had melted out leaving a slab and a ‘crevasse’ below even had me tweakin for a second. After all I’m on my own and feel a long way from home!

How can one put into the words the joy from skiing, the fluidity and satisfaction form reading terrain and making the it work for you, the effort of ski mountaineering and the rewards. As Glen Plake said ‘the World is total chaos, but when I go skiing it feels alright again.’ That’s how I felt today. The simple life is the way.

I forgot to mention its quite windy here. Possibly windier than Cairngorm in Scotland, but only possibly.

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