Saturday, August 23, 2008

Chile trip report

Chile August 08

I just returned from a road trip in Chile with my friend Rick Winfield. Our original plan was to try to summit and ski three volcanos: Lonquimay, Antuco, and Volcán Nevado in the Nevados de Chillán complex. In the end, the stormy weather — heavy winds and snow in half of our days there — kept us to lift-served skiing more than we had planned, but we got the bonus of some nice powder skiing in Nevados de Chillán and La Parva.

We arrived in Santiago early August 15, and we drove all day (770 km) to Corralco, the small resort on the South side of Lonquimay. It blew and snowed moderately all of Saturday, as shown on the first 12 photos in the album. To do something, we skinned twice from the lodge to the ski area (around 300 m vertical) where we saw Chilean soldiers practicing winter skills, and where we practiced crampon travel on a wind-scoured slope.

Sunday (photos 13 to 28) was summit day. We got a ride on a snow cat to the ski lifts, because the road was still partly unplowed, and rode the chair to the top of the small bump (1900 m) on the right of the photos of Lonquimay. We started skinning from there at around 11:30am along the SE ridge until it got too steep at around 2500 m, and then we used our crampons to reach the 2850 m summit at around 2:30 pm. It was very windy and cold most of the way, with a few lulls in the wind that didn't last. Cris, a Chileno snowboarder we had talked with in Corralco, reached the summit just after Rick and before me. You can see the windblown snow and ice in several of the summit photos, including Cris's photo. It was that windy. We descended the East face, which had a good cover of nicely carvable windpacked snow, with no evidence of significant slabs. It was a great ride the around 1300 m down to the lodge, finishing at around 4 pm.

Cris had told us that Antuco's snow level was high and required a trudge off the snow. We were in Chile to ski, not to hike, so we decided to bypass Antuco and drive directly to Las Trancas for three days skiing Nevados de Chillán.

Monday was very windy, and we guessed that the SE shoulder of Volcán Nevado, which is critical for the ascent, could be very icy and exposed. We decided instead to seek good snow in lee sides, and we found some. Tuesday started snowy, windy, and with terrible visibility. The Don Otto, Nevados de Chillán's longest lift, was not running. We poked around trying to find wind-deposited goodness, and it got better and better, with visibility improving a bit by late afternoon. It snowed more overnight, and Wednesday dawned sunny if still windy. We decided to chase powder (sorry, no pictures, I was too busy skiing) and we weren't disappointed. Even though we had some 15 cm of new snow and a lot of wind, we did not find any significant wind slabs on the steep lee sides we skied, mostly in the Pirigallo valley (we avoided suspicious rollover and corniced areas on the notorious Elefante ridge). So, Rick did not summit Volcán Nevado (I had done it back in 2003), but we had a great day of fresh tracks.

We drove back to Santiago after skiing, and got a very late dinner at one of our favorite places there, Etniko.

Thursday, we drove to La Parva through dense morning traffic, and got there at around 10:30 am. We kept skiing the steeps around the Las Aguilas lift, where we found some nice, mostly untracked snow. I quit exhausted at 3 pm after six days of ascent and descent, Rick took one more run, and we drove back to Santiago to change clothes, pack, and drive back to the airport for our 16 hours of travel back to San Francisco.

Thanks: Above all, Rick for driving and for putting up with a slower climbing and skiing companion; Corralco staff for their hospitality and help with transportation to the volcano; Cris for advice on Antuco; Stuart at Cabañas Los Andes for a good stay and good stories; Owen and his family for an entertaining dinner and skiing company; staff at the Santiago Crowne Plaza for help with baggage and changing after skiing; Chilenos for their friendliness and willingness to put up with my fractured Spanportugish; Delta Airlines for getting us and all of our gear there and back without a hitch; our friends at CASA Tours for introducing us to this stunning part of the world; and Frédéric Lena for the advice in his beautiful Chile-Argentina: Handbook of Ski Mountaineering in the Andes.