Tag Archives: backcountry

Patagonian Skiing

The weather once again defeated our plans to ski in the hills round Torres. They looked like they had awesome terrain and a convenient road heading right up into them, but the weather gods frowned on this plan and brought us some strong Patagonian winds that were not forecast to stop for a week or so.

So the decision was made to head north again and ski in some of the mountains we’d spotted on the way down to Puerto Natales. We’d just need to hop back into Argentina – or not, as the Argentinean border staff were having a strike. So we had one more day in Puerto Natales and one more delicious meal in El Bot, a nice local restaurant.

Flamingos at the end of the world.
Flamingos at the end of the world.

We headed for the border early the next day, ooh it was snowing! It had put down a few inches on wet roads, would we even get to the border without the help of snow chains? It was up hill all the way and lots of squiggly lines left by the few vehicles that had already passed through. We made it with some careful driving, but coming down the other side of the pass might be fun. I was feeling quite pleased with the tyre selection, it had been worth dragging Barbara round all those tyre shops in Bolivia and Peru She now knows lots about tyres, I’m sure she valued the experience. (Maxxis Bravo 771 for any tyre geeks out there, so far working well on gravel, mud, snow and other frozen stuff.)

The border was very straight forward thanks to the helpful Argentinean staff. It turned out there was a small ski area right at the border, maybe they had just gone skiing the day before – I’d be going on strike every time it snowed if I were them. We thought about breaking out the skis but the hill wasn’t very steep and the snow was deep, so didn’t look like we’d have much fun if we could even get the skis to run at all. We decided to head on north to bigger and better objectives… This video captures our perhaps misplaced excitement!

First we thought we’d have a look at some hills in the Los Glaciers National Park,  so we headed for El Calafate to get a map and supplies. El Calafate is a pretty quiet place in the winter, even more so if you arrive during siesta time as we did! However we got what we needed once the town woke up and headed for a good potential spot in the park just north of town, again a nice little road seemed to head directly into the park up to about 600m. We turned onto said road full of hope and optimism. New snow, fully stocked van, psyched occupants and some big hills, what could possibly go wrong!

The first few km went by uneventfully with just the odd little slide on the muddy surface and some tyre tracks from people that had turned around. We continued on merrily, the mud patches getting deeper and bigger, but still manageable, if you kept momentum. We were discussing turning round when the road became just mud and there was nothing to do but plough on and hope, if we stopped we’d definitely be stuck. We made it maybe 1 km before we ended up bogged down at a standstill. Not good.

I opened the door to have a look see at how bad the mud was – it was deep and it looked like we would be going nowhere before the encroaching darkness came. I tried getting out, but gave up once my first foot had sunk well into the mud.

Crap!

We had a discussion about options, none seemed that good given we were about 15kms from a very quiet highway in deep mud. The drinking wine option came high up the list, but it was after the trying to reverse out that I realised that we could get the van to move a little bit. Maybe we could rock the van out? We repeated a forward and then reverse manoeuvre until we ploughed ourselves a longish furrow. Then it was forward then reverse as fast as possible and don’t stop. It worked for a while at least then we had to try again, there’s a short video here. Eventually we reached solid enough ground to turn around, this seemed a long way but happily we made it! We turned tail and ran away thankful we had avoided a real epic.

Steve after his escape from horrific Patagonian mud. Very sticky mud at that.
Steve after his escape from horrific Patagonian mud. Very sticky mud at that.

El Chalten was the next place one on the list on our great South American ski adventure! We might even get to tour around the base of Fitzroy!

Mount Fitzroy massive from the road into El Chalten.
Mount Fitzroy massive from the road into El Chalten.

After a stormy night in the van we headed to a cafe for coffee, cake and internet in El Chalten. The internet said the weather wouldn’t be great, scuppering any multi-day plans. A day tour didn’t seem out of the question though, just a case of finding an objective. We headed through town and out on the gravel road in search of skiable terrain. A few kms out I noticed Arroyo (river) Mosquito on the map, this clicked with something I had seen on the internet about touring on Mosquito peak. We parked by the river and decided to follow the faint path through the woods up to the snowline, there had been some fresh snow the night before so we might be in luck. After an hour of boot packing we got the skis on and continued skinning through the trees.

Barbara starting the approach to Mosquito peak.
Barbara starting the approach to Mosquito Peak.

The snowpack was not great, a 12-18inches of slushy faceted snow, a melt crust and then a foot of fresh. We decided to stay in the trees and not head to the open slopes above. We did a few laps which were pretty fun although Barbara was struggling as the snow was pretty heavy. I decided I liked mash potatoes. We headed back to the van for the now traditional hot chocolate, but we had now had to substitute dolce de leche liqueur for Bailey’s. The forecast said more of the same the next day, but the snowpack stabilised enough to head up to the ridge line and we got fresh lines all day, yay!

Finally getting some skiing done!
Finally getting some skiing done!
A happy Tom on the way back down after a successful days backcountry skiing!
A happy Tom on the way back down after a successful days backcountry skiing!

The following day the weather decided we had had enough fun, although it was teasing us cos it was fairly calm in the valley, but the spin drift on the hill above said go away!

So it seems we aren't going skiing...
So it seems we aren’t going skiing…

The optimist in me said go on it’ll be fine  but Barbara said otherwise! We took the sensible option and headed back to town to consult the internet once more. The internet said it will be stormy here for a week and then mega for a day or two.

We really felt like hobos, always being moved on. Oh and really in need of a wash!