September 7, 2015

Tour de los Volcánes de Chile, Part 1

Chile Backcountry created an extraordinary experience nearly perfectly suited to our objectives. We skied on Volcanes Casablanca, Mocho, Villarrica, Lonquimay, and Lliama. Kruser and yours truly made our way to Puerto Varas by bus from Chillan.

 Iglesia del Sagrado Corazón de Jesus

After many, many bus stops, we finally arrived in the picturesque resort town of Puerto Varas on Lago Llanquihue.  Our multi-skilled guide, Vicho, met us at the bus terminal and took us to our lodging in Puerto Varas to wait out a storm in the mountains.

Skiing the mountains of the Chilean Lake District and Araucania was our objective. We were able to ski the areas of Antillanca, Huilo Huilo, Pucon, Corralco, Arenales, and Las Araucarias. Antillanca was wet, and we didn't see much, but it was a good start to a fantastic trip.
Antillanca Base
Vicho Working, Yours Truly Not Working
Wet in Patagonia
Several wet laps in a whiteout were enough, and after securing lodging, we moved on the Neltume, where we found the magical Reserva Biologica Huilo Huilo.  After overnighting at Bosque Encantado, we made our way up the mountain, and caught a snowcat ride a little ways up Volcan Mocho. We skinned on to the summit and enjoyed adventure skiing back to the Bosque Nevado base.
Bosque Nevado Base

Hot Ascent

Clouds Closing in on Mocho Summit
Next stop: Pucon!
Excellent Spring Skiing on Volcan Mocho Choshuenco

Tour de los Volcanes de Chile, Part 2

Pucon, Chile is a resort city built on the shores of Lago Villarrica at the base of Volcan Villarrica. After skiing Volcan Mocho Choshuenco, we drove on to Pucon and settled in at the Aldea Naukana, a place where transformations occur, they say.
Ski Pucon Base
Volcan Villarrica activity in early 2015 (still venting) prevented lift maintenance, and the ski area consequently failed to open this season. Maintenance of the very rough road was not apparent either, but we made it to the lift base. We skinned from the base up toward the summit, and turned around where the snow became extremely hard and icy. Just above our turnaround, a trio of German skier/climbers dropped their skis and donned boot crampons for the final 1000 ft vertical to the summit.
Perfect Spring Skiing above Lago Villarrica y Pucon
Another sunny day, another Chilean volcano! After a good night's rest, we made for Malalcahuello at the base of Volcan Lonquimay.
Volcan Villarrica with Our Tracks from Aldea Naukana

Volcan Lonquimay is in Araucania Region, a part of Chile since the 1880's after the Chile military occupied the area and quelled resistance by the indigenous Mapulche.
Lonquimay Summit from the Corralco High T-Bar
Some Malpuche still press claims on the land around Lonquimay. Corralco Ski Area was built on the southern flank of Lonquimay in Chile's protected area of Reserva Nacional Malalcahuello-Nalcas where the Chilean army was training.
Vicho, the Esquiador Extraordinaria
Vicente 'Vicho' Fernandez is a partner in Chile Backcountry who tailor-made our volcano ski trip. We stayed flexible, discussed options and preferences along the way, and Vicho made the perfect arrangements to suit us. We skied on six volcanos in seven days, stayed at accommodations that fit our preferences really well, and enjoyed very good food and drink. Vicho lives in Puerto Varas and really knows the area, and he reads guests and situations really well. He did an excellent job. I'm already scheming next season's trip with Vicho! 

Tour de los volcanes de Chile, Part 3 coming soon!

August 29, 2015

Nevados de Chillan, Chile

South of the equator in late August, Volcan Chillan snows are still falling, and Andean winds are still blowing.

Refugio Garganta del Diablo, Devil's Throat Refuge
Ski touring in an Andean wind storm, coming upon Refugio Garganta del Diablo was an unexpected and welcome sight after getting blasted with icy pellets driven by staggering gusts. Touring around Nevados de Chillan for the first time was a lesson in complex volcan topography, quite enjoyable, but also unnerving.  To an Alaskan skier experienced with ridge-top cornices, happening upon cornices mid-mountain was a reminder to follow the sage Canadian advice: "if you can't see it, don't ski it." Along with unexpected mid-mountain cornices, I happened upon unexpected bowls full of powder! As you might guess with all this unexpected stuff, keeping one's bearings was difficult. Lost in the Andes, what could go wrong?
Refugio Garganta del Diablo

Refugio Garganta del Diablo Loft

Except for a rat, I was alone at the refugio listening to the windstorm bang the tin roof in an uneven, unrelenting cadence. I left the shelter feeling very thankful for having a break from the wind, and backtracked about an hour to find what was left of my uptrack. Established around 1937, Refugio Garganta del Diablo is maintained on Volcan Nevados de Chillan by Grupo de Refugio del Amigos.
Nevados de Chillan has substantial housing around the end of the road, Termas de Chillan and even more at Las Trancas, 15 minutes (in good weather) down the road. Probably all of the accommodations are slightly more comfortable than the Devil's Throat Refugio.
Gran Hotel Termas de Chillan
Hotel Alta
Delightful Austral Parrots (or Slender-Billed Parrots) flock around Nevados de Chillan eating seeds that blow from the trees.  Hundreds of these beautiful birds were chirping, flying about, and enchanting los esquiadores de Alaska.

Enjoying Fresh Austral Snow in August
Nevados de Chillan skiing was very good! We enjoyed fresh snow 4 of 5 days, but also a lot of wind. The wind prevented opening the upper most lifts 4 out of 5 days. Ski touring around and above the upper lifts during wind storms helped me appreciate the reason for closing the lifts, but leeward bowls amazingly retained great snow, much of which was wind deposited, and some of which was unstable.
Nevados de Chillan Sidecoutnry
We observed slide debris on approximately 35-degree slopes, but never saw or felt anything move.

Traversing back in bounds
Chillan was a fun trip - hope to return!