The wind slams our tent so hard that the walls reverberate as if we are inside of a drum. It’s our first night on this expedition and while we’re still hopeful, doubt is still knocking at the door – or as it would be, slamming against the wall of our tent.
At some point in the spring, I convinced Tyler Cohen of Backcountry Magazine that I had a traverse idea that I felt was worthy of a story. He said he was up for an adventure, and it could be a candidate for a story if I could rope in a professional photographer. Fred Marmsater was already poking around looking for a Chilean adventure, so the pieces lined up and we were a team. By August it was apparent that the storms were not cooperating, and we needed to shift gears. On a whim I changed our destination to a location that I knew basically nothing about other than a million hours on Google Earth, and a few photos taken by only moderately reliable sources during the summer. We were really going into the unknown, and I was more than slightly nervous.
Back to the tent – it’s our first night out on the trip and we’ve made it to a col above the snowline. We were driven to the end of a road, but since then only our legs have been used to carry the load. We each have packs in the 75 to 80-pound range, and we’ve climbed almost 4000-vertical feet, about half of which was in dry, loose volcanic soil. We spent about half-an-hour picking our camp spot, carefully sheltering it from the prevailing west winds, and building a cozy ledge tucked against the rocks. As we crawled into our bags for the night we felt as if we were making good progress. Then the wind hammered us from the east. We were still optimistic, but this wasn’t necessarily rationale.
The next day we got up and headed further into the mountains. We left the camp set, as our plan was to just explore the terrain, see what we were in for, and pick a spot to set up a high base camp. We discussed the wind, but determined there was “no way” the wind could blow like that from the east again. Our day of exploring lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. There was sufficient snow and the terrain was stunning. We had found our promised land!
After touring about 5000-vertical feet and covering many miles horizontally, we returned to camp. As we crested the col the wind went from calm to hurricane. We lazily decided to stay put, and spent the night inside of the drum again. In the morning, Fred and I were astonished by the violence and complaining about a lack of sleep. Tyler, the youngest, brightest eyed, forever optimistic member of our team said he hadn’t heard a thing, and slept like a baby. He was becoming my hero quickly.
Day three had us ferrying our load to the high camp spot and setting up shop for four more days of skiing. I think Fred would have sacrificed his entire supply of touring food to find a windless spot. He hunted and pecked like a pig looking for truffles, and in the end totally nailed it. We found a little slice of summer up in the mountains. While digging in our platforms, I took off my shirt and got a sunburn that would drive me crazy for the rest of the trip.
The next morning we went for the big peak that stood behind our camp. The summit was more than 4000-feet overhead, so it was the one big objective we didn’t want to leave without. It probably wasn’t the perfect day for it, but we gave it a go nonetheless. We toured up in pretty windy, cool, slightly overcast conditions. At the top the gusts were strong enough to knock us off-balance if we weren’t careful. But the summit came easily enough and we had a fantastic view of the peaks around. The ski down improved as we got lower, and we returned to camp with nothing but smiles. Nothing like a big send in the Andes to satisfy the questions that come with a trip of this magnitude.
From here out we were free to just tour to our legs capacities, which is exactly what we did. Everyday we toured between five-thousand and six-thousand feet, and covered a ton of ground, as we were basically just kids in a playground. We got back to camp at sunset or later every night. There is no doubt in my mind that we were the first people to ski from any of these summits. Sometimes we would do three good descents in a day. With each high point we had a better view of even more places we wanted to go. No one wanted the trip to end.
Eventually, however, the trip did end. Our last day was a bit of a slog back to the valley, but everyone was already talking of returning. We had discovered all that we had come for, and much more. Yet, our business here is by no means finished.