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Matancillas | Auf der Suche nach Couloirs in den Zentralanden

Mit Zelt unterwegs im Hinterland von Las Leñas

20.09.2018

Wenn im Skigebiet der Schnee ausgeht, muss man sich eben anderswo umschauen: Unser rasender Skibum-Reporter und Südamerikakorrespondet Zach Paley berichtet von einer Mehrtagestour mit Zelt und den damit einhergehenden Herausforderungen.

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Zach Paley
Lee Lyon

Wenn im Skigebiet der Schnee ausgeht, muss man sich eben anderswo umschauen: Unser rasender Skibum-Reporter und Südamerikakorrespondet Zach Paley berichtet von einer Mehrtagestour mit Zelt und den damit einhergehenden Herausforderungen.

Winter camping has always been intimidating for me. The thought of keeping you and your gear warm and dry enough to function while in the cold and snow can be daunting. A friend always said, “winter camping is an art”. Despite being friends, I thought he was either insane or a liar.

On the other hand, winter camping has such incredible benefits. You have all the joys of living simply with close (or soon to be close) friends. On top of that, you get to go skiing. How could it get better? When you think of all the positives, you start to forget how much it sucks using numb fingers to jam numb toes into moist ski boots, eat instant food for all your meals, or carry a heavy backpack for long enough to bruise your hips…right? At least I (sometimes) do.

It had been a particularly terrible season in the Central Andes. People at home in Jackson complain about a season with less than 8 meters of total snow fall. It snowed less than 2 meters in the Las Leñas valley this year. So when friends Alejo Sanchez and Lee Lyon suggested a winter camping mission to some high, far, south facing lines, the choice was obvious. There was no snow left in the valley. It didn’t matter if the snow we were walking towards would be good or not, it was the last place we could go skiing.

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Zach Paley
Alejo Sanchez

Our plan was to use the ski resort to make access easier. Camping behind the ski resort is not encouraged by the administration, so stealth was essential. Easier said than done, we were easily spotted by the Gendarmes when leaving the resort. Despite having ice axes strapped to the outside of our backpacks, they believed our claims of a mellow week hanging out in the termas, and finally allowed us to exit the resort for an ‘Argentine Alpine Start’ at 1130AM.  We skied off the back of the resort, skinned up the ridge out back, and down into our approach valley where we slogged until nightfall to reach an acceptable place to call camp.

We awoke the next morning excited to be exploring a new zone. Rather than dry our boots from the previous days approach, we went for the biggest, most obvious line visible from camp. Why not? The line had two significant pitches with great snow in both: powder on the upper pitch seamlessly transitioning to corn on the lower. We called the line ‘Japi Hour’, in honor of its two for one policy (Japi is the prferred spelling of Happy around here). Given probably none of this area had been skied before, we tried to come up with cheeky names for what we skied this week.

Day two consisted of slightly more bold objectives. A hidden southwest couloir that was tucked out of view from camp, and an obvious face off of what we dubbed ‘Big Rock Candy Mountain’. The hidden couloir was a personal highlight. Despite having never laid eyes on it, the imposing rock wall above camp looked like there had to be something hidden in there. It was an interesting moment involving a bit of faith that paid off. The hidden line on ‘Aguja Argentina’ bolstered our confidence that things would simply work. We next moved to the jumbled labyrinth of hanging snowfields, cliffs, and couloirs: ‘Big Rock Candy Mountain’. It was a sluffy run but overall really fun.

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Lee Lyon
Zach Paley

Starting to feel the rhythm on day three, we went for a complex zone observed from ‘Japi Hour’ on the first day. Like many things that are not what they seem, we got a little lost in the maze of couloirs on the way up. It turned out that one couloir was three braided together. We momentarily lamented not being able to downclimb the cliff to get to our intended line, but where we were proved to be pretty sweet too. We called the zone ‘A Picture of Dorian’s Brain’, in honor of a friend who had been with us last time out in this area. Don’t worry, he’s not dead, just skateboarding right now.

After a punky exit/downclimb from the ‘Dorian’s Brain’, we opted to walk farther up the adjacent valley to see if there was any ski potential towards Cerro Matancillas for the following day. Not finding anything skiable, we treated ourselves to a cruisy 900m corn run back to camp. This was the first bit of straightforward skiing we had done on the trip, and it felt nice to turn the brain off and simply link some turns.

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Zach Paley
Lee Lyon

The following day dawned with intermittent clouds and we enjoyed some extra rest. We opted to walk into a different valley to explore a large rock tower. Thinking of our protectors back at the resort, we called it ‘Cerro Gendarme’. We skinned to the top of our line for the first time of the trip. It’s easy to forget how easy skinning is when you have to bootpack everything. Even in difficult snow with some exposed switchbacks, the track felt cruisy. We skied an angular, sheltered line with recycled powder on it down to the firmer carton in the valley below, then pleasant corn turns all the way back to camp.

Feeling refreshed from the ‘rest day’, we skied a line we had all looked at on the walk in, and wanted to call the embudo (funnel). Though the turns were nice on the face, things got rough at the choke. One had to stay clear while sluff moved past, then carefully pick their way through knee high sastrugi and rock solid carton through the runout. We opted for a more appropriate name: ‘Inodoro’ (toilet). The lower section of the ‘Inodoro’ was definitively the worst snow of the trip.

We had been watching the snow melt both around camp and down valley, and knew the walk out would not be very pleasant. We awoke early to give ourselves as much time as possible with snow still frozen to ease the return.

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Zach Paley
Lee Lyon, Alejo Sanchez

The snow covering the creek we had walked in on had melted. We were forced to use the icy, dirty snow on a heinously steep sidehill above the now running water. We reached the bottom of the valley and could see we were close. We had a creative creek crossing, then about 150 m of dirt and mud slogging before getting high enough to a snow ribbon that would take us out. Lady Argentina had different plans…

It turns out all plants in the Central Andes tend to be ‘tear your ski pants open if you try to sit on them’ sharp, even the grass. With this in mind, the real fun on the return got going when we found ourselves amongst waist high spike bushes with no trail back to the snow. I zipped up the vents of my ski pants and carefully slid from gap to gap, using my skis and poles to hold branches off of my legs. Despite wearing thermals and ski pants, the bushes punched through as if nothing was there, raking and stinging the skin. At this point I would have given a lot to be back on snow of any kind. The bottom of the ‘Inodoro’, knee deep hallow mank, sloggingly deep powder, icy groomers. It would have been relative bliss.

Like all ‘type two fun’ experiences, the slog out took just long enough to leave a memory. In this case a physical mark as well. Finally on top of the ridge, we skied down the far side in late day slush. We changed to shoes as the snow stopped and followed an unimproved road down valley back towards civilization.

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Zach Paley
Alejo Sanchez, Lee Lyon

Once we got cell service, we had hoped to call for a ride back to town, but we pushed rations an extra day and were unsure what to expect. Nobody was answering their phone, so we continued walking, expecting to go the full six miles back to town. However Alejo’s brother had thought ahead, and left a car for us just around the next switchback.

We were back at the apartment an hour later. Dirty, tired, happy. We devoured cheesy eggs and promptly opened a well-earned beer.

Usually I hate every second of winter camping and accept it for what it is. I’ve been constantly tinkering my systems in hope of finding something that starts to work better. Balancing simplicity and comfort is a huge challenge when you have to carry everything.

Maybe we got lucky. Maybe we’re getting better. I’d like to think the latter than the former. Whatever we did, we did pretty well this time around.

Hier das Ganze in Bewegtbildern:

Cerro Mantequillas from Leland Lyon on Vimeo.

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Kommentare
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freak 05.10.2018 | 21:40 Uhr

yeah, looks great

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powderhousen 21.09.2018 | 21:16 Uhr

Very nice report...thanks:-)