Unknown

Twelve southern hemispheres in Chile.  Twelve years of chasing winter.  I consider myself a rational person; but this escapes logic.  When I add up the actual number of days skied, combine this with the weather and common conditions and then factor in the headaches and lost sleep that come with doing business in the developing world, it's hard to say it's "worth" the summers I've missed – the mountain biking, the warm weather, the family events, the possibility of maintaining a relationship, etc.   There's no "good" reason for me to keep going to Chile.  But I do.  And I will.

Volcán Lanín, a very big mountain on the Chile / Argentina border.  

I know why I go.  I go because it's the best way I know to go to the unknown on such a regular basis.  Even the volcanoes, which I now know so well, still provide an opportunity to discover something new on a daily basis.  Most of the time, it's my clients who go some place they've never gone before.  To share this is remarkable.  To see them go farther or push themselves further than they thought they could; to see them marvel at landscapes they couldn't have imagined – this will never be boring for me.

A group of friends climbing the final pitch of the first volcano they ever summited.

One way I guarantee an adventure for all my groups is to make a point of doing something I have never done before – maybe a face or a summit I've only seen from a distance.  I know people appreciate that we have to work together to solve a riddle and the reward will be the experience of doing something that is far from a "trade route."  I always lose sleep before these days, because as a guide, I always want my clients to succeed, which I can't guarantee on adventures like this.  But, without exception, regardless of success or failure, the clients tend to feel it's one of their favorite days.

This face sat in the sun all morning on a day with temps well above freezing, and still never softened up.  We went all the way out there, got hosed, and then had to come all the way back.

The sensation that comes with doing something for the first time is really special.  Maybe the run is a first descent, maybe not.  As long as it feels like it is, it doesn't matter.

I have waited since 2009 to ski this face.  It felt like a first descent.  Certainly a highlight.

And even when I think I know the volcanoes like the back of my hand, there is always something else to see.  There will always be another face that pokes out from the clouds or shines in the sun and says, "Yeah, you're not finished yet."  

Cerro Puntiagudo shines bright in the evening sun – as seen from Lago Petrohue.

For me, the future of my adventures lies in this valley.  This is why I come to Chile.  To stop the truck and look up into these mountains is thrilling and intimidating.  It's a classic scene: an unspoiled valley, a lonely dirt road and untamed mountains above.  It makes me think of the classic Chilean expression, "Es mucho carne para tan poco gato."  That's a lot of meat for such a little cat. 

The process is simple enough: drive to the end of the road, walk to the snow, then start skinning.  And it doesn't matter how much time you've spent with topo maps and GoogleEarth, there's no way to anticipate all that you will see.  And the questions about what will come never cease.

Nina touring up the road into the unknown.  

Sometimes it's magical.  To be high in the Andes on a calm, clear night is a powerful feeling.  It's easy to get the sense that you are really, really far away.  And you probably are.

A perfect night under the Volcán Planchon.

A perfect night under the Volcán Planchon.

And a perfect morning.

But the Andes have a way of making you pay for those perfect moments.  Big storms can last four-days and the wind will never pause during that time.  There's no skiing to be done.  Just hang out in camp, try to stay dry, not lose your mind and batten down the hatches.  

Nina works to build the wall around the tent.  

The sun will come back out.  And it will be perfect.  And no one else will be there.  Enjoy!

There are real uncertainties associated with adventures in the Andes.  One of my biggest concerns with skiing in this area is the road access.  The road is exposed to avalanches, rock fall and flooding rivers.  I am constantly worrying about not only getting up, but more importantly, getting out at the end.  On our trip in September, it was snowing hard on the day we were supposed to go up to the base camp.  While getting ready at the car, it was snowing over an inch an hour.  I figured that at that rate, we had four-hours before the road would be at risk of being impassable.   There was a very real possibility that we could struggle for hours, navigating by GPS, to find the base camp, then we would have to hope everything was there and functioning and then set up in the storm.  If it didn't work out, we would have to return to the car. If the road was impassable, we would be stuck there with limited food and water.  

We worked for a few-hours, but then I decided the odds of success were too slim, and the consequences of failure were too great.  It was the right call.  We got out no problem.  But when we came back several days later, we could not drive as far because of the deep snow and there were huge, unmovable boulders in the road.  We would have been stuck up there for days.

Cayo is basically saying, "How do we think this is going to go well?"

Again, with high risks, should come high rewards.  Once the storm cleared, we got out for a day of touring closer to the end of the road.  

We truly had the place to ourselves.

And it was good!  

The photo below is one of my favorite from the season.  I see both the peaceful perfection of the powder turns and the fury of the avalanches and gnarly terrain.  And to me, this is life in Chile.  Sometimes it is bliss.  Most of the time it is frustrating, challenging and even scary.  

And this is the type of scene that keeps me coming back – and torturing my soul.  Even as the clouds hang overhead and the snow won't soften, the sun shines from clear Argentina and illuminates the mountains I love.  More importantly, I am reminded that there are even more mountains behind those mountains.  Mountains I don't yet know.  Yet.  

Donny Roth