27 June 2008

The Waste Land

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

T.S. Eliot, "Little Gidding"

I went for a stroll. It wasn't a planned stroll but it was all that was available. I expected a bit more. Snow, that is. Portillo was and is still reporting an obscene amount of snow, something like sixteen feet. Even if the Juncal Valley is a little lower in elevation than Portillo, sixteen feet of snow would have been plenty for a nice tour and climb. But it was the first time up the Rio Aconcagua this year and I really didn't know what to expect. And it was a good thing, too, 'cause there ain't sixteen feet of snow up there.

The Juncal Valley is a massive chunk of earth whose northerly mouth becomes the Rio Aconcagua valley itself and whose southerly head constitutes the most heavily glaciated section of the Central Andes. The immensity of it is staggering and a day's tour reveals only the tip of its beauty. The Chile From Within website provides historic and geologic information about the valley. The creator of the website is apparently a descendant of the family that owns the upper reaches of the valley and that has now secured it as the Parque Andino Juncal.

The day was gray, the light was flat, and the air was warm. The coffee shakes heading out of Los Andes.

The bottom of the valley is littered with the remnants of an abandoned mining operation.

Unreal City,
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn

T.S. Eliot "The Waste Land"

From there it's onward and upward. It was clear the day wasn't going to be much more than a tour up the main dirt road. The coverage was thin to nonexistent. Nearly every gully had spit out its upper holdings of snow from the previous storm. Still, no matter the activity, time alone in the Andes is time well spent. I don't normally carry music with me but I was glad that I did. With the volume turned up just enough to hear both the music and the river, it provided an ambient soundtrack to an ambient day.

If you can get over the treeless vegetationless aspect, the Andes amaze with both small and large pleasures. I kind of like the feeling of being completely consumed by the topography around me and the Andes certainly make you feel very, very small.

I saw something high on a slope so I decided to leave the road and climb up to check it out. More remains of something that once was but is no more, slowly returning back to a previous state. Broken concrete, bent steel, cables that vanish in the snow and rocks. Unfinished projects.

what branches grow out of this stony rubbish?

The last of what appears to be a memorial of some sort, to who knows what or who knows who.

I hunkered with the dogs in the tunnel for a bit for no real reason other than I could and there was no real reason to do anything else. It was quiet and cold.

Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

Back down to the river for lunch on a steel bridge.

If there were only water amongst the rock
Dead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spit
Here one can neither stand nor lie nor sit
There is not even silence in the mountains
But dry sterile thunder without rain

And finally back down to the Comunidad "Los Campos Cano Gallegos" where you will always find a warm room and a friendly face.

Back to the highway and the running of the rigs. Back to the noise of life. Back to the famous Portillo curvas.

And finally back to a world of color.

If I could help one drifter on this long, relentless road,
I’d warn him of its random ways and the dangers it might hold,
But I know I ain't no prophet and I ain't no prophet's son—
Just a long time comin’ and I'll be a long time gone.

Bob Dylan "Long Time Gone"

15 June 2008

My Day With Jari

Or, How I Accomplished A Winter Project

In a world of modified high performance food products there is something to be said for a guy willing to spend a long day in the snow with only a bag of "Fun Size" Milky Way candy bars, six pint-size bottles of Gatorade, and a pack of Lucky Strikes for nutritional support. When asked during a short rest if he wanted to share some of my decidedly healthy nut mix he replied in his clipped, rolling English, "No, I don't like nuts. Nuts are what I would feed to my--how would you call that?--little parrot or bird." That's Jari. He's from Finland. And he's a fine, fine skier. And we had a fine, fine day.

My goal was to ski one of the chutes off of Cerro La Parva (4,047m/13,277ft). Location details are found in the June 12th post. The Chileans were all tied up with weekend-long Father's Day celebrations but
I managed to coax Jari into the trip. We took off from the base of Valle Nevado prior to the inaugural start of the opening day lifts. The crowds were just gathering and by the time we returned late in the day the place looked like an ant farm of streaming skiers filing down avenues of snow.

Digital cameras are convenient but they (or at least I) seem to have difficulty capturing enormity and depth. Nothing is short and easily accessed in these parts of the Andes. North to south it's the longest mountain range in the world and even the smallest of valleys and peaks seem adjusted to a monumental scale. We spent two and a half hours skinning up to the portezuelo, or pass, that separates the resort from the surrounding high country. From the pass--basically the base of Cerro La Parva--there is still another two-ish hours to the summit. But it was Jari's first real ski tour in Andes since moving here last December and no matter how far or how high we went his awestruck reactions to the environment kept pushing him along.

At least until his equipment failed. His older, skinnier skins were ill fitted for his newer, wider skis and the final, steepest section of the climb. Content, he decided to stay behind and take in the views. He had a couple of them.

I headed up alone for the last 400 meters or so following an older, crusty skin track; each vantage point more interesting as it was steep.

Up on top, the views improved even more so. The Parva, Pintor, Plomo triptych.

The way out. Wide open at the top, narrow and crooked at the bottom.

Sadly, it didn't ski as well as it looked. Two weeks without new snow has left it wind whipped and unaccommodating. The top open bowl was like skiing on a blackboard without the benefit of chalk padding. The narrows improved slightly with some settled wind buff. I ain't complaining, though.

Jari was waiting for me on an adjacent shoulder. We skied out the run, had a quick snack of salami and broken crackers, Fun Size chocolate bites, and bird food. As the sun dropped behind the peaks we hiked it out to the top of Valle Nevado for the long run home.

Looking at life through an inch-squared window: Jari dropping down to meet me in the waning minutes of sunlight.

At the bottom, Jari wanted to show his appreciation for his introductory tour in the Andes. We sat, he ordered four bottles of beer ("Much better than two."), and fired-up a Lucky Strike. Hölkyn kölkyn.

Finnish Pop!

Husky Rescue: Summertime Cowboy.mp3 from Country Falls. Website, Buy
Jimi Tenor: Miracles.mp3 from
Beyond the Stars. Website, Buy

(If you can't see a small, blue square and triangle that resembles a play button, go here and follow directions. Installing this will allow you to read and listen to music at the same time--like a real live multitasker!)

12 June 2008

Winter Projects 3

The La Parva Chutes, Cerro La Parva (4,047m/13,277ft)

Though the picture doesn't look like much these chutes have been on my mind since I first saw them on a 2006 tour up to Cerro Pintor. They are easily accessible from either the La Parva or Valle Nevado ski resorts, are obtainable in a single day, and--in my estimation--are rarely skied. These are not the more famous and popular Falsa Parva chutes, but the real deals that you would ski from the summit proper.

Falsa Parva (3,790m) is the lower false summit that towers above the La Parva and Valle Nevado ski resort boundaries. The Falsa Parva chutes spit you out into the Valle del Inca, the uppermost portion of the Valle Nevado resort.

Cerro La Parva is a bit more north in direction and the true La Parva chutes descend easterly into the valley called Las Yaretas that is part of the route up to Cerro El Plomo. These, then, require a bit more climbing both in and out of them which accounts for the lack of traffic. Below is a Google Earth representation of the top part of Valle Nevado and the surrounding peaks. Clicking the image should expand the view.

And a closer view of the La Parva chutes:

The lines are longer, more aesthetic, and demand that you climb the entirety of the peak before descending from it. Seems like a fair trade to me. Plus, the rumor is that both Valle Nevado and La Parva now offer a single-ride "mountain pass" that will take you to the very top of either resort where you can head for the higher hills without the hefty price tag of an all-day ticket.

The Shins: Young Pilgrims.mp3 from Chutes Too Narrow. Website, Buy

(If you can't see a small, blue square and triangle that resembles a play button, go here and follow directions. Installing this will allow you to read and listen to music at the same time--like a real live multitasker!)

06 June 2008

The Credo

It would seem unfair to suggest the usual If It Weren’t For Bo Diddley, There Would Be No… list. Probably, though, most of us own bigger Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, the Who (or even the Clash, Eric Burden & the Animals, the Cramps, and the John Spencer Blues Explosion) collections than we do Bo Diddley albums. Fair enough. But while many of us might not own a proper Bo Diddley album or compilation we have certainly heard the influence of the man. In fact, it could be argued the Bo Diddley sound is as much a part of our Rock & Roll consciousness as anything the above musicians have pounded into our heads.

More importantly, I think, are the social, racial, and economic barriers that artists like Bo Diddley shatter as they lower their heads and plow through the too-numerous-to-count blockades that try to break their momentum. These people allow no man or woman to impede their vision and in doing so-—or not doing so-—contribute much more than music to the once and forever fertile soil of the American cultural landscape.

With the addition of Utah Phillips’s passing—-also a pioneer, though from a different side of the coin-—I was reminded of a short passage from Greil Marcus’s Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes. Marcus references a 1995 interview with the African American jazz theorist, biographer, and literary critic Albert Murray. The context of the quote was the Folk Revival of the early 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement, and Dock Boggs--the banjo player from Virginia; the message is transferable and equally poignant.

That is the credo, and no matter how many are at any time forbidden to utter it, American women, American blacks, and on, and on, sooner or later it will shape them all, and all will say it out loud, as a blessing or curse: the presumption of self-invention is the presumption of beginning with nothing, which is the presumption of equality. As a credo it is an argument you have with yourself far more than with others, to convince yourself, since no one would publicly profess disbelief: “We’s all borned equal. We all supposed to have the same chance, under our Constitution” (an excerpted Dock Boggs quote). “Negroes were not less American than anybody else,” the omni-American critic Albert Murray said to interviewer Tony Scherman in 1995. “They expected the same thing.” “But there was—-is—-a huge contradiction between the ideology of equality and the reality,” Scherman said. “That’s not as important as you might think,” Murray said. “We got all those Negroes segregated? That’s unimportant, compared to the fact that they shouldn’t be. It’s not the fact that they’re segregated but the fact that if they were segregated in another society, it wouldn’t even matter. Can’t you see that?”

The old America of the founders, of the Puritan, the pioneer, and the lawgiver, was always present, Murray said-—it was all about “free enterprise. Don’t reduce it to economics; I’m talking about free endeavor: an experimental attitude, and openness to improvisation. The disposition to approach life as a frontiersman, you see, so piety does not hold you back. You can’t be overrespectful of established forms; you’re trying to get through the wilderness of Kentucky”—-and the point was not “that if something doesn’t work for everybody, it doesn’t work. The important thing is that the official promise existed. ‘All men are created equal.’ Now you had something to appeal to.”

Maybe it has something to do with living away from my home country for several years now; maybe it’s only because I’m slightly prone to sentimentality anyway, but reflecting on such musical heavyweights like Bo Diddley helps to reaffirm my faith in the great experiment that is the United States. The “official promise” offers more than equality under the law; it creates a breeding ground, an incubator, for expressive traditions. Though Bo Diddley didn’t invent Rock & Roll, the blues, and R&B, he certainly borrowed from those and other styles to create his own musical worldview. More importantly, he channeled the rich and varied traditions borne from the Southern slave plantations in the form of the chugging rhythms of field songs and work hollers as well as the fire and brimstone energy found in fundamentalist Baptist churches.

In this sense, the larger-than-life music of Bo Diddley is much more of a protest along the lines of Utah Phillips than it at first appears. Through song, charity, and organizing, Utah Phillips helped support the voices of the industrial laborer, the immigrant, the displaced, and the homeless. Through his electrified, exaggerated style Bo Diddley’s protest was, perhaps, even more subversive than the card-carrying, direct action Wobblies. When Bo Diddley wailed on his guitar he wailed (read: raged) on behalf of his people and a history of struggle, violence, and, yes, segregation.

He will never be known as a protest singer, of course, but his show-no-mercy take-no-prisoners style--and general badassness--certainly equipped many musical generations to follow with power and determination. And his authority, his "experimental attitude," was permitted (though not without its own struggles) under the singular notion of a national constitution. So while mothers certainly swept their daughters off the street when he came through town; and old folks probably plugged their ears and shook their heads; our country’s credo offered Bo Diddley a voice, and he used it, and we’re all better off for it.

A couple benefactors of a couple tradition bearers:

Townes Van Zandt was no stranger to the blues and the talking blues in particular. Here's an acoustic, country-rock version of Bo Diddley's song from the 1973 album Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, Texas. As a bonus, listen for Townes's joke at the end of the song. Who Do You Love.mp3

Buck Ramsey was known as the "spiritual leader of the cowboy poetry movement." His poem "Anthem" is regarded as one of the high points of the art form and is worth investigating in and of itself. Here is his version of Utah Phillips's Goodnight-Loving Trail, recorded at the 1997 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada. The Goodnight Loving Trail.mp3

RIP fellas.

01 June 2008

El Primer Día

At long last the wait is over. My breathing has returned to a regular rhythm. The shaking has stopped. My mind is clear. It's wintertime in Chile once again. And away we go.

The first day out was simple enough yet entirely rewarding. We headed to Farellones to check out the snow conditions, stretch our legs a bit, and take in some sun. What we were offered as a bonus were crystal clear skies, no wind, and deep snow. The plan was to climb El Colorado and hop off the backside wall known locally as Santa Teresa.

El Colorado is Julián's home turf and he arranged a meeting with Olivier, a French ex-pat who lives, quite literally, on the Farellones ski resort and spent the last twenty odd years teaching at both the El Colorado and Valle Nevado ski schools. Earlier in the week, Julián sent this picture he found on Big Lines of the Santa Teresa wall taken from a helicopter.

El Colorado's top cone is somewhat hidden in the white of the long plateau. The line we skied is along one of the spines just about mid-picture. The bottom road switchbacks up the hill and ends at Valle Nevado.

Here's Los Tres heading up the Farellones resort with Santiago far, far, far away. From left to right: Andres, Julián, and Olivier with the snowboard.

"This town is coming like a ghost town." Oh, the emptiness of it all. In one week's time this place will be turned upside down. Until then, all ours. Heading up El Colorado with La Parva underneath the sun.

On a clear day you can see forever and ever. The edge of the resort and the end of all things ascending.

Andres the abominable snowman and his full frontal aggression. The Valle Nevado road waits for him at the bottom.


Somewhere about halfway down the wall, a lifetime still to go.


The support troops faithfully bringing up the rear.

Somewhere in the middle of all that there is a French guy having a bit of fun.

The elusive Andean snow chameleon make a run for it from his home in the rocks.

The snow man returneth and the completion of a fine, fine first tour.


We said goodbye to Olivier;
Julián hauled Andres and I up to Valle Nevado for a gratuitous on-piste run; and we concluded the day by sharing the obligatory beers. By all accounts it should be a good season.

Fleet Foxes: White Winter Hymnal.mp3 from Fleet Foxes. Website, Buy
Reverend Jim Jones and the People's Temple Choir: Walk A Mile In My Shoes.mp3 Yes,
that Jim Jones. Read about the recording on WFMU's Beware of the Blog.