29 September 2008
Fine, I give up. Spring is here. There is no going back. The creeks are rising. The avalanche tunnels are free and clear of snow. There will not be a last big storm. No, from here on out there is only sunshine, blue skies, and perfect spring skiing conditions. At least until the penitentes form.
Headed up to one of the favorite haunts, Ojos de Agua, for the first time this season. As a result of warmer than average early season temperatures the Rio Aconcagua valley was plagued by a nasty cycle of avalanches. I had no idea what I would find higher up the valley but the lower sections didn't look promising. Here the dogs ponder with me the best way to approach the mass of frozen sludge that made its way down to the mouth of the valley:
Other than the towering rocks overhead, nothing in the lower section of the valley looked familiar. Everything fell to the valley floor and left bare slopes, deep trenches, and a maze of colliding avalanche paths. The slides crisscrossed, jumped-over, plowed-through, and re-slid over each other so that their directions and points of origin were almost impossible to trace. It looked like the training ground for snowplow operators. It looked like a giant excavation project. Climbing over and through was an exercise in humility.
When I'm in the Andes I often have a sense that the world is falling down around me, that the mountains are so young and volatile that you can hear and feel and see them shift and settle and grow old. Wading through the destruction of the last storm I also felt like I was traveling up an ancient riverbed whose waters have long since drained into the sea. And I suppose in a sense I was, and that the drifts, rifts, and overturned boulders were only playing out their destiny to move and slide constantly down. It was I who was out of place, forcing my way up and against the flow of eternal condition. Thankfully I had a head full of disco to get me through all of this.
And if these thoughts weren't annoying enough it was the reminder of humanity that helped return me to my place in line. I was not only not alone in my fantasies but I was also late. Once I slogged my way up and out of the riverbed mess I traversed around an outcropping to find that the Portillo helicopter had beat me to my destination. Or at least a part of my destination. A photo from the other side of the valley the previous year looking into my planned objective:
At that point I was already above the valley floor and the helicopter. I saw no skiers, only the collection of tracks that stopped at the place where the helicopter hovered. Within a minute or two the helicopter was gone again and the valley still and silent. I traversed upward on onward.
I kept rounding the corner into the cirque and was surprised to find that, in fact, nothing that I intended to ski was tracked. It was still a beautiful blank slate. The helicopter dropped the high-paying customers off in the flat depression at the bottom of the cirque, 200-ish meters above the valley floor. Though I've never done it and don't plan to I'm not necessarily an opponent of heliskiing. I'm pretty sure, though, that if I just paid $300 for that run I would have been a bit upset. I hope no one was. I hope they feel their money was well-spent.
Myself, I take serious pleasure and pride in knowing that I climbed higher and farther and skied in better and more aesthetic conditions without the aid of a helicopter, guide, or platinum credit card. I'm guilty. And the day only improved once the helicopter flew back to the hotel.
Far above the landing spot, the Juncal glaciers sporting their own cloud cover:
Higher still, pushing myself up into a very shady corner of the world.
I opted instead to climb up this headwall and relax for a bit in the sun. Spring or not, it's cold in the shade. Besides that, I like looking at 6100 meter peaks.
Descending was pretty fun, too.
I pieced together a series of descents so that I could traverse over to a saddle and get a nice view of 4800 meter Cerro Parva del Inca at the head of the Ojos de Agua valley.
Spring days seem to last forever around here. ¡Vaya con agua!