07 October 2008
Winter Projects Rediscovered
One bad thing about goals is that they can obscure your vision. I was able to take care of one goal early in the season--albeit under less than favorable conditions. And since then, El Plomo and La Paloma have been lingering reminders that I don't have nearly enough time to accomplish what I want to accomplish with the rapidly shrinking time line here. Such ever-present reminders, in fact, that I had nearly forgotten about the west side of Ojos de Agua until I had skied into it, as well as one of the lines pictured above that is a part of the annual El Monumento del Cristo Redentor trip. And it almost didn't happen.
The central Andes pose many challenges: steepness, difficult access, blistering sunshine, freezing winds, low humidity. Perhaps the biggest challenge, though, is the unexpected. Sure, there is always the chance that the road will end abruptly and you will drive your Buick headlong into the torrent of the Rio Aconcagua:
Then there is the danger of sudden meteorite showers:
But even these possibilities are mitigated by the presence of higher powers that take shape in the beautiful folk architecture of mountain cathedrals. Here there is safety. Even if the sky is falling down on top of you.
In the Andes, the unexpected takes many shapes and forms. In this case the unexpected took the form of the temperature that dropped about 10 degrees Celsius (about 20 degrees Fahrenheit) in about 1000 meters (about 3200 feet) as well as in the shape of snowflakes as they fell from the chilly spring sky. And the unexpected didn't let up, either.
The unexpected also took the shape and form of the group interested in skiing up and around Cristo del Redentor. What started out earlier in the week as a group of hombres turned into a large group of proud papas taking their progeny out for a lesson in ski-touring. In and of itself this is a great idea. The problem was that the first round of unexpectedness wreaked havoc on the snow conditions and, thus, on the tiny legs and bodies of the new recruits.
The snow was impenetrable. Other than the color it was hardly recognizable as snow. It was at best difficult and it must be noted that the little people performed magnificently. Their papas should be proud.
While they all struggled up the steepest and most miserable part of the tour I took the opportunity to explore. The snow stopped and the sun broke through the clouds frequently enough to soften the northern aspects. I headed up.
Looking north toward Aconcagua still shrouded in clouds. The old Chile-Argentina border crossing and Cristo del Redentor monument is pictured in the middle of the long saddle, at the top of the switchbacks. Yes, that means that there was a time when you had to drive, walk, or crawl up that road to enter or return from Argentina.
El Camino del Diablo and the current Chilean border station.
The dogs and I made our way up and over to our unexpected winter project. The condition of the snow was pert' near perfect.
So the unexpected weather didn't ruin the day after all. I unexpectedly rediscovered a winter project that I first spied three years ago. Even the impenetrable ramp the others skinned up had unexpectedly softened enough to provide a decent descent.
Perhaps the most unforeseen surprise was the sight of a ragged and sunburned gringo who approached us with skis on his back as we prepared to leave. He spent the last two months traveling around Argentina and the last three days alone in a tent waiting out the (unexpected) cold weather at the very windy and very closed Los Penitentes resort. He was tired and broke and a little worse for wear. He stunk. He was young. We told him we would take him to Santiago where he would recuperate for a few days before returning to Seattle. We waited for him at the border crossing and bought him a beer. I drove with the windows down and he couldn't stop talking about the mountains--that they were the most beautiful and intense he'd ever seen; that they seemed inhabitable and at times frightening. Another victim of the Andes. He'll be back next year. I hope I will too.
(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!)