Archive For October 5, 2023
Day after day it chucked it down. Bucketing. Rain of Biblical proportions pouring off the pavements and down the streets. Cloud to lake level a metre higher than the norm. There was weeping and much gnashing of teeth.
No-one had seen anything like it – the effect of El Niño on top of global warming resulting in perhaps the greatest redistribution of heat and moisture ever. The southern cone of South America is always wetter in El Niño years, but this was off the scale. Bariloche had only had 13 out of the previous 120 days without precipitation. And we were here to ski.
The trip started well on Challhuaco with pleasant skinning, great views and a superb second run through the lenga forest. We had to walk and skin in to and out from the Frey hut due to the lack of visibility but the one day of skiing we had there was top class. So far so good. It was after this on our road trip that the rain really started. And it didn’t stop.
This time there was nowhere to go to escape the weather, so everyone pushed disappointment to the side and did a brilliant job of making the best of it. We enjoyed fabulous steak and locally brewed beers; we saw waterfalls, magnificent forests of southern beech and crashing ocean waves. The three guitarists had plenty of practice time and kept us all amused with their antics. Children of their time, their improvisation would often begin with a country twang or bluesy rhythm before evolving into ‘80’s metal.
Tuesday 12 September and the forecast was less bad with even the possibility of some clear spells in the afternoon. Early breakfast, van loaded and off we drove up to the base of the ski lifts on Villarica, grateful for our snow chains. Skinning up through the forest was a pleasure but above was nothing but grey. We spoke with some locals then continued skinning up under a closed chairlift, some of the group wondering why we were doing this and some happy for the exercise. The cloud never lifted and the precipitation started so just above the top station we turned around.
Under the lift in zero visibility, whilst almost stationary, I fell over a small cornice feature, landed badly, and broke my leg. Spiral fracture of the fibula.
I avoid skiing in bad vis if I can as it’s a mug’s game – only a matter of time until someone gets injured. I was the mug who was out on my skis with a group because it was the least bad day in ten and look what happened.
“Everyone wants to ski Lofoten” said the young local guide with a wall-to-wall smile. I hadn’t realised how popular a destination it had become perhaps due to me not following any social media. It’s popular but as soon as the obvious classics are skied there are endless objectives just waiting for fresh tracks.
23 wasn’t the best year for conditions due to bizarre weather patterns (becoming more of a theme) but there was enough snow for the first team to have a blast. Unfortunately for the second group the weather gods had obviously decided that enough fun had been had so called time on the sun. Everyone made the best of things and we hope for better luck next time.
Lofoten is a stunning place to ski. The juxtaposition of sea and mountain never gets old.
Tonight’s topic of dinner conversation with the group of highly inspirational septuagenarians I am skiing with? They are discussing which of the latest ATK pin bindings to fit to their new skis. Tucking into Trachanás, a filling shepherd’s staple made from sundried wheat flower, eggs and milk after a ski ascent of Greece’s second highest mountain, these are not your average seventy-year old’s. To keep doing this stuff the team need lighter kit.
The first day in the heat on Olympus was the hardest, Smolikas the most magical and the 1700m finale on Ploskos the most satisfying. Skinning and skiing through the majestic centuries-old Bosnian pines on Smolikas must be one of the most perfect ski touring experiences anywhere.
Writing of the pines I am reminded of the story of the battle of the dragons as told by Giorgos. Many years ago the resident dragon on the tree covered mountains of Timfi fought with his adversary on the rocky summits of Smolikas. The former threw trees, and the latter threw rocks. It is for this reason that Timfi is now a barren, rocky massif and Smolikas tree covered. Unsurprisingly the land in between is both rocky and wooded.
Wanda Rutkiewicz, Voytek Kurtyka and Jerzy Kukuczka are the first three Polish greats that come to mind when I think of the golden years of Himalayan climbing. There are many more. They were hard, strong, determined, and talented and they all started out climbing in the Tatras.
I knew nothing about the massif until I saw it for myself on this ski trip. The heroic Poles and their exploits were not in my mind as we began skiing the rounded and wooded western Tatras. Their playground, the jagged, hard, technical summits of the high Tatras was to be revealed later in the week – beautiful mountains that I am ashamed to say I had never heard of. It was immediately obvious that anyone who climbs hard and fast on these mountains in winter will be well prepared for the Himalaya.
We were very lucky. The skiing was superb as we were fortunate to start with a significant dump of fresh, cold powder. Temperatures remained low and the sun shone for the rest of the week allowing us to tick all the ski touring ‘must have’ boxes. Polish mountain huts are enormous and sturdily built of stone – they’re busy too, with folks on foot, snowshoes and skis. Fueled by evening pork chops and breakfasts of frankfurter sausages, fried eggs and white bread we set out each morning to have fun in the mountains.