After one and a half days of traveling, we finally made it to Cerro Castillo. Upon our arrival midday, we took a short walk to check out the tiny village. After around 10 minutes, we had seen pretty much all of it and while passing the minimarket, we suddenly heard someone knocking on the window from inside the minimarket. It was Raimundo! The steep skiing maestro who had helped us with beta in Cajon del Maipo in the Central Andes and who had suggested us to come down to Cerro Castillo in the first place.
This was such a nice surprise! During this happy reunion, Raimundo and his mountain guide mates gave us some beta on the conditions and suggested warming up in the Valle Neozelandés. The same valley that we had laid our eyes upon on FATMAP before arriving. Perfect fit. It is located behind the famous mountain Cerro Castillo which overlooks the village. The end of the valley is home to beautiful and steep couloirs guarded by high rock spires and peaks. Spending the next week skiing couloirs sounded like a perfect plan; thus, we packed our bags and after getting a ride from Gonzalo to the national park the next morning, we started our first Patagonian adventure.
The weather here also lived up to its name. Within the 6 kilometers of carrying our skis we had a mix of blue skies, snow showers and strong winds. In skitouring mode, we walked further into the valley before setting up camp right below the tree line in the hopes that the trees will protect us from the strong winds the next days. Even though our camp was 2000 meters lower than the one in the Central Andes, we were surrounded by a cathedral of steep rock towers piercing into the sky. From camp we could see many skiable lines, but also a lot of wind-drifted snow accumulating in the couloirs which is not the best sign regarding avalanche danger. Nevertheless, we crawled happily into our sleeping bags, ate some delicious Sweet Potato Curry for dinner and went to sleep after a round of backgammon.
After digging snow pits in two couloirs the next day, we decided to turn around in both cases, because the wind-drifted snow had not bonded well enough with the layers beneath. We were still rewarded with a bit of powder snow, which felt really good as powder runs had been scarce on our South American adventure so far. Back at camp, the sun came out which brought up hope that the snowpack would stabilize. While watching the clouds fly by in the sky, we enjoyed sitting around camp and just being in nature.
The next morning, we peeked out our tent and were greeted by clear skies and the onset of sunrise. Soon after, we put on our skins, strapped into our skis and splitboard, and started walking towards Punta Nudo. Not to see naked people (nudo = naked) but to ski a glaciated ice flank between two rock towers which had a frozen lake at its base. Even though the weather turned to the worse and the clouds quickly rolled in, the conditions in the face seemed pretty good with compressed, powdery, perfect steep-skiing snow.
So, we decided to start traversing along the lake’s shore and start climbing it. This kind of snow also made for some great boot packing. As we were not sure about the crevasses, we roped up halfway in, passed some ice patches that were sticking out, and then, after the last bit got steeper and harder, we found ourselves topping out not long after. Standing on a small peak and seeing deep into the Patagonian backcountry we felt relieved, but the wind forced us to start descending rather quickly.
In the beginning of the flank, it was hard-pack and steep before the snow got softer and we could begin to make bigger turns. Those were a lot of fun. At the bottom of the run and on the other side of the lake, we looked back at our tracks. This line felt super solid and we knew that we were ready for the steeper, spicier ones. Still in flat light we rode back to camp where the sun came out again one hour later. We had a relaxed afternoon only interrupted by a drone rescue mission rewarded with some more turns in corn snow.
Early the next morning, we walked towards the cathedral of rock towers in the first light and after some kickturns we found ourselves bootpacking on a narrow snow ramp going up to one of the towers. The ramp got steeper and steeper as we ascended but the snow was fantastic for climbing so we kept going. We were in a great headspace. The steepness and technicality did not make us uncomfortable, and everything felt super solid with an ice axe in each hand and crampons on the feet.
Even though the snow was a delight for climbing up it was really firm for the ride down, thus, we gave up our original plan to ride down in big turns on the lookers right site and descended through the narrow gully that we had climbed up, barely wide enough for my skis.
After a mix of jumpturns and side slipping through the choke, we could finally open up a bit and enjoy some turns in steep, open terrain. Our plan of riding fast was not fulfilled but looking back at this aesthetic line, we were really happy that we climbed and rode it safely.
With a feeling of accomplishment, we were back at camp sitting in the sun while checking the weather report sent to our satellite phone by my dad. We wanted to stay two more days, however, the weather was not forecasted in our favor. The forecast called for very strong winds and snowfall. This, even if the sun came out after, would mean a bad development concerning avalanche danger and more waiting around camp until everything has settled. Therefore, with a heavy heart, we decided to pack up camp and head back to Cerro Castillo before the storm hits.
We were satisfied with our first dip into the Patagonian wilderness, but we wanted more. Especially more glaciers. Luckily, there was a good but short weather window coming up. Therefore, on the day we came back from Valle Neozelandés, we began planning an expedition to the Northern Patagonian Icecap for which we would leave only 1,5 days later. Since information about the Icecap ranges from scarce to non-existent, we did not know how the current conditions were, but thankfully, we got some inside knowledge and help organizing the boat transport from our friend Gonzalo who is also a local mountain guide. We had barely finished organizing as we packed our bags with food and our expedition equipment and hitchhiked down to Rio Leones.
After another night in the tent there, we got a ride as far as one can drive into the valley the next morning. From that point, it was a 10 km hike with the skis on our 25kg backpacks to Lago Leones. Upon arriving at the lake in low hanging clouds, slight rain and wind blowing against us, we were happy that we did not have to swim through but get a boat ride from a local mountain guide over the lake.
Far in the distance, underneath the clouds we could see the outskirts of the glaciers calving into the lake. Still far away from the glaciers, though, we got dropped off on a steep, rocky shoreline. We watched the boat drive away knowing that it will come back in about week. All of the sudden, we felt alone and very small in a big and unknown surrounding.
It was still a long way to the ice field and as we did not see a point in staying down here by the lake in the rain for the first night, we started walking through the thick, jungle-like forest. The rest of the day may qualify to be one of the worst hikes we have ever done. Soaking wet because of the rain-snow-mix, we had to fight our way through the woods with our skis on the back. Behind me, Celina was getting mad: “This f**** forest, why can’t we just walk a single meter without getting stuck somewhere, somehow”- summarizing the situation pretty well. We both knew that we needed to make it above the treeline, as there was not really a camping option around. However, things were not getting better when we reached the snowline that was still in the trees. Suddenly we found ourselves bootpacking through hip deep, completely wet snow with a breakable crust in the middle, seemingly impossible to get further up. After 5 hours of suffering, frustration and pushing through, we finally reached the treeline and set up our tent. Literally wet to our underwear we changed to dry clothes and ate a nice, hot meal. This already made everything a lot better. Completely exhausted, we fell asleep immediately after that.
We woke up to the first rays of sun hitting our tent the next morning and immediately hung up all of our wet stuff on surrounding trees. By now, everything around us looked way friendlier in the sun, than the day before being soaking wet in snow/rain. After a good breakfast and our clothes being mostly dry, we packed up camp and started touring further up towards Punta Camello. We still had 1300 vertical meters to go that day until reaching the Icecap and it was already around 10:30 am, so we were not sure, if we would make it.
However, when we reached Punta Camello, suddenly, a whole new world opened in front of our eyes. Steep glaciers, massive mountains and big crevasses between us and the icecap. Through a short descent we reached the glacier.
Then we were amongst this massive landscape and found a good way up to the col. Starting late in the day, we reached Paso Cristal and the first terrace right before sunset. Infront of our eyes opened up a surreal view, glaciers as far as one can see with a countless amount of peaks arising from the ocean of ice, many never climbed, even more never skied.
Already late in the day, we were in a really windy spot and still had one major zone of crevasses to pass ahead of us until we would reach our planned camping spot. Therefore, we quickly transitioned and began our roped descent one plateau further down. Here, we found a safe and slightly wind protected spot and while it was getting dark, we set up tent, built our snow wall around the tent, melted snow, and fell asleep after a delicious and warm dinner.
The next morning, I looked out the tent and saw nothing but white. Minutes later, we heard rain beginning to fall on our tent, so there wasn’t much to do but to take a rest day. This was welcome after two very long and exhausting days. Being in the rain all day also abandoned our hopes of skiing good snow the next day, but we decided to test it anyway.
Waking up the next morning it was completely silent, the sky was glowing and surprisingly everything was coated in a fine layer of fresh snow. Full of excitement we had breakfast and started skinning in the first rays of sun hitting the Icecap. We camped underneath a summit with a sharp ridge in the top part. Getting to the ridge felt truly like a walk in the park and after switching to crampons, we climbed up the ridge.
To the right of us Cerro Tobler, Cerro Fiero and Monte San Valentin with their crowns of Ice. To our left the whole icecap as far as the eye can see with peaks rising everywhere, crevasses big enough to fit multiple houses inside and the vastness of the flat glaciers. Even though it wasn’t a technical climb from camp we felt an intensive feeling of accomplishment and happiness reaching the summit. Sun, no wind, and this unbelievable view. We just sat there overwhelmed, soaking up the view, occasionally pointing at a distant peak and thinking about the endless possibilities with a longer weather window, more food, and more time.
Since the sun was heating up the snow, eventually we had to start descending and damn, it was fun, after two hard days of walking and a bad weather day, we were surfing down the ridge and then making big turns on an open field right to camp.
Even though the snow was already warm it was still only 11 am so we decided to do a little scouting tour for the way out. Back up at Paso Cristal, still in good weather, we decided to climb another peak with a not so steep but inviting slope to the summit. After another summit break, we skied some powder between huge crevasses and this magnificent surrounding. The feeling of accomplishment and content grew stronger.
Back at camp we sat in the sun, silence surrounding us and soaked it all in. Never have I felt such a strong connection to a place, unity with nature and unclouded happiness! It was special to share these moments with Celina.
That same afternoon, we felt ready for another full day of Icecap adventures and tried to arrange the boat ride through our satellite phone. The bad news was that the boat can only give us a ride Tuesday morning. Afterwards the weather will be too bad, and we would be stuck for an unpredictable amount of time on this side of the lake. Even this news could not dampen our mood. Everything was as it was supposed to be and after watching a peaceful and enlightening sunset, we happily crawled into our sleeping bags.
The next morning, we packed up camp and started walking up to Paso Cristal. The weather was fantastic again, even though the wind picked up. Since we had a good timing, we decided to climb up our third summit right next to Cristal providing us a last view over the whole Icecap and our way down to Lago Leones. Riding over the open slope back to Paso Cristal we could say goodbye to the world of ice before dropping into a long and surprisingly good corn run. In the top part we followed a wide, open ridge before dropping into another ice wall we scoped on the way up. Through the warm temperatures and the rain, the Bergschrund opened up more than expected leading to a jump with our heavy backpacks. Turning around I saw Celina flying down the face and then jumping with full confidence, which put a huge smile on my face. After a big high five we roped up again, crossed the last crevassed area, and walked away from the glacier up to Punta Camello.
Here we found a nice Camp spot next to a big flat boulder with a magnificent view back to the summits guarding the Icecap. Feeling content, we stretched ourselves, soaked in the wilderness one more time and after our last ration of Tactical Foodpacks, went to bed and slept like in heaven.
The next day we spent skiing corn snow on top, fighting through the woods again, getting a ride over the lake and then walking the 10k back to the road. Here we were welcomed with a cold beer and the certainty not having to walk more.
For the foreseeable future the weather in Patagonia was forecasted to be really bad with the summer winds coming in, so we decided not to fly down to El Chalten but to head north to Uruguay for our last two weeks in South America. Why Uruguay? To relax mind and body, feel the warmth and go surfing. All this so we can start into a new winter season in the Northern Hemisphere with high motivation. Feeling relaxed we flew back to Germany. Thankful for the mountains we have seen and skied, the people we met along the way and great times we had.
A Thank You Note
After all, a big thank you to Contour for their climbing skins and financial support enabling us to afford the boat ride over the lake and moving from A to B.
We also want too deeply thank Tactical Foodpack for their supply of freeze-dried food which was not only practical since we didn’t need to cook in the tent but also extremely delicious. Favorites of ours are Sweet Potato Curry, Moroccan Lentils Pot, Rice and Veggies and of course the Shakshuka for breakfast.
Thank you to all the helpful people we met providing us with shelter, information and welcoming us into their mountains. To name a few: Raimundo, Gonzalo and Paula, Andrew and Camila, Gille, Matt, Nathan and many more!
Furthermore, Celina wants to thank Delayon Eyewear, Nitro Snowboards, L1 Premium Goods and SIGG Switzerland for providing the essential gear for our missions.
Back in Europe we can’t wait to apply what we have learned down in South America to the Alps and who knows what other mountain ranges in the world. So, stay tuned….
Till & Celina
If you would like to know what other adventures we had in Chile, check out the two preceding parts of this blog series: Central Andes and Araucanía
Find our partners on Instagram:
Contour Skins | Instagram: @contour_skins
Tactical Foodpack | Instagram: @tacticalfoodpack
Nitro Snowboards | Instagram: @nitrousa @nitrosnowboards.austria
Delayon Eyewear | Instagram: @delayoneyewear
L1 Premium Goods | Instagram: @l1_premium_goods
SIGG Switzerland | Instagram: @siggswitzerl
Go and follow Celina’s adventures in the mountains around the world on Instagram! IG: @_celinaweber