The Path of the Puma by Rafael Pease

October 27, 2015

The Path Of The Puma

- Told by Weston Snowboards rider Rafael Pease, this story describes the day-by-day events Pease experienced during his 13-day adventure in Patagonia where he set out to find winter, to find himself and to summit several volcanos.

_______________________________

 - “Patagonia and volcanos are equally unpredictable, powerful, mysterious and breathtaking.” -Rafael Pease

This story and this trip are the result of my need to explore both geographical features. Sadly the central area of Chile hasn’t seen a snowflake since who knows when. It’s dry everywhere at the base of the Les 3 Vallees to the Giants at 6,000 meters/20,000 feet, deep in the Andes. Fortunately, by the time I made it back to the central area, a two-meter/six-foot storm had hit. During the storm I ended up saving a wild horse’s life and I celebrated my 21st birthday. A couple of weeks later, I participated in the FLUX VEHO MOUNTAIN FILM FESTIVAL which had a historic snow storm of over four meters/16 feet. 

I traveled to Patagonia this year with three goals in mind. 1) To find winter. 2) To get out of Santiago's pollution. 3) To have fun in the volcanos. This is my third year going to Patagonia and my first time going alone. It is also the first time I ventured this far into the Patagonian volcanoes. Although I’m doing this by myself, I don’t recommend it. If you’re planning on hiking, skiing or climbing in this area, I suggest taking at least one other person with you.

I just want to go ahead and say that there are definitely other athletes, photographers, videographers and editors who are better than me. I wish I knew how to take photos of the night skies because when they were clear I could literally see galaxies.
-
A quick background story: Two years ago I attempted to summit Volcan Osorno which was a stupid idea considering it was my first year snowboarding. Anyway, I was with a friend and about halfway up a huge storm came in and we couldn’t see a thing – not even our own feet. That terrifying experience taught me to always go non-stop when climbing a volcano which means moving quickly going up and descending in the quickest and safest manner possible. 
-
This story is full of ice, non-stop storms, untouched wilderness, volcanos and my experiences surviving the elements while attempting to snowboard. I hope you enjoy it.

 

Day 1 - 26 June 2015 - 

 Drove from Santiago with a friend for eight hours, roughly 757 kilometers/470 miles, to Malalcahuello to stay with a few friends for the night. I thought there was a gas station in the town of Victoria so we ended up driving 79 kilometer/49 miles with the “E" light on and kept thinking, “Oh shit we are screwed!” But we were ok. I don’t have any photos of this day because it wasn’t extremely eventful.

Day 2 - 27 June 2015 - 
Volcan Lonquimay  
Start: 1,300 meters/4,265 feet -  Finish: 2,865 meters /9,400 feet  -  

Trip: 15 kilometers/9.3 miles

I took off alone bright and early from Malalcahuello to Volcan Lonquimay which was about a 40 kilometer/25 mile drive.

The sky was orange on one side and the purest blue on the other. I took each step with precision while I cramponed and double ice axed my way to the summit through the ridge.

Reached the crater at 2,865 meters/9,400 feet after three non-stop hours! Unfortunately, clouds rolled in right when I summited and knew I had to get down before the ice became even icier –if that’s even possible. On the summit of Volcan Lonquimay I could see about 12 volcanos surrounding me; it was breathtaking and cool.

I rode down the southeast face which looked toward Crater Navidad and Los Arenales.

I was probably 20 turns in when I slid about 4 meters/12 feet. A split second before I realized I was going for a painful ride, I tried stopping myself with my ice axe but the ice was too dense to penetrate the volcano. I headed towards a double cliff ban, which I intended to ride though a tiny couloir that was between both of the cliffs. My awesome Black Diamond Viper ice axe became stuck in a chunk of ice and ended up ripping the strap off my hand. I was launched about 9 meters/27 feet off the first cliff ban into the other where my backpack and left shoulder took most of the impact. I then proceeded to slide down a 30-40 degree slope of sastrugi ice from hell for 365 meters/1,200 feet. There was a field of volcanic rocks approaching quickly and I tried to maneuver myself out of the way but failed and ended up going headfirst for about 62 meters/200 feet. Before the rock field, I turned myself around again and took a sharp piece of volcanic rock to my board causing me to stop immediately. After that I continued to run into more fields of steep, sharp volcanic rocks.

Thankfully I took my WFR course a couple months prior. Remembering what I learned, I did some self-evaluation and noticed an extremely sharp pain in my left shoulder. It was as if the ice axe was penetrated between the joints and I had a simple right thumb MP joint dislocation. Before the adrenalin wore off I did what they taught me and put my thumb back into place which was extremely painful. I also broke my brand-new Osprey backpack on my first day of using it and, of course, my ice axe and whatever else flew out of my bag was gone forever after it was ripped apart by the ice and rocks. I immediately put on both of my crampons and began running up the volcano until the adrenaline wore off and I felt everything... and I mean everything. It felt as if I was picked up and swung into two sharp volcanic ice-covered rock walls. Next I tied by my board by some hell hounds who drug me down a 365 meter/1,200 foot area with sharp icicles. After all that I rode down the remaining 1,000 meter/3,280 foot vert and drove one hour to Lonquimay to visit my “Mapuchean Family” where I was greeted with a lot of Pipeño wine, asados and good times to help take the pain away.

 

Day 3 - 28 June 2015 - 
Volcan Lonquimay
Start: 1,300 meters/4,265 feet - Finish: 2,865 meters /9,400 feet - Trip: 15 kilometers/9.3 miles

I drove from Lonquimay to Volcan Lonquimay in approximately one hour to search for my missing ice axe.

Started off again at 1,300 meters/4,265 feet and made it to the top where I began meticulously down-climbing on the face where I previously took the ride of a lifetime. I saw my ice axe lodged into some rocks and blue ice about 4 meters/12 feet above more rocks and ice. That’s when I decided to let it go and move on because it was not worth dying for some sharp, pointy piece of metal. As I was down-climbing, my left crampon became loose and that’s when I put my board on and rode down the ice from where I fell previously. This resulted in a nice 1,500 meter/4,921 foot vert ride out to a calm 30-minute skin to the Jeep.

Drove back to Lonquimay where I had my spirits raised by more Pipeño wine, the comfort of my “Mapuchean family” and spiritual healing. Nothing but good times as always.

Day 4 - 29 June 2015 - 
Volcan Yate - Missed the ferry.
Volcan Hornopiren - Missed the ferry.
Volcan Calbuco - Erupted April 30, 2015
 Start: 479 meters/1,574 feet - Finish: 1,091 meters/3,581 feet - Trip: 8.75 kilometers/5.4 miles 

When I left Lonquimay I was not empty-handed; I received three handmade snowboards made by the indigenous Pehuenches (part of the Mapuche people) from the Araucarian trees who are the only people allowed to harvest. The drive from Lonquimay to Victoria was 126 kilometers/79 miles and along the way I got my license taken away for speeding. I was going 10 kilometers/6 miles over the speed limit. I then proceeded to continue to Volcan Calbuco –700 kilometers/434 miles. 

It was raining hard and the fog was claustrophobically strong making it impossible to see. I drove up a dirt road and around Lago Llanquihue. After spending a couple hours asking for permission from the locals to access the volcano, I found out that some of the forest surrounding the volcano has become a swamp that has dozens of scattered camouflaged pockets of bone-melting hot water. According to four separate sources (CONAF, Military, an 86-year-old local lady and kiosk owner) they had to amputate sections of four different peoples’ legs last week after falling in the water. Additionally, I was told people had seriously injured themselves by falling into the hidden craters that appeared from the recent eruption at the end of April. I was also told that toxic gases were being released all around the volcano and breathing the gases for more than five minutes caused people to faint and most likely suffocate to death. Not the ideal situation but I pushed on.

After beginning my trek at 479 meters/1,574 feet and walking for roughly 8.75 kilometers/5.4 miles roundtrip, I decided to turn around and head back to the apron to follow the map that the 86-year-old Santibañes local woman, who has lived on the edge of the volcano for over 60 years, gave me. The secret map was for a forest that was thousands of years old and had Alerce trees that the government was hiding from the public to keep safe. They are doing this because lately people have been irresponsible about putting out their fires while the area is in a drought. I drove 70 kilometers/43 miles to Petrohue and began following the map through the darkness between the lakes and volcanos. They told me to be careful doing this alone, especially at night with a heavy storm, so I grabbed essentials, including my headlamp and ice axe, and headed into the forest between Lago de los Santos and Volcan Osorno. After walking for what seemed like an eternity and being soaked by the rain, I decided to head back to the shore of the lake and set up camp at around 2 a.m. I slept with my ice axe in grip due to the wildlife I saw that night. I wasn’t as concerned about the Pumas killing me as much as the Jabali. The Jabali are scary.

Day 5 - 30 June 2015 -
Volcan Osorno
Start: 1,139 meters/3,740 feet - Finish: 2,246 meters/7,371 feet - Trip: 8.28 kilometers/5.14 miles
Volcan Puntiagudo
Start: 127 meters/419 feet - Finish: 683 meters/2,241 feet - Trip: 6.4 kilometers/3.8 miles

Last night was a very rough one considering I was camping between a couple volcanos at the shore of a lake and the winds that were coming through the valley were hurricane-like. They shook everything and the rain turned into tiny icicle projectiles. Pretty sure I got some air in my tent last night which lowered the temperature to around -15C/5F. Luckily I had camping gear that was warm enough.

Since last night I arrived around 2 a.m. I decided to hang out for a few hours and wait for the sun to come out so I could see the beauty surrounding me.

Puma prints everywhere, all around my tent. Maybe they were protecting me from the crazy Jabali...I like to think so at least.

Woke up to a beautiful view of an early morning storm and although I left before I could see the true teal color of Lago de Los Santos I saw enough to get me motivated to leave and head to Volcan Osorno.

Drove to Ensenada for approximately 30 kilometers/18 miles and filled up with diesel before heading to the volcano. This is the view I got once I was headed up.

I started off at 1,139 meters/3,740 feet and tried making it as high as I possibly could before the early afternoon fog rolled in and blinded me from riding down between the enormous crevices that make their home on the volcano. 

It rained all night so the volcano was extremely difficult to climb. It was covered in what I measured at GoPro width size sheet of ice on everything. By the time I made it to the height of 2,246 meters/7,371 feet I decided to return to the Jeep because the fog had already taken over half of the volcano and was rapidly covering the other half.

 I get a humble and eerie feeling when I am soloing volcanos in Patagonia and notice numerous undoubtedly thick metal crosses that have been twisted by the vigorous weather. They contain a list of the names of many people that have passed away on the volcano. 

I lost sight of everything on the way down but luckily I was close enough to the forest line, past all the dangerous crevices and knew my way back to the Jeep.

Once I got off the volcano I proceeded to drive 200 kilometers/124 miles to the tiny but beautifully hidden Puerto Rico...no not that Puerto Rico, but this one. 

This is where I planned to ascend Volcan Puntiagudo but all the routes seemed like they were currently closed due to issues beyond my understanding. Anyway, the forests were as steep as cliffs and I couldn’t see anything because of the storm which made it much harder to approach and find the peak. It was impossible to even get a glimpse of the volcano. I decided to give it a go anyway and started at 127 meters/419 feet and ended up making it barely above the first forest mountains at 683 meters/2,241 feet with a roundtrip of 6.4 kilometers/3.8 miles back to the Jeep. Then I proceeded to drive 300 kilometers/186 miles to Volcan Puyehue but had a hard time finding the access point since it was around 1 a.m. and extremely dark due to the fog and heavy rains. I couldn’t find the access point to camp at the base of the volcano but since everyone owns land around the volcanos in Chile, I ended up just setting my tent up in Anticura on a random patch of dirt under a bunch of trees to keep me dry. I spoke to the locals and they told me to go to El Caulle which is one of the only access points to the volcano.

Day 6 - 1 July 2015 - 
Volcan Casablanca  
Start: 1,199 meters/3,934 feet  -  Finish: 1,969 meters/6,462 feet  -  Trip: 7.68 kilometers/4.77 miles
Volcan Puyehue
 Start: 199 meters/656 feet  -  Finish: 450 meters/1,479 feet  -  Trip: 11 kilometers/7 miles

Woke up in what I must say was one of the creepiest camp spots I have ever experienced. I was surrounded by cows just staring at me – big beautiful black and white cows. I packed my stuff and drove to El Caulle but the storm didn’t seem like it was going away anytime soon so I paid my entry fee of 10.000 Chilean Pesos and told them I would be back later that night to begin my trek into Volcan Puyehue and camp in the forests surrounding the volcano.

Started off by going past dozens of waterfalls, rivers and lakes – a normal occurrence in Patagonia. I then drove 60 kilometers/37 miles to Volcan Casablanca and rapidly ascended from 1,199 meters/3,934 feet.

I made it to the summit at 1,969 meters/6,462 feet with a roundtrip of 7.68 kilometers/4.77 miles. Since my plans changed last minute I knew I had to push it before the storm reached the summit and made the descent even more dangerous.

Even though the sky was dark, there was a sliver of light below it allowing me to see half a dozen volcanos and half a dozen lakes. I rode down the fun mix of ice, volcan rocks, slush and grass back to the car.

Next I proceeded to take my time and explore the valleys lakes. I stopped at Lago Toro, Lago Espejo and a couple more which were all equally beautiful. 

Here is Lago Puyehue after ascending and descending Volcan Casablanca during the powerful storm-influenced sunsets.

Caught the sunset of Lago Puyehue before I began my hike at 199 meters/656 feet up the long apron of Volcan Puyehue where after 11 kilometers/6.8 miles I decided to set up camp, soaking wet as always. Once everything was done and I was lying in my sleeping bag inside the tent, all I could hear were the huge, beautifully deformed water droplets hitting the tent and the forest animals. Without a doubt the loudest animal noises I have ever heard in my life. It was like they were on the other side of the tent wall yelling at me because I camped on the wrong side of their tree. 

Day 7 - 2 July 2015 - 
Volcan Puyehue
Start: 450 meters/1,479 feet - Finish: 1,522 meters/4,996 feet - Trip: 12 kilometers/7.4 miles 

Rain…a lot of rain. It didn’t stop raining for four days. I was uncertain about doing the 12 kilometer/7.4 mile hike out to camp in the crater with rain this strong and was worried about hypothermia and other issues.

I started at 450 meters/1,479 feet where I was surrounded by cows that liked to hide behind trees and bushes and jump in front of you and then run away. I’ve never been more on edge about cows in my life. 

After hiking for about five hours (1,071 meters/3,517 feet vert and 8.5 kilometers/5.3 miles) I made it above tree line. The terrain going up was rough, as pictured. The entire approach was like that and it continued to get steeper and icier. Balancing myself with the 35 kilogram/82 pound bag was rough, even with every step calculated very carefully due to the nature of the no-fall zone throughout the entire volcano. 

I wanted to camp in the crater but since it had been snowing and raining all day I couldn’t get a clear view of the summit. So I decided to find a warm place to camp to avoid hypothermia and luckily there was a tiny ice box with 14 wooden beds called El Caulle lodge. Once I went into the lodge I took off all my clothes and found a 23 kilogram/50 pound axe and ran outside in the middle of the storm to chop some wood that was covered in a thick sheet of ice due to the rain and snow. It was hard making a fire with that wood and I wanted to give up so many times but fire is life. After a couple hours I got a strong fire going and was probably more excited than the first caveman that figured out the importance of fire. All my Gore-Tex gear was completely soaked as was everything else that was exposed to the storm. Carrying all the gear, all 35 kilograms/82 pounds of gear (yes I weighed it because all that gear was in my overweight luggage) took a huge toll on me. That is more than half my weight. Every step I took had to be extra balanced because I didn’t want to fall backwards on a 30 degree icy gravel mud slide to my death. Fell asleep at around 8 p.m. because I was so exhausted. Unfortunately my fire went out at around 10 p.m. and all my gear refroze due to high humidity in the icebox cabin.

Day 8 - 3 July 2015 - 
Volcan Puyehue
Start: 1,522 meters/4,996 feet - Finish: 2,236 meters/7,336 feet - Trip: 27 kilometers/17 miles

I woke up at 3 a.m. The sun doesn’t rise until around 9 a.m. but since I was on the south side I didn’t get to see the sun till around 11:30 a.m. When ascending the dark side of a steep volcano you don’t really see the sun until you summit. It was -17C/1F in the ice box which is bone-chilling cold. I decided to go outside since the storm had stopped for a couple hours and it was about 10 degrees warmer so I grabbed my sleeping bag and made my way like a caterpillar out the door and onto the snow. I was hoping to get a glimpse of the sun on the summit of the volcano and maybe even warm up a little or at least defrost. As I was sitting outside I saw what looked like a bunch of big cats, but it was so dark and I was so tired I figured that they were probably a bunch of dogs. Then I realized I was 23 kilometers/14 miles from the road in the middle of nowhere and that there were four pumas approaching me ranging from the size of a medium dog to the size of large couch. Since I was in my sleeping bag only my eyes and nose were visible. I froze at that point and knew that I just had to play it cool and enjoy the moment. The pumas roamed around me for a little while and then they left. Maybe they were trying to make it through the night as well or hunting, I’m not sure. Once 8 a.m. came around I was ready to go but it was difficult putting on my literally frozen boots and clothes. I didn’t know the easiest path up the volcano so I decided to follow the predators’ path which is something I’ve done before and have not been disappointed.

What was insane during the 3 kilometer/2 mile hike to the summit was that I saw a bunch of animals being hunted by other animals. I saw Kodkods, Lesser Grisons and South American Gray Foxes running away from what I am guessing were the Pumas I saw earlier that morning. 

I definitely did my research on a lot of animals in Patagonia before going.

The path they left led beautifully to the final push where their tracks ended due to the steepness of the ice. Also, I doubt there is anything living that high up in the ice for them to hunt.

Almost to the crater after going through various kinds of snow and ice surrounded by captivating views.

I did the 3 kilometer/2 mile (647 meter/2,122 foot vert) and summited at about 11 a.m. I then proceeded to ski some pow and survival ride some ice. I was running low on water and knowing that the sun was going down fast on the dark side of the forest I knew I had to hurry.

 After riding as far down as I possibly could, I put my skins back on and skinned until I couldn’t anymore. I then proceeded to put all the weight onto my backpack and carry it back down the volcano. So I ran downhill for 18 kilometers/11 miles with my 35 kilogram/82 pound bag to where I had parked the Jeep by some shrubs where the cows were keeping it protected.

After four hours of running I made it back and thankfully the Jeep was there. There was a nice volcanic water runoff stream nearby so I decided to take a quick bath and refill with water before hitting the road to Volcan Choshuenco and Volcan Mocho. I left at sunset and drove 414 kilometers/217 miles through thick fog and rain on various dirt roads with hundreds of meters of drop-off to either side, dead ends, bridges that cracked and shook once you were halfway through. I had to whip it in reverse and get the hell off of it. After finally arriving at my destination I was ready to go to sleep after an extremely long and exhausting 22 hour day. I could feel the soreness of carrying a pack that was equivalent to the weight of a ten-year-old on my back for two full days across 42.51 kilometers/26.4 miles, up 2,236 meters/7,336 feet and down 2,236 meters/7,336 feet.

Day 9 - 4 July 2015 - 
Volcan Choshuenco 
Start: 331 meters/1,089 feet  -  Finish: 1,916 meters/6,287 feet  -  Trip: 16 kilometers/10 miles
Volcan Mocho 
Start: 627 meters/2,059 feet  -  Finish: 2,004 meters/6,576 feet  -  Trip: 9 kilometers/5.6 miles
Volcan Villarrica
Start: 578 meters/1,896 feet  -  Finish: 1,000 meters /3,280 feet  -  Trip: 2 kilometers/1.3 miles


Woke up at 5 a.m. frozen as usual and began my hike at 331 meters/1,089 feet at around 7:30 a.m.

I reached 1,916 meters/6,287 feet of Volcan Choshuenco at 12:30 p.m. while fighting high winds that almost blew me off the ridge and into the crevices of the volcano. At that point I realized it was too windy to continue to the summit so I put on my board and traversed as best as I could to Volcan Mocho and descended down 1,289 meters/4,228 feet to 627 meters/2,059 feet on Volcan Mocho.

Since it was 1 p.m., and I knew I didn’t have much time before the volcano became hostile, I pushed it into the next gear and made it to the glacier field to see if it was accessible this early in the year for a safer summit. (When it snows a lot the old glacier field gets mostly filled in and makes for a safer passage). As the sky went from clear baby blue to a raging red lava color and ash black in a matter of minutes, I quickly converted back to split board mode and hauled ass up Volcan Mocho.

After reaching as far as I felt safe, at 2,004 meters/6,576 feet on Volcan Mocho at 3 p.m., I quickly put my board on. I knew I had to get off the volcano. With the 104 kmph/65 mph winds gusting through the seven lakes and up between Volcan Choshuenco and Volcan Mocho and tossing me side to side, I rode out meticulously through the crevices for a solid 15 minutes of ice, sastrugi and pow. Survival snowboarding. I enjoyed my beautiful, flowing ride on the edge of the end. I made it back down to the car by 3:30 p.m. after a full 25 kilometer/16 mile roundtrip of going up and down both volcanos.

Being surrounded by wilderness that is unseen and untouched is special and I appreciate every moment, even the life-threatening ones.

The thing about riding Patagonia alone in mid-winter is that there is no time for breaks or else you won’t make it anywhere. In other words, you can’t half-ass it or you’re dead because the weather will eat you alive. It could be the perfect blue bird day and in a second you are pinching yourself to wake up and get the hell out of the nightmare you got yourself into. 

Got into the Jeep and drove 280 kilometers/174 miles to Pucon to ascend Volcan Villarrica the next morning. Right when I hit the road it began storming but luckily the roads were completely empty because Chile was playing in the finals of Copa America versus Argentina. I booked it to Pucon, made it in time for the second half and bought a Lomo A Lo Pobre to get in and charge all eight of my electronics at a restaurant and watch the game. I arrived around 7 p.m. and enjoyed the rest of the game which was insane because it went into overtime and everyone was praying, crying, yelling, punching things and laughing. It was basically an insane asylum of futbol fanatics. They went to penalties and WON! Every single person began throwing beer and food and flipping tables and breaking everything! I didn’t have to pay for my dinner because the owner kicked everyone out and which turned into everyone celebrating on the street.

There is an extremely eerie and beautiful feeling when continuously driving at night to new locations and new volcanos. Driving up and around and across rivers and roads that are barley wide enough and on roads that don’t allow you to see what’s on either side. Roads that are covered in 1.5 meters/4 feet of snow prevent you from knowing where the road ends or begins. Weather makes it interesting and fun. The part that makes it worth it is waking up and finally being able to see where you ended up. At this point it was snowing so damn hard that I was unable to open the door to get outside of the Jeep and set up camp. Now I know why Volcan Chushenco and Mocho kicked me off so fast. It was not just your average daily storm but a huge powder dumping storm and I hope that for once in mid-winter the volcano doesn’t ice over and I hope there aren’t 104kmph/65mph winds that blow it all away. I would love a nice powder day after working so damn hard to ride some survival ice. I am feeling pretty beat right now; not sure if I’m getting sick or I’m just dehydrated or just haven’t slept well in over 10 days. I’m not sure about anything but I’m looking forward to shredding 1,219 meters/4,000 feet vert of some pow no matter what.

 

Day 10 - 5 July 2015 - 
Volcan VIllarrica
Start: 1,000 meters/3,280 feet - Finish: 1,905 meters/6,249 feet - Trip: 4 kilometers/2.5 miles


Woke up at 5 a.m. and couldn’t get the car door open so I opened the window and a lot of snow rushed in. Jeep is about 1 meter/3 feet deep in snow but I forced myself out to clear the exhaust pipe before turning the car on so I don’t die from the CO2 poisoning. This is insane! Last time it snowed this much in Chile in a short couple of hours was a long time ago. And the forecast shows meters and meters pilling up all around Chile for the next couple weeks! My luck is starting to turn around; at first the volcanos farthest south were dry glaciers and now POW! Car is stuck for who knows how long and it’s -18C/0F. I’m camping at 1,000 meters/3,280 feet and I have a ways to go before getting some nipple-deep virgin first tracks...damn.

After checking the forecast I realized the storm will get stronger and stronger and I’m already stuck so I don’t want to be there for two weeks. It wouldn’t be the worst place to be stuck but with visibility no more than 2 meters/6 feet it’s not worth it.  With heavy clouds all around the volcanos visibility was extremely limited and vertigo sets in. It’s too risky to make a summit since my tracks wouldn’t be visible to follow back with the storm covering them up. All I could see was my Jeep because everything else was blank. Who knows what was going on around in the fog? If this volcano erupted again I would be so screwed; it’s in yellow alert since its last eruption in March 2015.

At around 10 a.m. is when I finally realized I had to get out of there. I decided to grab my shovel and get a workout by shoveling for hours and hours. I ended up shoveling a perimeter of 1.5 meters/4 feet deep by 3.5 meters/10 feet wide by 83 meters/275 feet long which looked like a runway. All my clothes (Gore-Tex) were soaking wet and so was I. Very heavy humid snow doesn’t care if you are wearing Gore-Tex and the volcanos definitely don’t care if you have Gore-Tex. With a couple more meters coming in today I could slowly see my work going away so I knew I had only one chance to get out. I backed up the Jeep and floored it. Those 83 meters/275 feet were just enough for the Jeep to jump the snow wall. My car was literally getting pow turns for 7 kilometers/4 miles (jealous). Anyway, on my way down from the mountain I saw a Land Rover and the person inside happened to be a friend. He is the man that is allowing me to premiere my Flux Veho Mountain Film Festival in his restaurant in Farrellones. Apparently where I had driven the Jeep was on the Huncallio ski run of the now closed Ski Area Villarrica-Pucon.

Here is the thing: If you have friends who are motivated and have the same interests as you, there is a 100 percent chance that you will run into one of them on some occasion in the mountains somewhere in the world.

 

Day 11 - 6 July 2015 - 
Volcan Lanin
Start: 1,123 meters/3,686 feet - Finish: 2,354 meters/7,726 feet - Trip: 11 kilometers/6.8 miles
Volcan Quetrupillan
Start: 470 meters/1,542 feet - Finish: 1,819 meters/5,968 feet - Trip: 20 kilometers/12 miles

I woke up dry, warm and relaxed for once. Very sore but very happy. I can hear the storm getting stronger and stronger; beautiful. Since I dare not do any more volcanic summits with 3 meters/9 feet of visibility, I will still drive to them and try to get as high as I possibly can on each one.  I began my drive from Pucon (82 kilometers/51 miles) to Paso Mamuil Malal which is next to Volcan Lanin. As I was approaching my end point all I could see was Araucarian trees, lakes, heavy snow fall and what seemed like the largest volcano apron I had ever seen. Volcan Lanin is a giant. With the visibility being roughly 7 meters/21 feet, I decided to get as high as I could and take it slide by slide. I put my skins on and started my ascent at 1,123 meters/3,686 feet and made my way through thick, green moss covered low lying trees and huge araucarian dragon scale-like bark tree forests.

I was completely soaked after an hour of skinning, damn Gore-Tex. Ended up making it to 2,354 meters/7,726 feet just barely above the thick clouds that engulfed all of Patagonia and its volcanos. Rode down carefully and made it back to the Jeep after an 11 kilometer/6.8 mile lap. I then proceeded to drive 12 kilometers/7.5 miles to play in Laguna Quillelhue while I let my clothes dry for a good 30 minutes before heading to Volcan Quetrupillan.

Drove 5 kilometers/3 miles to Puesco Bajo where I put my wet clothes on and headed up towards the volcano. I encountered thick forests, rain and snow – the same terrain as Volcan Lanin which made sense because I was only 17 kilometers/10.5 miles from where I ascended it. After 10 kilometer/6 mile one way to the right of Volcan Quetrupillan and passing Laguna Las Abutardas, I decided to head back once I reached the ridge at 1,819 meters/5,968 feet because I couldn’t see a thing up to the summit. After a long and exhausting 20 kilometer/12 mile roundtrip I got naked again and dried my clothes while I headed back to Lonquimay to see my "Mapuchean family" once again.

 


Day 12 - 7 July 2015 - 
Volcan Llaima
Start: 1,240 meters/4,068 feet - Finish: 2,137 meters/7,011 feet - Trip: 14 kilometers/8.7 miles
Volcan Tolhuaca
Start: 1,240 meters/4,069 feet - Finish: 2,148 meters/7,049 feet - Trip: 16 kilometers/10 miles

Bright and early I headed out from Lonquimay and drove 135 kilometers/84 miles to Volcan Llaima. The weather had not changed – visibility was still poor and it was still snowing and raining. I drove as far as I could towards the volcano but since there was so much snow I only made it a couple kilometers before getting stuck in snow-covered ice. Made it a couple kilometers before Lago Conguillio and headed up towards Llaima.

Starting at 1,240 meters/4,068 feet, I slowly and steadily hiked and split-boarded 7 kilometers/4 miles reaching the altitude of 2,137 meters/7,011 feet. Once again I was defeated by the weather so I headed back down to the Jeep and again got naked to dry my clothes. 

Drove 95 kilometers/59 miles to Volcan Tolhuaca where I began my skin at 1,240 meters/4,069 feet. After a wet and exhausting 8 kilometer/5 mile hike I reached the ridge at around 3 p.m. I couldn’t see a thing above where I was because the clouds were thick as can be. I decided to take a break and enjoy some Manjar (like Nutella but 100 times better) and cheese...energy food. Headed back down at 4 p.m. and decided that I should spend one more night camping before heading back to the concrete prison most call a “city.”

 

Day 13 - 8 July 2015 -

I drove 160 kilometers/99 miles to Victoria to get my license back and head to Santiago. I’m going to make this one short because this day was full of governmental corruptness. Remember when I got a speeding ticket 10 days ago? Yeah, well I went to go pay it and was told by the people at the police station, the municipality building and the governor’s office to keep going around in circles. Basically they were messing with me and after three long hours I peacefully and respectfully told the lady in charge of my “case” that I did not appreciate how they are handling the situation. Next thing I know, four officers grabbed me and threw me out of the building. Then the governor apologized for their manners and returned my driver’s license to me. The point of my story is to not be an idiot and get speeding tickets and to not be a pushover. Stand up for yourself.

After a 740 kilometer/460 mile drive, I made it back to Santiago at 1 a.m. but I couldn’t sleep because I hadn’t showered or eaten much. The thought of socialized comfort didn’t appeal to me at the moment; I was too used to being away from everything that society deems normal. 

 

The coolest part of my journey was the fact that I could see everything – including lakes, islands and volcanoes – from every volcano I attempted to summit. The volcanic part was my favorite because everything looked like it was so close but there were actually hours and days of forest hiking before reaching the snow. After finishing a couple summits I could look back and see exactly where I was...a volcanic visual map of my journey. Cool shit.

Unfortunately and fortunately a huge storm was present for most of the time I was in Patagonia which kept me from riding a couple volcanos. Below is the list of volcanos I had planned on summiting.

Even though my plans changed a dozen times, I am happy with what I achieved and even more pleased with what I failed to achieve. I say this because I believe that if I would have pushed myself beyond the signs of nature I most likely would have died alone. The lives we live are meaningless if we don’t allow ourselves to be happy in one way or another. Find what you love and embrace it. Confronting fears no matter how recent or old they are is vital to achieving greater goals. The silence and untouched nature, the separation and sobriety of technology cleanses one’s mind, body and soul. It made me feel real, focused, happy and unsure. For future trips I would love to take someone with me. It would be awesome to share experiences like this with someone I care about. 

There are many more adventures to come.




Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.


Also in Blog

Backcountry Mission: Trimmer Peak with Brian Stenerson
Backcountry Mission: Trimmer Peak with Brian Stenerson

March 16, 2017

Tahoe's recent poor winter seasons had left me scarred, hoping and waiting for snow. Then January hit, the phenomenon being described as an "atmospheric river" opened up new zones to explore, but new snow creates variable avalanche conditions and problems that need to be observed and mitigated. I set out with my splitboard in hand to see what the new snow had brought.

Continue Reading

Making Turns in Colorado's Front Range v2: Sneak Preview - Mount Trelease
Making Turns in Colorado's Front Range v2: Sneak Preview - Mount Trelease

March 02, 2017

Weston is excited to be working with legendary backcountry guidebook author, Fritz Sperry, and showcasing an excerpt from his new book, Making Turns In Colorado’s Front Range Volume 2.

Continue Reading

An Unlikely Pairing
An Unlikely Pairing

December 13, 2016

The first time we laid eyes on the vintage Tucker Sno-Cat, grandiose ideas flew around the room­. A snowcat is capable of going anywhere you can take a snowmobile so the options for back-country adventures are almost limitless. The Tucker is owned by our friends, also owners of Colorado based Weston Snowboards, and they were just as excited as we were to try something crazy...

 

Continue Reading