Part 2 - Araucanía
After a few days regenerating, trying to find a rental car unsuccessfully, and celebrating the Chilean Independence Day with friendly locals, cheap beer and terremoto, we found ourselves hitchhiking on a beautiful road through a green, lush forest. Right in front of us our next goal: Antuco. A perfectly symmetric volcano, fully covered in white, and piercing into the blue sky.
As the last stop was some kilometers away from the entry of the national park and as hitchhiking the last bit can take a while, we made it through the park’s gate mid-day. Therefore, we started walking with our heavy backpacks pretty late. What we thought would be an easy 2-hour approach to our campsite turned out way longer. Walking with the skis and overnight equipment on the back through volcanic ash really challenged my patience at this point. The only thing that kept me going was just Celina in front of me powering through, so I knew this was not the time for bad excuses. After reaching the snow line and seeing our goal illuminated by the afternoon sun, my motivation quickly came back. Unfortunately, our second objective, Sierra Velluda, was not in good conditions which was why we headed straight to Antuco, rushing to set up the tent before it got dark.
While setting up our camp, the sky started glowing in all shades from a light yellow to a deep red. Amazed by this spectacle we just stood there, watching the sky and Antuco saying good night to the sun. At this point the hard work with a heavy backpack was forgotten and we now felt completely connected to our surroundings. After watching the sunset, we quickly crawled in our sleeping bag and had a nice, warm Tactical Foodpack dinner refueling our batteries for the next day. The weather forecast looked promising. Clear skies with no wind in the morning and then some weather rolling in in late afternoon. Thus, we set up an early alarm for the next day and went to sleep.
Looking out the tent the next morning we just saw white. During breakfast we could see Antuco peeking through the fog, so we started skinning up while the clouds disappeared in the morning sun. After being in high altitude for the preceding two weeks and now being at around 1500 meters, we made quick progress. However, when we looked over our shoulders, we saw that the bad weather was even quicker. Halfway up the mountain, it caught up to us and we found ourselves in a complete whiteout with strong winds. Knowing that the weather would only get worse, we decided to turn around which was easier said than done. We couldn’t see anything! Only with the help of our GPS device we managed to get back to our camp. After a sandwich break, we packed our stuff together and, still in a whiteout, started descending. Finally, underneath the clouds we gained back some visibility and got some decent turns in with majestic Condors flying over our heads. When reaching the road, the weather completely soaked in and after a few snow showers we caught a ride back to the bus station. At this point, a huge thank you to all the lovely strangers who were nice enough to pick us up and give us a ride.
The following day, we finally managed to get a rental car in Temuco and followed the call of Matt, an American snowboarder who absolutely rips and whom we had met at the Airport in Santiago. Fun fact: he might hold the record for most outdoor poops in the US for the 2021/2022 season. His call led us to the dome of Andrew in the small ski town Malacalhuello (good luck pronouncing it) surrounded by beautiful forests full of Araucarias and four skiable Volcanoes. Here we got a warm welcome by the locals and spent the next week with some easy day-touring including the summits of Lonquimay and Sierra Nevada. After suffering with heavy backpacks and mostly hard conditions on our South American journey so far, it felt good to travel light and ski some great corn snow. On top of that, being in great company and sharing the runs with like-minded, super nice and welcoming people made the time there even better yet also made it fly by in an instant.
While we were standing on the summit of Sierra Nevada in the distance we could see one giant volcano, twice as high as anything in its surrounding: Lanín. A volcano sitting on the border between Chile and Argentina. At this point we knew that it was time to continue our journey south, and that this volcano would become our next mission. Thus, we left Andrew’s comfortable place in search for more adventure. Thanks again for having us!
After driving over gravel roads filled with potholes and a night in a treehouse in Pucón, we turned around a corner and there it was, Lanín in all its majesty. Its peak was covered in ice and we could already see the snow being blown into the sky by the wind. Not a sign for great snow, but our hopes remained high for some decent, skiable snow on the way down.
After vacation mode in Malalcalhuello, it was time for the heavy packs again and so we headed towards the mountain. We were not able to cross the Argentinian border with our rental car but the bivy was on the Argentinian side. Therefore, we crossed the border by touring. After following a couloir in the sun for two hours we got greeted by (really) strong winds from the Argentinian side. By now, we had to be careful where to place our steps so that the wind would not blow us off the mountain. Luckily, we had our heavy backpacks keeping us on the ground.
Reaching the hut was a relief so we could get shelter from the wind. “Hut” may be exaggerated since it was more of a metal tent with a layer of ice covering the ground (but let’s stick to hut for simplicity purposes). This was not a good indicator for a warm night but at least we were sheltered from the wind. Before going to bed we witnessed another breathtaking sunset with a view reaching from the ocean in Chile over the Volcanos of Araucanía to the open flat land of the Argentinian Pampa. As the surrounding mountains are about 1000m lower in altitude, Lanín’s shadow grew longer and longer. And longer. Until the night layed her starry blanket over everything. Another one of mother nature’s spectacles we were lucky enough to experience.
I woke up multiple times during the night and heard the wind pounding against the thin walls of the hut until we saw the first orange glow coming through the dirty window. However, all of a sudden, there was just silence. From high up we could see the first signs of the new day with the sun painting the sky. What we saw was so beautiful that it is not describable in adequate words neither in photos. The sun brought the new day, brought life and color to everything around us.
After a good breakfast we headed to the summit. What looked really close turned out to still be a 4 ½ hour exhausting bootpack. After more than 2500 vertical meters altitude gain in total, we finally reached the summit of Lanín. It was like sitting on a cloud in the stratosphere overlooking the earth because everything else seemed so far below us. After soaking it all in, we prepared ourselves for the descent hoping to ski the 2500 meters in corn snow back to the car. What could have been an epic descent turned out as a mix of sometimes icy, mostly bumpy and sometimes too soft snow. To say the descent was fun would be a lie and to be honest, I had given up hope for some good turns on that mountain. However, suddenly, there it was, one long slope almost at the bottom of the volcano, providing us with that wished-for great corn snow. After seeing Celina shred down these last 500 vertical meters, it was my turn and these turns made up for all of the wind, the hard snow, the bumps and the hurting ankles in ski boots. With a big smile we sat down on a rock just at the end of that slope and enjoyed the warm sun. Then it was time to put on our skis and board again and ride, now actually the worst snow I have ever skied in my life, down to the car.
That is the thing that fascinates me most about going to the mountains and skitouring. Despite having one of the worst descents of our lives we still came back with a big smile from Lanín. This has two reasons. Number one: Just a few good turns can make up for everything. Literally, everything! Number two: The descent was just a small part of our journey which included an ascent through ever changing terrain, a night at a beautiful place high above anything else and the most incredible sunrise I have ever witnessed. Thank you Lanín, it was a pleasure!
The next two days were spent relaxing in a hotpot in the woods and planning our next steps. We really enjoyed skiing the volcanoes because of the natural beauty from starting in the forests to the summit, their easy access, and, of course, the good and long corn runs which make for really fun skiing. However, deep down we felt the calling of Patagonia´s steep faces, powder snow and wild, untouched landscapes.
Before it was our time to go to Patagonia, we skied one more volcano. Osorno. This one combined everything we loved about this region. It felt like a little victory lap. A long, sustained ski down in good corn snow with a magnificent view over Lago Llanquihue and its surrounding forests in golden afternoon light. All this after a hike up that felt like a walk in the park. Feeling accomplished with what we have achieved in Araucanía and the volcano region we returned our car in Puerto Montt and embarked on a 24-hour journey to the promised land, Patagonia…