Monday, November 8, 2010

Patagonia Chronicles:

An account of an 11-day ski excursion in Patagonia with Sweet Grass Productions. Here 5 athletes and 2 filmers head into the mountains outside Cerro Castillo, Chile in hopes of shooting some new footage for Sweet Grass’s upcoming film.

Part 3: The Final Days

Our tent strains at its anchors. It thrashes and fights to hold on. Gusts of wind rumble down the valley, like bowling balls rolling down the alley. Any pin in the path gets leveled. Snow falls in sheets. From inside, the flakes sound the size of lentils. I slowly unzip the tent door, nervous to see the world outside. First one eye, then the other, peering from the slit in the tent door. The sight is chilling, a world encrusted with ice. Nobody will be venturing into the mountains today.

I pull up my hood, zip myself up tight and burrow myself back between my tent mates. At the moment I can’t help but be content to lay here. My massive -20 degree down bag consumes me. I lay cozy and protected in its warm belly. My body is tired and getting ill. It is all the happier to rest. Plus, the thought of putting on wet ski socks to slip into wet boot liners is enough to make my toenails curl. Thus, I revel in the comfort of my cocoon.

However, beneath this state of satisfaction, I am disappointed. Today is our last day and our last chance. I resort to daydreaming to stray my mind from our detained state. I begin to reminisce about the past several days of skiing. Down, down, down I go into the depths of my daydream. A 2,500 ft. couloir appears, 35 feet in girth. I stand atop it, assimilating its beauty. Cliffs tower above, dwarfing my small figure. Beneath me the bed surface gradually rolls over to the precipice, the snow supple and soft, like the shoulder of a fair-skinned beauty. The sun lights me from behind, drawing a long shadow down the shoulder of this giant. I adjust my goggles one final time. I then take a deep breath and push off. Turn after turn, I cut into this silky surface, throwing snow into the air. The descent is seamless, like carving my name in cursive down the center of the couloir. The rhythm of the turns is nearly hypnotic. My legs begin to ache, as I work to finish my signature. The snow slowly changes from forgiving to formidable. Finally, I straight line out the bottom. I had made my mark, to last only a moment. The wind will soon erase my trace.

I open my eyes at the sound of Drew groaning over our tent bound situation. From the other side of me, Forrest responds with a grumble. Ugh. Is it time to read our Powder mag for the tenth time? Or perhaps boil some water for oatmeal slop? Or should I return to daydreaming. I choose the later and roll over. I begin to recall our epic ski tour the day before, one that entailed circumnavigating the enormous peaks above our camp. The day was long, with an arduous 1,000 ft boot-pack in sugar. Yet, the turns at the end of the day were idyllic and the views stunning. With a brief break in weather we were able to, from the top of a neighboring ridge, glimpse the grandeur of the range we were nestled in.

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” Drew erupts, as a gust of wind nearly cripples our tent. Ugh. I sit up, and propose making breakfast. Agreed. But first I must face the dreadful task of taking a leak in this rude weather. The thought of exposing my tender cheeks to the raging Patagonia winds was enough to consider using a bottle. But I quickly change my mind. I didn’t come here to be soft. So out I go, long underwear and down booties, to get the job done, knowing that this is one of many trips into the cold. I return and we fix up some slop- oatmeal, electrolyte gu and any peanut butter I can scrape from the bottom of the jar. My belly warms from the slop, assuaging my frozen bum. Following breakfast we settle into our tent routine: playing cards, listening to music and eating candy. We play game after game of asshole. We listen to song after song of Journey. Only occasionally do we break for meals and to relieve ourselves of our gross Tang consumption. (Tang- basically Koolade.) Apparently candy isn’t enough; we need another source of sugar. The games get heated as we humm off our sugar fix. Outside the foul weather continues, well into the night.

The next morning we awake to little wind and several inches of snow covering our gear. I sit up in bed reluctant to leave my warm sleeping bag and pack my wet shit. Today we return home and the objective is to get all our crap and ourselves to the snowline by 1 pm. There our horses will be waiting. I loathe packing up. Everything is dirty, rank and haphazardly thrown together. Yet, despite my disinterest, I unzip my bag, put on my down buddies and get too it. My driving force: a huge steak and papas fritas awaiting my return at the hostel.

(Above is an illustration of the aforementioned couloir I skied, lookers right.)

erica laidlaw