Boat Access Only Backcountry Skiing Argentina Style
As the Spring Equinox neared here in Southern Argentina, my local friend Alfonso had the crazy idea to explore some peaks by boat! It sounded like an adventure that none of us could say no to so 6 of us departed from the city before sunrise to meet the boat owner on Lago Khami (118km long and situated in Chile and Argentina). As most know, Patagonia is infamous for its wind, and that morning the lake was whipped up to two-meter waves, making a zodiac crossing somewhat interesting and definitely fun.
Our home base for the two nights was a cabaña on the beach (great for an ice plunge swim after each long day’s summit) that is powered by its own small hydroelectric wheel on the nearby river.
There was no snow at lake level this late in the season so we decided to spend the first afternoon hiking some gear 7 km up the valley to the snow line, leaving behind our backcountry gear ,including our ski/snowboard boots so next morning we would be light and fast to begin a summit day. We ended the day in typical Argentinian fashion, with an asado (meat cooked outside on an open fire).
We were on the trail early the next morning and were greeted by beautiful sunshine, albeit a bit warm in ski gear. Once we reached our gear we donned our boots and put on our skins and as we began the summit the weather changed rapidly as Ullr blessed us with a snowstorm. The blowing snow made the visibility so low that we decided to dig a snow cave in a cornice and eat lunch and sip mate (another Argentinian tradition) while we waited for a weather window (la Ventana). Within 2 hours the sun was peaking through the summit clouds, so after digging a few CT and PST snow pits we pushed on to the summit and wow, were we in for a treat of a view! The skies cleared to that Azul blue that you only seem to see from mountain peaks and we could see all the way to the Pacific Ocean in Chile. The brief storm had deposited 10 cms of coldsmoke that made the skiing as beautiful as the views.
Day 3 turned into the biggest adventure of the trip as we decided to take the Zodiac across the lake to try and ski a face that stared at us from our cabañas windows. We found a beach where we could offload the gear and ourselves without getting wet and began the long walk through old growth forest to the snowline. We were able to follow the Guanaco (like a Llama) paths thru the forest as they definitely take the path of least resistance. Once again at the snowline we switched to skins and boards to reach the icy summit. The lines on the backside of the summit were endless and incredible but we had to be back at the lakeshore well before dark (called the zodiac owner on the VHF radio to set the rendezvous) so we skied a wide open face into a steep avalanche chute to the old growth forest. The snow was hard-packed and icy with some soft sections but nonetheless, it was a fantastic run due to the views and the entire adventure. Back in the boat all full of smiles and tired legs we watched the sun set on the lake as we headed back to our vehicles and civilization after three days I will never forget.
PS: for those who have not heard of the beaver problem here on the Island of Tierra Del Fuego: the Argentinian government had the idea to import Canadian beavers in the mid 1900s to create a fur trade and what an ecological disaster it was and still is. The beavers here have no predators so they have destroyed massive swaths of forests and there are even “Alpine Beavers” that live off just grass and shrubs. Seeing tiny beaver dams in the alpine is very odd indeed.