Note: This trip report is part of the TetonAT Trip Report Contest. Chason is now in the running to win a FREE pair of Black Diamond skis based on viewer response and the TetonAT panel of judges! Good luck Chason!!
A windy Volcan Lanin.
An unsuccessful attempt in 2001, illusive yet again in 2006, and topping the list during the years in between, 3776 meter Volcan Lanin was consuming my thoughts. This time around, in the beginning of October 2008, I would go for it again. With only a week remaining during a month long ski adventure, I traveled to the Argentine resort town of San Martin de los Andes, only two hours drive from the base of Lanin, to wait out the weather.
Staying in the hostel Puma, it was not long before I found some like-minded individuals keen on an attempt of the volcano. Spending only a few rainy, windy days around the region, we were eventually presented with a small yet promising window in the weather. It would happen the day before I absolutely had to board a bus to Buenos Aires in order to catch a flight back to the states.
Working on the brakes of the ‘radio-flyer’.
The true adventure began when I loaded up ‘radio flyer’, a small red Suzuki samurai, with Nick Frazee, an acquaintance from Las Lenas, and Drew Friedmann, telemark skier and proud car owner from Chicago. Cramming in with our gear, we began driving toward the volcano. We didn’t make it very far before the sound of metal on metal and smell of burning brakes had us a bit worried. Turns out we had blown a wheel bearing on ‘radio flyer’. Two or Three hours of drinking mate with the mechanic, modifying bearing components and disconnecting the rear breaks, and we were on the road again.
Arriving to the base of the volcano several hours later than we expected, the wind was ravaging the cone. Clouds tore past, it was apparent that any snow witch had fallen in the days’ prior would be lost to sublimation. Realizing we would not have enough daylight to reach the Refugio some 1100 meters above, we turned to plan B: Stay at the base and climb and ski the volcano in one day. Only problem, we were expecting to have the shelter of the Refugio, and left our tents and bivy sacs behind. The cold temps and high winds would make it almost unbearable to sleep out. Conversing with some locals, we were informed the Gendarmes (Argentina military) might allow us to camp in the stable behind their headquarters. As soon as the Jefe returned from border duty we were granted permission to make camp in the loft of the stable. After a light dinner consisting of soup, bread, salami, and a little cheese, we strolled over to the headquarters to have our water bottles filled in preparation for a huge day. When the Gendarme returned to the door with our H20 bottles he had only one question “quién es su guía?” (Who is your guide?) I quickly replied “YO!” he nodded, smiled and we were on our way back to the stable.
View from the stable.
There are a few requirements to climb Lanin. For one, you are supposed to check in with the park ranger and prove you have all the proper equipment (proper clothing, sunglasses, sturdy boots, ice ax, crampons, VHF radio) from the sound of it, a guide also. Though we had rented all the gear to be legit (VHF radio, ice ax) there would be no one around to show it to. Apparently the park ranger was taking a few days off.
As darkness ebbed in over the peak, the winds subsided and the clouds dissipated. It was becoming apparent that we might get the weather window we had been looking for. With an alarm set for 4:45am, it wouldn’t be until 5:07am when I finally awoke. Rousting my two compadres, we indulged in a quick oat breakfast and began hiking in the calm, star lit darkness toward the towering giant a little after 6:00am. The Gendarme dog who had befriended us decided to tag along also. As we searched for the trail in the darkness, the dog looked back, eyes gleaming in light of our headlamps, as if to say “follow me.” ‘Perro’ as we called him, had a keen sense of where we were headed. Who knows how many times this dog had been on the volcano? Without a doubt we had found our true ‘guia’. Reaching the edge of tree line as the stars gave way to the ever-changing hue of dawn, our route up the northeast ridge of Lanin would become more apparent. Working our way up the alluvial fan, the first violet rays reached the summit of Lanin. Ascending into the light it would only take about 4 hrs before we arrived at the Refugio.
The tag-along dog takes a nap on Volcan Lanin.
Skinning toward the orange space module meticulously placed half way up the ascent, we encountered three Italians who had weathered the winds in the Refugio. Curious how early we had started and what our plans were, the three began their ascent toward the summit. The hundreds of switchbacks we had bypassed on the skin up now had more meaning. Enjoying a snack and the incredible views from the Refugio, Nick and I took a breather while our friend Drew from Chicago worked his way up the snowfields. Fully outfitted in rental gear from San Martin, Drew was at a bit of a disadvantage. Advancing passed the Refugio, we used our best Spanish to convince ‘Perro'(the dog) to stay. Seemed a good idea, as the terrain above is noticeably steeper, and I had a feeling the dog might not agree with the descent I had in mind.
One foot in front of another, it was not long before Nick and I passed up the Italians. Drew would embark on an adventure of his own, as we were moving at a far different pace. With every step the temperature rose, and snow conditions worsened. By the time we reached the gully that led to the summit, the rime feathers had taken over the snow pack. Changing from skins to crampons, the higher we got, the larger the rime feathers became. Cresting the summit ridge, a glance down revealed ant like figures descending back toward the Refugio. Nick and I would be the only two to summit on this day. Crunching our way through the icy, foot deep cauliflower, we reached the summit a little before 4pm. Making the entire approach from 1150 meters to 3776 meters (approx 8613 feet) in about 9.5 hrs. Soaking in the incredible vista, it was time to figure out how we were going to descend. Skiing down the approach would simply be horrendous. Besides, the east facing couloir descending 1000 plus meters into the ice field below had captured my attention. Creeping toward the southeast edge, which appeared to drop off the face of the earth, I relied on a mental image of the summit to locate a small relief that led to the 50 plus degree couloir.
Looking down the line of descent.
Looking down revealed a steep, sustained line littered with crevasses near the bottom. The snow conditions appeared far better than anything we had seen yet. Tossing the first snowball down the fall line confirmed my suspicion. It appeared good to go. Nick agreed to spot me as I crept over the edge relying on my self-arrest grip until my skis made purchase in the chalky snow. We agreed on some hand signals. Nick would decide whether or not he would drop in on his split-board after watching my descent. One chalky, steep, technical turn at a time I made my way toward the minefield of crevasses below. Glancing up from the bottom of the couloir, I could barley discern Nick’s open arms indicating he would follow. Silently murmuring “I hope you got it” I watched as Nick gracefully made his way to my location. These would be the first turns either of us would witness from one another, as we had never ridden together. Convening at the beginning of the traverse through the ice field, the two of us admitted our lack of glacial experience. Our fear of crevasses was confirmed when Nick exposed a bottomless crack in the ice at the beginning of our traverse. A bit sketched, we made our way back to the Refugio. Here, the Italians confirmed that our friend had retrieved the dog and would meet us at the bottom. We graciously accepted their offering of some “dirty water” (melted snow and tang), as our water bottles had long since been empty. Slightly recharged we continued down in ideal corn conditions. Regressing through the volcanic debris back toward the Gendarmeria, we were consumed with a sense of satisfaction, dehydration, and hunger.
Nick traverses across the glacier.
Sitting in my assigned window seat on the bus the following day, I struggled against the desire to sleep and glanced out the window to get one more view of Lanin as the bus made its way across the huge expanses of Argentina. Consciousness gave way to dream state and in a seemingly absence of time, I was being served dinner, as the bus made its way through the night en route to Buenos Aires.