Skiing in Chile: Volcan Osorno
Time Round Trip: 5-6 hrs round trip
Total Ascent: 4300ft
Difficulty: Advanced-Expert; Technical climbing required
Elevation: 8700 ft
Season: August- October
Pro tips: Expect variable snow conditions, changing weather & possible crevassing
Headed out of Bariloche feeling victorious from the previous days spent at, Refugio Frey & Refugio Lopez, we pushed for the Argentinean/ Chilean border. It was a brisk sunny morning in Patagonia and stoke was high after having the best conditions of the trip. We were met by a 4 hour border crossing and were reminded one last time of Argentina’s cherished siesta hour. What started out as an easy 4 hour drive from Bariloche to Osorno quickly turned into an all day venture. Doug and I casually drank beers and watched Netflix on an iPad, parked at the border crossing, while Gary once again used his Spanish to save the trip.
When we crossed the border we pushed to get to the base of Volcan Osorno by sundown. A common experience on the trip was to arrive at a remote town at sunset looking for a place to stay, cabanas, en espanol. This night was no different, as we drove past waterfalls along the Chilean lakefront, Volcan Osorno came into view; yet again we were looking at a massive volcano rising superior from the horizon.
Doug and Gary unpack the loyal Lion car with Osorno in fading view
With high spirits we unpacked Lion Car to prep for the following morning, we were headed for the summit of Volcan Osorno. After sunset we headed to the local store, to Doug & I’s surprise we found the biggest beers of the trip, naturally we had a chugging contest & headed to bed.
The next morning we woke early and made our way to the ski resort that was at the base of Volcan Osorno. It was day 19 of 22 on our trip in South America and though we were getting in the routine of long day trips we were still hitting road blocks along the way. In this case the road block was a completely iced over road, rocking the car back and forth we lost hope in our progression just as fast as lion car gave up on the climb. It became clear that without chains we weren’t going to make it. Gary saw this as an opportunity to make sure the E-brake worked. Give the video a watch below.
We ditched the car on the side of the road and started skinning into a cloudy haze. As we passed the base of the resort we rose above the inversion clouds and the sun greeted us, providing a grand scale view of the peak we had eyes on the previous night.
It became clear that the snow above the resort was not ideal. Frozen over, wind effected snow covered in rime ice paved way for the 2000 feet that was above of us. Skins didn’t seem like my best option so I put my split skis on my pack, attached crampons and climbed on; Doug and Gary powered forward on skins.
The scale of these massive volcanoes was exhausting, you’d move ahead for hundreds of steps feeling like you’ve made no progress. I soon began counting to #100, the steps of my left foot. This kept me preoccupied mentally and rewarded me physically when I hit ‘100’.
There comes a moment on these exhausting climbs that you question what you are actually doing out here- the thought of, "why is this my vacation?" repeated in my head over & over- turning back never looked so good.
Gary and Doug look small nearing the summit
Seeing Gary in the distance gave me more of a drive to keep moving forward, after all we were on "vacation" and this was what we came to do, I had to catch up to him.
Gary waited for me to make the most vertical moves of the trip, a 20-30 foot ice crux that if you took a fall you wouldn’t stop moving for a long way down. As we looked upward with bent necks I turned to Gary and asked, “Are you sure there’s no other way up?” He nodded yes, stabbed the snow with his ice ax and began upward.
Brian's POV of Gary sending the last hundred feet
The summit wasn't far off, Doug topped out first and walked around the rim searching for the best way down. Doug, Gary & myself came together and decided to drop in, traverse right under the ice cliffs we just vertically climbed up & make our way to the ridge to safety. After all it was the only way that we could see to ski off the summit.
Time was valuable on the summit of Osorno. There weren't many jokes and limited smiles were had. A looming cloud was coming closer with each minute passed and the ski resort thousands of feet below was slowly fading from view. The wind was heavy and with frozen fingers we assembled our gear and dropped off the summit.
Doug and Brian on the summit of Volcan Osorno
The moments following our commitment to our line it was clear surviving was going to be the best case scenario. Similar to the snow we climbed up on, frozen rime ice, it was difficult to make a turn on the steep slope without the fear of your edge sliding out underneath you.
After a few turns from the summit Doug lost one of his poles, it slid for a few hundred feet and disappeared off a birch run. After glancing back and forth it was clear he was going to need a pole from me to get down safely. We self arrested just below the summit.
Doug skied over to me and dug his skis aggressively into the 40+ degree slope and sat down. I dug in toeside and hugged Doug's boot, gripped, I feared the worse. If any of those ice cliffs above us break loose we were goners, I thought. Doug yanked a pole from my pack and after a laugh we continued the frightening descent.
Once we met up with Gary and looked back at what we were sitting on it was apparent that we stopped in a dangerous spot. It's ironic how much preparation you can do before heading into the mountains; reading trip reports like this one, watching documentaries, doing research, all in hopes that when the moment comes to react/respond you will do so accordingly. But it wasn't until that moment when I looked deep into the soul of a crevasse, dozens of feet down, that I truly grasped the sense of discomfort it brings. Knowing you are in a vulnerable place gives the feeling that every move must be made with the most precarious logic, each move could be your last.
We skied perpendicular to the slope as we navigated the crevasse field, I just kept dreaming of the 25 degree sloped ski resort below. As we made our way back to the ridge to safety, we regrouped. Between laughs and 'wtf's' we were all happy to be off the summit and the vertical slopes above.
The summit of Osorno disappeared among the clouds and the 'worse case scenario' thoughts slowly started to fade. We entered back into the ski resort where we were welcomed by tomahawking beginners and low angle slush. We put another successful summit descent on the trip log and had big smiles of surviving one of the worst ones yet.
Doug and Brian have a laugh with Osorno taunting them above
- Accumula Collaborator