mahabis stories // ski touring in the andes, konrad bartelski
This week, the journal has been taken over by mahabis ambassador, Konrad Bartelski. Avid photographer, and still Britain's most successful World Cup downhill racer, Bartelski talks us through his latest ski tour in the Andes.
"November is when the snow starts to arrive in the Northern Hemisphere, so when our ski bags come out on the baggage carousel at the Buenos Aires airport, there were a few curious glances.
Our next plane flew two hours West and landed in Bariloche, nestled at the foot of the Andes and perched on the stunning Naheul Huapi lake, where we were warmly welcomed by Jorge Kozulj of the Andescross guiding company.
photo: bariloche on the left and mt. tronador on the horizon
Jorge quickly assured us, that despite that all the summer flowers were blooming; the plans were still in place to take us up to the snow.
It was a six o’clock start the next day, as we drove out into the hinterland and the forest grew deeper, as the mountains grew taller, and the numerous lakes dissected the spectacular and dramatic scenery.
And hour and half later we pulled up at what looked like a small ranch, Pappa Linda, where only the essential gear was unloaded from the car and broken down and carefully packed for the 18 kilometre and 900 metre climb up to the Refugio Otto Meiling. The heavy crampons, boots and shovels were loaded on to a horse led by one of the resident gauchos, as we then hiked up along the river with our skis on the rucksacks, meandering through the dense bamboo and coihue trees, refreshing our thirst with the fresh water that flowed down from the peaks.
photo: gaucho and the gear
After a couple of hours, the trails became muddier and also very much steeper, so we sadly have to wave good-bye to the gaucho. The rucksacks then took on another dimension, although the subtle sense of the impeding snow line was a wonderful counter balance, with the wonderful serenity only occasionally broken by the cascading ice field in the distant cloud.
photo: stormy mt tronador
Jorge explained that the peak that we were heading up to was called Mt Tronador, which is Spanish for thunder. The frequent rumblings echoing down the valley a quite reminder of the ferocity of nature. After about another hour of scrambling though the jungle we came up to a snow covered ridge, where we then readily jumped into our ski touring boots and put the skins on our skis.
photo: heading up to mt tronador
Jorge was keeping us going, as there was a storm forecast around three o’clock and he was hoping that we would make the mountain hut by then. Skinning up the snow was such a contrast to our previous 24 hours in the warm country and as we gained height so did the speed of the wind exponentially increase.
photo: fresh powder at mt tronador
This Northern part of Patagonia was revealing its true spirit, as the final push was in treacherous horizontal rain and winds gusting up to fifty miles per hour.
When over the final distant horizon, the small hut emerged through the cloud; it was a most welcoming sight with the rain having turned into snow. Our damp saturated bodies were being tortured by the storm and arriving at the door to the warm den was a memorable moment.
photo: view from refugio in the evening
The Refugio Otto Meiling was perched at 6,200 feet at the foot of the glacier, a two floored wooden and metal building, it’s outside scarred by the ferocity of the huge winds that frequent the Andes. This would be our home for the next four days, with our two host, Cynthia and Martina cooking freshly make wonderful feast each evening, accompanied by a choice of a remarkable collection of the regions exceptional Malbec wines.
photo: mt tronador at sunset
Having stripped off our wet clothing it was wonderful to change into some dry kit and that is when mahabis slippers showed their true colours. Being light, they were included into our streamlined rucksacks, yet having warm feet in the hut was the most valuable asset to being comfortable.
photo: feet up. fire lit. mahabis on.
The next four days we would venture out on our skins to explore the mountain, that peaks out at 11,660 feet and enjoy skiing the fresh powder that accompanied the storm. The beauty and isolation of the hut, only interrupted by the occasional hikers who would hike up, either bringing supplies or simply just to savour the serenity and hospitality of the Refugio in the shadow of Mt Tronador.
photo: shelter from the storm
Stripping away so many layers of habitual comforts was certainly the most rewarding opportunity to experience the real soul of Argentina; the genuine natural elements that contribute to such an engaging and endearing country."
photo: refugio in the distance