The story begins with a trip that Rocky Mountain Sherpas director, Dave Mossop took ten years ago. He visited the Volcano of Puyehue in his travels of South America, at first sight he realized that the crater of this volcano would be perfect for skiing. Ten years later he pitched the idea of bringing a crew down to Chile and conquering this mighty volcano. Lucky for me he pitched the idea to Douglas and viola we were going to Chile to film a Salomon freeski tv episode and start filming for the Sherpas new film project.
The crew was the dream crew, Mark Abma- Male ski model and one of the best skiers on the planet, Eric Hjorleifson- the person you want on every trip you ever go on, modern day Macgyver, Dave Mossop- Director and visionary of this project, Malcolm Sangster- Photographer and the one responsible for all the logistics (not much just go to Chile, climb a volcano with a film crew), Nate Nash- HD filmer, a veteran of hardcore trips in the wild, Jorge Kozulj- Our fearless guide, never a dull moment with his enthusiasm for skiing and life, Nico- Our other guide, cook and spiritual leader, one of the most amazing human beings I have ever met, and myself Chris Rubens- I just felt privileged to be on such an all star trip.
The trip of the Canadians started in Squamish at three in the morning, we had to catch a flight at six out of Vancouver! Our flight itinerary looked like this; Vancouver to Toronto, almost miss the flight to New York, then to Santiago and a quick flight to a little town in the south of Chile called Osorno. After over thirty hours of traveling we finally made it with all our bags, pretty incredible.
We met up with our guides and packed all our gear and food for ten days into the back of their two trucks and headed to a little farm at the base of the volcano, our staging area for the next couple of days. The day we got there was beautiful and we got a full view of the volcano that we had to get to the top of. Being in the bottom of the valley it was more than slightly daunting that we would have to hike all the way to the top of it. We got settled into a little cabin on the farm and started to organize the mountain of gear that we had.
We woke up the next morning to pouring rain, which was a bit of a relief because we were all tired from traveling. This was followed by a couple of days of terrible weather and forecast that looked like we were at the start of the Santa Rosa storm. This was great because the previous week they had rain to the top so a reset was needed. We took the time to relax and organize everything. With a veteran crew like this we all knew how to roast and everyone was very relaxed and positive.
After a few down days the weather forecast started to look a little more promising, we decided to make the move up to base camp. Base camp would be a little primitive hut at treeline on the volcano. In order to get there we would take horses up with all of our gear.
We met the gauchos(cowboys) who loaded all our gear onto horses and we all started to make our way up the volcano. This was no easy task, with eight people, we had a mountain of gear to get up there. Everything went unbelievably smooth and the horses were able to make it right to the hut! At some points the horses were post holing through three feet of snow. Riding horses up a volcano with all our ski gear was an unforgettable experience.
We got to the hut mid afternoon, it was perfect, a 15′ by 25′ shack with beds and a wood stove in it. This would be home for the next week. There was no running water, no electricity, no heat. We cooked on the stove, brought water from the creek and survived with headlamps at night.
It was amazing to get away from computers and cell phones. We were in our own little world up there and we couldn’t have been happier about it. After a couple of days of being away from everything your mind is expanded to a different level of thinking. You become more creative and at peace with yourself.
The day after we got to the cabin the crew headed up the volcano in a complete whiteout. We slowly made our way up by moving from rock to rock. As soon as you lost sight of a rock you become overcome by vertigo and felt like you were going to fall over! It took us forever to get to the top, our route was not the most efficient and touring with big bags and film gear is very strenuous. Truth be told we all felt pretty beat down. It took us four hours just to get to the top and that was where the skiing started. After we got to the top we would be dropping into the crater and trying to ski. We figured maybe one or two runs in the crater at the most. We skied down in terrible flat light conditions and everyone felt a little disheartened. Then came the forecast, it changed and things did not look good. Back to roasting in the little hut. After a good nights sleep everyone felt better and was more positive. Time to keep yourself occupied with out technology, we did some filming around the hut, Eric built a much needed axe handle, we made some improvements to the hut (a handle for the door, fixed a bed), carved some wood utensils, had a great Metallic concert with pots and pans.
The next morning we awoke at five in the morning to Nico saying in broken english “I don’t want to disturb you but the crater is open!” Everyone had different thoughts on what this meant. Myself I thought that the Volcano was erupting and we were about to die. Turns out he had a dream that the weather had cleared and the volcano was open. He hadn’t even looked out the window when he said this. Unbelievably he was right. The weather had cleared unexpectedly and it was on! We scrambled to get everything ready, when you are living in the backcountry everything takes a bit longer. You have make a fire to warm up the boots and cook, go get water from the creek, all on top of preparing for the day! By the time we were on our way it was seven, good thing we got woken up so early.
After about half an hour of hiking up the volcano we turned around to see one of the most breathtaking views I have ever seen. Glistening white peaks with contrasting green rain forest valleys with crystal blue lakes. Volcanos poking there heads up all over the place. As we were hiking up everyone had a smile from ear to ear. It was really happening. After about two and half hours of hiking we reached the summit of the volcano and reached one of the most rewarding and amazing sights I have ever seen. 360 degrees of perfect skiable lines with the epicenter focusing on another summit that had some of the sickest Alaska style spines I have ever seen. I’m not sure if the smiles could have been any wider. We started picking out of lines. We had no idea of the scale or what the snow would be like. We chose some simple lines and headed for them. We got on top of the lines and they looked great. Super steep with some decent looking snow. Needless to say we were pretty nervous. The lines were straight forward but it was still the first things that we had skied in three months. There was no time for a warmup run!
3…2…1…dropping! When you are dropping into a line everything else stops all focus is on making it to the bottom in one piece. I was the first one to drop. It was amazing, we were doing it and the snow was great, the snow pack seemed bomber and there were tons of amazing lines to shred. I got to the bottom and couldn’t help but yell. I radioed up to the boys that the snow was great and it was on. Throughout the day we skied four lines in the crater. It was amazing, way beyond our wildest dreams. The snow wasn’t perfect on all of it but it didn’t matter! By the end of the day we were exhausted but were motoring on pure stoke. After our last run we made our way back to the summit to meet up with the film crew. Everyone was so fired up exchanging hugs and high fives. The dream had become a reality. We left Malcom and Mossop on top, they were going to camp on the rim and capture a 360 degree timelapse that required them to be up there. We shredded amazing snow in pink alpenglow all the way back to camp. We arrived with the sun down, skiing sunrise to sunset all under our own steam.
The weather still looked good, so we had made a quick dinner and fell asleep to try and recover our bodies for the next day. The next morning we woke up at five again. The weather still looked great so we packed up and headed out. This day was a special day for me. I turned twenty five and there was no better birthday present than what I got. We reached the top again and meet up with Malcolm and Mossop! Things were pretty warm already and nothing froze the night before. Eric had skied one line the day before on the spine wall but there was still one left. The boys gave me a birthday present and let me have it. I couldn’t believe that I was going to ski a line like that on a touring trip to Chile on my 25th birthday.
Unfortunately things were warming up too quickly and after we all made it to the bottom of our first lines we decided it was too warm to ski anymore. We tentatively made our way out of the crater and back to the cabin. We would have loved to keep skiing but the mountains are always the boss, so made our way home!
We packed up all our stuff and headed back to the farm. We celebrated the successful mission and my birthday with good style. The next morning we decided to head to Bariloche, the hometown of our guides. The snow had warmed up everywhere so the snow was punched but we had a great time sightseeing around the town, shredding the hill. The last night we were there, they organized a party for us. We got to hang with some amazing locals and roast a full lamb. They slowly cooked it over an open fire and then we all dived in and ate it with our hands. A very memorable experience!
That was the end of the trip for us. It was time to head home. A truly special trip with great people. Thanks to Salomon, Mike Douglas, Rocky Mountain Sherpas and our guides for making this trip happen. I won’t forget this one for a longtime. Be sure to check out the Freeski TV episode and the new Sherpas movie next fall.