Monday, September 9, 2013

Boarding Las Leñas Days 2-3: Hiking off the thesis belly and a day so exciting I almost pooped myself

With a few minor excursions, I have maintained a pretty constant weight since I was 15 (enjoy it while it lasts, I know). One notable exception was my first exchange in Germany, where the food my host parents cooked was soooo good that I ate everything I could, and came back almost unrecognizably fattened (love you Martin & Beate, and the butter sandwiches, looooved the butter sandwiches). But after returning home, a semester on the soccer team took care of that problem pretty fast. Prior to this trip the combination of sedentary lifestyle and stress-eating during the final push to finish the thesis defense--there were entire weeks where I only moved from my seat to pull something out of the fridge and use the toilet--gave me what Germans call a "Bauchlein", which is one of my favorite German words because it sounds so adorable (whether or not mine actually was adorable is up for debate), and translates literally to "little belly".

It took less than a week in Argentina for the Bauchlein to disappear.

I thank Tom, Ellen, and traveler's diarrhea.

Ellen and Tom. Badass mountain couple extraordinaire. Tom has a face (at least the parts not covered in mountain man beard), it's just not in this picture.

The night I arrived home from Las Leñas Day 1, I sat down with Ramón to explain the latest in the debit card situation and he pointed across the room to where a couple was sitting and eating dinner. I waved and said Hola, they waved back and responded, and I knew immediately: my people! Within five minutes of conversation it was established that all of us were splitboarders here to make the best of the rainstorm. I don't know many splitboarders. I know a fair number of Randonee skiiers, but until Tom and Ellen, my sister and her ex were the only splitboarders I knew. It's not a very common thing. Yet here were two people, doubling the number of splitboarders I had ever met, and they were fellow granola Pacific Northwesterners. I had a friendcrush.

Tom and Ellen had been splitboarding in Chile and Argentina for two months. They had been to all the places I wanted to go. They spoke Spanish. They knew the ropes as much as I had arrived utterly clueless and unprepared. I latched onto them like a flea to a dog's ass. When they said they were heading back up the mountain the next morning to check it out and go splitboarding, I tagged along.

We arrived at the mountain and despite another "snow and sun" forecast, it was raining. Again. When we checked in with the ski patrol team to ask about backcountry conditions, they said "absolutely not, avalanche danger is extreme." Raining. No backcountry. No bus down out of the rain until 5:30 that evening. We sat down for an overpriced coffee to discuss the situation (hitchhike down? play cards in the lodge all day? cough up the $80 for rainy lift skiing? nothing sounded appealing). We decided to hike, despite the rain. I mean, if you're going to be stuck in the rain, may as well be moving, right? The weather gods rewarded us for our courage: almost as soon as we decided that and grabbed our gear to set off, the rain started to clear up.

We decided to hike the resort. Splitboards were broken down, skins strapped on, and off we went. At first we worried that we'd get stopped and asked to not hike on the resort, since we weren't paying and were taking up precious run space. The only people we got stopped by were folks skiing who asked:

(1) why are you going uphill? (Tom's answer: "No hay dinero para un boleto!")

(2) isn't it hard? (My answer: [pant, pant])

(3) what are those things? (splitboards are pretty rare)

Tom and Ellen on their way up the mountain

Two and a half quad-burning hours of climbing later, we got to the top of the lift, and then came the hard part on exhausted quads, boarding down the slush. At the bottom I was done. Done done done. My legs were screaming in agony. So of course I got talked into doing it again. At which point we met David, who was so impressed by our badassery that he asked if he could buy us a round of beer. Within half a millisecond we had all independently answered "Yes! (Yesyesyes,ohgodyes)"

Ellen afterwards: "Did I answer too fast? I didn't mean to sound that desperate..."

Me: "Whatever, we are desperate."

Surest way to make friends with a bunch of filthy splitboarders: say the word "Beer".
Drinking on the lawn with David, Tom, and Ellen.

There's nothing quite like skiing uphill for
working off a Bauchlein.
The forecast for the next day looked good, if warm: clear skies and balmy temperatures. Not good news for snow on the bottom part of the resort, not good for avalanche conditions, but great for hanging out in t-shirts on the mountain. We decided to head up a different side of the mountain in hopes of getting up the back all the way to the top, and continuing from there to some of the really cool-looking stuff above the resort. The avalanche bombing we were hearing made us nervous, but after an hour or so we rounded a corner to see that the upper lift was open and rejoiced! Because that meant at least they had cleared some of the area as safe.

And even better, when we made it to the base of the upper lift, the lifty waved us over and let us sneak onto the lift! Proving that while ski resorts may be run by soulless vultures who charge $80 for a day of skiing slush in the rain, the people who work on the slopes tend to be broke-ass ski bums and totally get the "I want to ski this but can't afford it" desperation that drove us to ski uphill for hours instead of just coughing up the dough to take the lift.

At the top, we ran into two guys we had seen the day before (who, and some of you will get a laugh out of this, tried to start a conversation with Ellen and me while Tom was in the bathroom with the ever-classy "Heeey laaadies"), and they offered to show us around the off-piste. Awesome, except that just as we got to the sidecountry entrance, just as we were doing a quick avalanche beacon test, ski patrol came by and closed the area, which had just avalanched (we later found out that our friend David from the day before was there when it happened, and caught it on video).

A bit discouraged but still psyched about our free ride to the top, we sat on a pile of rocks with an incredible view and had lunch as the wind attempted to blow our assess back down the mountain and succeeded in stealing one of Tom's sandwiches.

This view. Didn't suck.
As we were sitting there, debating what to do next, we saw a little black spot appear on the ridge across from us (in the photo above, right at the end of the line of rock that starts at the upper right). " that a person? Holy shit, it is! Whaaat?? Is he seriously going to do it?" And he did. Dropped right off the ridge and into what looked like a giant gnarly slide zone, but as we held or breaths waiting for his certain doom by giant avalanche, nothing slid. And just as if to throw a giant middle finger to the fate that let him live, the dude dropped two cliffs in a row before making perfect turns down to the basin below.

Tom: "I want that."

Bootpacking up the backside of the ridge.
This was steeper than it looks.
We debated safety, egged each other on, psyched each other out, all while subconsciously walking toward the backside of the mountain so we could climb up and around. And climb up and around we did, until before we knew it (okay, we knew it, it was exhausting), we were standing at the top where the little black dot had been close to an hour before.

And one at a time, we dropped in.

And it was good.

Until about halfway down, when, mid turn, the ominous gurgling of my stomach from some previous meal it was less than happy about hit my bowels and I suddenly, desperately, needed to shit. So I dropped faster, and the fun and adrenaline must have convinced my system to contain itself because I miraculously made it down off the mountain and survived the sprint to the toilets before exploding in the first of several rounds of toilet emergencies from my first bout of traveler's diarrhea on this trip.

Upon emerging from the restrooms and meeting Tom and Ellen where they were drinking beer on the lawn I had only one thing to say:

"Well, that was exciting!"

Tom and Ellen standing across from the Awesome that we got to board. It was a good day at Las Leñas.

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