Monday, October 28, 2013

Splitboarding the Refugios of Bariloche Part II: San Martin (Jacob)

Part II of the Splitboarding Patagonia series, continued from Part I: Refugio Frey

Refugio San Martin / Jacob

I don't know tu madre well enough to verify this statement, but I assure you this is a complimentary comparison.

The next trip Fernando recommended was to Refugio Jacob (officially Refugio San Martin, but after getting puzzled looks whenever I asked mountain people about it I quickly discovered that it is universally known as Refugio Jacob. Why? No idea.) when I stopped by the Club Andino the week following my Frey adventure and pointed on his map to the pretty, snow-covered ridges I had seen from the top of Cathedral and asked the best way to get there. The trek to Jacob involved a longer hike and a taxi ride to the trailhead.

The night before I planned to leave friend-of-a-friend Yuki arrived in Bariloche following a month of hitchhiking north from Ushuaia after a 6-month stint in Antarctica (see, those of you who think I am crazy, I can only aspire to be as awesome as Yuki). Not wanting to miss out on hearing some of his stories but also not wanting to miss out on a weekend of splitboarding, I talked Yuki into joining me for part of the hike up. And by "talked into" I threw out the idea and he immediately jumped on it.

Me and Yuki on the trail to Refugio Jacob

So on Friday after my Spanish class let out, we hopped a bus to the point where we were supposed to catch a taxi, and decided to hitchhike (because, inspired by Yuki's greatness, paying for a taxi seemed megalame). Which mostly meant walking. And walking and walking and walking. Occasionally vehicles would pass us, but they didn't seem interested in dealing with a girl with a big backpack and a dude carrying--for no apparent reason--a snowboard (Yuki generously offered to carry my snowboard while we hiked). After 40 minutes or so along dusty gravel road a dump truck pulled over and motioned us in. Or rather motioned us on, as in, "Go ahead, hop in the back of the dump truck!" which Yuki understood but I did not, as I climbed up into the cab despite the driver's protests. I explained where we wanted to go and he rolled his eyes because it wasn't anywhere near where he was going and we had just delayed him by a good 5 minutes due to my inability to navigate the ladder into his cab, but he drove us a kilometer further down the road before dropping us off at an intersection.

And we were back to walking, and walking and walking. About a kilometer before the trailhead, a carful of young guys pulled over, rolled down their window, and asked if we were lost. I didn't think I was lost, but walked over with my map to verify where I thought we were just to be safe. He pointed us in the right direction but then asked, "why the snowboard?"

"I'm going snowboarding," I replied.

"There's no snow."

"There is in the mountains."

"No, there is no snow."

"No, really, there is."

"Definitely no snow. Snow all gone. All gone," my friends were making increasingly grave hand motions.

The conversation went back and forth like that for a while before the guy driving finally shook his head and asked if one of us wanted to get a ride down the road, he couldn't fit both of us. I wasn't about to go without Yuki, so we opted to walk. The driver shook his head again, raised an eyebrow, and wished us luck before driving off.

Pretty sweet and totally safe bridge on the way to Jacob.

I was worried that maybe there really was no snow. That it had all melted during the week. But I had made it that far, and wasn't going to turn around at the trailhead, so on we walked, Yuki regaling me with his awesome stories of his adventures as we did.

An hour or so later, having convinced me to make Puerto Williams my next stop after finishing my Spanish lessons (thank you a million times over for that recommendation, Yuki!), Yuki turned back in order to make it back to Bariloche in time for a meet-up with my friend José with whom he was going to stay that night before continuing on hitchhiking to Buenos Aires and then...Bolivia? So we hugged goodbye, I strapped on my board, and continued.

Pretty trail.

The extra hour and a half of walking meant that I wasn't sure if I would make it up to the refugio before dark, but I kept up a good clip and thought that my chances were good as I hiked along a stunning turquoise-blue river. I listened to my learn Spanish podcasts on the way until the going got steep, then switched to music, and my MP3 player's random function apparently decided that today was a banjo day.

I hit the waterfalls just below the refugio at sunset, and stopped for a bit to eat a snack and watch the spectacular light show. I hiked the rest of the way to the refugio in the snow in the starlight and thoroughly surprised the refugieros (a dad and his sons?) and their dog (the only souls there) when I finally arrived in the dark. They invited me in for tea and dinner, but I was too tired to eat (a mistake), so I drank the tea and chatted a bit, then pitched my bivvy sack and passed out.

Waterfalls below Refugio Jacob at sunset

I woke up the next morning as the refugieros headed down the mountain with their dog, leaving Ari, the youngest and the cook (thank you thank you for leaving the cook), behind. Ari was off on his own adventure that day and suggested that I join him, but I had already set my heart on a nice-looking line I had spotted in the starlight the previous night. I lost an hour trying to make my way through the bushes and over the creek above the waterfalls before finally stumbling across an unmarked path with a bridge that crossed the creek. Duh.

The plan: hike up that nice diagonal white line to the ridgeline, snowboard down other side, climb back up and snowboard down something cool on the other side, etc. Reality: Impassable Jungle of Bushes and a river crossing, followed by low-blood-sugar-induced crawling up the hill.

I didn't make it far up my chute on skins before I had to switch to crampons. It was a slow slog up the hill, taking 2 1/2 for a stretch I had optimistically thought would take less than an hour. I was wiped out when I got to the top, but dance partied, had lunch, enjoyed the view, and then dropped off the other side of the ridge, which looked beautiful.

View off the other side of the ridge above Refugio Jacob

The snow was terrible. I bit it almost immediately. I picked myself up, dusted myself off, glanced down at my board, and OOOOOHHHH SHIITTT the GoPro was gone! My heart dropped, and I quickly scanned the hill when, off to my left, I spotted a GoPro-sized object bouncing rapidly toward a cliff below. I mentally calculated its trajectory and speed vector for about half of a millisecond, decided I might be able to intercept it before the cliff, and shot off to catch it.

Bounce bounce.

I got below it and hit it with my board just as I crossed its bouncing path, launching it into the air, and I dove and caught it, sliding and stopping about 20 meters from the cliff. I shoved it into my pocket and scooted off to the right out of the cliff danger zone. I sat down, re-attached the thing to my board, and, heart now thoroughly jump-started, I continued down the hill.

Video of the snowboarding, including the GoPro bouncing down the hill

In retrospect I could have just let the damned thing go over the cliff and would probably have been able to pick it up from the snow beneath, but that didn't factor into my millisecond decision.

Those are not the cliffs I almost went over.

And then I boarded down, camera rolling, and "enjoyed" what could only be generously described as a "marginally satisfactory" run. I then skinned most of the way back up another ridge before cramponing the rest. Getting down from the ridge was a trick, involving some rock climbing with the splitboard on my back that I'd rate at around a 5.3 (super-easy if you're a rock climber climbing with protection and no snowboard on your back, scary as shit with the board on) to get down to snow. Once safely planted in snow, I boarded back down the other side on slow slush, then into a gully that I knew was snow bridged over a creek but it was that or fight through a mile of thick bushes, so I crossed my fingers and bombed it, bracing myself for a swim and stopping just in time to avoid going over a rocky waterfall.

Crampon damage to my ski pants

I had told Ari that I'd be back by 5pm (why didn't I say 7?) and it was already 4pm, so I had no time to hike another line and maybe actually get a good run in. I kicked myself for the late start, the hour spent trying to cross the creek, the snow ascent, for not following Ari up what was probably a much shorter climb to the top, for not eating enough food the day before (I was feeling pretty tired and drained), and for picking lame lines. And then I spent an hour fighting my way through the thick bushes that rimmed Laguna Jacob back to the refugio.

Once again I returned to a refugio that was fuller than I had left it, including two quiet Argentine girls and a separate group of four wild friends from Bariloche who, between them, had schlepped up a liter each of rum and whiskey. They insisted that I join them (they didn't have to insist hard, given the rum and whiskey), and we drank as I struggled to understand the fast and stoned conversation. Meanwhile, Ari was prepping dinner, starting with fresh bread, made-from-scratch in the refugio. The meal arrived: warm bread (ooooh, I loooove hot, fresh-baked bread; if I were to make my own version of Maria's "My Favorite Things" song, hot fresh bread would be one of the Things), soup, and pasta with sun-dried tomatoes (lovingly re-hydrated in water heated on the little refugio wood stove). Delicous. And I was SOHUNGRY.

Ari baking bread in the refugio kitchen at Refugio Jacob.

Ari, if you're out there, I know you are like, 10 years younger than me, but will you marry me and we can live in a mountain hut together and make and eat gourmet meals every night?

The crazy drunk/high friends proved too difficult for my tired brain to understand, so after a few more shots, I excused myself, crawled into my bivvy sack, and nestled into a snowbank. I was there for all of 3 minutes (and almost asleep) when suddenly Fernando of Team Bariloche appeared, said a bunch of stuff I couldn't understand, laid down in the snow next to me, and spooned my bivvy sack while talking nonstop about god-knows-what. He occasionally asked questions about the bivvy sack, my sleeping bag, my snowboard, and whether there really only was room for one in there. Yes, there really is only room for one, I kept replying.

This is my bivvy sack.
Seriously, only room for one.

It's not that he wasn't attractive, it seems this continent is full of Fernandos who, so far, have all been glorious specimens of Man and very nice to boot. But I was pretty sure that this Fernando was legitimately crazy (and not just Argentinian crazy), I was really tired and couldn't understand most of his blabbering, and there really, truly was not room for another human in my bivvy sack. Eventually Crazy Fernando got cold, kissed me, and stumbled off in the dark.

It was a "Hello, stars, I am in Argentina! People here are fucking crazy and I love it!" moment. And then I passed out.

I woke up early the next morning having slept like a champ after loading up on Benadryl following the cheese-laced meal of the night before, and found my sleeping bag iced over. It had been so cold that night that the condensation resulting from my being a heterotrophic organism froze the second it left my sleeping bag and hit the cold air inside my bivvy sack. When I moved, the thin crust fractured, but holy shit, it was so cold that my sleeping bag iced over.

Ice on my sleeping bag. Formed inside the bivvy sack.

I got up and hung everything up in the sun to melt and dry off while I had breakfast, chatted with Ari, and packed. Just as I was about to leave, my friend Crazy Fernando showed up (he may be crazy, but I was relieved that he apparently made it back inside and didn't freeze to death in the night). I showed him how the splitboard worked and let him try it out before strapping it onto my pack and heading out.

The hike back was lovely, and I spent it listening to more Spanish podcasts. I ran into Papa Refugiero on his way up the trail with a group of 40 some students. Too. Damn. Many. People.

The views on the way down were beautiful.

I arrived at the trailhead at around 2pm hopeful that, as so many people had promised, my petite blonde (I am officially no longer a redhead--the sun has bleached out my hair to a just barely perceptible strawberry blonde. Even if that hadn't happened, I have been informed that I would still be a rubia = blonde and not a pelirojo = redhead unless I was in possession of truly red--like cherry red--hair) lonesome self would have no problem hitching a ride back to town.

But nope.

I hiked the whole damned way from the trailhead back to the bus stop, passed over by at least a dozen vehicles, all with plenty of space. I got a whole lot of odd looks, but no takers.

Was it the snowboard, which probably made people think I was completely, totally out of my gourd? My scruffy, filthy appearance? The smell?

My filthy, filthy self after getting back after my trip to Refugio Jacob

But my feet hurt, and I had run out of water and was hungry and hot, I had welts on my hips, and please? Somebody? Anybody??

In total, it was just over 20 miles of hiking with the snowboard on my back for a whopping two shitty runs.

Of course I couldn't wait to go back out.

Continued in Part III: Refugio Italia (Laguna Negra)


  1. Carie, even this one post shows that you're crazier and much cooler than I am! Sorry trying to hitchhike probably took away a lot of your precious energy on the way up :( I like your video!

    1. Whatever Yuki, you hitchhiked pretty much the entire length of South America *from the end of the world*. After surviving an Antarctic winter. The past few months whenever faced with an adventure-related decision, I ask "What Would Yuki Do?" and opt for the more adventurous path. You have inspired me to greatness! :-)