Friday, 20 July 2018

Ascending into Snowy Patagonia Winter

Piltriquitron ascent road

It was a cloudy and cold morning in the village of El Bolsón (315m altitude) in the Argentinian Patagonia. We were trekking east from the village up to Refugio Piltriquitron (refugio: mountain hut/refuge) located at 1,500m altitude on the mountain with the same name. 
It was a long road walk till we hit the ascending dirt road...and then more. About halfway up with the road there was already patches of snow. 

snow road
(The road leads to a parking area about 1km before the "Bosque Tallado" - a forest with large carved sculptures by local artists.)
We found the more direct albeit more rustic forest trail which meant we could leave the road.

cloud carpet
The arrival at a viewpoint area near the parking lot rewarded us with a cloud blanket over the valley and the Andes open and crystal clear on the western side of the valley. Even though the trail is also used by day visitors to carvings in the forest and the refugio, we were ascending with 3-5 supplies of food, sleeping bags and me with the tent as well. The downside of the trail being well- trodden in places is that the snow is compacted and in places just a slippery ice slide. 

trail snow
The weight of my backpack was starting to make itself as we reached the Bosque Tallado almost five hours after heading off from the village. Further up from here there were some "steps" cut into the ice to help with ascent/descent. I had the two trekking poles which helped at times but the boots on ice were only good for sliding on steeper parts.
 
snow ascent
This meant looking for softer snow along the trail as an alternative route, at times 30cm+ deep snow but better than having no footing. 
Finally arriving at the Refugio Piltriquitron was amazing; a snow-covered landscape with peaks and a frozen waterfall on one side and the cloud-covered valley on the other. 
Refugio Piltriquitron
This turned out to be key for a stunning sunset later on. Well, I had a tent to pitch and this was down into a little bowl-like forested section. The guy sharing the tent with me helped me compact the area where we decidedly to put the tent. The thick plastic sheet went down first and then the tent and stakes. 
snow camping
The latter are short but later proved they froze well solid into their spots. Also the tent covers flaps were packed with snow - ready for action!
Here we shared the tent for two nights until the other guy descended with other friends and I stayed another night alone. Cooking my dinner out there in the snow-covered forest proved so relaxing it was almost therapeutic!
snow cooking


That third night proved to be the night that the tent, the stakes and the sleeping bag would be tested much more. 
During the night I woke to an odd silence followed by a distant noise - it was the wind gusting down from the peaks and within 15-20 seconds it slammed into the tent, testing every single stake and tied line...forcing icy snowy air at speed through a lower ventilation opening into the tent. This was where the sleeping bag came into its own keeping me completely covered, dry and very warm through the -10 to -15 Celsius degrees wind gusts (...if not colder!) I was actually smiling seeing the gear work and do very well what they were designed for. The morning dawned with almost every drop of condensation frozen by the air through the ventilation although the tent itself inside didn't feel overly cold. 



It was time to pack up the sleeping bag (damp on the top a bit) and the frozen tent. This was when I could really appreciate how each stake had been frozen fast, not that I was complaining. Admittedly this all proved to be the easiest task of the day in comparison with what lay ahead - I still had to descend to the village and the icy wind would've frozen trail sections even harder. I briefly stopped and looked back at the camp spot and whispered thanks - thanks to the mountain for allowing me to be closer to its greatness. The trails were indeed more frozen and 2-3 times on steeper sections it was safer, and easier, to just sit and slide down on my backside and with decent snow trousers I wasn't getting wet either. There were a few falls/slips which might also have in part been due to a moment's lack of concentration. A challenging  descent but interesting and fun at times. 

sunset first night
I arrived in the village at the hostel tired but well content with the the four days in the mountain. Lots of lessons learnt and some gear got a testing as well. 

Note: I will follow this up with a post with more details on the route, trail and the Refugio Piltriquitron. 
Piltriquitron Viewpoint
Thanks to the following for their support: 
1. Garth Hovell @privateguideworldwide who sponsored the Doite Himalaya 2 tent and Doite Eagle Sleeping Mat. 
2. Supporters on my GoFundMe campaign who contributed to the Doite Siberia sleeping bag and Doite wool socks. 
**this support is absolutely invaluable in my preparations for the Trans-Patagonia Expedition. 
You can still show your support on my   GoFundMe page. 





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