Patagonian Ice Cap Kite Skiing

 

Snow kiting in Patagonia

November -December 2009

Southern Patagonian Ice Cap, Argentina & Chile

 

I used to stay in Patagonia for five months per year, for four years in a row. I loved the place and really got to know it well. When you stay on the beaten path down there, it’s still pretty amazing. But once you venture out to the remote corners, you really get the full Patagonia experience. There is an abundance of wild experiences to be had in Patagonia, the ice cap being just one of them.

This is my account of a season of kite skiing on the Southern Patagonian ice cap. It is the most amazing location for full-value kiting in my opinion, but bring your A game. It is very windy and wild.

 

 

“Man, you are going to fly. You are crazy.” – said the polish guy who just got back from a long ski trip from out on the ice cap. He said he could barely control his 1.5 square meter kite, and here I was bringing my 4 meter and the big powerful 8 meter kite. He continued to warn me about the wind out there. I was on my way to go and see for myself. It sounded interesting to say the least.

 

In the beginning of November I arrived in El Chalten, a remote little mountain town right at the foot of the Fitz Roy range. After gathering supplies and info, my partner Alex and I started out for the ice cap to ski and explore for a few weeks. We would be traveling by means of kite skiing, and would be pulling our sleds behind us. We would ski as much as the weather would let us, and drop camp and have fun in different locations. We arrived in early November to take advantage of better snow conditions, and the peak winds of January/February have not arrived hopefully.

We set out for Paso Marconi, our point of entry for the ice cap, which is just north of the Fitz.

 

Once out on the ice, we could then pull our sleds when there was little to no wind. But this was pretty strenuous, as all the gear to ski, climb, and live out there for four weeks was all pretty heavy! I hated pulling the sled up over the pass, but once out on the flats, it was just 95% suffering instead of the uphill 99% suffering.

 

But of course, the wind. It always came. Sometimes gentile at first, sometimes quick and harsh. But it always came. Which meant that kiting was almost always an option. When the wind was up, spirits were up. And with the legendary Patagonian winds, that meant that we were having a rocking party!

 

It also meant that we didn’t have to pull the sleds anymore. I would lash together all the gear on both the sleds, and tow the whole kit with the big kite. Pulling that kind of weight was always spicy, as you need lots of power to pull the whole lot through the soft snow. But it worked quite well, even if it was tricky.

 

Good weather usually doesn’t come often here, and definitely doesn’t last long. All the time we were having to sit tight for a few days until we could get out and ski. Many times we wondered if the tent would explode in the wind, but it held just fine. Patagonia has a reputation for fierce winds, and it is well deserved.

 

It was such a treat to use the kites out there. The wind was almost always there to pull you along wherever you might want to go, and would take you up slopes faster than a ski lift could! I would pick a few slopes anywhere 5 to 20 kilometers away, kite there, ski the slope up and down with the same kite many times, and then kite back to camp faster than I could believe. I would take out my GPS sometimes, to see how far and how fast I was going. One afternoon I made 80+ kp/h (50mph) with the GPS on, and was not even pushing hard. That evening I went much faster once the snow softened, but I was without the GPS that time. Injuries and horrible wipeouts could occur at those speeds.

At one point while pulling all the gear in the sled in high winds, I got slammed hard. The sled ran me over, and the kite hit the ground and relaunched directly down wind. I was shot through the air for a hundred feet, coming down hard but escaping serious injury. I had many of these sky whippers with the kites, leaving the ground all the time.

I broke my binding during that event, and it took almost a whole day of tinkering on it with the repair kit and multi tool before it would ski again. But it skied just fine after that, I just had to be super careful not to put too much stress on it while the heel was unlocked.

The views were amazing these weeks. The Cordon Marconi is where had our second camp. This was the view out the front of my tent while I fixed my binding.

 

After a few days of being on the ice cap, we made our way to the Cirque of the Altars, which is where Cerro Torre is located. After kiting for a few days in the area, I tried to solo the West Face of Cerro Torre, but turned back after not too much progress. That shit was scary. I was out here to ski mostly, and I was having a blast with that. No need to get killed while free solo climbing mushroom ice while there was such great kite skiing below.

 

Cerro Torre-

 

Snow kiting below the Cirque of the Altars., looking out on Mariano Massif-

 

Cerro Rincon

 

Kiting below Cerro Mariano Moreno-

 

Base Camp below Cerro Torre, with the expansive ice cap everywhere-

 

Kiting below Cerro Torre with the powerful 8m Mantra kite.

 

Making 80 mile loops around the ice cap- From camp, up to Gorra Blanca, around to Lautero, down to Mariano, south towards Paso Viento, and back up north to the Cerro Torre base camp. Life is good.

 

 

It was 21 days before we made it back to El Chalten. We arrived in the final days of a decent weather window, one of the only ones this whole season for climbing. I made a quick solo trip up Guillamet’s Fonrouge route in early December, but then the weather gods slammed the door shut. And kept it shut. The weather didn’t really shape up again until mid February, but I was able to get out once more to the ice cap in order to take advantage of the fresh snow that these storms were depositing.

I took a one-day ‘lap’ on what is normally the seven-day ice circuit trek ‘La Vuelta’, taking 15 hours round trip. I ran most of the trails while carrying my skis and kite, to get to the ice cap and back. Once on the ice, I used a kite to haul ass across this section, making the fastest time to date.

 

Another few low pressure systems moved in, making climbing almost impossible so it was back to skiing. Alex and I went out to the ice cap once again, this time for eight days up at the Gorra Blanca hut. We spent the next week skiing the surrounding areas, and I made a few long distance day trips during times of moderate, stable wind. These kites are amazing, and really open up a lot of terrain for exploration.

One of my most cherished experiences ever, happened one evening out there on the ice cap. I had absolutely perfect wind conditions, and the snow was firm and fast. My headphones were bumping my favorite beats, and the sunset was picture perfect. As I raced at full speed from Mariano, back to Cerro Torre and Adela for another lap, I was in perfect bliss. The sky, the snow, the moment; everything was perfect. Words do not describe the moment, you will just have to go see for yourself.

These are the moments we live for.

 

-Dave Turner

2014 is going to be a huge year for adventure as well, Check out my plans!