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Breaking rules, breaking trails

Submitted to the SunMiles Clark's friend Julian glides down from the Cerro Lopez hut with a grand view of Lake Nahuel Huapi below. The backcountry outing was the first for Clark since he moved to Argentine Patagonia to catch the Southern Hemisphere winter.
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andamp;#8212; Editor’s note: Author Miles Clark, a 31-year-old Squaw Valley skier based out of Tahoe City, is living in Argentine Patagonia to get a taste of winter in the Southern Hemisphere.I only have two basic rules when it comes to backcountry skiing. They are good rules and they have solid reasons for being. Rule No. 1: Never hike on dirt with skis on your back, as you will inevitably end up walking down with the skis on your back. Rule No. 2: Never post-hole when you can skin. This one is pretty obvious. We have all post-holed and it is simply unenjoyable.Last Sunday was my girlfriend Brittany’s birthday. A friend, Julian, suggested we go backcountry skiing on her birthday. She immediately decided it would be a great idea. I agreed as well. Crackpot ideas like this always come up and then never happen once the day actually comes. I figured it was just another hair-brained idea that would just end up on the cutting-room floor. Especially since neither my girlfriend nor my buddy have any backcountry gear. Not to mention there isn’t much snow here right now, and a large portion of the excursion would be on plain dirt.The day before the scheduled mission Julian called and said that he’d pick us up at 10 a.m. the next day for the trip. In the morning the weather looked ugly and I was certain he wouldn’t show up.Then, at 10:12 a.m., I heard a honk from outside. Dammit! It’s him, and another friend, Niko. We didn’t have anything together and seriously didn’t think it was going to happen. We found ourselves standing in our pajamas in front of two guys decked out in mountain gear.We both scrambled through the house getting our gear packed and throwing on appropriate clothing while our buddies couldn’t stop laughing at us.We got our gear dialed in pretty quickly and jumped in the car. Our plan was to boot-pack up to the hut on Cerro Lopez (peak) and then above it for some steeper lines. As we drove closer the plan began to manifest itself in my mind. Still groggy, I realized what was really happening.I looked around for a way out and ended up locking eyes with my girlfriend. She was as happy as a pig in slop. Her eyes were big and she couldn’t stop smiling. It is true that having your first backcountry experience in Patagonia and on your birthday does have a certain appeal. With no way of getting out of it after seeing that, I resigned myself to the fact that I was going to have to go through with it.I found myself breaking Rule No. 1 right away. We tried to drive up an old dirt road to get to the snow line, but we got turned back by an unwavering gaucho (cowboy) who owned the land. After that we had to strap on the packs and skis and start slogging. The trail wasn’t too muddy and it started snowing pretty hard, which made the trudge a bit less defeating. When we made it to the snow line, things got tricky. Niko was breaking trail in snow slightly more than boot deep, and the incline was mild. Later, when it was my turn to break trail, the snow was waist-deep and the true battle began. We only had about 500 more yards to go to reach the hut, but it still took us over an hour to cover that distance. My girlfriend was borrowing my ski pants for the day and I was just wearing khaki pants with long johns. I got pretty soaked while wading through all the snow. The day had turned out fairly nice with a bit of snow and no wind. But when we reached the hut, the wind started cranking. With my wet legs it wasn’t a warm experience, and my two buddies were pretty soaked, too. Right there we scratched any ideas of going higher and even canceled lunch in favor of going down right then.Once we got all our gear on the cold didn’t bite quite as hard, and we had a chance to take in the view. It was one of the most interesting and beautiful views of my life. The foreground was completely white with snow-covered trees, bushes and mountainsides. The background was the vibrant green valley below infused with shining glacial lakes. Snow-covered peaks and towering clouds made up the background beyond.This contrast was one I’d never experienced before. I couldn’t take my eyes off the juxtaposition of white and green, of winter and summer. Right then I completely forgot about the arduous ascent and was thoroughly content to be exactly where I was.The waist-deep snow that plagued us on the way up was a blessing on the way down. Every turn was fluid and smooth. The skiing combined with the view made me feel like I was in another world. I knew that it was by far the most exotic place I’d ever skied.Once the initial pitch was past us we ended gliding down a switchback road. After few minutes of zigzagging we ran into a hundred Brazilians wearing snowshoes and tromping around on hard-packed snow. This gave us a laugh but we knew that most of them had likely never seen snow before. I definitely know that it is fun to strap anything to your feet and charge around on any kind of snow. Just below the Brazilians was a funky hut and the snow line. We stopped there and ended up knowing one of the guys running the tour for the Brazilians.We were tired, cold and wet, and when he invited us into the hut for a drink we didn’t hesitate. We stayed more than an hour warming up by the fire and drinking hot chocolate with cognac. Again I saw the look on Brittany’s face and I knew that this was one of the best birthdays she’d ever had. I took account of how amazing the day had been and how grumpy and not into it I had been. I decided to create an exception to my two backcountry rules. I will never hike on dirt with my skis on my back or post-hole, unless I’m in Patagonia where the view alone is worth any slog.


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