Morrison Hotel: There Will Be Cruxes

Highlights of neighborhood de Las Leñas: Cerro Torrecillas, at far distant left, Cerro Negro, Cerro Entre Rios and Cerro Martin. Seth Morrison

Ed's note: For backstory on Seth's South American swoop see the two earlier dispatches of Morrison Hotel/Southern Hemi: Argentine Junk Show » and Fear and Loathing in Las Leñas ».

The last three days of the trip were great except the wind factor. Some were driven batty by this, but it was just something you had to get used to be outside and ski. So just as soon as the video crew left, things seemed to fall into place for us. The winds persisted, but clear skies—and still no Marte—meant walking was all that could be done. It wasn't as bad as you would expect though.

DAY 1 and we, by chance, try the Caris lift to traverse from the the top to under the Neptuno lift to cut off some hike time. The Caris lift wasn't running, but when we showed up it was. The Neptuno never opened this day, so the traverse got us to the mid-way of Neptuno. The wind is blasting.

Our group numbered six. So we start skinning; ran into some Americans that had started from the base area and hike with them as we get to the Marte. And the piestero's are out checking for the green party wrist band—this says that you signed a liability wavier to go off-piste. This never used to be the case years ago. Some of us have it, some don't, so it's paper-work time for the have-nots.

A short way past the cluster I stop to wait and see if the others want to take a direct route. I wait for a while, then the rest of the group shows up just as a snocat that'd been taking clients up is coming back down. The driver stops and lets us aboard as well as our fellow Americans. Perfect; save some energy.

We end up getting close to the top of Marte, de-skin and ski toward the base of Entre Rios. At this point we bury our superfluous gear under rocks and start climbing straight up the Chamonix Couloir. We watched others skin up a nontraditional route, but saved walking time to the normal route. As we're booting up, breaking our own trail and about 30 minutes in, I notice the skinners' progress.

I was feeling that we made the wrong call. They were speeding along. But this was not actually the case. Out-of-sight high winds were making skinners hunker down for gusts at a time. As for us, not a breath of wind in the protected walls, but it was very difficult booting till halfway up; from there it was consistent snow with steps, but steep. Not having a snow tool, you had to flip your poles upside down and use them as anchors for each step; poor man's snow tool.

The crux proved to be a no-fall zone. It went like this: Standing on and the edge of a cornice that dropped toward another couloir and climbing up a near-vertical wall. It lasted for 30 feet, with the last ten leaving you feeling like you were climbing up a bowling ball. The snow ended up being best in the upper half; wind-blasted on the lower half. Still—fun to check that one off the list.

Day 2 was a shorter day. I had been sick for a few days already, but not like some of the others (who were status vomitus for a day). Being over-worked and over-hiked got me. Can't blame partying, since I never did. It's just the Las Leñas hack at the end of the day. So waited around for people to get motivated, but it ended up being Kye and myself going for the Cerro Negro.

I also got talked into testing out some new touring binding system. This turned my run into a experience in itself. We were able to get up Neptuno to start skinning. Then the snocat came past heading down and... and he kept going. So a bit of a laugh to forget a bit of the hike.

The last bit is a boot hike up to the proper start for Entre Rios. The steps here were very firm, just enough of the toe of your ski boot could get kicked in to hold each step. And if you fell it was a nice big slide down (and probably some snow burn). An hour and 25 minutes from the piste and we were ready to drop.

Taking a mellower chute due to some stock binding troubles on the touring system made for a "Extremeo" ski descent on an otherwise perfect run. It felt like I was going to loose a ski each turn; the touring system held up bettter than the production binders. Quite the challenge to make it down in one piece. So I'm going to have to go back and get that one someday. Watched Kye shred the gnar from the top through some exposure, made me wish I had my own setup. We were stoked though; another line we had been looking at in the bag.

Day 3 was our last day and to our surprise the Marte was open. All the lift attendants told us as we made our way up there—no line and up we go, with a bit of apprehension since the lift had been down for an issue with tower bolts... Then we are off to Cerro Torrecillas.

Following the same hiking path as Day 2 for Cerro Negro, we had some guided snowboarders in the stair master line. They were barely hanging in with their slippery snowboard toes, so we opted to make a new path out of the way of their possible fall zone. Their guide was using a snow tool to chop out bigger foot holds; sketchy for them.

We make the ridge then head out a flat zone to another ridge where you get the view of some of the lines on Torrecillas. Some of the boys had the past day off and they were pretty much running up there, so it was fun to be pushed at the high pace at this altitude; summit is 12,400 feet. (For one it was a time to fall ill and puke a few times on the hike. Brutal, but made it to the top and kept skiing for the rest of the day—pure trooper, and a lady by the way.) Even one of the snowboarder's skied. Pretty cool, that was a first. Everyone was stoked for the visual treat as well as the nice creamy snow after warm temps and the high winds we had experienced for the past six days. Some of us even got two more runs on the Marte, but lines were big and slowed our day with more euro barge in the lift line (there is no maze).

These missions were new runs for all of us, and most of the group had never even been to South America. So it was a treat, bonding times with new friends, and nice to be with motivated people making the most of having a down lift. One big run a day is better than a bunch of groomers and sloppiness down below the off piste. And testing clothing everyday is the way it should be in the mountains.