Adventure Essays

Nova Scotia. I love the way it rolls off my tongue. It sounds like a fictional land from an unreleased Tolkien novel. It’s obviously not, but it sure sounds like it could be. In reality, Nova Scotia is one of the easternmost provinces in the wonderful country of Canada.

Surfer: Nico Manos Photo: McInnis Photo: McInnis

It has been dubbed “the drowning coast” as the loose, muddy, hills that make up the coastline erode and leave nothing behind but the cobblestones embedded deep in the earth. And it is these cobblestone remains that have created – and continue to create – one of the most wave-rich coasts in North America.

Surfer: Dane Anderson Photo: McInnis[/caption]
There are a few beach breaks, a few slabs, but the gems of this maritime province are the points. Mid to short period swells dished out by the North Atlantic run down cobblestone outcroppings and create extraordinarily long waves with consistent speed and uniform shape.
Crowded Lineup Photo: McInnis Surfer: Nico Manos Photo: McInnis

As a surfer in Nova Scotia, you’re not going to become a professional duck-diver, but you have every opportunity to refine your rail-game to unprecedented heights. Just look at my handsome friend Nico Manos for proof.

Nico was raised near these perfect points but didn’t start surfing until he was around 15 years old. Nearing 30, Nico has done in just 15 years what it takes most people a lifetime to accomplish. One look at Nico’s effortless approach and timeless style forces you to think of a goofy-footed Tom Curren or a cold-water Rob Machado. And it just goes to show that this little province has the potential to produce world-class talent.

Back in January 2014, my good friend and insanely talented surfer, Dane Anderson, and I traveled to Nova Scotia to stay and surf with Nico, his wife Jill and their amazing border collie, Ollie.

Ollie the Collie Photo: McInnis
 

The trip started about as bad as you can imagine. Upon entering the country, I got interrogated by the Canadian customs agents for hours. I wasn’t that worried about it at first because the girl that was interviewing me was an absolute knockout. I was actually enjoying the process... Then she left and came back with two huge, unfriendly, pasty white men that proceeded to take my phone, read all my emails and even called Nico and Jill to make sure my story about visiting and surfing was, in fact, true. It was insane!

Unfortunately, we did not hear from Dane for days! We were supposed to arrive about an hour apart, but he never showed. Turns out on his approach to land in Halifax, the plane turned around because the weather was too treacherous to land...

Surfer: Nico Manos Photo: McInnis

He spent the next 3 days in the Philadelphia and when he finally arrived, his boards did not. Luckily, the boards eventually showed up, the North Atlantic turned on and snow blanketed the coast. We received 26 days of surf during our month long stay! That is literally unheard of in Nova Scotia. We scored. Unfortunately, you probably won’t. But it’s always worth a shot.

ARCADE - Hey KC, thanks for taking the time to talk shop with us. Could you give us a little background on yourself, for those that do not know you?

KC DEANE - My name is KC Deane , age 32, professional athlete. I am living part time in whistler BC and the rest of the time out of a roller bag....

ARCADE - Everyone knows you as a professional skier but in the last few years you have really broken into the MTB / Freeride Scene. Tell us a little bit about this off season transition into being a professional multisport athlete.

KC DEANE - Yeah been skiing professionally for a while now, maybe 10 years. Biking has been a fun transition and pretty interesting. It's so similar to skiing, you know, how I have been shooting and filming over the years on the ski side. So I just did the same thing with biking and worked hard at it. At first I just wanted to be able to get bikes for free, then to make a little money, now it's become another profession. Just going year round as a professional athlete in two sports can be demanding.... But damn, it's a lot of fun!

ARCADE - Seems like you are a pretty busy guy now. How do you manage to juggle all your obligations? Filming, riding, skiing, sponsors...etc...

KC DEANE - Haha pretty poorly sometimes. It is a hard shift between season because bike and ski sponsors want you shooting asap .... so yeah, it is hard to balance from season to season.

ARCADE - We just watched the new edit you dropped for the Crank Worx Dirt Diaries . It was sick and entertaining. We definitely enjoyed it. Tell us a little bit about the filming process.

KC DEANE - Yeah was fun and very demanding produce. The first section of the video took 3 weeks of digging to prep and with only 8 weeks to film it was hard to balance. All the riders schedules were all over the place so to film a few of those scenes and get everyone in one place was tricky. Then directing things and helping Damien produce, there was a lot going through my mind. To be honest I don't balance things very well, haaahhha. But I do what I can.

ARCADE - Sounds like a rewarding but hectic process.... but probably a lot of fun to produce!?!?

KC DEANE - For sure, the best part was being able to work with my friends that I met through riding and to have people like Mason in the video, who originally convinced me to get a bike was so rad. In the end it was crazy to stand up on stage in front of so many people and not know if everyone would be stoked on what we produced. We wanted to make something that made people laugh and want to go ride, so it was a bit of a chance.

ARCADE - Well did it make people laugh?

KC DEANE - In the end I think we accomplished that. People really seemed to appreciate it!

ARCADE - So now that this project is complete where are you headed now?

KC DEANE - Now that this is done I'm in Switzerland shooting with Jussi Grznar and CaptureShareRepeat on a project for Swiss tourism.

ARCADE - Thanks for taking the time to chat with us KC.

KC DEANE - Sure thing. Anytime!!!

Arcade: Hey Michelle can you introduce yourself?

Michelle: Hi, I'm Michelle Parker. Often people say that I am smaller than they thought I would be in real life. I've been a professional skier for 15 years now, nearly half of my life. I've dabbled in quite a few different genres of skiing throughout my career from racing to competing in slopestyle and halfpipe competitions, to big mountain skiing, and now ski mountaineering. While skiing is by far my biggest passion in life, I find myself easily interested in other things. Some of those other things include biking (road, gravel, and mountain), climbing, photography, ukulele, cooking, and being outside.

Arcade: You have had what most people in the industry would call a long, diverse and successful career. What are some of the factors that are now leading you to explore ski mountaineering?

Michelle: Falling in love with climbing has broadened my interest in approaching mountains with a different eye. I absolutely love all human powered adventures as I feel like it adds a character-building opportunity, it's physically and mentally more challenging, and it certainly takes more experience... I also feel it is a more complex process and that is what I love about it. The journey up the mountain is often times more rewarding than the line down. Getting to spend that much quality time with the individuals you are on a trip with or in the mountains with has created some of the deepest friendships that I have. The people can make the journey and when you are trusting your life with them and vice versa, that relationship automatically becomes extremely meaningful. I'd say that plays a huge role in why I have been led to a different approach to the mountains

Arcade: You recently climbed Denali, when did that objective come into play for you and why climb Denali in the first place?

Michelle: I was on a trip to Alaska with Chris Davenport to the Kichatna Range. We flew past Denali a number of times and curiosity got the best of me. I asked him a million questions as he had a lot of experience on that mountain. By the time the trip was coming to an end, I remember mentioning to him that one day I was going to climb and ski Denali. We were hot off that trip. Like literally had just landed at the airport in Talkeetna, when I turned my phone on for the first time in a while and saw a tweet from Cody Townsend that he was going to Denali. I pretty well called him immediately and asked him about the trip. It was open-ended with no real expectations or goal other than to get to the top and ski down. No photographers, no filmers, just friends going on a trip. He put me in touch with the rest of the team which was Johnny Collinson, Ian McIntosh, and Shane Treat. They were all down for me to join and I ended up sneaking in a last-minute permit to climb the mountain. I came back to Tahoe after that Kichatna trip not knowing if I would actually get the permit. I was in full decompression mode after spending many days in the exposed terrain of the Kichatnas. I wasn't quite ready for another adventure like that one and I got the phone call to let me know that the permit had been processed and that I would be going to Denali. At that point in time, I was stoked, but honestly, I was kind of nervous to be going back.

Denali ended up being more mellow as far as the exposure went than the Kichatnas and I felt overall much more comfortable with the terrain we were on. I find that for me, I don't need to be in wild terrain, exposed, pushing mental and physical boundaries, all of the time. I like the balance. Denali was a nice balance to the Kichatnas trip. The trade route up Denali, in the conditions that we had, was really mellow. The trip was all about having fun. We used the hashtag #DenaliSummerVacation and it pretty well felt like a vacation.

Arcade: We know you spend a lot of quality time with some well-known athletes, but who are some of your favorite partners in the mountains?

Michelle: Hard to say specifically as I have many many good mountain partners. I love being out there with my girlfriends. I always come back from adventures with them feeling empowered and more confident in myself. It's pretty special to experience that with other women.

I have a group of really strong mentors in Tahoe with whom I absolutely love being out with. This group primarily consists of men and a couple of women over the age of 45 who have had years and years of journeying through our backyard. These guys have taught me a lot by just following them. They also inspire me to walk fast and be fit. This group includes Jim Zellers, Jim Morrison, Glen Poulsen, Dave Nettle, Bonnie Zellers, and other local Tahoe legends.

I also really enjoy being in the mountains with my boyfriend Aaron Blatt. He's all about the good times. Cooking backcountry pancakes, learning new things, and creating art in the mountains. I really appreciate his approach as it is different than mine, yet both approaches elevate the experience of being out there.

Then, of course, all of the people who I have the pleasure of traveling the world with; Eric Hjorleifson, Mark Abma, Chris Rubens, James Heim, Cody Townsend, Elyse Saugstad, Emily Harrington, Kimmy Fasani, Chris Benchetler....they all make for world-class mountain partners.

Arcade: So what is next for Michelle Parker?

Michelle: This year I am working on a series with Reel Water Production and Red Bull. We will produce up to 6 different episodes with a heavy focus on storyline. I've never personally taken this approach to skiing, but am really excited to see how it turns out. It's a lot more involvement in the process and really a lot to get done in a year, but I feel pretty laid back about it all at the moment. It's been a fun process. I'll also be filming with Matchstick Productions... always fun and always high action.

Take a trip with Michelle to Denali

 

Tom Asta was the first professional skateboarder to join the Arcade team and we knew from the start that his calm demeanor and technical ability fit perfectly with our brand ethos. His belief in Arcade products began after wearing the belts and realizing they are better than anything else he’s worn skateboarding.

The colorway of this collab belt matches one of Tom’s first graphics for Santa Cruz. He wanted to create something that represented the colors of where he grew up near Philly but mixed with the Santa Cruz vibe, hence the “Asta” tag that compliments the Santa Cruz patch on the belt.

Tom loves Arcade’s laid-back style and full attention to detail, similar to his approach to skateboarding.

Arcade x Tom Asta Collaboration Belt

Arcade: Hey Earl

Earl: Hey GP

Arcade: Thanks for taking the time to sit down with us.

Earl: No worries, I am stoked to be here.

Arcade: Could you introduce yourself to everyone?

Earl: Yeah, my name is Earl Christensen, I grew up in Verdi, Nevada. I currently live in Truckee, California which puts me close to the mountains for skiing in the winter and near the Truckee River for fishing almost year round. I split my time between painting and digital creation; working with watercolor, acrylic, ink, spray paint, and digital illustration.

Earl Christensen Portrait - Gp Martin Photoggraphy

Earl Christensen standing in front of his Eagle Mural holding the limited Edition Arcade X Earl Collab Belt. Location: Tyde Music, Kings Beach, CA   Photo: Arcade Belt Co.

Earl - Eagle Patches

Arcade X Earl Limited Edition Collab Patch. A shrunken rendition of the Eagle Mural above.

Arcade: Ok so what were some of the influences in your life that led you to Truckee?

Earl: I moved to Tahoe in 2003 to pursue skiing and to work at Squaw Valley. I lived on the West shore of Tahoe for 10 years, but being closer to the river is what ultimately led me to Truckee.

Earl Christensen Fly FIshing

Earl fly fishing on his home away from home, the Truckee River. Photo Arcade Belt Co.

Arcade: Tell us what inspired you to create your collection of river paintings and drawings?

Earl: I really got into fly fishing about five years ago and my art seemed to follow along. I started out just doing quick comic like sketches of our group of friends experiences on the river, everyone seemed to enjoy them so I decided to do some more in-depth pieces.

Earl Christensen - Brown Trout

Earl Christensen - Crayfish

Arcade: Your work seems to have a lot of energy and motivation within it. Seemingly “jumping off the page”. Some might say a fish is a fish, but in the instance of your work, this is not the case…

Earl: I really like to focus on the contrast in my work. I want you to know what something is from across the room and have my work draw you closer. I kind of tread the line between realism and comic illustration. I also like combining mediums and techniques to get less of a traditional style of painting. For example, I use ink combined with watercolor a lot because there is no eraser, it’s a risk vs. reward thing I guess. For my larger canvases, I mostly use acrylic and spray paint, but will also incorporate ink.

Earl Christensen - Steelhead

Arcade: I find it interesting that you sometimes start projects with pen and ink and then move the project over to a digital workflow. Can you describe that process?

Earl: I started taking my pen and ink drawings and rendering them into Adobe Illustrator quite a while ago, but two years ago I got a Wacom tablet that really allowed me to bring a hand drawn feel to my digital art. I start my process with a pen or pencil sketch that I take a picture of and then transfer to my computer. My tablet is essentially a 27-inch touch screen that I can draw and paint directly onto digitally. So the eagle painting, for example, was an ink and watercolor painting that was pretty much black and white. When I converted it to a digital painting it took on a whole new life, by adding color and changing some of the line work. It’s like a writer doing multiple drafts before a finished product, where in this case I draw something a couple times and am able to come out with a final product that can always be modified both in size and color palette.

Arcade: That is a really sweet workflow!

Earl Christensen - Fly Fishing

Location: Truckee River, CA. Photo: Arcade Belt Co.

Arcade: Clearly you have a strong passion for fly fishing. Tell us about that. How often do you get out on the river and what do you enjoy most about fly fishing?

Earl: I get out on the river as much as possible. We also have Pyramid lake fairly close which is one of the best still water fisheries in the world. I love covering a bunch of water and just being away from the crowds. The Truckee river has some truly amazing fish, but they make you work for them. Pyramid lake is more about the camaraderie of fishing with buddies and tends to be more crowded, but who doesn't want the chance to catch a 20-pound Cutthroat Trout!

Arcade: Agreed Pyramid is a special spot. The Truckee is a whole other beast. Those fish are smart….!

Earl Christensen - Rainbow Trout

Arcade: Ok last question, where do you see your work taking you in the future. Any hopes, plans, dreams or ambitions...?

Earl: I seem to be doing quite a bit of digital work lately which is awesome. I feel like it will always come full circle back to ink and watercolor though. There is something about how unforgiving those two mediums are that draw me back to them. The best part of fishing is exploring new places, so I see my brother and I packing up the raft and floating new rivers a lot in the future. I always want to make my art different from the status quo, which seems to motivate and drive me to explore new places. I'd like to do some more large format murals in the future, and of course to do more awesome collaborations with companies like Arcade.

Arcade: Thanks for taking the time Earl. We are stoked on how well the Eagle reproduced in our “tiny” format. The detail is there. Very cool to see that belt come together.

Earl: Yeah man.

Arcade: Well maybe we can get out to Pyramid or hit the Truckee River soon!?!?!?

Earl: Yeah that would be good, you know where to find me. Let’s do it.

Arcade x Earl Christensen Limited Edition Belt

 

The saying, “Less is more” seems to make more sense as you age, as life gets more complex. Forcing simplicity upon oneself sometimes is the only way to get rid of the clutter that distracts from one of the simplest goals of life, to have fun. Such is the case with Chris Benchetler. A career professional skier, Chris took it upon himself to ditch the excess, move into a van and travel the coast, from southern California to the northern reaches of Alaska. We recently caught up with Chris to talk about his move into his custom van dubbed, “The Stealthy Marmot”

View from the kitchen

Hey Chris, tell us about the Stealthy Marmot.

Chris: The Stealthy Marmot is a Mercedes Sprinter 4x4 2500 van that was retrofitted by the very talented carpenter, Scotty Smith. It took 45 days, from 8:00 am to nearly 2:00 am, 7 days a week to build out the van. It’s got a bed, kitchen, diesel heater, surfboard racks, ski and boot locker, charging stations, solar panels and my favorite piece, a table built out of reclaimed wood that was stylized to look like my “Old Man Winter” painting.

Old Man Winter Old Man Winter Van Table Arcade Surf Rack

That van sounds like it might be the ultimate travel rig but why do you choose Van Life? I would assume as a professional skier you get to travel around the world, staying in fancy lodges and generally living a pretty amazing life?

My wife, Kimmy Fasani and I had been marinating on the idea for a few years now. We spend a lot of time climbing, surfing and skiing all around California. Living out of a van meant that if we could simplify our life, we might get to spend even more time in the mountains and at the ocean. So this year, after doing a series last year with GoPro, I pitched the idea to travel up the coast, from San Diego to Alaska, filming my life as I go. The last GoPro project was successful and all of my sponsors could not have been more stoked on the idea.

 With 4 months of time on your hands it seems like you probably have a lot of goals and objectives ahead of you. Can you tell us where your journey will take you?

Climbing, surfing and skiing are all very important in my life so I wanted to showcase all the sports through the travels. Along the way I want to film, climb, surf and ski with the people I look up to and are world class in their sports.

 Can you tell us about some of those people?

I’ve been lucky enough to surf and go ride in the mountains with Rob Machado and moving north, I’m going to climb with Emily Harrington at Smith Rocks in Oregon, ski with Eric Pollard and Sage Cattabriga-Alosa and snowboarders Austin Smith and Curtis Cisek near Mount Bachelor, head to British Columbia to ski with Seat Pettit and snowboarder Bryan Fox, surf with Pete DeVries on the Canadian coast, climb with Matt Segal in Squamish and then hopefully surf with Rob again in Alaska and ride with Travis Rice their too. Well, that’s the ultimate dream, let’s see if it works out.

Tuolomne

That is a big list of heavy hitting athletes, but why involve climbing and surfing when you’ve become such an iconic professional skier?

I just think that I’ve lived my life trying not to be one-dimensional. People may call it the Jack of All Trades, Master of None… I love skiing so much but I don’t need to be so committed to it that I don’t enjoy anything else. I see it as a natural thing for anyone that loves to be outside. Plus, people love being inspired just to get out there, no matter what sport you’re doing. In mind it just makes sense.

Chris and Rob Machado

Ok so you often say your skiing is influenced by sports like climbing and surfing, but how do they truly influence you?

Climbing is newer to me but it’s something that has inspired me through the mental aspects of it. Trying something over and over and over is common with climbing. You have to push yourself so much to get to your mental and physical limits. But luckily it’s easy to do because you have a rope. With climbing, I’ve gotten more confident in the mountains because of how much time I spend in them in the offseason now.

For surfing, there is the obvious connection between the turn and how you can draw a line on the wave, but mainly because it’s so unpredictable and in the moment. A wave is different every time so it forces you to just go with it, turning and cutting back as the wave presents itself. I try to take that open-minded, unpredictable, in-the-moment approach to my skiing.

Last question, so what can we look for in your upcoming Stealthy Marmot travels?

Well, I will have four webisodes launching with GoPro. Episode one is based in California, episode two in Oregon, episode three in British Columbia and the fourth in Alaska. As I said the goals are to spend as much time doing what I love with friends. We will just have to see where exactly the Marmot takes me….

Safe travels Chris!

Thanks!

I first fell in love with this country on a virgin visit last summer. The addiction and incentive to return to Chile was instantaneous. At first glance, the appeal is obvious. It's been a long, dry summer that has led like-minded snowy souls to seek out endorphin releases through various forms of rock, water and dirt.

Through the looking glass, the simple act of snowboarding is most always the primary motive. Ascending a mountain under one's own power in order to stand sideways and glide down gives an unexplainable feeling of purpose. Yet, however infatuated I may be with the up and down motions, I've come to realize that the more I travel, the riding is merely the justifiable excuse to book that flight. It is the unknown that draws us in. The gamble of flying thousands of miles from home simultaneously keeps expectations humble but hopes limitless. It is the unpredictable weather, endless terrain, friendly locals, language lessons, delectable food, dangerously tempting piscos & uncertain itinerary that drives me back to Chile.

Roughly 24 hours after departing my home in Tahoe, I find myself back in a familiar setting. I move along the scree-covered ridgeline and the realization sets in. There is no other place I'd rather be right now. Upon reaching the saddle east of Falsa Parva, I see a four-legged creature beyond the bend. Not a soul in sight, I walk closer to find a purebred Chilean mountain dog. Coincidentally, this is the same exact mountain where I came across another random dog atop the peak, one year ago. A warm and furry greeting from my new amigo.

Coastal Cruising - September 8th

At a lusciously green farm house across the street from the ocean, spring has sprung its arms wide open with a shining sun. Over dinner one night, our gracious host, Coco Puig, describes the negative impacts of the farm raised salmon fisheries in Chile. He tells us that this non-native species and its demand is causing widespread resistance among the locals throughout the coastlands. Generations of fishermen are losing their jobs, pristine shoreline is becoming tainted with construction and nets are being placed only 1 kilometer out from Coco’s home break. Farmed fish are fed with pellets containing antibiotics. All throughout the towns along the beaches, black flags wave with a fish skeleton, stating their proud affirmation, “No a las Salmoneras.”

Return to the Mountains- September 16th

“I wake to sounds of pelting graupel falling on my tent through the night. I unzip the door during moments of silence looking for stars, but no luck. The forecasted tormenta proved valid as I drift back to sleep until I can no longer pretend. We share jokes & stories over coffee & fried bananas to pass the time.

Mid-day anxiousness reaches the tipping point and we set off towards the peaks that are surely as far away as they look. A winding approach through a glaciated ravine filled in by a massive slide path revealed the ruggedness that is the Andes. This is big country.

Diez y Ocho- September 18th

Hoy es el dia de Independencia en Chile, the largest holiday of the year. The law says that every house must hang a Chilean flag. It is a ghost town along the road from Santiago back up into the central Andes range above Farellones. After salutations with the crew, I am now the sole gringo on this mistico tour.

Using the lifts at La Parva to bump me into the high country, a long walk up the rocky ridgeline to 13,000ft awaits. To the west lies Santiago down the valley below as I stand on the edge of raw beauty. I came up here to get a view of Cerro el Plomo, a nearly 18,000ft beast to the east. The sight of this thing is jaw dropping. To get more acclimated, I lay down for a short rest against my pack and fall asleep for an hour. I rise to a soft, sun cupped edgeable line through rocks and into a wide hour glass coolie. Grande fiesta en la noche.

September 20th- Preparations

Rest day and pack for manana’s excursion. Plomo is calling. The Incas consider the mountain to be a sacred land, protecting its people living in its foothills. It was used as ancient burial grounds, where the mummy of a nine year old child was found near the summit in 1954.

Weather over the next few days is looking promising for a potential summit attempt. Internal thoughts question my physical prowess at high elevation. Curiosity is reason enough to pursue. The plan is to access the Cepo Valley via lifts at Valle Nevado. The river ascends directly to the base of the glacier, where Refugio Federacion is is located. There, I will make a base-camp and prepare for a long day upwards.

September 21st- Plomo Basecamp

The day begins at 7,700ft where I hitch a ride to Valle and hop on the chair with my ridiculously large pack. Dropping in behind the Tres Puntas t-bar, I become committed to this solo adventure. Company would have obviously been welcomed and enjoyed, especially for safety reasons, but no one could pull the trigger on such short notice. I have emergency protocols in place with friends in town, they shall see me return by nightfall on friday.

The approach traverses high along the north side of the valley to maintain elevation. I pass by what were once hidden cirques of mystery and add them to my future hit list. Stopping for breaks to alleviate my shoulders, I consciously slow my breath to take in the sounds. Rockfall, birds, the trickling river beneath the snow. I am in no rush.

 

6pm arrival to the Refugio, it looks like some sort of old orange submarine. I spend the evening boiling water for dinner and binge drinking tea. Prior beta indicated that the snow up here is less than ideal for drinking, as one may taste a sort of sulfury seasoning to their water. I can now attest to that. Looking out towards the peaks to the south, I am at peace sitting in this valued shelter. A blazing red smears the horizon line.

September 22nd- The mountain grants passage

Perhaps the absence of wind seemed surreal, I did not sleep much last night. I wake to a sunrise, equally- if not more- magnificent than yester-eve’s performance. I take my time getting going, as the southerly face I intend to ride holds light until 7pm. Drinking as much lemon tea as possible, the sunlight hits basecamp and with it, brings a wave of motivation and encouragement. Water bottles full and snacks loaded into every possible pocket, I set forth at 9am from 13,600ft.

Upon reaching the first bench above camp, the foot of the immense snowfield stares one in the face. I opt for what is sure to be a summer trail, right of the steep icy slope, alongside the ridgeline that consists of loose rocks. Refugio Augustini is found around 15,000ft, with direct lateral views to a steep bright blue ice field.

It became a slight science experiment of balancing strength with endurance. Building on previous skills learned in the mountains, nearly every trick was implemented. Hydration, breathing techniques, controlling body temperature, proper snack intake, crampon foot placement...

Five hours pass and the summit flags indicate I have arrived to 5,400 meters, just shy of 18,000ft. This new view to the North reveals a continuous paradise of the mountain range I love more each day. I see Argentina. I see the capital in a haze of pollution. I see the now seemingly tiny valley that I walked up yesterday. It feels as if weeks have passed since I’ve been up here. I suppose that is the power the mountains hold- A vortex which allows these memories to live forever.

September 26th- Cajon del Maipo

It is nearing 1 am and I am violently awoken as the pavement turns to a rugged dirt road. My friend, Juan Martin, is driving us in what he calls his “city car” instead of his truck. The grade of the switchbacking road becomes steeper and we start to bottom out. “From here we walk,” Fede declares. My two amigos help me with my scattered gear, but they are only dropping me off at the top of the canyon and heading back down to Santiago. Roughly a five hour round trip through the middle of the night to do a favor for a guy they hardly know. That goes to show the kindness of the Chilean people.

Gingerly floating down the loose rock and talus hillside, lights and a generator buzz become brighter and louder. Several minutes later, we are walking through the heart of a fully functioning hydroelectric dam,known as the Alto Maipo project. This large scale operation is highly opposed by many around the country. There are several factors which fuel the fire for opposition to the Alto Maipo project, ranging from recreational to environmental impacts. As of recent, the dam operations have limited and restricted access into the high Andes. Several kilometers from the approach points to the terrain, the road is guarded by a security checkpoint, resulting in the need for a midnight arrival. This land which rests beyond the gate is worthy of a national reserve. It deserves to be protected and shared with the public.

Men with reflective vests and helmets smile and wave to greet us in the tunnel. We continue out from the dam and back into the darkness, dipping off the dirt road. Hopping over sagebrush and boulders, patches of snow finally appear in the warm night. By moonlight, an outline of a grandiose face presents itself on the back wall of the cajon. We have arrived. I find a flat area near their friend Seba’s stone walled hut and lay out my sleeping bag.

September 27th- La Arena

In the middle of the night, two furry creatures found their way to my star capped sleeping corridors. A puppy licks my face as I open my eyes in a dazed state of drowsiness. Am I dreaming? The sun rises only slightly over the peaks to the east, but it is more than enough to showcase the surrounding glory.

The walled line of choice once again exceeded my sense of scale. While it certainly proves to be as steep as perceived, the ascent takes almost twice as long as originally anticipated. Small rock chips wiz by, snapping me out of the sluggish climb upwards and into an alert mindset. Unique outcroppings of rock act as checkpoints, as I break for small sips of water or nibbling on a Honey Stinger chew.

Several hours pass and I reach the dead end atop this classic sustained 1000m line, stretching all the way down to the Yeso River below, where I filled up on water earlier this morning. I meticulously chip away a starting point for my drop-in. Each movement is carefully conducted. I’m sure not to drop anything, as it would be total devastation. Axe in hand, I enjoy the ride.

After visiting the Maipo Valley and seeing the massive terrain features with my own eyes, and having experienced the epic beauty of the valley I can truly understand why so many Chileans have stood up to the Alto Maipo Dam Project.

The dam diverts precious water from the Yeso lake, which provides drinking water to the majority of the greater Santiago Metropolitan area. The energy created does not go to people living in the capital, but to other privately owned mining companies. The energy companies claim that Chile is in a crisis, thus justifying these types of projects. Yet as a whole, roughly only 18% of the country’s energy goes directly back to the people. That leaves a whopping percentage going to mining companies- unregulated and unaffiliated with the government.

Right now, Chile is producing an active generation of talented climbers, skiers and riders that are passionate about the environment in which they live. If they are any indications of what is to come, there is hope for the preservation and proper use of places like Maipo.

Muchos gracias to everyone that helped make this trip possible: Arcade Belts, Jones Snowboards Chile, Rodrigo Medina, Fede Mekis, Patagonia Chile, Seba Rojá s, Cristi án Wehrhahn, Claudio Vicunia, Goñi, Sole Díaz, Chopo Díaz, Andrew Miller, Forrest Shearer, Nick Kalisz, Alex Lopez and Josh Dirksen.


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