Saturday, October 18, 2008

Cordillera Darwin- a naturally selected ski traverse

Foreshortened aerial of the traverse, from centre left to top right.

It's 2am and I can't sleep. Nobody could with this wind, battering the walls and roof, shaking everything and everyone into a paranoid state. Except perhaps Dean, who can remain calm through anything, but I'm afraid to turn over and check. It sounds (and feels) as if a locomotive is passing over my sleeping bag and I'm lying on the tracks trying to keep a low profile, knowing that sooner or later it will pass. We're in Southern Patagonia and this is the way it goes. It's normal, they say. But if this is any indication of what the next thirty-five nights will be like, we're in for one hell of a ride.

It already feels like the elements are stacked up against us and we haven't even left the hotel yet! Kari and Dean are out checking on the white gas we bought yesterday, which seems to be more like pure benzene, I'm not sure. They were sounding pretty confused about it after setting up the stoves. It might also be lack of sleep- with the wind it was another restless night and today we face another full day of sorting gear, charging batteries, practicing crevasse rescue, and of course larding up on all-you-can-eat mutton at Punta Arenas' finest chinese food restaurant. Months of prep have now become minutes-- yes, the long-awaited boat departure to the start of our ski traverse happens on Tuesday morning, October 21st. This is the day we approach- and hopefully arrive at - the Cordillera Darwin, an abrupt mountain range marking the southern extremity of the Western Hemisphere. Leopard Seals, King Penguins, and all sorts of other critters frequent the surrounding waters, it's that close to Antarctica. The diversity of life up on the glaciers however will be much lower, consisting primarily of three ski tourers from Canada and a few condors waiting for an outcome. Few people have ever passed through this range and to our knowledge, none have made a lengthwise traverse of the mountains. I say "to our knowledge" because there is basically zero information on this area. Few maps exist- in fact none are better than low-res Google Earth that you're looking at here. For the last week we've tried for a fixed-wing overflight of the range but the weather has shut us down. And we slept in once or twice.

Check out the following maps. The first is an overview of South America, showing the general location of the expedition. The second is a closer inspection offering our start and end points and where we are presently located, in Punta Arenas. We hope to get picked up by a boat at the southeast end of the range after arriving at a Chilean Navy depot. The third map shows a detail of our proposed route from left to right. There are some gnarly sections as you can see, especially around Monte Darwin. Here, the distance between the highest peaks (around 2500m) and sea level is only 3km. If you go to the very south end of South America on Google Earth you can see the zone.

A sting in the tail

Yellow line divides the island of Tierra del Fuego into Chile and Argentina. Bring it!

The trail of blood from Kari's blisters

The right edge is cut-off in this one but the final point is just visible there. Our destination is Bahia Yendegaia, where lives one farmer (campesino) plus a few border guards posted in a cabin at the mouth of the bay. Depending on which side of the river we end up, we'll run into the campesino or the navy dudes.

The crew consists of myself, Kari Medig, and Dean Wagner- three friends cut from the same cloth. Three friends who will be touching the same cloth for the next month. As an afterthought to discussing how we'd set up this blog, I joked with Kari this morning that it could be a good legacy to leave, if for whatever reason we didn't make it back.

"Don't say that! I don't want my mom reading that," Kari responded. "It's true though," he adds, looking away...

Okay, have I built up enough drama? Good, because it seems to be the only means of drawing the attention of readers these days. With the help of Ryan Gill, our blogmaster extraordinaire (basically the only ski buddy we have back home with the expertise), these postings will be available for you to check out over the next month or so. Unfortunately this entry will pretty much be the only detailed account, since we had some technical difficulties with our original plan to email words and photos from en route to Outside Magazine with some high-tech gizmos. Now we're down to one sat phone and one battery so all you'll be getting is a UTM coordinate update every five days or so. Hopefully Ryan has a chance to update the blog so friends and family can keep track of us. Yeah, it's pretty simple and less dramatic but that's reality- believe it or not. If we make it more than five of the 120 kilometres, we'll be happy.

In the meantime you can check out our info package we sent to sponsors below. It's basically a too-much-information pdf that outlined the trip objective, motivations and information about ourselves. With this simple media kit (with Kari's sleek design) we were able to lure in the following companies who had faith in our endeavours, knowing fully that we might not see much more than the inside of our tent:

Gore-tex Shipton-Tilman expedition grant

Mountain Equipment Co-op
Genuine Guide Gear
Allen's Griz bars
Centro GPS
Iridium satellite phones
Visa and Mastercard

See you at the end of the trip.

Steve, Kari, and Dean

No comments: