Wednesday, August 26, 2009

New USB "Thumb Key" Form Factor

Holy Jeebus. This little doohickey is a 4 Gig USB key. $16.95 at

I guess you can't really call them "thumb keys" any more. More like thumbnail keys.

I better go put it on a lanyard before I lose it, or it drops down between the seats in my car into a place where I'll have to unbolt the seat from the floorpan to retrieve it.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Cycle To The Sun

Lynx + IdentiLynx : Don't Leave Home Without It.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Termas Geometrico

The view from the restaurant

High above Pucon, Chile

The final ski day of the trip was one of those occasional, strange days when your plans go to hell but what eventually happens exceeds your original plans anyway.

The day dawned gray and raining about 4 inches an hour. We soon found that the (sketchy) road up to Villarrica Volcano from Pucon was closed due to huge amounts of snow, white-out visibility, and the ski resort would not open. Since Villarrica essentially starts from sea level, we discussed the possibility of skinning up the (closed) road to the bottom of the ski resort and then proceeding upward from there, but since that would have amounted to more than 4,000 vertical feet of crappy, slushy, Whistler-wet touring just to get to the start of a real tour, and the real tour would be in a white-out blizzard, we decided to drop back ten and punt.

The usual backup plan for days like these are to spend the day soaking weary old skied-out bones in one of the plethora of local natural hot springs. There are all sorts of such spas in the volcanic regions of Southern Chile. Some are pretty nice, some are REALLY nice.

Gustavo, one of our guides, who has lived in Pucon for almost ten years, suggested a place called Termas Geometrico. I almost didn't go. I was tired and thought about simply spending the whole morning in bed, then wandering around the town of Pucon in the PM, which I hadn't gotten a chance to do. Gustavo is a very cool guy, but a man of few words. He winked at me and said "Trust me. Go".

So I went.

We drove about 45 minutes, then turned up a terrible road, pot-holed dirt road. A sign read "Termas Geometrico - 17 KM". The road was so terrible that I convinced myself that I must have mis-read it. It must have read "1.7 KM".

It didn't.

For a nauseating half-hour, we crashed, bumped, and skidded down this horrible, flooded dirt road in the middle of nowhere. It was pissing down rain & sleet. My head hurt and I almost blew chunks about 10 times. I felt awful.

Finally the van skidded to a halt in the Termas Geometrico parking lot. I wobbled out and staggered over to the hot springs restaurant to order a Pepsi to settle my stomach. The lady handed me a menu, and I ordered a Coke. On the side of the menu was a map of something that looked like a small neighborhood. I asked her in Spanish what the diagram represented. She replied something which, I assumed, I must have mis-translated: "that's a map of the hot springs".

Hmmmm. A map of the hot springs? You average hot springs facility has a pool or two or three, either in a meadow or inside a building.

I walked outside and looked around. What I saw blew my mind. Termas Geometrico is a huge, neighborhood-sized facility built entirely inches above a raging river inside a canyon with sheer rock walls about 50 feet high. It's about a quarter-mile long. Boiling-hot volcanic hot water seeps out of the canyon walls into catch basins. Freezing mountain snowmelt water rages out of other parts of the walls in huge waterfalls. Ferns and moss grow out of the rock walls. There are TWENTY-SIX (26) geometric soaking pools spaced along the canyon walls, inches above the river, most of which are built directly into the rock walls of the canyon. Each is a different temperature, a different elevation, a different shape. Each has its own name.

Each pool has a few different terrain features, such as an SUV-sized waterfall arching out over it, or a natural rock overhang under which you can hide from the rain.

Along the platform there are cabins in which you can change into your bathing suit. But do not drop your wallet or your keys - the cabin floors are also inches above the raging river, and are made of open slats.

Unfortunately, I didn't bring my camera. A hot springs is a hot springs, right? I did manage to snap a few pikkies with my phone, but the pikkies don't do justice to how amazing and unique Termas Geometrico is.

We spent the whole afternoon there, and I still only got to try about half of the 26 pools.

The raging river

One of the many waterfalls

All sorts of greenery growing out of the sheer rock canyon walls

Do NOT drop your wallet or keys

Tired skiers enjoying one of the geometric pools.

Most pools had the canyon wall as one side. This provided boulders and natural terrain features to sit or recline on as one soaked.


More cabanas

Plenty of places to relax in the frigid air, if it wasn't pissing down cats & dogs.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Rare Alpine Skunk Tracked on Villarrica Volcano

Pucon, Southern Chile

Today, the mission was to try to summit this steaming 10,000-foot beast and ski down from the top.

Finding a spot in the parking lot wasn't a problem. Seldom is, at Chilean ski resorts.

My equipment. Note the US Open 2007 credential lanyard serving as safety retaining strap to my ice axe. Like everything having anything to do with the US Hopeless, the credential lanyard is a piece of shit, the clasp shattered while I was using the axe about an hour after this photo was taken.

This is Llaima, the volcano next to Lonquimay, which I skied the day before yesterday.

Another view of Llaima, which exploded last ski season.

Could it be? The Rare Alpine Skunk has been to Villarrica?

Yup. Those tracks are unmistakably from a Rare Alpine Skunk.

What a beautiful place. Amazingly raw. A bit of Whistler, a bit of Hawai'i, a bit of Chile.

That Rare Alpine Skunk must be feeling pretty frisky, he's been all over this mountain. Note the steam flume emanating from the summit of the volcano.

Another view of the volcanic steam flume, this time with sunlight.

Closed chairlifts probably outnumber open ones in Chile. A combination of poor maintenance, old equipment, and employees who don't give a shit. Can't let it get you down....just slap on the skins and the crampons and take matters into your own hands.

Never made it anywhere near the summit of Villarrica today. Too dangerous. A storm is blowing in, it was very windy, the light was flat, and the whole mountain was an ice cube. The surface was about 4" of fresh powder on top of solid, unbreakable ice. After using my crampons and ice axe to climb about 1000 feet, I gave up on summiting and just did some skiing.

I like adventure as much as (probably more than) the next guy, but I really do not enjoy pushing it to a near-death experience (much less a full-death experience).

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Catching Up on a Few Days of Mixed Fortunes

Skunked at Corralco

Up until the point we arrived in Corralco to ski the vaunted Volcano Lonquimay, we were blessed with more than a week of skiing in which every single day brought either perfect weather, perfect powder skiing, or both.

As with all good things, our luck eventually ran out.

The good news is we stayed at a Tirolean lodge called the Anden Rose, which looked as if it was plucked off a Bavarian hillside and deposited in the Andes lock, stock, and barrel.

The owners are Bavarian, the hired help was Tirolean, the food was wonderful, the rooms were fantastic, the wine was delicious, but they had no internet.....hence my silence for a few days.

The bad news was our first day, in which were were to attempt to alpentour the Lonquimay volcano, started with huge rains and high winds, and headed further downhill when we arrived at the ski area to find it was closed.

It was pissing down rain, the snow line was way up at 9,000 feet (1000 feet below the summit of Lonquimay), and even the base area had wind gusts of 75 mph.

So we dropped back 10 and punted. Instead of skiing, we spent the whole day luxuriating in one of the local hot springs with some of the local talent:

The next day, Corralco was still closed, but the weather had improved a bit. Wasn't exactly sunny, but at least it had stopped raining in Whistler-style drenching sheets. The owner of the Anden Rose called the Governor of the Province and told him to get some employees up there and at least open the gate for us so we could try to ski.

After sitting at the locked gate for a while, a pickup truck appeared bearing the ski area's director of operations, who not only unlocked the gate for us, but opened up the day lodge, threw some logs on the fire, and arranged one cat ride for the gang up to the top of the lifts.

Corralco starts at about 5,000 feet. It has one small chairlift, and from there you can either ski down or alpentour further up the volcano. The snow at the bottom was corn from all the rain, and as I climbed on my skins, the corn turned to very firm corn, and then turned icy. Most of the gang turned back at pretty low altitude, but I kept climbing with Travis, one of the CASA guides. Travis is a snowboarder but climbs on a custom split-board with skins.

We made it up to just below 8,000 feet, but the winds were howling, a storm was clearly blowing in, the visibility was going to hell, and the snow was rapidly turning to ice and getting dangerous. We packed it in and skied down from 8,000 feet.

Unfortunately, I forgot my camera that day, but Travis took a pretty good photo of me taking my skins off up at 8,000 feet with the volcano Llaima (which exploded spectacularly last ski season) in the background. If Travis sends me that photo, I'll post it.

Today we drove down to Pucon to try to alpentour the volcano Villarrica tomorrow. Pucon is a really gorgeous little town, vaguely reminiscent of some of the half-Swiss, half-cowboy ski towns I visited in the Argentine Powder Triangle near San Carlos de Bariloche last August.

The weather is still nasty, so skiing Villarrica in the next two days is very much a question mark. We're supposed to get over a meter of snow in the next few days, and it has been raining to beat the band down here in Pucon (elevation 1,000 feet) for two days. It pissed down rain the whole way down from Corralco today, so even if the rain fell as snow up on Villarica, the conditions could still be very tough, and our window is only two days.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Powder 8s on the Volcano

Powder-8s Without a Partner: Is It Considered Masturbation?

The plan today was to go snowcat-skiing high atop the Termas volcano. Word came early in the morning that all 6 of Nevado De Chillan's snowcats were broken (translation from Chilean Spanish - the drivers either didn't show up, or showed up but didn't feel like working).

A half-dozen snowmobiles were hastily arranged to ferry people up into the untracked powder above Nevados De Chillan, but I smelled a goatfuck (skiers towed uphill behind snowmobiles with ropes?), so I got permission from the guides to alpentour alone. I rode the chairlifts up to the highest lift-served point on the mountain, slapped my G3 skins onto my 188 Coombas, and headed for the top of the volcano using Skunk Power.

I climbed almost 3000 vertical feet to the top of the "new" Termas Cinder Cone, which included navigating around an active volcanic vent spewing noxious steam.

Took me from about 10:30 until about 2 PM. Sat in the sun at > 10,000 feet, enjoyed some tea, ate a few bikkies I'd brought along in my backpack, enjoyed the views. I had the entire top of the volcano to myself. Didn't see another soul the entire afternoon, and the snow was completely untracked. Nobody had been up on the cinder cones since at least the last time it snowed, 3 days ago.

I was soaked through with sweat and really tired from blazing my own tracks for almost 3000 vertical feet, so as I sat there in the sun, I pondered whether to savor the untracked powder all the way back down to the Nevado de Chillan ski lifts pitch by pitch, or to bite it off in one chunk. Either would have been really, really fun.

I decided to do 50 turns, then stop to re-evaluate.

The snow was perfect. I cruised through 50 identical turns in the virgin pow.

I stopped to take a photo. It was getting close to around 3PM, but as I stood there evaluating my 50 turns, suddenly a 3rd possibility popped into my head. An evil thought. My decision was made. I took off my pack, put my skins back onto my skis, and climbed about 700 vertical feet back to where I'd started my descent.


I arrived back up at the top, took off my skins, pointed my skis downhill, and made 50 more identical turns, 180 degrees out of phase with the original 50, on the exact same piece of real estate.

Known worldwide as "Powder-8s". There's even a Powder-8 World Championships.

Like sex, Powder 8s are normally done with a partner but hey, doing it alone isn't so bad, either.

Then I made another 50 turns.

and another.

And so on......

Friday, August 07, 2009

Termas de Chillan, Chile

Conditions in Chile were perfect for tracking the Rare Alpine Skunk. It had been dumping for two days prior to our arrival in Nevados de Chillan.

Nevados de Chillan is reminiscent of Alta, but substantially larger. Mostly above treeline, very steep, very rocky. One major difference between Chillan and Alta is that the Chilean locals can't ski worth shit, so when conditions are good, you've got the steeps to yourself. Unlike Alta and Snowbird, a powder day doesn't consist of 400 local legends-in-their-own-minds elbowing you out of the way in the lift line and cursing at you. As is typical of South American ski resorts, more than half the terrain is only accessible via hiking or skinning. A very cool local phenomenon on the mountain are several volcanic hot springs. Traversing across an awesome, almost-vertical face in hip-deep powder, you'll get a strong whiff of sulfur. Suddenly, in front of you will appear a raging mountain stream erupting from the snow, and the water is hot. Steam billows into the sky.

All the indicators were pointing to a potential Skunk sighting at Nevados de Chillan:

20 inches of fresh powder? Check.

Steep and Deep? Check.

Snow soccer, anyone?

Nobody around. Virgin, untracked powder everywhere. Check.

No pasar? No problem in Chile. Just lift the ropes and go for it.

Yours truly, with CASA Tours owner David Johnson, aka Gomez.

Yours truly with the Antuco Volcano (see perfect snow-covered cone just above my head). Supposedly, when the conditions are right, Antuco can be skinned or hiked, after which you can ski about 6000 vertical feet down to a place called the M.I. Lodge. We had dinner at the M.I. Lodge last night, after which some of the group soaked in the hot springs. I was so beat from shredding hip-deep powder all day, from bell to bell, that I passed on the hot springs and was asleep by 9:15.

A quick plug for Maui Cyclery. My K2 Coombas have been working spectacularly. Great ski.

Looks like a Rare Alpine Skunk has been here.

Here too.

Here too.

The elusive Alpine Skunk is all over this mountain.

For the first skiing day at Chillan it continued to dump. Fantastic skiing, but sketchy visibility. Our adventures were mostly limited to inbounds, even with our hired guides, because skiing off cliffs obscured by weather and falling to our death was not on the agenda.

The second day was truly epic, in the finest sense of the word. Overcast but clear, miles of untracked powder, nobody around except our group. Not one minute spent inbounds, except when we took a lunch break at the lodge.