Our second and last full day in Argentina,Patagonia. It's sunny and the air is filled with anticipation and freshness of spring. After breakfast we find a taxi in front of the hotel. As soon as the driver sees our gear he opens the trunk and pulls out a few ropes and a bungee cord to strap our skis and snowboard onto the rusty roof-rack of his equally rusty car. There is such ease and flow in his movements that I start to question the necessity of overbuilt Thuele roof-racks and their special carrier pieces for each specific piece of gear. We fold into the taxi and make our way through Ushuaia, northeast up to Los Montes Martial in Glaciar Martial National Park at 1050 meters above sea level. The Glaciar Martial National Park is named after the french explorer Louis Ferdinand Martial who, like many European explorers, came to this area in the late 1800s. The glacier, which has diminished to the point of being invisible in this spring landscape, is the most important source of fresh water in Ushuaia. We encountered several groups of tourists walking up the muddy and then snowy path looking for the glacier and ultimately turning back realizing that they were looking for the past. I am wondering if they make the connection between global warming and the glacier not to be found. For me, this realization certainly made the issue at hand even more urgent. There is no substitute for personal experience.
We skin up to one of the cols to see what’s on the other side of the first mountain ridge: More mountains with much more jagged shapes. The jagged lines set themselves apart from the peaks that lost their edges to glaciers moving across. The seemingly arbitrary path of the glacier left a landscape of contrasts.
Photo credit: Einar Isfeld Steinarsson
Several groups of driven backcountry skiers pass us. I am thankful for Einar, our guide, who understands nature’s rhythm (as well as my beginner backcountry status :) ) A slow yet steady pace allows me to feel the texture of the snow underneath the skins of my skis and see the occasional moss or liken sitting in the snow. Did the wind blow it there or did it work its way up through the melting layers of snow?
My left ski-boot gives me a blister and I now remember that I had a blister at the exact same spot from backcountry skiing in May. That was in Vermont and the snow was equally soft, the temperature equally warm with rivers flowing and trees about to unfurl their new leaves. I feel a bit like Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day, just in a good way. I love this time of ski season. It’s gentle and inviting. Carving through the heavy soggy snow though reminds me that now for me it’s not the end of the season. I don’t feel as strong now, on my second day of the season, as I do at the end of a full season. The hours of paddle boarding and strength training do not carry over all the way. I love this transitional time when my body is finding neuromuscular pathways that haven’t been used in a few months. I love how our bodies do remember and at the same time can reinvent and shift as our awareness and experience grows. I so very much appreciate this plasticity of body and mind, of nature.
On our way down, we stop at a steeper aspect and learn how to self rescue. We start sliding head first and practice stopping the slippery fall by digging either an ice ax or ski-pole into the snow. The ax or pole serve as a brake and pivot point around which the body rights itself, head up and feet down, ultimately stopping the downhill sliding trajectory. The logic of applied physics at work! After slipping, stopping, climbing back up and repeat until we understand the procedure we get back on our skis and snowboard and enjoy the last turns in this sweet spring corn snow for this year.
Photo credit: Einar Isfeld Steinarsson
Thirsty, soaked in sweat and wet snow, and super content we arrive at the bottom of the slope. We stop for something cold to drink at the teahouse that looks like a place in New Hampshire at the outlet stores or on the New Jersey shore, decorated with roses and teapots and more flowers and cute sayings on the wall. This definitely doesn’t feel like a mountain bar or restaurant. Groups of tourists in sneakers and jeans who were desperately looking for the glacier that can’t be found anymore take photographs in front of the place while we once again squeeze into one of the super small taxis that always manage to get 2 pairs of skis, a snowboard, three backpacks and three passengers down the windy mountain road and back to Hotel Albatross in Ushuaia.
On the boat and the Drake Passage tomorrow!