Sano y Salvo: A Patagonia Ski Adventure

I’m not sure how many times it will take before I learn that I am not cut out to be a ski guide. Many times in the past I have made the mistake of judging avalanche conditions based on the expectation that without mandatory air or other obstacles, all members of our group could easily out run a small fracture and have a good handle on slough management. Another misjudgment I frequently make is the assumption that everyone’s idea of fun is the same (expending mass amounts of energy to get as close to danger as possible while coming out unharmed). I think it was the latter expectation that got me into trouble this time. 

Charlie Baker, a recently retired Fire Fighter from San Francisco’s notoriously radical Tenderloin district is no stranger to danger. My “client” was an extremely fit 61 year old, who runs and swims daily, and who was constantly exposed to stressful emergency situations for 30 years, in a job where navigating hazard and keeping ones cool is a necessity. A skier for years with newly found freedom on his time, the idea that he may want to join us on our trip seemed obvious. Who wouldn’t want to explore the rugged mountains of a foreign country with a group that barely speaks the language, being toured by a person who we barely know? At the end of our trip we had a planned 10-day winter camping and ski mountaineering mission. I knew this portion of the trip was likely going to be a little challenging even for an optimist like myself. For the rest of it I thought, “this is perfect”…

I’ll admit that even for me the travel was a bit strenuous. The bus, to plane, to plane, to plane, to 20-hour bus was more tiring than I expected. But still, the schedule wouldn’t allow for much rest if we wanted to actually ski while we were there. By the time we made it all the way south to El Calafate, Argentina I could feel my immune system breaking down and after one particularly long, cold day on a Patagonian mountain my body said, “enough”. What started as a cough turn to chills and soon forced a much-needed little break. It was at about the same time that Charlie made it known that he’d had enough as well. His legs no longer cared for mountain climbing, his chilled bones longed for the warmth of the sun, and he dreamed of trading his ill-fitted boots for flip flops. Like us, all he needed was some sleep, a real salad, and rest. Unlike us, his trip had come to an end and our challenges had really just begun.