"Mongolia is kind of close, right?" Story about an attempt to ski everywhere in the world where there's snow. And in some places where there isn't. On and off-piste skiing on all continents, skiing into craters of live volcanoes, caving, climbing, photography, and travel.
No plastic ski hill in Brazil for me today. My flight schedules had changed, just by a couple of hours but it foiled my plans to collect another country on my way home. Oh well, Buenos Aires is an interesting city. There is no skiing, however. And I have skied Argentina already anyway.
In thinking about what I could do instead, I realized that it is not so much skiing that I crave for on these trips. What I am more after is adventure. Not danger and adrenaline rush, but new experiences, new sights, and something to remember the trip from.
So I ended up biking to Tigre, a river delta area north of Buenos Aires, and trying out kayaking for the first time. Tigre is a great place, a cross between Venice and jungle. It is a touristy area, with many boat and other services. But it is also a large area with a lot of nature, buildings from modest cottages to palaces, and many beaches and parks. There is also water-skiing and water-boarding, but since I only had a part of the day for my adventure I did not have time to set that up.
And I did not fall over to the water! Although some of the waves from boats and ships were big enough to go over our kayak and wet me. The river delta area is generally well protected from weather, but on the biggest rivers there is a lot of traffic.
Biking in Buenos Aires city itself is tricky, as in most other large cities. But it becomes much more relaxed in the outskirts. We took our bikes on a commuter train (Mitre line), rode a few stops out of the city, and then biked to Tigre along the shores of the Rio de la Plata. There are plenty of small suburbs, shops, and coffee shops along the way. When you reach Tigre, the Fruit Port is an area with plenty of shopping, mainly crafts and souvenirs.
On my previous trip to Argentina, I had heard about Mate, a local caffeine-rich drink, but did not get an opportunity to try it out. On this trip I finally succeeded. Excellent social drink!
For biking, there are city bikes and commercial services. I hired a bike and a guide (to teach me kayaking) from Urban Biking. Much recommended!
A funny thing happened on the way out. On the Lufthansa flight, the checkin agents wanted me to pay extra for my second suitcase. At the end of the day, it was classified as a ski bag and transported for free. Of course, inside I had my dear red mini skis, so of course it was a ski bag! Rules are rules, and Lufthansa clearly states that ski bags travel free all over the world. I did not get to use the skis, but they saved 240 dollars in this incident, so now I will always travel with them, planning to ski or not!
Buenos Aires visitors know that the town is full of steak restaurants. I only ate one steak meal, and even that did not want to stay down too long… others liked the food very much, though. Finding other type of food required some search, however. I really loved the Osaka restaurant: Japanese-Peruvian that serves Tapas among other things. And the place is in the Palermo part of Buenos Aires. How cool is that? Excellent food, and a super-international setup.
Sarcophilus Satanicus. Satanic meat lover. Better know as the Tasmanian Devil. We did all we could to ski with the devil, like we did with the kangaroo, but alas, it was not to be. Turns out the devil is in trouble. The numbers of this previously common animal are down at least 80% and maybe as much as 99% from 1990s, due to a mysterious infectious cancer.
We saw devils in captivity, but despite skiing through areas where they usually would have been active, we saw none in nature.
This article is a report of my four day excursion through Tasmania's mountains with my friend Tero. Despite not seeing the devils, we succeeded in seeing red neck wallabies and opossums, hit the biggest snowfall in recent history, and skied a number of interesting routes - including a possible first descent of the Jacobs Ladder road, an infamous route to the second highest mountain in Tasmania.
I always seem to end up in places that are listed under "world's most dangerous roads". The road leading to the Tasmania's premier ski area - Ben Lomond - has steep switchbacks at the Jacobs Ladder. This section of the road first caught our attention when we tried to enter the ski area after heavy snowfall. The road was closed, and it needed to be cleared with a grader. However, the grader had lost a tire. And the tire repair truck was stuck in snow. After a couple of hours and some amount of digging and pushing the truck was where it needed to be, the grader was back in action, the switchbacks were cleared, and we could proceed.
However, the lifts were not running. Due to the amazing snow fall? It turned out not. The lift system is antiquated and mostly out of action even when the customers queue up on sunny days. What a shame. This nice ski area badly needs a ski lift update. The Facebook page for the place keeps lamenting the situation.
But no problem. Tero and I decide to skin/hike up in freezing snowstorm with zero visibility, until the GPS and altimeter say we have reached the top of Legges Tor (1570 m), the second highest mountain in Tasmania. The base of the ski area is at 1460 m. We ski down and call it a day.
Our climbing at Ben Lomond had taken a lot of time, and we were the last ones to come down Jacobs Ladder that evening. Just in time. A few more minutes, and the road would have been impassable due to too much snow. A bit earlier and it would not have had enough snow. And I needed snow, because I wanted to ski the road. The snow fall on that day was exceptional; the locals said they had not seen similar amount of snow in over a decade. I have been unable to find reports of anyone skiing the road. Though it seems easy, if the snow is there. It is possible that it has been done before. Any Tasmanians know this?
So I skied the road in heavy snowfall and darkness, with Tero following me in the car and providing light. Note that I did not ski straight down the steep face, just the road. A metal net has been laid out on top of the face to prevent rock fall. Even with the heavy snowfall, the net was still mostly visible above the uneven rock. I do ski steep runs, might even ski as steep ones as this is. But I will not ski 50+ degree metal net. Oh well, even without the metal net or with more snow, avalanche danger would have been considerable.
Ben Lomond Facilities
On a sunny day Ben Lomond is a very nice place. The views are wonderful. The mountain is wide and open for skiing in any direction, assuming you have the ability to get back on your own. I saw the kangaroos on my way down the backside, shortcutting the mountaintop and the road to Jacobs Ladder. (Tero was kind enough to drive our car down while I had my fun. Thanks Tero!)
There are several ski lifts in the area, although most are indeed very old. There is a bar and a cafeteria, and a sports shop. And plenty of accommodation and cabins. This ski area has potential once the lifts are put back into action!
Cat or opossum or something else?
The other ski area in Tasmania is Mt. Mawson, located within the Mount Field national park. Mt. Mawson is a ski-club operated and tiny. To get to it one must hike 200 meters higher from the parking lot to the base of the ski area. This takes good 45 minutes, even if the wiki says 20 minutes. And more if you choose the longer route by accident (as we did).
We got to the area late in the day, just as the lifts were closing. The nature around is amazing, but we did not get to do the actual ski runs. However, just returning back to the parking lot from the base was a nice ski experience.
The national park would have been a good place to spot some devils, but we did not see any. The park has also been the last place where a thylacine (Tasmanian tiger) has been spotted in the wild. Now they are extinct.
With the lifts closed, we had no energy or daylight left to try to the official ski runs by climbing. Here is one of the main slopes (with more behind the ridge at the top):
Hiking to the ski area:
Road to the ski area:
Our base for Ben Lomond was Launceston. The city has a good number of restaurants and some bars, but has a sleepy feeling to it.
Oh, and about Launceston Before-ski: The place to acquire chains is autObarn. It usually makes sense to buy rather than rent, particularly if you are not returning to the same point after the end of journey.
Our base for Mount Field was at Hobart. This is the biggest city in Tasmania and has extensive night life. Most of the bars right next to each other on Salamanca Pl near the waterfront. Much recommended!
Kangaroos (or really, red necked wallabies):
Soup at Ben Lomond:
Me installing chains (with an instruction manual in hand):
More about the devils:
For the Swedish authorities: you need to go search for the Pirate Bay from Tasmania:
Photo and video credits (c) 2013 by Jari Arkko and Tero Kivinen
The summit ridge lights up, seemingly rising to the sky. The sunrise is about to start. I forget the cold night and the two vertical kilometers of climbing to get here. It is a magical moment to be at the top. I had not realised it would be possible to see the entire island of Bali in one view, as if I was in space.
And this is not all. When I started the hike, I had no idea about the conditions at the top, but it turns out that the highest part of the summit ridge is a steep path of loose ash and small rocks. I pull a pair of bright red Orthex miniskis from my backpack and ski down the highest 100 meters of the mountain. There is no record anyone else ever been equally crazy, so this must be the first descent from the 3000 meter Gunung Agung on skis.
And I am grateful for the mountain to be kind to us today. The night had been clear, the morning clouds were pushed away by the sun, the crater beneath us was beautiful but silent. The volcano is active, however. The 1963 eruption was a disaster for Bali. On our way up, we keeping showing our respect to the holy mountain. Every few hundred meters there's a a silent moment. Flowers. Burning incense. A small gift. Funnily enough, Oreo cookies were a popular gift. Or even small amount of money as bills.
And the climb itself is interesting. The environment around the summit ridge is special. Walking here is very easy, as the ridge consists largely of solidified ash. The material looks like rock, but feels like rubber. Soft, with a good grip. Above 2500 meters we had to climb a few hundred meters by crawling over rocks.
But as we started the climb from the Pura Besakih temple around 1000 meters, most of the climb went through jungle. And what a climb that was! The way to the mountain is a hiking path rather than a climbing route, but a very steep one. For the two kilometers of vertical we did only 12 kilometers horizontally. Much of the jungle portion was so steep that walking was not really possible. We held on to tree roots and lianas to hold ourselves on the steep dirt paths. In fact, lianas had been setup for much of the route, as if they had been fixed ropes. I had not used lianas for climbing before, and I was surprised how strong yet soft and easy to grab they were. Much preferred over ropes...
Around 2200 meters the jungled turned into an open, savannah-like area. Except that the savannah was at a steep incline.
The climb is long. I knew I would not have the energy to start climbing in the evening and climb through the night; so we left early and carried camping gear to set up base camp at 2600 meters. But I ended up not getting too many hours of sleep, staring at Bali's lights below in the clear night. And when I tried to sleep, the wind picked up momentarily to make me wonder if my tent would hold in place. Even as I was inside. The tent held on, but the wind noise kept me awake.
The wind subsided before we started a climb, but it succeeded blowing my guides' tent away when they came out of it in the morning. The tent was later found 500 meters down the mountain. No major damage, although some gear from inside the tent was lost. In fact, some of that gear fell to the fire at our campsite as the tent was flying over it. Perhaps we should have made further sacrifices to the wind and not just the mountain...
By the way, some of you may have noticed that I'm travelling even more than usual, for work. It is getting difficult to find free time. In Bali I lived next to the beach but did not have even the few minutes to go see the beach during my stay. This climb was the only 24 hours of free time I had in two weeks.
Videos and photos (c) by Jari Arkko. Tämä blogi on olemassa myös suomeksi. Och på svenska.