Notes for me: Metres of powder – elevation 4000m 13,000ft Coordinates -33 21′ 4.24″, -69 59′ 46.42″ Andes, Chile . Helicopter rotor sound, “the mountains are speaking to us”, followed a sentence describing an aerial shot flying over the mountain. If you put enough work in, places that everyone sees as dangerous, become normal. “Let me take you to the mountain, 5,4,3,2,1” The latitude is 10° N. to 57° S. The longitude is 70° W. to 80° E. The Andes Mountains are the longest and one of the highest mountain ranges in the world. They are located in South America and stretch 4,500 miles from north to south, along the west coast of the continent.
Let me take you to the mountain!
We finally broke through the hanging clouds and into the open blue sky, revealing pillowed peaks in every direction. All that could be heard was the whirring rotor sound of the helicopter as we ascended Alpamayo to a height of 5,947m. The euphoria had surrounded us, our faces were filled with mirth and anticipation as we flew through the sky. Once we broke the cloud line, our joy was clearly evident, as we overpowered the mechanical whir of the helicopter with our laugher, large grins and exhilaration.The anticipation built as we created personal illusions of snowboarding down the sheer faces of the mountain, where the wind would be roaring and the air so cold it would chill all other sensations that weren’t thrilling. Adrenaline was the only feeling pumping through our bodies. We were now only 410 metres short of the summit, as we were above 14,000 feet now avalanche warnings had been put in place by the local Andes authorities. The combination of high altitude and a slope of greater than 40° posed what most would view as a threat, I simply saw these dangers as hurdles to leap in order to reach the other-wordly famed powder.
From where I was positioned in the helicopter, I could see large wind lips being formed as the strong and rapid wind ripped snow clouds from the ground being transported in swarms. This shift of snow created pillows of pure, glittering powder underneath these wind lips. The freedom in which this snow moved, describes perfectly the way that my soul felt at that moment. Among the peaks, pillow and powder it became easy to forget the societal expectations and stresses. My soul was freed and had surrendered to the power and majesty of mother nature herself. Fifteen minutes later, we were hovering above a knife-edge ridge, with sheer cliff drops on either side that seemed to continue on for eternity.
“Two people can ride down this chute, the rest of our group will abseil into the neighbouring chute” said Ross the chopper pilot, I immediately jumped on the opportunity. After what felt like an eternity I strapped into my board, feeling a sense of peace overwhelm me because I knew that I now had a chance at handling what this mountain would throw at me. “Let me take you to the mountain!” Isana said with a hearty grin stretching from ear to ear. In my head I counted down, five, four, three, two.. yet I jumped the gun and dropped in early yelling “Dropping!”. Myself and Isana dropped in first, and, one by one, we each followed, descending into a kind of dream state of the perfect snowboard run that never ends. The jitters of dropping into such a steep couloir subsided as we entered three narrow couloirs descending towards the mountains basin.
The thought that a lethal terrible accident could happen at any moment captivated and riveted me. These chutes were unlike anywhere else, from the top they seemed like they were enormous elevator shafts, and from inside they were still just as thrilling. The white, soft powder pillows from the peak dissipated as we entered the Northern afternoon shadows. With nothing but the steep rock formations covered in shivering blankets of snow separating me from launching into the blue void of the sky I felt a sense of freedom as if I was a bird ready to take flight. It’s as if with each powder slash, I took another leap towards buttery perfection, with each perfect carve my board dug into the snow I grew faster. Now with each frequent turn, it felt as if sea swells of light, powdery waves were coming to me directly from the high velocity energy around me. It felt easy to merge and become one with the mountain side, with each carve I felt more relaxed among the alpine. To be at ‘home’ while hurtling down a sheer mountain face seems ridiculous to most, but as a true adventurer I felt a calling from within to push my physical and mental limits.
My energy seemed to transfuse into the wooden core of my snowboard as my vision began to blur, with steep chutes blocking my peripheral and the horizon line blurring into the snow as Isana and I began to descend back into the hanging clouds. “This is so gnarly bro! It’s like I’m entering warp speed dude!” yelled Isana in excitement as he hurtled down the chutes. As each precise carve increased my speed, my connective sensation between my physical body and the mountain seemed to weld together and quickly Isana disappeared from my sight. Moments seemed to be dragged out into hours, yet everything went so fast as I floated rapidly down a cushioned cliff faces. The sound wind roaring by began to resemble F11 fighter jets on take off, a dynamic and howling emission of wind. Despite very little visual stimulation I felt like a bird riding the wind, feeling all of nature’s static and dynamic energy. Once I broke below the clouds, I could see Isana again several hundred meters below me.
After dodging exposed rocks and carving down the steep spines of the Andes, Isana and myself surrendered ourselves to the beauty of nature after the final run as we waited for the helicopter pickup. The glittering, silvery coolness that radiated under the sunlight against the snow assaulted yet comforted my senses at the same time. The fresh and crisp mountain air was carried on a breeze so chilling and pure that it sent raw emotion through every pore of my body. The breeze howled, piling up mounds of snow drifts, despite it being a clear day. It seemed that everything on the mountain that surrounded us was swallowed in white. I was right in the middle of nature, feeling the air and hearing the light crunch of soft powder breaking. Nature was at work here and I now understood that I was simply a slight ripple on her creations.