NATE MENNINGER: With my right hand clutching an ice-axe and my left hand grabbing a rock wall, I stepped out onto the six-inch ledge and prepared myself for the deadliest traverse of my life.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QbElYXC_PPo

Ever since I arrived in Chile, I’ve had my heart set on Portillo’s Super C Couloir: A 50-degree slope nestled within the jagged mountain peaks of Portillo, Chile. I knew that if I wanted to consider myself an extreme sport enthusiast, I had to conquer what so many refer to as the world’s most famous backcountry ski chute.

So in hopes of achieving my dream, I packed my life into a sleeper van and took off towards Portillo.

I spent my first day on the mountain (coincidentally my first time snowboarding in two years) relearning the basics: How to get off of the chairlift, how to control my board and how to properly fall. By the end of the day, however, I felt my snow legs renewed and decided that the next morning, I would attempt the Super C Couloir.

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With an alpine bag packed full of food, water, crampons and an ice axe, I set out on my mission, but unfortunately, no more than an hour into my hike the ski patrol found me and stopped me.

A storm was approaching fast, they told me, which not only meant rescue operations were a no go, but that I had a much higher chance of getting caught in an avalanche or falling to my death off the side of the mountain.

Considering I was alone, I found it best to turn my ass around.

I retreated to Santiago de Chile where I lived until the end of the month, taking advantage of any opportunity I could to ski - probably five or six times over two weeks. For my last trip up to the mountains, I joined a car full of Chilean men whom I met through Facebook. Andres (the driver) and I really hit it off, and we spent the entire day plowing through some of the best untouched powder I’ve ever seen.

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On the drive back home, I hounded Andres about the Super C Couloir, and even after he dropped me off at my apartment, I couldn’t stop berating him with texts. He was a great snowboarder, an amazing person and a backcountry aficionado, so I figured he would be the perfect partner.

On Friday morning, Andres finally acquiesced and agreed to the Super C, pending the conditions that he could acquire both an ice-axe and crampons within 24 hours – no small feat in South America.

Somehow though, the two of us managed to find everything before nightfall. All that remained was to precook ourselves some egg sandwiches, double check our equipment and get what sleep we could.

We left the next morning at 5:30 a.m. and arrived just after 8.

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Wasting no time, we synched our gear together, took a quick bathroom break then set out on our hike.

Most Super C goers purchase a lift ticket to facilitate their journey. That way, the hike itself only lasts about 2-3 hours. We however, be it poor, young adventures, opted out of a lift ticket and instead chose to hike the entire mountain ourselves. As you can imagine, our decision added almost 4 hours onto the hike.

The first hour was easy, the second two tough and the final three grueling. Not much more can describe the monotonous rhythm one creates when punching their way up a steep, 5,000 foot snow wall more than 14,000 feet high.

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A few hundred yards past the highest lift, the snow thinned out and traction became rather treacherous, so we stopped to put on our crampons for some added traction - this was my first time ever using crampons, but to my surprise they proved rather easy to handle. I did, however, accidentally tear through my snow pants at one point…

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Eventually, we arrived at the infamous Super C Traverse: a 100-meter slit in the mountain face that teeters across a frozen waterfall of sharp rocks and cliffs.  The slope was steeper, the ledge smaller and the drop longer than in any video I had ever watched before.

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Andres and I immediately realized the obvious fact: falling meant certain death.

Unfortunately, with the sun rapidly falling away, we couldn’t afford to waste time contemplating our approach. We had to move now if we wanted to minimized our risk of avalanche.

I stood up on my wobbly legs and grabbed the rock beside me for support. Before continuing on,  I looked to my partner.

Andres stared me in the eyes and with a twisted look of regret and confidence, shook his head no. He knew that the Super C was not worth the risk.

“Be safe.” I said. “But I gotta do this.”

With that, I leaned into the hardest first step of my life. The ledge was no more than six inches wide and barely even big enough for just one of my feet. To pass, I had to wedge my left foot down into the snow, then bend my knee outwards so that my right foot could swing up and through for my second step.

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But once that second step arrived, the traverse became somewhat enjoyable. Granted, I didn’t look down much and I hugged the mountain closer than I would a long-lost girlfriend, but with patience and my trusty ice-axe, I made it across in no time.

Relieved, I shot up the last slope as fast as I could.

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At 2:30 p.m., nearly six hours after I began, I submitted Portillo.

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I enjoyed a snack and a quick hike to the absolute summit where I snagged this amazing selfie video:

 

 

After sufficiently soaking the view in, I strapped on my board and traversed to the drop in. Gathering my energy, I tightened my bindings and stared down below my feet at the mountain pass’s switchbacks more than 5000 feet below me.

With one last goodbye, I dove over into the cavernous shoot.

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Deep powder, steep terrain and a beautiful sight awaited my first few turns. But before I knew it, I was snowboarding across the remnants of a recent avalanche. The fluffy snow transformed into an icy, wet fusion and demanded precise turns and increased caution.

Still I loved every second, from the icy drops to the powdery turns.

In 15 minutes I reached the bottom of the Super C and rejoined the groomed trail. The lift attendants gave me a free ride up the mountain.

Yes, I conquered the Super C, but I did so idiotically. When skiing backcountry, you should always carry a beacon, probe and shovel, and above all else, you must always travel with a partner. I, of course, am recommending everything I didn’t do, but that shouldn’t take away from its importance. The Super C is an extremely ski-able chute, and the traverse is definitely manageable without crampons or an ice-axe, but the endeavor requires serious preparation.

If you´re feeling lucky, though, get off your ass, tighten your backpack and start hiking!

Published by Nate Menninger