The Good, the Bad and the Foolhardy

Extreme hike-a-biking—or “hoggin’,” as Kenny Smith and his inner circle of adventure-hungry buddies call it—is the entrance toll to the limitless realm of backcountry freeride.

The Good, the Bad and the Foolhardy Chasing Shadows in Chile's Andean Highlands

My eyes burned in the parching air as I squinted through blinding rays of midday sunlight at the imposing, snowcapped anvil that loomed above the immediate horizon. I paused to catch my breath, fixating on the broad, flat summit of Cerro El Plomo, its alluring upper reaches girdled in the grasp of a sprawling glacier.

For a moment, the spectacular sight made me forget about the nagging headache I’d been trying to ignore for the last few hours as I steadily pushed my bike through the boulder-strewn barrenness of the Central Andean highlands. It was a blissful reprieve, but within seconds the steady pulse that was pounding against my helmet straps reminded me of just how quickly we’d been gaining elevation on our first full day at altitude.

“I think we’re gettin’ close to the base camp,” I said, turning toward filmmaker Spencer Johnson, who was lying on the trail below, his head propped on the bulging camera pack he’d been lugging all morning. “And it looks like it’s gonna flatten out after that next corner.”

“I don’t know if I’ve got it in me,” Spencer sullenly replied. “I’m feeling lightheaded, and I’m out of water.”

There was no need to push our luck. This was just the beginning of a weeklong exploratory bikepacking traverse through a rugged stretch of the Chilean Andes. Together with photographer Margus “Raptor” Riga and professional freerider Kenny Smith, we’d come in search of unridden chutes—and to document our latest escapade in the niche realm of backcountry freeride. As longtime friends and adventure buddies, we also hoped to show what can happen when the Raptor, Kenny and I—three thrill-seeking mountain goats with a combined maturity level of the average teenager—convene in a far-flung location to test ourselves in a largely unfamiliar environment.

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