We have just pulled into Porto Williams after several days of heavy seas and a quick stop at Cabo de Hornos (Cape Horn). The idea started while having beers in Ushuaia during the Ice Axe ill-fated 2008 ski cruise. Chris Davenport and I were discussing our dream trip to Antarctica and which yachts and captains were suited for a ski expedition to Antarctica. The seed was set. I was so excited about this Ice Axe trip as I attended the world premiere of the Australis Antarctic Ski Odyssey at the Boulder Theatre Oct 28, 2010. As I watched Chris’s expedition on the big screen I began to dream of the expedition that I was about to engage in.. I left that night in Boulder and knew in a month I would be on the same boat skiing lines in Antarctica.
We all met in Ushuaia, Argentina on Nov 13th. On my flight was David Dodson, a tall athletic gentleman from Boston. He had been to Antarctica before, but was told by an Ice Axe Guide (Dan Starr) that he should consider going on the Australis Ice Axe Expedition. Also on the flight was longtime friend and expedition partner Kristoffer Erickson. Kristoffer and I have been on quite a few expeditions together, including down to the Peninsula several times to go skiing. He is an incredible ski mountaineer, alpinist, cameraman, a North Face athlete (www.thenorthface.com/athletes) and just a great person to be with in tight situations. Kip Garre was also on my flight and was an Ice Axe guide for me on several expeditions. He was stoked to be heading south again to ski the last frontier. We also flew with Rissa Ivory, a beautiful mom from Mill Valley that I had met earlier this summer, who wanted an adventure. I told her I had a perfect expedition for her to join. John Rader from Dallas, Texas, had already arrived. He had some great backcountry experience and could tell he was very excited to join the Australis Ice Axe Ski Cruise. There were 3 gentleman from Moscow: Ilyas, Sergey and Nickolay. Nickolay was an experienced heli guide in Kamchatna and had his own travel agency.
This was my going to be my 10th expedition to the Antarctic Peninsula and my 23rd to the continent. The Australis is a 75ft. Sailing vessel captained by Roger Wallace from Australia, first mate Magnus from New Zealand and the cook, Sara. Ice Axe chartered the Australis for a 21 day ski adventure to the Antarctic Peninsula.
We started the expedition with a few snafus — which included the Russians needing Chilean visas and my skis not arriving Ushuaia til the 14th — but had our departure dinner at the famous Kuar in Ushuaia and toasted to a successful expedition with Pisco sours. We set sail on the morning of the 15th. We had a quick but bouncy crossing with 15 ft. seas but favorable wind that had us arrive the South Shetlands in 2 days (58 hours). We stopped on Livingston Island to visit an Elephant seal, gentoo penguin colony and giant Petrel colony. It is one of the few elephant seal colonies on the peninsula. There are about 640,00 elephant seals, with a majority of them breeding on the Island of South Georgia. The males can grow to be 16 feet in length and weigh 8000 lbs. The females can get to be 10 feet long and 1700 lbs in weight. The pups were just being born and it was amazing to watch.
We skied a ramp on the northeast side of Livingston in sloppy, wet snow and whiteout conditions, and topped out around 1200 feet. We visited Half Moon Island. We decided to move south, and did a ski tour on Charlotte Bay, but were turned around due to whiteout conditions. In the afternoon we skied the Northern flank near Portal Point (1000 ft.) and did several laps in good snow conditions. The next day we skied 2 Islands near Wilhelmenia Bay: Eastern Ridge of Delaite Island (1500 ft. technical skiing on hard snow) and the prominent face of Emma Island (1500 ft.) Emma offered us classic Peninsula skiing with a beautiful summit and views of water on all sides.
We attempted to go through Anvord Bay but were turned around due to the think sea ice that had moved in and blocked our passage further south, and this was a theme throughout the expedition. We went north through the Neumeyer Channel and moored at Port Lockroy, A scientific base that is funded through the British Heritage trust and home of a large Gentoo penguin colony. There are about 320,000 pairs of Gentoo’s, but only several thousand at Port Lockroy. The Gentoo gets about 2 feet tall and can weigh up to 13 lbs. The Gentoo will return to the same colony where it was hatched and the chick will take about 25 days before it will be able to feed itself. After a visit at the Port Lockroy station we went for a ski tour on Wienke lsland and climbed a route on the southern side on Jabat Peak. We also skied 2 couloirs further north which we named Wintervention (which was featured in Warren Miller’s new movie called Wintervention). It was a steep couloir that topped out at 2200 ft. and was about 48 degrees at the top for 600 ft. The other couloir was named The Russian Way, and was 50 degrees and technical grade 4. Both defined true ski mountaineering and both offered great snow conditions all the way back to our landing. Some skied another lap and picked their way through a crevasse field on the eastern flank of Jabat Peak.
A marathon was being run on Damoy point the same day, and we had visions of doing a rescue as the course was run over heavily crevassed area, and there were 60 or so runners runners on the course. I believe the race was run without incident. We attempted to pass through the Lemaire Channel, but were unsuccessful due to heavy ice conditions. Instead, we turned and went North to Paradise Bay. We skied a ramp on the northern side of Bryde Island (1500 ft.) that offered great snow conditions, variable weather and fantastic views of Paradise Harbour. We skied to the water and returned to the boat for a BBQ.
The next day we visited and empty Chilean base called Gonzales that had several thousand Gentoo Penguins and a Shag (Commerant Colony). We moved around to Anvord Bay, where some of us skied a ramp out of Neko Harbour and saw a small Gentoo Penguin colony and some Crabeater Seals. The Crabeater is the most common seal (more than 10 million) and can grow to be 8 ft. in length and weigh 500 lbs.Kristoffer set up a top rope for all of us to do some ice climbing and everyone had fun swinging some tools on an overhanging 150 ft. section of glacial ice.
The next day we climbed and skied Mt. Rojas on Lemaire Island (we climbed from the southern side) to top out at 2200 ft., and we all did 2 laps on good, south-facing snow. We then moved to the northern entrance of the Neumeyer channel and climbed and skied a peak in low clouds and snow on Weinke Island called Mt. Noble. We ascended Sex Troll ridge and went across subsidiary mushroom summits to summit of Mt. Noble (2000 ft.) and skied the Sex Troll face through a heavily crevassed area in semi-whiteout conditions. We finished and returned back to the boat around 10 p.m. for salmon dinner and a great day!
We woke early to snowing and heavy wind but attempted a steep route on Lion Island. We turned around as all of us did not like the snowy condition and wind loading on the aspect we were climbing. The next day we headed for a beautiful couloir on the east side of Ronge Island (1700 ft.) We named it Directissima (as we could see the Australis at the bottom of the run) and it offered great snow conditions on 45 degrees, sustained all the way to the water. We then visited Cuverville Island for a visit with some Gentoo penguins, and climbed and skied 2 couloirs opposite Ronge Island (1200 and 1500 ft.) on the northwestern aspect that offered STEEP descents (50 and 46 degrees respectively). Amazing day!
The next day we moved north to Brabant Island, entered the Chiriguano Bay, and climbed and skied a south-facing unnamed peak that we called The Farm (1200 ft.) We skied 5 laps with incredible snow condition that I described as blower pow. Great way to end the expedition with a BBQ and sunny skies, caving glaciers and a couple Humpback whales. (40,000 globally, 50 ft. in length, females slightly larger 56 ft., 32-35 tons in weight and can live as long as 80 years).
Overall the Australis ICE AXE Ski Cruise was a huge success, skiing classic Antarctic Peninsula lines, couloirs, Islands, bowls that included ski mountaineering. I have been skiing for over 10 expeditions in the area and on this trip we only repeated 2 runs. Everyone had a fantastic time and were sad to head back over one of the roughest crossings of the Drake Passage that I can remember. 30+ ft. swells and 60 mph winds. We did make a brief stop at Cabo De Hornos (Cape Horn) and sailed back to Porto Williams an onward to Ushuaia — arriving today to some fresh snow in the mountains. We are all excited to get the skis out again for one more ski up the Marcial Glacier, then to return home to our respective families.
The snow at Squaw is in full winter conditions. David is heading to Jackson, John is heading to Washington DC for his son’s wedding and Kristoffer is off to the Barrel Ice Festival in Bozeman, MT. Rissa can’t wait to see her kids. The Russians are heading to Chamonix. We all have spent an incredible time full of memories and great skiing, and all I can think about is next year’s return on the Clipper Adventurer (Nov 8-2, 2011). You can find more info at www.iceaxe.tv.