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Destination Antarctica: Greetings from the South Shetland Islands

Destination Antarctica: Greetings from the South Shetland Islands

[ November 12, 2009 - 4:43pm ]
1

 

Skiing Mag Editor, Sam Bass about to drop in to ramp on Weincke, 1st run, ship in  

distance.

 

Dek: 
Penguins, skiing couloirs, and an Antarctic survival story.

It’s around 4 PM on November 11, and we’ve just pulled out of a harbor where a couple of passengers disembarked at a Chilean Science base. We’re now on our way to Half Moon island, where we’ll visit a large penguin rookery, sleep for the night, and spend tomorrow skiing the slopes surrounding Mt. Flora on Livingston Island. After that, our plan is to round the Trinity Peninsula, which is the very end of the Antarctic peninsula, head due south through the Antarctic Strait and into Erebus and Terror Bay. This area was the site of the 1901-1903 Swedish expedition and the theater in which unfolded one of the greatest and least known of all Antarctic survival stories, the extraordinary survival saga of Dr. Otto Nordenskiöld and his associates. But you’ll have to look that one up. I’m here to tell you about the skiing.

As for yesterday, our second day on snow, I must say—at the risk of rendering the claim meaningless, that it ranked among my life’s best days of skiing. We put ashore among about 4,000 penguins—being careful, of course, to keep at least 15 meters away from the animals at all times—and traversed a mile or so of glacier above the top of dramatic blue ice cliffs and then climbed a steep ramp with axes and crampons. The sun had begun softening the ramp’s left flank, but when I dropped—sixth of six—over the 50-degree rollover, unexpectedly losing so much vertical in one turn, my attempt to scrub speed brought me to the ice-shellacked, shaded right flank where the snow was quite a bit less grippy. I got the hell out of there, trended left, and enjoyed about 1,000 vertical feet of chalk and corn.
   
Our second run saw the six of us—Scott Fennell, Steve Romeo, Kelly Okonek, Thomas Laakso, guide Glen Poulsen, and myself—again bedecked with crampons and axes, booting up a long, rock-pocked gully. The snow was promisingly soft during our ascent, but clouds came in as we approached the top and hardened it to a tricky-to-ski breakable crust. Putting skis on and locking boots into descent mode is a challenge on steep pitches, and I carved ski-length platform out of the slope, sunk in my axe and snow picket, and clipped in to avoid making a tragic misstep. The descent was thrilling and a bit gripping, as Steve and I hop-turned and ducked behind islands of rock to avoid being struck by chunks of crust knocked loose by skiers above us. We exited the convoluted chute, having managed to avoid becoming human pinballs, and rejoiced at the bottom and skated across the glacier to board the Zodiac among the watchful penguins.

Thanks for reading. I’ll do my best to check in tomorrow after our adventures on Livingston Island.  —Sam Bass

Skiing Magazine Senior Editor Sam Bass is heading to Antaractica for an 18-day ski-mountaineering trip. You can follow his journey—and watch a video interview of him before he took off at skiingmag.com.antarctica.

The first run

(1)

Very nice. I’m going to link

Very nice. I’m going to link to this post on my own blog. I’m writing about this, too.

Thanks,

Sammie.
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