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Destination Antarctica: Leaving Ushuaia

Destination Antarctica: Leaving Ushuaia

[ November 6, 2009 - 1:05pm ]
Post-tour beers in Argentina.
Dek: 
Keeping up with the Warren Miller Crew and preparing for Embarkation, the moment we've been waiting for all week (and all year, for those of us who were part of last year's aborted attempt).

To check out a photo gallery from Ushuaia, click here.

The second-floor hallway of the CesarHostal, our simple but comfortable lodging here in Ushuaia, rings with the clank of metal on metal as guides stuff carabiners, ski poles, avalanche shovels, and all manner of gear into bags and packs for the Embarkation. I capitalize the word because it’s not just another small event. It’s the moment we’ve been thinking about all week—or all year, for those of us who were a part of last year’s aborted attempt. Sure, Embarkation is just one of a series of things that need to happen before we put ski to snow on the Antarctic shores, but it’s a big thing.

One guy was probably more disappointed than anybody after last year’s trip was cancelled—Doug Stoup, the architect of the whole plan. But he couldn’t help it, and he was left with the Herculean task of picking up the pieces and reorganizing this trip. But he’s managed to bring many of the same faces back to Ushuaia again—a testament to how much this group trusts Doug and believes in his dream of bringing a big group of skiers to Antarctica. Click here for an article about Doug and this expedition from Tahoe-area writer Robert Frohlich, a client on the trip.

I’ve ski-toured above Ushuaia for the past three days, making deposits in the physical-activity bank because I know I’ll likely be flat on my back in the rolling seas of the Drake Passage. I spent Tuesday making my first turns and stretching my legs skinning with friends up el Glaciar Martial. Wednesday was more ambitious: I tagged along with the Warren Miller crew—chief cinematographer Tom Day and assistant Colin Witherell, and athletes Andrew McLean, Kip Garre, and John Morrison. Every ski shot Tom and Colin will capture on this trip will be the result of climbing up and skiing down; there are no chairlifts, cats, or helis to make it easy. I don’t consider myself a slow ascender, but trying to keep up with these speedy climbers is a character-building experience.

Tom and Colin climbed up a couloir on the sun-baked northwest wall of a high, narrow valley and filmed from a small promontory while I followed the talent up and down a few fun ramps and chutes on the sheltered southeast wall. At day’s end I was whipped, with that triumphant glowing sensation in my trembling legs.

The following day, yesterday (Thursday, 11/5), I spent on the glacier again, this time with Kevin and Jessica Quinn and photographer Adam Clark, practicing knots, and self-arrest and crevasse-rescue techniques. Kevin, aka Quinner, is a big, affable, relentlessly positive guy and former pro hockey player. He owns Points North Heli-Adventures in Cordova, Alaska, is serving as the guide manager and will be my ski guide for the first few days in Antarctica.

And today, Friday, we board the ship and steam out of the Beagle Passage. My roommate on board is none other than Steve “Randobewan Skinobee” Romeo, webmaster of TetonAT.com, blogger, trusted gear tester and reviewer, and one of the most passionate skiers I’ve ever met. He’s got a bright smile and an infectious, uncluttered passion for skiing. I’m pretty excited to geek about this whole endeavor with him.

But first we need to cross the Drake, the edge of which is eight hours away once we leave the pier. I just overheard Quinner reading tomorrow’s forecast from PassageWeather.com: 50-mph winds and 30-foot seas. Booyah!  —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.

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