Though the day started out a bit greybird, it looked as though the sun would burn through the clouds as we shuttled to the shore of Livingston Island to ski yesterday. The highest peaks on the island push over 5K’, but they are heavily glaciated and crevassed, making travel extremely dangerous and difficult. Therefore, our objectives for the day focused on the smaller peaks, which still offer steep and challenging terrain.
We were off the ship by around 8:30 and as we skinned upward, a hole in the sky cast a beam of sun over neighboring Greenwich Island and alluded to weather soon to come our way. After gaining the ridge near the summit, we switched to crampons up rime covered slopes for the final few feet to the summit, which offered great views of the next peak we hoped to climb.
Though rather insignificant, the peak we were on offered a nice run downward with some pretty good powder as well. We are now skiing in the South Shetland Islands, which seem to have much better snow conditions than on the Antarctic Peninsula itself. On the way down off the upper face, I thought I saw a small fracture in the snow, but when I turned around to look when reaching the rest of my party, I saw that it was actually a block of snow breaking off near the opening of a crevasse, and a small chill when up my spine. Yikes!
Photo Scott Fennell
We continued down to the shore and arced fast turns, as all of us were super psyched to be skiing soft snow, as opposed to the firm and crusty snow of the previous days. We had wanded a little bit of the skin track on the way up, but forgot a few on the way down. Luckily, the other group we were teamed up with was still above us, and we were able to reach them with the radios to assure that they would not be forgotten.
After a short break to eat some food, it was back to skinning towards another heavily rimed peak with a pretty pointy summit, which was not guaranteed that we would reach. We were traveling through some glaciated terrain, and for the first time on the trip, our guide Glen Poulsen thought is was necessary that we rope up. Within about ten feet from clipping in to the rope, his ski pole punched through the upper snowpack and uncovered a very deep crevasse. However, it was rather narrow and we were able to ski directly over it, which again sent a creepy feeling though my body as I gazed into the darkness underneath my skis.
A few more switchbacks brought us higher and back to crampons for the remainder of the ascent. Under the rime, the craziest blue color emanated from the bottom of each boot print – something that I have never seen before. We reached the ridge which led to the summit, but the sun was really cooking now, and combined with all the powder and exposure, we decided not to push things and began our decent from where we were.
Glen skied first and got things moving pretty good, as a wave of slough flowed down the face and littered the slopes below. One by one the rest of us skied down, searching for any soft snow that was left, which there wasn’t much of. Keeping our speed up, we skied back over the open crevasse and farmed as many turns as we could on the low angle slopes below, linking wiggle turns as we descended.
Wanting more skiing, we bopped back up to the eastern shoulder of the peak but got stymied by a big cornice a bit earlier than we had predicted, stopping us short. A long, cruiser powder run brought us back to the shore and a zodiac ride back to the ship, as well as a bar-b-que on the back deck. Pretty cool for Antarctica.
Currently, we are waiting out some windy and gusty conditions before heading out to go skiing again. They are predicted to decrease, but you never know and we are all keeping our fingers crossed.