Another day of beautiful sunshine and amazing terrain yesterday and after traveling through the Neumayer Channel overnight, we awoke to the mountains referred to as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs towering over the ocean and the Clipper Adventurer. One of the most beautiful places I have ever been.
Photo Kellie Okonek.
After a quick group pow-wow, we decided to set our sights on a peak not too far from the boat and explore some steeper terrain on its flanks. The zodiac landing was located right near a penguin rookery, and since most of us skiers are so preoccupied with skiing, it was nice to be forced to take a moment and observe such social curious creatures. One thing is for sure though, since they poop pretty much everywhere and anywhere, they are kind of smelly creatures as well.
With Sam Bass from Skiing magazine joining our group, we were a group of six today, and after a short skin, a wide and steep ramp was an obvious objective for our first run of the day. Very firm snow conditions make side-hill skinning challenging and technical, and after pushing the skin track as high as we could, we finally gave into bootpacking up the ramp.
Nearing the top, the angle was easily pushing 50 degrees, if not more, and I was glad I had my crampons on. Honestly, I wished I had been using my ice axe, but my whippet provided just enough security to allow for a fun and exciting climb. When we reached the col, an incredible view of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was top be had and impressed us all.
Photo Scott Fennell
On the decent, the snow was still firm, not yet softened by the sun, and the steepness of the pitch sent our knees into our chests. One by one we descended the 1000′ ramp and regrouped below. Running into Tom Day with the Warren Miller crew, we set up for a quick shot on a ridge in front of one of the bigger peaks in the area, Mount Francais, which rises over 9K’ above the ocean and has yet to have a ski descent. I believe this is one of the main objectives of another party coming to Antarctic in the near future, so that may change soon.
Continuing further downward, we actually found some decent powder and made turns to near sea-level, where we transitioned for another round of skinning. Rumor had it there were some couloirs on the peak further to the north so we traveled in that direction to investigate. The rumor was true, with multiple lines popping into view and we picked one that had a combination of steepness and tightness to keep things interesting.
As with many of the lines down here, and opposite of what we are used to back home, the lines seem to be steeper than they look from below and once again, about half way up I was wishing I my ice axe was in my hand instead of on my pack. This time though, I took a moment and removed it from my pack. Surprising us, the couloir didn’t top out, and it also didn’t provide a flat spot to put our skis on, so we each found our own nook, and chopped out a platform to make putting them on easier.
Photo Scott Fennell
To our dismay, the clouds had rolled in and turned what was nice soft snow on the way up, to firm, crusty snow for our descent. I think everyone was feeling a little bit gripped, but with cautious turns and a little sidestepping through some on the steepest sections, we all descended without incident and felt relieved when we reached the bottom.
The clouds have rolled in today and we are traveling to a different zone, so we will see how things shake out. Might be a day with the penguins. Ciao for now!