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Skiing the Frozen Continent of Antarctica: Part 1 | 01/27/2010, by BrennanLagasseThe Beginning
"You're on board!" The words, spoken by Doug Stoup, confirmed that my dream of skiing in Antarctica would actually come true.
"You'll be working with the Warren Miller film crew, and you're going to need to turn over a bunch of paperwork next week. But you should probably go secure your plane ticket first and let's connect Monday".
Astonished, dumbfounded, and amazed, a feeling of overwhelming joy came over me unlike anything I had ever felt before. Finally, after a decade of dreaming and months of scheming I had been given "the golden ticket". Of course Charlie's golden ticket was to meet Mr. Wanka and tour his candy factory. Mine was similar from a skier's standpoint; the opportunity to not only visit my seventh continent, but to make turns there as well.
Ever since I had read about Doug Coombs, Doug Stoup and company skiing the Vincent Massif in 1999, the highest point in Antarctica, I dreamed that someday I would make it to the frozen continent and ski. Doug Stoup is a world renowned adventurer and polar explorer. He also happened to be the expedition leader facilitating a trip of a lifetime for snowriders to visit and ski the Antarctic Peninsula this past November, 2009.
This year's trip was a second chance- I had missed out of the 2008 cruise, which unfortunately for everyone involved, didn't ever manifest into reality because the boat that was scheduled to take passengers to Antarctica had an engine failure. Sure, I felt sorry for those that had their hopes so high and weren't able to make it to the ice. But honestly, not knowing if that was going to be a one-off trip I was equally stoked to hear that Doug had planned another expedition for November 2009.
That gave me hope, as well as some time to figure out how I was going to be a passenger. I was excited, but also nervous because I knew there was no way I could ever pay for the trip because my lady and I just don't have that kind of money. I kept plotting and planning, trying to figure out how we could afford it and how Jillian would get a multiple week window off from her teaching duties in the middle of fall. When Jillian realized just how expensive it would be for the both of us, she looked at me one night and said, "I'm good with not going. This is a dream you've had since I first met you. If you can figure out a way to make it happen, just do it".
As time progressed, money was saved, money was spent, and I had come to believe the only way I could be a part of this trip was to either get funded somehow, or hope that there was some work-trade I could offer that would be acceptable. Time evaporated quickly, and I found myself finally working up the nerve to call Doug this past summer. I had meticulously put together a grant for the Hansfund Foundation and thought this would be a good way to approach Doug, to let him know not only have I been working on this proposal, but I was fully ready to "sleep in the broom closet, eat leftovers from dinner, and clean the bathrooms with a tooth brush" if that allowed me a way in.
Doug agreed to meet me in Truckee in early August, offering the sort of conversation I will never forget. Initially we were feeling each other out, but quickly we were talking like two friends that had known each other for a lot longer. He told me about skiing with Hans Saari who the Hansfund memorializes, about the expedition he and Doug Coombs were on in 1999 that planted my first seed for wanting to ski Antarctica, and about his numerous trips to the North and South Pole among several other amazing adventures he had done and was currently planning. By the end of our conversation we had made a connection, and even though he left me with "it doesn't seem good" regarding my chances for getting on board, I knew I had made a solid effort and wouldn't regret anything.
When the news came that my grant would not be funded, I called Doug to let him know. He told me to stay in close touch as there might be a way I could come aboard to help one of the film crews. As September rolled into October and I realized the boat was set to leave port from Ushuaia, Argentina November 5th, I tried to be as persistent as I could without being too annoying to make sure Doug sincerely felt how passionate I was about going on the trip. On October 23rd I got the call.
Unexpected Moments of Bliss
Heading back to Tahoe I was ecstatic. Jillian was as well. Thankfully, my plane ticket wasn't too difficult to lock down, and now I just needed to get all the paperwork in and make sure there wasn't any gear missing from an Antarctic quiver. The following few days went quickly, but I got just about everything together that I needed. Then, Jillian and I left for a music festival that I had almost forgot we were going to amongst all the planning and energy I was feeling from getting ready for the trip. We left on the night of October 29th, driving under an almost full moon down to Joshua Tree National Park. This "festy" had been in the plans for months and even though Phish is some of my favorite music on Earth, I thought about bailing on the scene due to my other plans. Good thing I didn't as a quick climb in "J-Tree" and three days of friends, amazing music and Halloween festivities was about the radest way I could have ever thought to start my journey.
Driving ten hours home from So-Cal on November 2nd wasn't really that sweet, nor was getting out of the car to immediately start packing for a ski expedition, but the UPS boxes that were stacked against my door were pretty sweet. Black Diamond had sent me a pair of their killer Guide Gloves, Patagonia and Marmot each sent me a pair of amazing ski pants, Bridgedale sent some great sox, and Beyond Coastal sent me some of the best sun care products I've ever used. I was still feeling a little rushed getting it all together, but I contemplated the song lyric going through my head, "but it all works out, I'm just a little freaked out", and pulled it all together to make my shuttle the next morning and start the journey to Antarctica.
The flight from Reno, NV to Dallas, TX was smooth, and luckily I was in one of those travels headspaces where I could fall asleep at the snap of a finger. As I waited for my next flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina in the Dallas airport an older gentleman approached me. I had my ski boots with me as I never check them when I fly, and this guy came right up to me and said, "Are you going to Antarctica?" I smiled and answered affirmatively as we sat down for a chat. Turns out John would be our oldest passenger on the ship at 73 years old! I was blown away and so enthused by feeling John's excitement. After crunching into my economy section seat for the flight to Buenos Aires and answering a few questions as to why I had ski boots on the plane, I passed out not regaining consciousness till we were on the ground.
"Shit. Time to deal," I thought as we landed because when you're flying to the tip of the South American continent through Buenos Aires more often then not you have to change to the domestic airport. This meant collecting luggage that I hoped had arrived, and using my horrendous Spanish to get to the airport that was apparently an hour away through the heart of Buenos Aires. Luckily, I saw John, and Jeremy Jones who was also on board for the trip. The three of us split the ride to the domestic airport and even though I was worried about making my connection, our ride was smooth and it was an honor to be sharing stoke and exchanging some stories with Jeremy.
Running up to the security line I was a bit surprised to see so many people in line and so many flights scheduled for departure in the next half an hour. "Oh yeah" I thought, "This is Argentina." It was time to take a step back, shake of my American impatience and go along for the ride. Getting through security was fine and while I waited for my next connection to Ushuaia I met up with a few other travelers who were on the same adventure as me. One of them, Simone, was an old friend of the late, great Doug Coombs, and we quickly passed the time waiting to board our next flight.
Still in and out of consciousness on the final leg to Ushuaia, my travels which had started the day before at 6am were about to come to a momentary stopping point. As the flight attendant alerted us that we were on our final descent into Ushuaia, I looked out the window and thought I was in Alaska. A huge channel and incredible mountains sprawled out in every direction. I was blown away by the terrain in every angle. I couldn't believe the potential for lifetime's worth of skiing just outside the relatively small town of Ushuaia.
Upon landing Doug met us at the airport. We loaded into the pickup he had rented and cruised into town to get dropped off and ready for the welcoming party that night. After I jumped out of the truck and checked into "the Kush" hostel I took a walk through downtown Ushuaia. Permagrin had set in as I was realizing this was not a dream. As I connected with a few other fellow travelers we all loaded into some taxis for the gathering dinner, which was conveniently set right on the Beagle Channel. This is the passage of water leading out to the infamous Drake Passage, the confluence of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, which ultimately leads to Antarctica. Meeting more rock star skiers and other adventurous souls, enjoying amazing Argentine wine and watching the sun set for hours over the neighboring Chilean side of the channel was a definite treat. After enjoying our multiple hour meal Doug told me I should plan to meet the Warren Miller crew in the morning and find out what they had in store for me.
It was not very easy to sleep that night. I was way too excited. But I managed to dose off and wake up pretty refreshed even though I still found myself scrambling to find the place Doug told me to meet the crew in the morning. When I did we all gathered in a conference type room of a fairly posh hotel as huge fat snow flakes began to fall outside. Everyone introduced themselves to me, and what a pleasure it was. Knowing I would have literally done anything to be a part of this trip, it was almost too surreal to see who I'd be working for: Tom Day and his assistant Collin from Warren Miller Entertainment, professional photographer Keoki Flagg, and professional skiers John Morrison, Kip Garre, and long time hero Andrew McLean. We chatted about gear logistics and filming plans for a while before Tom told me he thought I should get up to glacier for some turns. His plan was to shoot some interviews with Andrew, Kip and John, and since there really wasn't anything left for me to do, skiing seemed like the perfect answer...
Read the complete story here:
The Martial Glacier
Crossing the Infamous Drake Passage
The Lemaire Channel
Somewhere off the Antarctic Peninsula
Unloading the Pack in the South Shetland Islands
Ship of Fools
Another Powder Day in Ushuaia and the Epicness of El Chalten