SEARCH BY LOCATION:
Skiing the Frozen Continent of Antarctica: Part 2 (The Martial Glacier) | 01/31/2010, by BrennanLagasseIn part 1 of "Skiing the Frozen Continent of Antarctica", Dark Star gets the opportunity of a lifetime to go backcountry skiing in Antarctica. Part 2 picks up with a trip report from his first turns of the trip in Ushuaia, Argentina...
As I walked back to my hostel the snow flakes were falling faster by the second. Knowing I was scheduled to switch accommodations that evening, so that everyone on the expedition was sleeping in the same place the night before departure, I did what I could so I could repack after skiing with ease. Of course that did not work as I had to rip through just about everything I brought to get geared up. As I went through my final mental checklist I realized I was heading to the glacier alone. No worries I thought, just about everyone who was planning to ski was also up on the glacier with their guides doing some practice work. This was a chance for the guides to see the riding strength in their parties as well as run through potential rescue scenarios, and I rationalized that being solo would be fine.
Ushuaia, which identifies itself as "the southern most city in the world", is absolutely amazing for ski access. I walked right out of the hostel door, a quarter-block to the main street, got in a taxi, and for a few dollars was at the base of a dormant ski area in ten minutes. I'm sure when the season is full-on the snowline comes down farther, but in November, snowline was at the very end of the access road. Actually, I had to walk a couple of hundred feet to start skinning, but seriously, the backcountry terrain you can get to in a few hours time is worth a trip just to ski in Ushuaia.
After cruising up an inbounds run that still had snow on it I quickly gained the top of a chairlift and what seemed to be the top of the resort. This took about twenty minutes and from there the terrain really opened up to a mixture of snaking couloirs, and few open ramps, and a major headwall. Noticing most of the Ice Axe people were in their groups and not wanting to bother anyone I started up towards the headwall as it seemed like the safest route where I'd at least be in sight of people if anything shady went down.
Just then one of the guides came around a corner with his group and noticed I was cruising solo. He told me the closer I got to the headwall, I'd see how it's actually easier to do two huge switchbacks to gain the high point. He also told me that multiple people had been skiing here and the snowpack was relatively safe.
Stoked, I motored up towards the headwall, made a turn towards the right, and after several hundred feet I knew I had to peel off and climb one of the many couloirs I was standing a the base of, and then finish up with a lap from the top of the headwall. Changing course, I split off to the right of the canyon and skinned up until the slips started to happen. Switching to crampons and ice axe mode I stared climbing. The steps were brilliant although in reality there were a few inches of powder over a pretty firm icy layer.
Furiously falling snow flakes had been going in and out for the last hour or so. When they came back in, I was alone in a couloir that was climbing steeper by the second. Sticking an axe pick, whippet, and front points into the slope, and I started to hear that voice. You know, the voice that snaps you out of whatever you're doing and begs for better judgment? Usually, I agree with that voice because it doesn't always mean turning back, it rather mandates a closure inspection of what one I'm getting myself into.
My thoughts were I had good visibility, and there were groups below me adjacent to the line I was in, so I was sure someone had noticed I wandered up there. I was moving smooth, the ski was going to be powder, and if the top sloughed out the firm layer would be edgeable. So I continued upward, that is until I got to the crux of the line and there was no powder, only firmness, and that voice asked me if it was really worth it. Agreeing with safety, I kicked over to a sheltered kink below the cruxy spot, gathered my head, switched to ski mode, and dropped in.
Steep, tight, walled, and freshies made those first few turns of the trip amazing. Then I started biting through the powder and into the hard layer. To be honest the skiing wasn't bad, but when I got down and started back up to the top of the main headwall I came across a group that had seen me. "Pretty firm up there huh?" I asked if they could hear the "KahhhK" of the firm layer as I descended. Their answer: "How could we not have heard it?"
Still stoked to get up in a pretty line and to have had an opportunity to climb and move my body after traveling many hours I continued skinning past the group. As I cruised up to a bench the view out towards the water and of Ushuaia was completely unique. I also got a glimpse of a different group climbing another couloir across the canyon, a group practicing a crevasse rescue scenario, and one group working on skinning techniques. It was all such a cool sight to take in at once. Not to mention the interactions I had had earlier in the day with my own group, the people I kept meeting who were on the trip, and that I was on the trip!
Clicking in, and having memorized the two interconnecting chutes I was about to ski while skinning up in the beginning, I dropped in to the first smooth powder turn I had felt in months. The snow in the couloir was nice, but skiing fluffy powder without hitting a thing underneath is a glorious feeling we all know and love. Making a few tight turns at first, as I got a better feel for the consistency of the snow I opened it up to make some huge GS turns back to the base area. As I chatted with a few more of the amazing people who were a part of this trip, and waited for a taxi, I looked back up at the terrain surrounding Ushuaia and couldn't believe I hadn't heard of its epicness earlier. I mean, I guess I had heard there was "good" skiing down here, but I never thought I would tell some one it was worth a trip in and of itself. But it is.
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