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Skiing the Frozen Continent of Antarctica: Part 5 (The Lemaire Channel) | 02/19/2010, by BrennanLagasse
In 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 (The Martial Glacier) picks up with a ski report from his first turns of the trip in Ushuaia, Argentina. Part 3 (The Drake Passage) details his adventure heading South, and Part 4 (Land Ho!) describes his first day of skiing on the Southern-most continent.
Land Ho!The nickname "Kodak Alley" comes from the gaping qualities associated with traveling down the Lemaire Channel; you just can't stop taking pictures! That morning I woke up to a penguin rookery right out the bow of the boat, the ship encrusted in ice that I heard us crashing through last night, and more worthy ski objectives in my periphery than we could ever ski even if we set anchor and never left this spot for the rest of our lives.
The scenery was moving to say the least and I felt like this day was going to be yet another that played out like a weeks worth of living. Gearing up and heading out on the zodiac for our first objective of the day the water was so glassy the mountain reflections were almost as good as just looking at the mountains themselves.
Unlike the previous day, instead of being able to directly skin up from the shoreline we had to ice climb up a glacial feature that wasn't so steep that it mandated roping up, but it was cracked in several spots alerting us that wise steps were a good idea. From there, the skinning was tough. Not because of the snow that was quickly thawing into almost corn, but because I was already overheating in the sun and carrying my hefty workload.
Not letting it get to me I moved as best as I could taking a few moments here and there to look back to the shimmering water, and up at the epic face of lines we were headed towards. Covered in sunscreen (thanks to Beyond Coastal!), yesterdays outing let everyone know that we were indeed in Antarctica, where up to 90% of the sun rays are immediately reflected back from the white snow/ice surface. This meant as skiers with a forecast continuing a trend of perfect high pressure system, we would get cooked. Not to mention November falls during the time the Antarctic Ozone Hole is in full effect. I was feeling a bit worked heading up, but didn't feel so bad as we set up shot one for the crew.
Can any East Coasters share what it sounds like to ski bulletproof? Well, Andrew, John and Kip sure felt it on that run as the descent aspect skied as firm as firm can be. As those shots were being taken the only unfortunate footnote to an otherwise perfect ski expedition was unfolding. Unfortunately, a client had fallen in a sizeable crevasse and a rescue effort was underway. It seemed things were somewhat under control, but to be honest the mood and tone of ascending and descending definitely changed after this fiasco. We were told we could keep filming, but that at some point soon everyone would need to get back to the boat so we could sail north to drop off our friend who had at least broken a leg. One of the guides called to the scene had to leave his group. It turned out to be one of the other film crews and because most of his athletes had been climbing this large ramp we also intended to ski shortly, the one filmer closer to our area began skinning towards us. As he approached and we chatted, he literally was about thirty feet from me when he abruptly fell up to his waist in a partially filled crevasse. Ok, time to remember where we are and proper protocol.
Tim from Unofficial Squaw was fine and able to pull himself up and out of the crevasse and skin to seemingly safer ground. As our group checked back in with the rescue efforts the decision was made to continue up the ramp and shoot until either our help was called for or we had to head back to the boat. Roping up for the skin we hiked for several hundred vertical feet before the snow ramp got steep enough to switch to booting. I have to mention there is a distinguishable characteristic amongst skiable terrain in Antarctica. Unlike Alaska where lines look steeper than can be skied, but end up being possible for a descent, in Antarctica lines look simple and mellow until you get into them. This ramp, although in the sun with what I figured was good light for the photographers to shoot, was not as rad of a line that could be accessed in our immediate area. From the boat I guessed it'd be about 35 degrees. Mclean thought the top was about 50, and as I slammed a double pack of GU and charged up to the top with all I had, yeah, it was much steeper than it looked.
The top of the ramp lead to a knife edge that had another couloir on the back side with the scariest patch of blue ice in the middle I've ever seen. The view beyond was of what's called Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and where the water came in at the base of this micro range it flowed in till it started turning to sheer ice. An amazing sight to behold. After the crew set up a few shots we got the call that the time for us to return to the ship was now. I was told to safely ski the line all the way out and start breaking down some of the still shots Collin had set up when we started the day. Taking a few side steps at first, feeling very unsafe with what was loaded on my back on steep terrain, I eased in before making a few tight turns at first, which ultimately lead to opening it up into some great soft cornish snow all the way to the water.
I felt a sense of urgency at the time, sincerely hoping that whoever had gotten hurt was doing as ok as one could be after being hauled out of a crevasse with a broken leg. As I broke down the first camera I was startled by what I thought was ice breaking behind me. "Maybe it was a serac falling into the water." Actually, it was just a curious bird that was standing right behind me.
As it stood less that a few feet from me I watched it as I did a complete circumnavigation around me, starring, unphased, checking me out before the rest of the crew started showing up and it flew away. We loaded up quickly and went back to the boat for the update.
Our friend was fine. Again, fine as one could be after having endured such an accident. He had broken his leg and we were sailing to a science base on the northern end of the Antarctic Peninsula where an evacuation plane would take him back to South America and he could get better care. The next day was slightly overcast, the first non-bluebird day of our ski expedition. Thankfully though, getting our friend to the waiting plan was smooth and almost as soon as he was loaded into a zodiac and taken to shore, the plane took off and all we could was hope for was the best.
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