Mt. Shackleton Descent Attempted
A lot has gone on in the last few days and it’s been too busy to get on the computer to write. After our successful descent on Duseberg Buttress on the 3rd we packed our expedition gear and did a long glacier approach to Mt. Shackleton on the 5th. Mt. Shackleton is one of the largest and most prominent peaks on the Peninsula and has no recorded ski descent. The mountain lies pretty deep in from the coast and we needed 5 hours just to get to a base camp. The line itself we were looking at is an abrupt 3000 ft. tall ridge that is really direct and has plenty of sportiness- that is to say seracs, crevasses and route finding. The weather played games with us all day and through that night, while we slept in our Black Diamond Bombshelter tents hoping for an early morning clearing.
Stian & I at BC on Shackleton
Unfortunately it was not to be. We stuck it out in the tents and on the glacier until 5 p.m. the next evening, and then pulled the plug, making the long descent back to the coast, disappointed, but knowing that we had made the right call. We are not taking any unnecessary risks on this trip. We need to keep conservative because a rescue is almost impossible and any injury can become a big deal fast down here.
First Descent on Mt. Scott: Skye Couloir
So after a week at Peterman Island we decided to make a move north towards the Arctowsky Peninsula, a zone that includes Paradise Harbour, Ronge Island, and Anvord Bay. But before we could set sail we had one more unfinished piece of business, a huge couloir descending from a ridge on Mt. Scott directly to the sea south of the Lemaire Channel. This sweet looking line was begging to be skied and we spent 5 hours climbing and skiing her beautiful slopes. The film crew worked especially hard with all the angles and setups.
1500′ of goodness – the Skye Couloir
For me the climbing is always one of the more enjoyable parts of ski alpinism- putting one foot in front of the other and working your way up a line. I love the physical aspect of it all, revving up your engine and settling into a pace, much like on the bike. Stian, Andrea and I climbed efficiently up the couloir, even when things got into the mid 50-degree range up top. When we reached the top of the couloir, a steep and crenelated snow arête, we made and anchor and clipped in the rope, because trying to remove your crampons, take your skis off your pack and put them on your feet, and stash your ice tools without dropping something or falling would have been almost impossible without it.
After a short 15-meter rappel through a steep and icy choke we were in the zone and ready to ski. Jim ran the big HD cam from the Australis, which lay silently out in the bay in flat water, drifting towards the Lamaire surrounded by icebergs. Scottie, GVD, and Doug were set up in the couloir itself. We made a fun descent, even if it was a little steep and sketchy at the top.
After the rappel, ready to ski!
With that descent in the bag group got together over beers in the spacious salon on Australis and decided to name the couloir the “Skye Couloir” after our amazing First Mate- Skye Marr-Whalen, who has cooked the most amazing meals during the trip for us and generally worked her butt off to make things run smooth on the yacht. So thanks Skye, your rock!
Jim filming the beautiful 11:30 pm sunset at Paradise Harbour
Right now I’m writing this from an anchorage in Paradise Harbour. We ran into a beautiful square-rigger called “Europa” last night. This schooner is almost 100 years old and had a crew on-board from Holland and Denmark. A beautiful ship to be sure.
Dream Line & A Close Call on the Antarctic Sphinx
The team departed from Paradise Harbour after Stian and I did a quick Zodiac cruise and determined there weren’t really any great ski or film objectives nearby. Our destination was Anvors Bay and the north side of Ronge Island, a zone I had scoped out last season. As we approached the passage between Ronge and the mainland, a steep face began to reveal herself, and excitement on deck mounted. The closer we got the sicker it looked. Everyone’s heart was racing as we made plans to climb, ski, and film the coolest looking line we have seen in Antarctica so far. We called it the Antarctic Sphinx after a similar
looking and equally impressive peak in the Chugach Mountains of AK.
The steep, diamond face is 1500′ high and probably averages 45 degrees. The crew scrambled to get ready in the gorgeous afternoon sunshine… and managed to squeeze in a quick lunch!
We jumped in the zodiacs, regrouped on shore, and the skiers climbed a steep pitch of crappy sugar snow to reach the base of the route. The film team chose to ascend a different part of the shelf and wallowed in steep sugar before guide Doug Workman fixed a rope for them on top of the critical section. GVD and Scottie were shooting the barbi angle from the boat. Stian, Andrea, and I made good time up the lower half of the face… but it was hot. The sun was coming around on this south facing aspect, and things were heating up. At one rest I actually had to take my shirt off to cool down and dry off!
As we climbed higher the mountain began to speak to us more directly. Small rocks began whizzing down the face, just here and there at first, and then more frequently. Stian elected to bolt across the fall line and up above a rock outcrop, and red-lined it over there while Andrea and I spotted him. By the time he reached a safe spot, which as he found out wasn’t a safe spot, grapefruit-sized blocks were zipping down the face and we collectively realized it was time to get the hell out of this firing range. I really felt as if the mountain was communicating with us as, it was saying, “get off and get off now, or the rocks will get bigger and more frequent!” So we obliged. Ripped off crampons, stowed tools, and stepped into bindings. As the cameras rolled we skied the bottom half of the face in perfect, five-star corn snow. Stian ripped 800′ in exactly 5 turns! Amazing skiing, the best turns of the trip!
We spent last night back at Paradise Harbour. I am busy working on the foundation for a new clothing line withSpyder: a dedicated backcountry skiwear line. Having the crew around me that I do here is a huge asset, these guys live and breath mountains, snow, rock, and steeps. I’m making lots of progress and am super fired up about this opportunity.
Final Antarctica Update
Two weather days followed by first descent of the Antarctic Sphinx
I’m going to keep this update short and heavier on photos as we had a late night last night and are getting ready to head out again. Yesterday was AWESOME! We finally got to ski the coolest looking line we have seen down here, a diamond shaped face we call the Sphinx. (1750′ 45-52 degrees) After two days of bad weather and 10-15 cm’s of new snow we lucked out with another perfect blue sky day. I think that makes twelve sunny days so far, which is absolutely NOT normal for the Antarctic Peninsula. Anyway we actually made two first descents yesterday: the Sphinx, which Stian, Andrea, and I skied in decent but not great conditions, and the D.A.M Couloir, descended by our hard-charging Digital Asset Management team.( Rob, Doug, and Jim) The zone we were in, the Arctowsky Peninsula, has by far some of the best ski terrain that I have seen in two trips to the Peninsula.
The Sphinx at center- 1700+ feet of steep, smooth face. The D.A.M. couloir is on the left skyline.
Stian putting in the boot-pack in theupper couloir
Just another awesome ski face in this zone!
Looking south through the Errera Passage
Director and cameraman Jim Surette climbing the steep upper ridge.
Getting ready to drop into The Sphinx- long, steep, and PERFECT!
Spirits are very high on Australis and there was a concerted effort to “lighten” the boat last night by drinking all the beer and wine on board… an unsucessful mission since the boat is outfitted for a few months of such activities. This trip has been an amazing adventure, meeting or exceeding my expectations on every level. The feature film I am producing about this trip will be out next fall, but I’ll have bits of it up on the site throughout the winter, as Jim Surette and I supervise the editing and post-production process.
Down-day iceberg bouldering
Gentoo penguin watching all the ski action
Right now we are tied up to a sunken whaling ship at Enterprise Island and our photographer GVD claims he is going to finally dawn his dry suit and dive the wreck today. We’ll see about that.
This will be my last update from Antarctica. We are sailing tomorrow morning, a journey of around 600 miles, across the Drake Passage. The forecast right now shows the Drake to be moderate, not Drake Lake but not the dreaded Drake Shake either. We’ll see what we get. I’ll try and post another update when we get back to Ushuaia with photos from GVD. A big shout out to the folks at the Red Bull Media House in Salzburg , Kastle Skis , Spyder Clothing , Garmont , and Backcountry.com for directly supporting this film project.
This update was originally written 5 days ago. Since then we have made a successful yet rough 4 1/2 day crossing of the Drake Passage and are now docked in Ushuaia. Awesome trip by all accounts, safe and really fun!