Every fall, Ice Axe Expeditions runs their Antarctica Ski Cruise bringing approximately 25 guides from around the world together with their guests to experience one of the most unique ski mountaineering trips in the world.
Just getting to Antarctica is a logistical challenge, requiring all of these skiers and snowboarders to converge on the southernmost city in the world – Ushuaia, Argentina. Once there, the guides have a day to review glacier travel protocols, crevasse rescue techniques, and other miscellaneous trip logistics. Then guides have a day with their guests for a similar day of glacier skiing boot-camp. For everyone coming from the Northern Hemisphere, these are likely the first days on snow of the season and it’s nice to knock off the cobwebs and get ready for the main event.
After a couple nights of Argentine steak, many glasses of Malbec, and a little sight-seeing, it’s time to sail across the Drake Passage – one of the most notorious sea crossings in the entire world. It takes two days to reach the Antarctica Peninsula – the northernmost tip of the 7thcontinent of the world – so if sea sickness is of concern, it’s time to medicate, catch up on sleep, or bundle up and spend as much time outside on the decks of the boat as possible.
- Our floating home base for the Ice Axe Expedition to Antartica.
All these logistics go by faster than you might think, and soon enough we found ourselves drifting through a maze of icebergs and trying to figure out our first ski objective. The amount of ski terrain on the peninsula is absolutely mind-boggling, but much of it is inaccessible due to 100-plus foot seracs right at the water’s edge and sea ice blocking the shoreline. So we have to find snow slopes that meet the shoreline in places where a zodiac raft can land to allow us access to terrain that is suitable for many groups.
- On the Ice Axe Expedition, sometimes the hardest part of your day is figuring out what to focus on when glacier-clad mountains, icebergs, and penguins are all vying for your attention.
What this means in reality is that every morning we unload our 300-foot ship – our home base for 12 days – in teams of ten into zodiac rafts that zip us across the sub-zero degree ocean water to terra firma. Once to shore, we often have to straps skis & boards to our back and backpack up what is likely to be the steepest terrain of the day up to the bench of the glaciers. From there, skis can often go back on the feet, and once skinning toward the summit of a mountain your brain can settle into a bit of routine. If your gaze is focused up, you might forget where you are seeing only sky, snow, and mountain ridges and summits. However, the second you look back or sweep your view across the panorama, you quickly are reminded of your surreal location. Views of ocean, icebergs, and glacial ice as far as you can see shocks your senses into an awe for the vastness of this environment.
- St. Onge/svtrek.com
- Short roping up one of the steeper pitches off the water.
After repeating this procedure for 6 days in a row it almost begins to feel normal, almost. But every day something is new and exciting. It might be that your landing on the snow is at a penguin rookery where hundreds of penguins are in the beginnings of their mating rituals –remember, its spring down there. Or, a leopard seal is chasing your zodiac back to the main ship playing in the wake of the boat, and is curious about who we are and what are we doing down in her backyard. Perhaps, an Orca is spotted enroute to skiing, and suddenly skiing seems like the furthest thing from everyone’s mind (wait, isn’t that why we came all the way down here), and hoping for another view is all that everyone is focused on as we detour for the best opportunity.
The 12-day expedition flies by on the one hand as these adventures often feel like such a snippet of time. But on the other hand, it feels like time has stood still. Upon reflection, we got to see so much, do so many things, experience such a rare environment, and share it with a group of committed individuals who are now advocates and ambassadors for this special place – the largest wilderness area on the earth.
- A couple of Antarctica's most popular residents
This is called the trip of a lifetime, and while I feel incredibly fortunate to experience once, with the support of Sterling Ropes, I hope I have the opportunity to share this trip with many more guests each fall as it truly is a trip everyone who loves ski mountaineering should try to experience.