First Ascent Ski Guide Kent McBride checks in from a recent ski-guide trip in Antarctica.
Story and photos by Kent McBride
Somewhere near the equator, the three-quarter-full moon was bright on the left wing and the sun was pink while setting below the right wing of the jet. Seeing this really helped me believe that I was actually on my way to ski Antarctica.
During this economy, you never really know if privately guided trips are actually going to come together. So I was psyched when I received the phone call from Karyn at Ice Axe Expeditions saying that there was enough room for me and my clients to set sail for the Antarctic Peninsula.
The trip is as unique an idea that Ice Axe Expeditions founder Doug Stoup has ever put together. The challenges: Antarctica is a difficult place to get to, due to the weather and its location. Two weeks is the standard amount of time most people who can afford this type of trip can manage to take away from work. Planes are expensive and often get delayed due to bad weather on the ice cap. Sailboats and motor yachts are slower and not as comfortable. So Doug thought big—and went even bigger. His solution is the Clipper Adventurer, a 100-meter (320-plus feet) cruise ship equipped to feed and house 120 people, and docked where we can all meet in Argentina and then cross the Drake Passage in two days. From there, a bunch of Zodiac boats zips groups of ski mountaineers to cool objectives to climb, ski and view amazing wildlife. Brilliant!
Packing for this adventure was quite challenging because we’ll be ski touring every day but returning to the ship and the comforts of a 5-star hotel every night. (One might say this is fine country club–style ski touring.) It took time to pack, and it will be interesting to see how I did in the end. But here we go: K2 Wayback skis, safety straps (in case I fall into a crevasse and my skis eject, I’ll still be attached to them), ski poles, one whippet, ski touring boots, skins, ski crampons, ice axe, climbing crampons, two ice screws, harness, crevasse rescue kit, 8.4-mm, 60-meter and 6.5-mm ropes, 60-meter pull cord, Deadman anchor, helmet, First Ascent Alchemist 40-liter backpack, ABS pack (if there is high avalanche hazard), shovel, probe, avalanche beacon, first aid kit, repair kit, rescue shelter, rescue sled, Jetboil stove, headlamp, water bottles, GPS, map, compass, altimeter, radios, First Ascent base layers and socks, Heyburn Ski Pants, a prototype ski touring pant that the Ski Team has been working on for 2012, Nail Driver Pants, Bat Hang Hoodie, Downlight Vest, Downlight Hoodie, Hyalite Jacket, SEABA Heli Guide Jacket, Downlines Jacket, buff/multiclava, two pairs of Guide Gloves, Summit Mitts, two hats, goggles (light and dark lenses), sunglasses, ball cap, sunscreen, binoculars, camera and video camera.
After a day-and-a-half flight from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to Ushuaia, Argentina, we will have a couple of days of skiing followed by two days of sailing across the Drake Passage. There, we will have about seven days to hike and ski before returning home.
Antarctica is mostly a frozen desert and isn’t exactly known for deep powder skiing. However, it is the biggest freezer on the planet with tons of snowy mountains. Hopefully, the penguins will welcome us with great weather!
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