Saturday, November 16, 2013

Antarctic Peninsula

The 2013 Antarctic Peninsula Adventure Cruise spent ten action packed days exploring and skiing a spectacular frozen wilderness of jagged snow clad mountains, massive glaciers, calving icebergs, and a myriad of channels, islands and fjords.

This was my second journey to the Antarctic Peninsula as a ski guide for Ice Axe Expeditions. Unlike most of my work supporting research expeditions in Antarctica, these voyages are purely recreational and tremendously fun.

With Quark Expeditions providing logistical assistance we utilized the 100-meter Russian built Sea Adventurer  — a 5-star floating base camp.

In addition to sharing their expertise on Antarctic wildlife, geology, and history of early exploration, the competent Quark Expedition staff piloted the Zodiacs allowing access to numerous islands mountains and glaciers.

Among the staff of Quark Expeditions is Lorie Dexter. An accomplished skier himself, Lorie has survived over a 130 Antarctic expeditions including skiing across King George Island and to the South Pole.

Known as Graham Land, the dramatic landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula and the South Shetland Islands are created by the subduction of the Pheonix Oceanic Crust under the Continental Crust of West Antarctica. These tectonic forces have produced numerous volcanoes and a complex chain of mountains covered in ice.

Gary Carlson, Brooklyn Island

Massive glaciers flow directly to the sea, often creating the most challenging part of our daily ski outings. Fortunately, the snow on these steep seaside slopes is often soft providing an exciting finish to many ski descents.

Ascending George’s Point

Skis, climbing skins and enthusiasm provide the perfect means to experience the primordial landscape of rock, snow and ice.

Approaching an unnamed peak, Ronge’ Island

In addition to skis, traveling over the heavily glaciated and often exposed terrain requires mountaineering equipment and skill.

Per As and Stefan Pam lead the first ascent of an unnamed peak on Bluff Island

An all-star team of international mountain and ski guides provide the needed expertise to safely ski, explore and enjoy.

Many of the Peninsula’s peaks and summits are too steep to ascend on skis. Firm snow conditions, however, allowed relatively easy boot packing.

“Antarctica shall be used for peaceful purposes only…” ­AntarcticTreaty

Antarctica maybe the closet thing to a world park. First drafted in 1959 the Antarctic Treaty has been signed by 45 countries and provides the legal framework for the region beyond 60º South latitude. The treaty reserves the uninhabited continent for peace and encourages scientific investigation, international cooperation, the exchange of information, and environmental stewardship.

Karyn Stanley,“Angel Peak”

Numerous named and unnamed peaks ascend several thousand feet out of the sea providing an infinite number of peaks to climb and ski many for the first time.

Tim Ritters descends “Angel Peak”

Skiing from the summit of these peaks involves a variety of snow conditions. Located in the southern hemisphere, shady south facing slopes are often blanketed in soft powder snow.

Exposed to spring austral sunshine, north facing slopes often yield spring corn skiing.

I was fortunate to have in my group four great friends; Margot Snowdon, Yves DesgouttesMoe Witschard and Karyn Stanley. Every ski descent included big smiles and extreme laughter.

“Blue Room”

On a saddle near Mount Zeppelin in Wilhelmina Bay, drifting snow allows safe entrance to a massive crevasse where ancient glacier ice fills the cavern with extraordinary blue light.

Angela Hawse takes the “Polar Plunge”

A tradition among Antarctic explorers is to further immerse our selves in Antarctica by taking a quick dip in the Southern Ocean. High in saline the temperature of the seawater is slightly below the freezing point of fresh water.

photo by Jen Bennett

I used the opportunity to paddle a packraft and explore the placid waters and icebergs of Plata Passage.

Todd Offenbacher, Plata Passage

Likewise, several others explored on stand up paddleboards.

Chinstrap Penguins (Pygoscelis Antarctica)

The Antarctic Peninsula is home to abundant wildlife including five species of penguins, five species of seals, and ten species of whales.

Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)

Perhaps one of the more exciting elements of a visit to the Antarctic Peninsula is the Drake Passage. Hurricane force conditions are not uncommon when crossing this vast and stormy ocean.

Doug Stoup, Bluff Island

These annual ski expeditions to the Antarctic Peninsula are the creation of polar explorer Doug Stoup, who's completed multiple ski traverses to both the North and South Poles. I first got to know Doug in 1999 when mutual friends joined him for an expedition to ski and snowboard Antarctica’s highest peak Vinson Massif.


“We gazed with feelings of indescribable delight upon a scene of grandeur and magnificence far beyond anything we had before seen or could of conceived.” - Captain Ross, 1841