Chris Davenport in Antarctica Update
Words and Photos by Chris Davenport. For more information head to chrisdavenport.com
Dav here checking in from the beautiful Antarctica peninsula. It’s been roughly a week since we set sail from the mainland on The Australis – my home for the next 16 days. This trip is a culmination of almost eight months of planning. While we are filming for an upcoming movie with Jim Surette from Granite Films, the goal of the trip is to explore new peaks and ski first descents throughout the peninsula. I had the opportunity to ski the Antarctic Peninsula last fall and was thrilled for the chance to get back down here with a solid crew of climbers, skiers, videographers and most importantly, a boat beefy enough to handle the elements mother nature has thrown at us.
Led by Roger Wallis, The Australis is a 75ft. steel hulled motor sailor and a beast. She is beautiful, clean and comfortable enough to house our crew of 12 and has enough motor power to cruise through the iceberg fields across the peninsula. We were faced with massive swells when we crossed the Drake Passage, forcing many of us to unload our breakfast overboard. The seas have settled down since then and we are in fairly calm water around the peninsula.
Yesterday, the crew headed for the Harbour Glacier, a floating glacier that connects the Wall Range of steep peaks to Jabet and Needle Peak. Having already skied Jabet last year, I was keen to explore some options on the south and east sides of the mountain. As we toured up the glacier, as steep and direct couloir came into view: 400 meters of climbing that would take us within meters of the summit. Near the top of the climb, the angle pitched up over 60 degrees and the climbing became really difficult. We had set out in the morning hoping for an easy warm-up day, but quickly found ourselves in the business. Since none of us had brought double axes, we sent the Viking slayer- Stian Hagen up on lead to fix an anchor on top of the ridge. Stian climbed with confidence, that is to say until his crampon fell off. Stian calmly replaced the lost points, continued up over the lip, and buried a picket on the ridge. The rest of us jugged the last 30 feet of the couloir as the sugary snow began to collapse.
On the ridge an amazing vista opened up in all directions: to the west from Mt. William to Mt. Francais, and to the east from the Wall Range to the Seven Sisters- abrupt and serrated with epic alpine lines but horrible hangfire. All of these views are framed by deep blue ocean bays choked with icebergs. We soaked up the overwhelming beauty and majesty of this place, made even more rewarding after four days bivyed on the boat. When it came time to ski we had to make a decision. Descend our climbing route with a rappel on crappy snow, or chance a really steep descent on the south face. We chose to ski in the sun, both for the sake of the film and photos, but also because half the face was loaded with new snow. Jim Surette, our producer and lead cameraman had been posted up on the glacier most of the day, waiting for us to ski the couloir. When we made the decision to ski the face, Jim had to move down the valley to get into a better position to film. The problem here is that the Harbour Glacier is crevassed, and we didnâ€™t want Jim to move from his safe position (which we had probed out earlier) without being on a rope. So Doug Workman decided to ski the couloir. He rapped of a bollard ( a dug out snow trench the holds the rope) into the couloir and spent the better part of ten minutes working his way down the shady, hard, and really steep coolly.
Once Jim and Doug were in position on the glacier and we were in position on the face, it was time to ski. For the first run of the trip in Antarctica we were close to in over our heads. The pitch was 52-54 degrees and the snow variable. We dropped in one by one and actually found some mid-boot powder for 2/3 of the line. For me it was an intense run and a real leg-burner, but also very rewarding to have it in the bag.
Spirits are very high after an exciting and productive first ski day of the trip. Tomorrow we are going to sail south down through the famous Lemaire Channel (Kodak Alley) to our next ski zone, which includes Mt. Demaria, Mt. Shackleton, Mt. Scott, and perhaps some climbing on the Duseburg Buttress.
About the author:
Shay Williams is the Managing Editor of Freeskier Magazine. He loves cheeseburgers, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Sweden. He's likely on a plane right now—first class only.