It’s almost been a week since I got home from one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had, and possibly ever will have in my lifetime. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. – It is still surreal. I don’t know how this trip could have been any better; a group of 107 amazing people, the 30-40 super positive, hard working individuals from all over the world that were the ship’s crew, the captain, and the Ice Axe Expeditions and Quark Expeditions organizers, the food, the wild life, the scenery, the terrain and lines, the calm seas, and nearly a week of sunshine. – I heard one person say that we must have had a surplus of positive karma amongst everyone on the ship. – No doubt!
After leaving Olympic Valley on October 31st, we arrived in Ushuaia, Argentina on November 2nd. – Ushuaia, the Southern-most city in the world, is a small, colorful town on the Beagle Channel with some amazing ski/snowboard touring a short taxi ride away. – The snow ranged from boiler-plate ice to wind-deposited blower pow. – After a couple days hiking and skinning up the Martial Glacier as well as learning some glacier travel protocol and practicing self arrest maneuvers, it was time to board our vessel: The Clipper Adventurer out of Nassau in the Bahamas. – This trip to the seventh continent was a second try for a lot of the people aboard. – The first try was unsuccessful due to some mechanical problems with the ship. – That being said, there was a lot of anxiety for the ship to leave the dock, and a lot of really happy people when it finally did.
Out the calm Beagle Channel we went the evening of the 6th, checking out the sick peaks of the Andes that come right out of the water, taking pictures, and otherwise enjoying the fact that we had left the port. – Right around midnight we hit the open sea and the boat began to rock from side to side; the swell was coming from the West. – The worst seas we experienced occurred our first morning aboard. – Nothing huge; 15-20 foot waves. – Even still, it was big enough to rock the 328 foot boat. – You’d constantly be hearing the sounds of plates, silverware, and other loose objects sliding around, falling off of tables, as well as the exclamations of people as their beverages slid into their laps. – Sitting at breakfast, it was funny to watch people who had just eaten hurriedly weave their way out of the dining room, pin balling off of chairs, tables, and other obstacles, with green faces, and a look of determination to hold in their vomit. – It mellowed out by noon, and basically rocked everyone to sleep in between meals. – A typical day during the crossing of the Drake Passage consisted of eating breakfast (or sleeping until lunch), going out on the deck for some fresh air, taking a nap, having lunch, catching a few breaths of fresh air and checking out the various birds soaring effortlessly around the ship, taking a nap, having dinner, taking a nap, checking out the sunset, and going to sleep. – The crew said that the worst waves we got were a “2” on a scale from 1 to 10. – I can’t- even- imagine what a 6, let alone a 10 would be like!
Sixty hours later we arrived in Cierva Cove to blue skies. – Stoked to get our feet on solid ground and make some turns, we hopped in the zodiacs and headed to shore. – Within minutes of getting off the boat 5 or so Gentoo penguins porpoised their way to the beach where they checked us out. – After snapping a few pictures, we began hiking, thinking this would be one of our only days of sunshine and that we needed to try to get some good video while we had the sunlight. – I found it extremely hard to stay focused on hiking. – I couldn’t stop stopping to take a look around and snap a few pictures; I was mesmerized. – We got a couple hours worth of shredding in before we got back aboard the ship and headed South to our next location, Wiencke Island, where we woke up the next morning.
Wiencke Island had our first Gentoo penguin rookery; literally thousands of the most awkward creatures on earth. – We spent a good hour and a half, totally entertained, observing them. – We finally began the approach to the base of the lines. – This day and the first day were the only two days I’d wished I had my- split board with me as the approaches were a bit longer than I prefer to boot pack. – Unfortunately, right when I got to the base of the couloirs we’d been looking at, someone fell into a crevasse and broke their leg. – Luckily, John, who had fallen into the crevasse, was eager to use the “toys” he picked up for the trip and put in an ice screw to support himself while Doug, his guide, jumped in (Doug quickly anchored himself to 3 of his nearby clients, easily totaling more than 600 pounds, told them to kick their feet in, and dropped into the abyss). – With the snow heating up due to another blue bird day, the glacier travel became dangerous, so we were a bit limited in where we could ride. – Our original plan was to head much further South to continue shredding, dropping off our injured passenger at the United States’ Palmer Station where he could be evacuated to his home, but they said that they’d only evacuate him if he was dead or dying, so we headed North to a Chilean station where they gladly flew him home. – Go figure. – This set us back a more than a few hours worth of shred time, but the scenic cruise to Livingston Island was very enjoyable, and no one seemed to care.
We arrived to Livingston Island in the evening and headed to a- penguin rookery, this one a mix of Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins, where we stayed for the sunset. – Livingston Island offered some of my favorite terrain that we got to ride on the trip. – After our gourmet breakfast (maybe it was the eggs florentine with smoked trout that morning…delicious!), we headed to what I was expecting to be a boney, scoured zone without too many terrain features. – Also, it was our first overcast day. – I was quickly surprised to see a narrow couloir, previously hidden from our view, that we dubbed- Livingston’s Crack. – Then, not too much later we began to get some blue sky, which was another pleasant surprise. – Photographer- Adam Clark was with us this day, and while I was going up Livingston’s Crack, he scouted out a- super sick zone on the backside of Livingston Island with some awesome couloirs that went right to the beach. – After getting lots of turns in, we ended the day with some penguins on the beach. – What else would you expect? – Adam captured the day with some amazing pictures that you’ll hopefully be able to see in some magazines.
Our next stop was- Admiralty Cove, where we rode for a few hours in the morning. – This day was a bit eerie; everyone felt as if the ground was rocking, just like the boat. – As the picture shows, the cove was surrounded by glaciation, and it was constantly calving into the water as the day went on and things heated up. – The riding was pretty mellow, but the snow was really nice; excellent corn. – After two quick runs we loaded back into the ship and headed to our next location 30 minutes away in the next bay over, Maxwell Bay. – Maxwell Bay had some amazing spine lines on one side that I saw Jeremy Jones scoping with intent, however they didn’t have any sunlight. – We ended up finding some awesome couloirs that went right to the beach. – The snow was probably the best we’d had the whole trip, some deep corn that was super rip-able and consistent, which allowed us to shred some sick lines. – By our second lap, some clouds moved in and the wind picked up, making it a wet zodiac ride back to the Clipper Adventurer. – The weather soon cleared again, but we were unable to make it back out.
That night we anchored, and had the trip’s “White Party.” – So everyone dressed up in white outfits, some that had been brought from home, and many others just wore the white bathrobes that came from their rooms on the boat. – Some wore white fishnet stockings, there was a tennis player (the tennis racket turned into a pretty good prop that the Finns aboard ended up spanking each other with!), Snow White, Elvis, Jesus, as well as a couple black ninjas bucking the trend.
Partially due to hangovers and partially due to icy conditions on mellow terrain, we ended up going to a small island that had a penguin rookery and a place where elephant seals often hang out. – We came away with some amazing penguin footage, saw some leopard seals, some weddell seals, some young elephant seals, and a fairly big female elephant seal. – The seals were relaxing on the snow, catching some rays, and we had a really hard time believing that they wouldn’t really enjoy it if we started rubbing their big furry bellies. – However, the biologist on the boat, Alan, said that you can pet a seal only twice, “once with your right hand, and once with your left hand,” as they’d bite your hands off with their powerful jaws. – Penguins have no natural land predators, so they’re not scared to walk up pretty close to you to check you out.
We left that afternoon, I wasn’t too sure which day it was by this point, but it was the 14th. – Nonstop travel from then, it took us over 100 hours to get back to Tahoe, arriving on the night of the 18th. – We had calm seas, yet again. – By this time we’d figured out how awesome the food service was, and we were pretty accustomed to 5 star 4 course lunches and dinners, with extra entrees and desserts with every course, if you wanted (I always did!). – On the boat ride back across “Drake Lake,” I saw many people pouring over their amazing photos, over and over, and over, already wanting to go back.
Our weather this trip was completely unheard of! – Our expedition leader,- Laurie Dexter, had well over 100 trips to Antarctica, and had never seen weather as good as what we’d had. – Same for the captain. – We’d heard non-stop, that we could maybe expect one day of sunshine. – On the one hand I’m stoked that we got a week of sunshine, but on the other hand, I feel like I didn’t get the “real” Antarctica experience. – People were sunbathing on the deck like it was Hawaii! I want to give a big THANKS to everyone that made this trip possible: Doug and Karyn at- Ice Axe Expeditions, Laurie and the rest of the- Quark Expeditions crew, the captain, the ship’s crew, the chefs, the bar men, the servers, the house keeping crew, the Points North Heli guides (especially J Mack!), the Unofficialsquaw crew, and all the amazing people along for the ride. – Every single person working aboard the ship was always in good spirits, and working extremely hard. – Burke the bar man was extremely nice and positive like the rest of the ship’s crew, and was super stoked on my- Smith Swindle sunglasses, so I handed them over to him at the end of the trip. – I’m sure you’ll get plenty of use out of them in the Caribbean, Burke. – Enjoy! Thanks a lot! Ralph