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2000 Antarctic Peninsula Climb and Ski/Snowboard Expedition 2000 Antarctic Peninsula Climb and Ski/Snowboard Expedition
2000 Antarctic Peninsula Climb and Ski/Snowboard Expedition 2000 Antarctic Peninsula Climb and Ski/Snowboard Expedition
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1999 Antarctica Ski/
Snowboard Expedition

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Expedition Dispatches

Antarctic Peninsula Climb/Cruise
Antarctic Reality: 60 Degrees Plus
Thursday, February 17, 2000

Rick Armstrong
Close your eyes and imagine a place where nature has the say as to what you can do and where you can go. A place where the hierarchy is based on who has a bigger mouth and swims the fastest. A place where you look across a bay and say 'that little couloir looks like a fun short, low-angle ski, just a two-minute boat ride away.' (Reality: That's a scary as hell, 60 degree plus, 2000-foot chute with ice through its crux and a fall would mean you're not coming home and it's going to take us at least an hour in the boat, just to get to its base.) A place where, every time you look, there is a whale of varied species, a herd of penguins jumping through the ice-filled water, and icebergs floating through the green-blue crystal clear water in all directions. That place is Antarctica. And Antarctica is the wildest, most untamed place I have ever been.

Yesterday, we skied one of those short little couloirs I mentioned earlier, about 1000 vertical feet worth of ice, rock and good old scare-yourself fun. Today we climbed and skied two-thirds of what I would consider a classic line. We had to stop when we literally could not see five feet in front of us. We were afraid of either falling into a crevasse or climbing right past the summit and off the 2000-foot overhanging cliff on this peak's backside. That's a strange feeling. It rained on us during our entire time on the peak, but we did get intermittent views of the ice-filled bay below us and the enormous seracs and glaciers on adjacent peaks and ridges.

As we skied down, we cut off a medium-sized wet slide that ran into the apron. We think we are going to go back and finish this climb and descent tomorrow. We are going to hang out here for a while and attempt to climb some of the 4000-foot peaks that have yet to show their faces to us. Hopefully, the weather will clear and really give us a look at what is around us.

PS: We really want to thank ANI. This has been the trip of our lives and the people you employ to run your programs are among the most talented, cordial, and qualified people you could possibly find. They love their work and that has made this trip run seamlessly.

Hans Saari
Subject: White Knuckles 2/16/00

Last I reported, we had a beautiful trip through Charlotte Bay, seeing countless wildlife. I thought the day was over, but we arrived at the Arctowski Peninsula at 6pm. Rick (Armstrong) and Rick (Hunt) were excited to ski, but we only had a couple of hours, and the skiing looked small and icy. Rule number one in Antarctica: Things are bigger than they appear. Kris was intent on seeing penguins, as was Doug, but at the last second, everyone save Kris, who wanted to get some final penguin shots, opted for skiing.

Rule number two: If Rick Armstrong can't ski it, you can't either. We made a wet and rough landing in the Zodiac, 10 minutes from the Akademik. The couloir proved much steeper than expected. It was the pitch where your knee hits before your boot and ski tips constantly bang into the slope in front of you. I adjusted my crampons and put them on two-thirds up the chute. The water-ice under the two inches of grit should have been a tip-off that the skiing was going to be a bit sporty.

When things get sketchy, I always ask the question, what would Andrew McLean do? And the answer was, as it most often is, that he would go to the top. Up I went, banging by lopsided skis into the snow. After five days on the ship, the couloir felt like it was gently swaying back and forth, the bad visibility only enhancing the sensation. Stephen, Rick and I sat on the summit in near whiteout conditions. I brought my camera, luckily, and kindly offered to take pictures of Rick going first. Two perfect turns and then Rick began sideslipping. Sh**, I thought. Then Rick asked us to throw down a whippet, momentarily forgetting that he had an ice axe with him. It's pretty dicey.

Stephen and I did the rock-paper-scissors thing to determine who would go second. Unfortunately, I won. I regretted not sharpening my edges in the last year, gulped hard and dropped in at the speed of continental drift. I couldn't sideslip, because my edges failed to bite, which made me constantly aware of the 1000-foot slide down the chute, into the icy ocean.

Instead, I had to hack at the firm slope until I could etch a little platform for my lower ski and then foot swap with the upper ski. Sometimes, I used my pole to help prop up my edges. What would Andrew McLean do? For starters, he would have sharpened his edges. Stephen waited patiently at the top, wondering what in the world I was doing. "Is this his first day out or what?" I imagined him saying. I worked my way though the crux: 180cm wide, with ice and rock on one side and frozen algae on the other. Stephen entered above and immediately went into survival mode, although it took him all of 15 seconds to move the distance it took me 10 minutes. It made me feel a little better about my wretched performance.

The lower two-thirds of the chute was great all the way down to the beach. I looked back to watch Stephen link perfect turns in the wet snow. That was fun. I think I have a twisted sense of amusement. The end result was a first descent of Zeiss's Needle. I'd be surprised if it got another descent, but then, Andrew hasn't seen the photos yet.

Today we had another evening outing, skiing 1500 feet of beautiful snow. As we climbed our way up the relatively low-angle face, our footsteps radiated blue from the glacial ice below the snow. I watched Rick break trail above me, leaving an arc or radiating holes behind him. The full crew — Stephen, Rick, Kris, Rick Hunt, Doug and me — skied from our high point in good style. We called the adventure "The Friendly Couloir," breathtaking views of rugged mountains, crystal blue icebergs and even a whale as we descended.

Epilogue: Andrew McLean is a ski mountaineer from Salt Lake City for those of you who don't know. And don't worry, mom, I'm having a great time.


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