2015 Antarctic Peninsula Trip Report

| November 30, 2015

The 2015 Ice Axe Adventure Cruise is a wrap and I’m already excited to hear that they’ve already sold out the upper cabins for 2016 as well.  Yippy!  I love this trip for thousands of reasons, but from a mountain guide standpoint it is especially fun as I get to work with roughly 20 other guides from all over the world.  On top of this, it is all “on sight” guiding meaning every day is an adventuresome puzzle of figuring out how to get ashore, working with the boat, working with the Quark Expedition guides, keeping an eye on the weather and moving ice, looking for new terrain, revisiting classics and making the most of the wild environment.

My mother was a ski instructor and my father was a sailor, which is where I got my love of both mountains and oceans. The Drake passage was a common theme growing up, so to be able to cross this notorious body of water twice on a trip, plus go skiing, see wildlife and meet a literal boat load of great people makes it an extra special experience.

I’m starting to put together a group of 4-5 skiers for 2016 which will include a warm up day in the Wasatch backcountry, plus 1-2 days of skiing (or hiking if the weather is bad) in Ushuaia before the trip.  Contact me for details or Karyn Stanley at Ice Axe Expeditions.

Nov 3-5
Skied with Tyler Reid and Jules Hanna in Ushuaia for the first day (snowing all the way to the ocean with powder on the Martial Glacier) and then Glen Poulsen and others for one day up by Mt. Olivia.

Nov 6th – Guide’s Training Day
This went well and the Kuar welcome cocktail hour was top notch as always with great food and views.

Nov 7th – Glacier Training Day
Did a morning outing with four out of five from my group. We were able to skin up a trail in the woods, then spread out and discuss Antarctic skiing strategy at the upper lift station, which worked well. After that I did a half climb with everyone where we practiced roped travel, switchbacks, steep skinning, crossing fake crevasses and moving as a team. Went back to the Albatross and met Skip Wilson at 1:00pm and then did the group dinner at 7:30.

Nov 8th – Logistics and Boat Loading
Lots of luggage handling, the group photo at 3:00pm and then boat loading at 4:00. Everything went very smoothly and it was great to see the Quarkers again.

Nov 9-10 The Drake Passage
Pretty smooth for a Drake crossing at maybe a Force 3 or 4 at the most. A bit lumpy, but not bad at all and we made good time. Saw a huge iceberg on the first full day, which was very unusual. Lots of sea ice around the South Shetlands, but overall it was a relatively ice-free year in the peninsula.

November 11, 2015 – Brabant Island | Chiriguano Bay | The Farm
After a rough night with rolling, sloppy seas we had a delayed start until 1:00pm. Very smooth disembarkation at The Farm with four landing sites – A was Victoria and B, C and D were The Farm. Very low visibility with clouds and low light. A few crevasses, but overall an excellent day given the conditions.

Started with an ascent straight up from B, then down the ascent of C (caught Kris Erickson’s skin track up), skied C, then traversed over to ski above D. D had the best snow by far – very deep (8”) by Antarctic standards, but the slope wasn’t really steep enough to support skiing – basically followed our skin track straight back down.

The Farm is a great option for a low visibility day. Lots of mellow skiing, not too many cracks, easy to spread out and fun, plus great landing sites. Returning to the boat for a hot lunch and then switching over to the other side (Victoria) is also an easy option.

Chiriguano Bay

November 12, 2015 – Nansen Island
Started out with a clear, sunny day which gradually deteriorated to greybird. Did the long ridge ascent, but cut it short and took a run down to the skier’s right (R1), then deeked south below some crevasses and got underneath some big east faces. Skinned up a nice face which led to some crampon booting with an axe up a nice arête. Great moderate alpine climb. Skied back down it very carefully (R2) with no turns on the steeps and then went further to the skiers right/south for another lap in a bowl, which was great (R3). Repeated the skinner, then popped over the top for a nice mellow cruiser down the backside (R4), which is very low angle – good for corn snow or hardpack, but too low angle for powder. The light was fading and right at the end I almost skied right into a huge-ass crevasse which stretched across the entire bottom portion of the slope. Skinned back up (too far to the east, oh well) and then caught the skin track back to the pick-up (R5).

Nansen Island

November 13, 2015 – Port Lockroy & Lemaire Channel
Woke up to very high winds (50+ knots) which put operations on hold. A group of guides went over to help shovel out the wintered in camp at Port Lockroy, which turned into a literal shit show. The bunkhouse had drifted in to the roof and been used as shelter for birds and penguins, so as we dug down curtains of green, red and brown bird shit came raining down on us. It was humorously disgusting. Had a very wet ride back from the hut. Everyone was able to visit Port Lockroy, but only to walk around the base.

Went down the Lemaire Channel is spectacular ice-free conditions. Incredibly scenic and everyone was having a good time.

November 14, 2015 – Yalour Islands | Waddington Bay | Mt. Mill & Mini Mill
Mt. Demaria was the obvious and ideal ski objective, but the landings were iced in, so the entire ship went to the Mt. Mill area.

Got off to a great early start and we were skinning just a bit before 7:00am. Mt. Mill had an excellent landing site. Skinned up sans ropes about 100’ vertical feet to a nice level spot to rope up. Cruised through a beautiful mellow bowl, then worked our way up through some cracks to a subtle ridge which eventually led to a booter. Chopped launch pads for a transition to crampons as the headwall got steeper and icier, but it would have been better to start boot crampons right after we took our skis off and started booting.

The Mt. Mill headwall (R1) is very steep and requires solid edging skills and cautious skiing. After finish this, we crossed the plateau and skied Mini Mill (R2), which was fantastic. The slope was a great ascent, the descent was perfect grippy corn and the view down the slope to the boat was classic.


November 15, 2015 – Charlotte Bay | Bluff Island
After a morning of howling snow we finally made it out in the afternoon. Tricky landing zones as they were either too steep right out of the water, too much ice, too far away from the boat, etc.. But we finally found a good one. This area works well for a single entry point for large groups as it is easy to fan out once ashore with lots of achievable mini peaks, many of which can be skinned up. The middle glacier section is deceptively far – lots of cruising to get there.

We went up and to the climbers left to skin up a steep ridge which was almost too much in the deep snow.  Still, it was a cool climb as you go up a ridgelette, into a serac hole, then wrap around and punch through a big cornice which pops you out on a wild ridgeline. Perhaps not the fastest or safest approach to the summit, but a fun variation. Ski ‘poons are required.

From the summit we skied down the back west bowl, aka Westworld (R1), which was excellent, but unfortunately split by crevasses. Still, it was sheltered powder. Did another lap farther to the north (R2), and then a second variation (R3) on that as well. Skinned up again for a skier’s left variation (R4), then up and over (R5) to get back to the ship. Great little zone, but tricky to ski in flat light.

Bluff Island

November 16, 2015 – South Shetland Islands | Livingston Island
Got off to a nice start with mixed weather, which at first looked perfect, but then a cloud capped in at about 1500’. Had a good landing on the isthmus and then followed Glen P. up the 2nd Bowl – good skiing (R1), but white out at the top. Skied that, then deeked out to skier’s right to the 3rd Bowl (R2) with the chutelette at the top – lots of cracks on the ridge – not such a great transition spot, but we couldn’t go any higher either. A mix of snow, but good in the middle.

Had lunch on the boat, then transferred to Half Moon bay for some Chinstrap penguins and a mini chute (R3) which turned out to be excellent, especially for an hour round trip. Right above the Argentinean base. A bit of a delayed return to the boat, but it all worked out.


Nov 17-19 Drake Passage & Ushuaia
Started into the Drake at sunset with incredible towering icebergs floating by in the distance.  A fantastic end to the trip!  The Drake started pretty mellow and slowly built up enough to be quite rough, to the point that we had to veer off to the east, then come back around after lunch right into the waves.  Maybe force 9 or 10? A good ride in any case.  Pretty mellow evenings and days.

Help support StraightChuter.com and cut through the flat light on both the ascent and descent with a pair of Julbo Aerospace Goggle – Snow Tiger Photochromic from Backcountry.com. Click on the photo below.



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Category: Antarctica, Trip Reports

About the Author ()

Andrew McLean lives in Park City, Utah and is a gear designer, writer, photographer, ski mountaineer, climber and Mountain Unicycle rider. He and Polly Samuels McLean are the parents of two very loud little girls.

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  1. Well done! Thank you! I can’t wait for next year!

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