Ushuaia and Antarctica 2016 Trip Report

| November 27, 2016

Twenty sixteen: The year of a relatively smooth Drake over (Beaufort 4-5), perfect weather, lots of ice which kept us from going too far south, skiing Deception Island, another great Black & White Party and a very smooth trip back across the Drake.  One of the best and most consistent trips skiing-wise with lots of vertical, good conditions and a very motivated group.

Ushuaia Ski Mountaineering Course
Despite low snow and less than favorable weather, the first year of the pre Ski Cruise Ski Mountaineering Course in Ushuaia was fun.

2016 Ice Axe Antarctic Ski Cruise Report

November 9th – Drake Passage
Woke up to learn that Donald J. Trump was going to be our new president.

November 10th – Drake Passage
The Drakey was chirping along at about BF 4, which wasn’t too bad.

November 11th – Livingston Island
Arrived at about 1:30pm to Half Moon Bay. Had lunch and rallied everyone for a 2:30ish debarkation – very smooth for the first day. Landed on The Spit and skinned up Bowl 2, then skied back down. Ski crampons worked well. Nice skiing – a skiff of new on firm snow. Plenty of cracks – low snow year. Repeated the skin track up #2, then went to the east and tucked into bowl 3 via the Twin Towers. Skinned back up that route (not bad) and then made it back to the top of #2. Did a nice run down the backside, which brought us back to #1. Fun day. Light was a bit flat, but not too bad.



11/17 – Half Moon Bay and Deception Island
Did a morning at Half Moon Bay, which always delivers.  Tons of penguins and wildlife.  The skiing is mini golf, but fun.  We skied “Micro Dot” peak, which is right over the Argentinean station.

Stopped by Deception Island with the intention of only checking it out and possibly not skiing, but it turned out to have fantastic terrain.  Very fun area, tons of history.


11/18 – Wilhelmina Bay / Nansen Island
Splitter weather! Clear, sunny and windy, but not too bad. Could only establish one landing site, which worked out better this year with a passing lane and a “rope up” zone. Smooth landing. Snow on the way up was firm and wind-jacked. I thought the north side was going to be corn, but the first run was too early. Dropped a line back towards the boat, wrapped around and skinned over to the central bowl, which had good snow. Two laps there, then over to the first bowl, which was firm, but fun. Went back up to the main summit, had lunch in the sun and took a final cruiser back to the landing. Great terrain, tricky snow.


Ode on Nansen Island.

Got back and took a fun Zodiac cruise with Christian over to the Enterprise (name ?) ship wreck through very thick ice.

November 19 – Ronge Island
Silky smooth seas to begin with. Scouted landing site “B” which was supposed to provide access to Powder Paradise, but due to potential serac fall, it was too far away. Climbed up the long ridge line leading to a very nice summit. This is a nice “peak” objective for the trip – not too long, not too short, good skiing and great views down the Gerlache. 2,450′ climb with a nice safe, rolling descent all the way down. Mixed trace of pow and chargeable foam. Finished the run off with a duck to skiers right down into “Powder Paradise.” Did a short 200′ vert climb up which set us up to ski over to LZ B which had a sizeable Gentoo rookery. Back to the boat for lunch then back out again.


Back to LZ A, then up to the right into a nice rocky pocket with Ode and then back down, across the glacier to a very nice couloir which led down into Powder Paradise. Perfect corn. Did some steep skinning up through some wild seracs and crevasses to the head of Powder Paradise. Great run down, then up, over and out back to site A. Polar plunge, BBQ then TO show. Another 5 star day.



November 15 – The Blue Room – Charlotte Bay
Another splitter day – clear and sunny. Established LZ A, B and C which were spread out across the face of the main bowl, Did a landing at A (far right (north?)) which was smooth. Skinned and ski poons up to the ridge line, then a long diagonal over to the main Blue Room run. Up, over and into the backside – powder! Did another lap off of a sub peak, then climbed back up and skied back out to A for 4 laps and 2,540′.


Great skiing on the backside of The Blue Room.

Nov 15 – Bluff Island
Did a short 3 mile boat hop after/during lunch over to Bluff Island. Only had one LZ due to the lateness of the afternoon, but it still was great. The LZ is too good to be true – deep with a nice wide rocky shelf which had perfect stone stairs leading up and out of it. And penguins.


Did the loooong slow skinner up to the classic peak near Clusterphuck Peak and then dropped a line off of the backside, which was wind-jacked. Climbed back out, went back towards the skinner and it was so good we did another 1/2 lap up it, then went back to the boat. Made it aboard with 3 minutes to spare. Clear, sunny, perfect weather. Great day – five stars.

Topping out on Bluff Island.

November 16 – Admiralty Bay – KGI
Morning – Established LZ “C” over by Espresso Peak with Will then returned with my group. Only a few seals there this year verses 100’s last year. Skinned up to the top col, then skied down the back side – SUPER cracked up. Half the snow depth of 2015 and as such, not so nice a run, but we were able to get through. Looped around, skinned up and contoured around back up to our high spot, then reversed our skin track for some good skiing back down. Saw a mother and cub Wendell seal. Returned to the boat for lunch.


Chris Davenport & Crew on the backside of Espresso Peak – King George Island.

Went back out to LZ “B” which was right near the Manchu Pichu base. Skinned up the looong hill and got to the summit in flat light and high wind. Skied back down and tried to go to the Zodiac rap landing from 2009, but the entire slope was gone on a nuclear scale – it had cracked mid slope, wall-to-wall in a climax slide and was impassable. Crazy and full of cracks right near the break. Climbed back out, skied a chattery cruiser down and then ski ‘pooned up to a peak with a steep face right above the MP station.


Another excellent trip to Antarctica!  For more info or to sign up for the 2017 trip, check out Ice Axe Expeditions.

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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.

Comments (6)

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  1. Dave says:

    What is a splitter day?

    Looks like another excellent trip. Thanks for the write up and photo’s.

  2. Brian Pond says:

    Looks like another crappy time down south :p

  3. Hi Dave – I think the term “splitter” comes from a rock climbing reference to a perfect hand/finger cracks which splits a smooth rock face, also known as a “splitter” or a really good thing. A splitter day is the same thing as Blue Bird – clear, sunny and no wind.

  4. Wally says:

    Andrew, Great write-up of an awesome ski trip! Thanks for sharing the drawing of the ski routes, photos and text. I hope to return to Antarctica, soon.

  5. jackie c says:

    not sure who that ode guy is but that jump photo was awesome! gotta love those snowboarding finns.
    glad you and polly could finally experience this trip together- looks like you had a great conditions and weather. but she missed the fun when the beaufort scale is 12 on the drake so you need to take her back next year so she can experience that….

  6. Hi Jackie! I agree – a trip across the Drake just isn’t the real deal without a good rager. Polly was very nervous the whole way over/back, but in the end she was fine.

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