Finding wilderness

Finding wilderness

To find true wilderness in this modern world and to have true adventure without the rest of the world following our every step via social media is increasing difficult. When you can text from the summit of Everest you need to look to more interesting places for that remote experience.

Antarctica captures that image perfectly, difficult to get to, no phone signal, almost no mapping and a real sense of old school adventure.

Don’t get me wrong there are people in Antarctica, there have been science basis full time on the continent since the Second World War. Antarctic tourism is on the rise with many cruise ships allowing the wealthy traveller a chance to view this last great wilderness. This rise in tourism makes it possible for small expeditions like ours to gain permits as they are part of our rescue plan put together with IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tourism Organisation).

Our plan was simple: fly to Ushuaia in Southern Argentina, get on a yacht, sail to Antarctica and go skiing. I love these open plans they may difficult to sell to sponsors as there are no big peaks and headline objectives but they do all you to make the most of the weather and condition rather than trying to force an objective when it may not be the best thing to be doing. On the Antarctic Peninsula where the amount of ice in the water is a crucial factor in where you can go where you can land and where you can ski our approach worked really well.

The Drake passage, the stretch of water between South America and the Antarctic Peninsula is probably the wildest stretch of ocean on earth, it guards the gateway to Antarctica. Travelling on a yacht you feel very small in a very big seas, it took 4 days to cross to the South Shetland Islands where we could stretch our legs and enjoy a few ski turns on Deception Island while we waited for the weather to allow us to cross to the main peninsula.

Arriving in Cierva Cove we met the real Antarctica huge glaciers crashing into the sea, ice bergs, Penguins and a chance to explore on skis. We managed a nice peak in mixed weather then spent a night dodging icebergs at anchor before a particularly big berg persuaded us to move on to Enterprise Island. This is an incredible natural harbor where we tied up to the hulk of an old whaling ship that had been run aground after a fire. Enterprise Island is the perfect example of why small is beautiful. The Island is only a mile or so across but from the summit we had 500m of fresh untracked snow in every direction we were like pigs in poo.

Having left our mark (until the next snow fall anyway) a clear sat pic allowed us to land on Brabant Island with tents, food and fuel for 4 days. We dragged kit inland and set up a camp so we could explore some of the peaks round Mount Parry, Brabant’s highest peak (2500m). With the wind to strong to summit Parry we skied some excellent wind blown snow on neighboring peaks.

Back on the boat a north wind cleared ice to our south allowing us to visit the historic British base at Port Lockroy. We tied the boat up to some sea ice using a combination of anchors and ice screws, skiing was easy we just climbed over the bow onto the ice and put our skis on. A change in the wind back to the south started pushing ice into our bay so a sharp exit and a move north to Paradise harbor gave some interesting ice navigation then some incredible skiing on Lemaire Island and Culverville before all to soon it was time to prepare the boat for sea and head back into the Drake.

On any trip like this the sailing was as big an adventure as the skiing, the skipper judged the weather just right and we were treated to a real southern ocean sleigh ride on the way home. Helming the boat in 50knots of wind, surfing a 60ft yacht at almost 18 knots is a memory that will stay with me as long as skiing above a stunning bay full of icebergs.

The kit

When choosing ski kit for Antarctica there was only one ski choice for me the Dynastar Mythic 97, I want a quiver of one that will cope with everything. Skiing on the Antarctic Peninsula we knew we would get every kind of snow the first hundred meters above the beach is always pretty rotten due to the salt in the air then by the time you reach the summit the wind will have done its work and you will often be skiing wind pack. On the south aspects we found some powder on the north we found spring snow (took a while to remember we were in the Southern Hemisphere) so I really did need a ski for everything and the Mythic was awesome. In Ascent its light and torsionally stiff enough to hold an edge on firm snow. In descent it laps up everything holding an edge on steep firm snow then riding through the crud with the big shovel stopping the ski from stalling. In powder the Mythic just floats like a much wider ski.

This season I have gone a size up and wish I had years ago the jump from 178-184 seems a tiny amount but the ski feels so much more stable with my 80kg and a pack on my back.