With the return of the light in July, we started to emerge from our dark burrows, rubbed our eyes and blinked in the sunshine, becoming a bit more active as the second round of winter trips was about to start. This time round I got lucky and the weather during my week in the field looked very promising. Again, we’ve decided not to go to the other side of the island, but stay closer to base were we’d have a plethora of opportunities for climbing and skiing. Our whole party consisting of 3 fieldguides and us 3 tourists (for want of a better word) left base on a lovely cloudless Monday morning to make our way to camp at Trident East.
After we set-up camp, we still had time for a little exploit up our house mountain – Trident.
For some reason we’ve decided that skiing the south face of it would be a really great idea for the next day, as it hadn’t been done very often before. Turns out there is a reason for that. After we got up bright and early we skinned (this is when you essentially put carpet on your skis to give them grip and allow you to walk up-hill with them) up to the ridge of Trident and from there to the top. We hadn’t quite accounted for the wind during the night and morning, blowing away the soft snow and scouring away on the remaining harder snow creating beautiful sastrugi (essentially waves in the snow). The harder surface of the snow made getting up the mountain fairly easy with a few tricky bits, but made skiing it down incredibly hard and surprisingly little fun – obviously also related to my lack of skill. So, I spent most of my time trying to slowly pick a line down a steep slope across all the icy sastrugi, trying very hard not to fall flat on my face. Some of the others were more successful with that – I, however, was not.
After giving my burning legs a rest and a quick lunch, we spent the afternoon a bit more relaxed by exploring a nearby crevasse. It wasn’t very big and we were running out of light, thus did not spent too much time there. However the experience was definitely worth the effort: abseiling into an icy cathedral where wind and weather have created wonderful sculptures out of ice, felt pretty amazing.
The next day we found a sheltered ice climb, called Spiritual Harmony and spent the day ice-axing and scrambling it up. The one thing I have learned from this climb is, that I definitely need more food when trying to be active at -15°C. I’ve found myself halfway up this climb, hanging on an icy wall, the tips of my crampons ramped into the ice as much as possible (obviously having a bit of a disco leg going), desperately trying to hack a hold into the hard ice with my ice-axe while feeling like I am about to pass out from hunger. A feeling causing not a small amount of snippiness and sarcasm when being asked how I am doing by my fieldguide. I guess being hangry is a thing and yes I know I should have just had more porridge in the morning.
The next day was a beautiful blue bird day. No wind and lots of sunshine. It was one of my favourite days as we spent it climbing and skiing down a peak called Wendy. As always with any activity in Antarctica, a lot of faff is involved with getting ready and travelling between locations, however soon we reached the site, roped up, got all our crevasse and avalanche rescue kit packed, ditched the skidoos and started to head down a small slope towards the frozen sea before ascending Wendy. The snow sparkled in the sunshine like the place was covered in diamond dust causing my heart to definitely skip a few beats for the pure joy of being in this incredibly beautiful place. While we were skinning up the hill, in the knowledge that only a handful of people have ever been here, all that could be heard was our breathing and the crunch of the snow as we were moving across it. With the sea frozen as far as we could see, there were not even birds to break the silence. Lunch at the peak provided a stunning view across the North of Adelaide Island. Rugged mountain ranges breaking through the downy snow blanket which soften the landscape unspoiled by humanity. The descend was brilliant fun, the smooth slope being covered in a layer of powdery snow certainly helped us to regain confidence in our skiing abilities and more than made up for the slog that was Trident. It was a long and tiring day and we made it back to camp as the sun was about to set, feeling very content and ready to leave for base the following day being told bad weather is coming our way.
However, once we woke up the next morning the weather was equally lovely to the previous day and by the time we had packed up camp I had coerced my fieldguide into doing another climb on the way back – the mentioning of scrub out if we arrive back too early might have done the trick. He did concede to climb a small ice gully on the way back to base. Contrary to Spiritual Harmony which basically felt like an endurance climb and could be climbed with fairly little skill, this climb although a lot shorter, was also a lot more technical with the crux in form of an overhanging rock at the very end of it. My fieldguide lead the climb while I belayed him sitting in the sunshine on a protruding rocky outcrop, the base just below us. Hearing a skidoo rumble in the distance, for a short moment I had a déjà vu of summer in Europe, going climbing while somewhere somebody is mowing their lawn. Reality soon dawned on me again, once I started to second him up the climb. At one point I found myself edged in the gully pushing my back up against the rock with my feet on the other side – rock and ice cheerfully crumbling away – immensely thankful for being on a top robe and praying to any potential deities that the anchor my fieldguide was attached to would hold my various attempts off clambering to the top which most certainly would be followed by a fall. After a lot of faffing and probably a lot of blasphemy I eventually managed to scramble my way over the top and got rewarded with a lovely view over Laubeuf Fjord.
After spending my first winter trip more or less sedentary perfecting my culinary skills over a primer stove, this trip has definitely reconciled me with adventuring in Antarctica, even if it turned out that camping at -15°C feels a lot colder than camping at -5°C – who would have thought 10°C make such a difference.