Despite our intentions of riding the captain today, we all take notice of an ever-encroaching cloudbank headed straight our way.
With no chance of riding or filming the line in anything less than perfect light, we end up going for plan B which is a 55 plus degree slope that continues right into the ocean. It has a very aesthetic AK style spine that splits the majority of the face. Having spent a good amount of time in AK this brings a bit of relativity to my mind and with this comes comfort. I’m sure that this is going to have good snow. It looks like pow and is a similar aspect to the epicness of the day sessions the day before.
A quick ride on the zodiac right up to the start of the linen and we are on slope. Its pretty crazy climbing right out of the water, ice axes in hand, an immediately right into the business. Another new element for me is that I’m wearing a life jacket as well as a Patrol 24 ABS Pack and a transceiver. Seems like overkill, but I’m not willing to lose any of my three potential life saving devices.
As we climb we notice that the snow is not quite the same as the day before, but as each footstep sinks in about a foot, I am sure it will still be quite ripable. As I’m slowly gaining confidence in these situations, I actually really enjoyed the exposed ascent of the face. With a quick little belay from our guide Tony, I am at the top of the face strapped in and ready to shred.
I ask Xavier if he prefers to ride with one or two axes in these sort of no fall situations and he says use two if it feels OK. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…dropping. I make a quick move onto the face on my toe side edge. Fuuuuuuck, its ice up here, and I quickly sink not one but two axes immediately into the face for security. Despite our feet and hands punching through the crust on the way up, our snowboards have too much surface area to do the same, and it feels like I’m dropping into the Breckenridge half pipe in mid December. Only this halfpipe wall is 60 degrees for 1000ft right into the damn ocean.
It takes me almost a full minute to traverse the face to the safety of the spine. After sinking an axe as an anchor and clipping in direct I say over the radio that first of all, this sucks, second, I think Xav should go first because if anyone can salvage a shot from this ice rink, its him. It might be extremely selfish and egotistical to say, but it was a bit of relief to see a very similar look of fear in his face as he dropped into the line a few minutes later. I’ve seen him ride some badass stuff in the past, and even he had quite a hell of a time making it down that 1000 ft to the ”safety” of the oceanside. For me, all I could do was make a few nice turns above the steepness of the face before I diverted to the alternate route down to the ocean.
As much as I say I enjoy scaring the crap out of myself, there are some moments that might be a little too much for me. This was one of those situations where you question everything that you do in life. I know it seems dramatic, however at the time I was sure that if I didn’t do everything exactly perfect with my topside edge and ice axes, I was going to be a goner.
As we made it back to the boat, the cloud bank that had persuaded us into plan B now receding back over the mountains across the bay. So with great light and no hesitation on Xavier’s part, we were heading straight for the Captain. What the hell am I to do.
Earlier that morning I was so sure that I was ready to tackle this beast. Now, I was still recovering from the death ice of the first line. The captain was for sure steeper and more sustained. With only twenty minutes on the boat in between lines, I was just not ready to step back into what I knew was going to be an extremely heavy situation. So with regrets that are sure to follow me around for the rest of the season, I watch Xavier and Tony take off on the zodiac for the coast without me on board. The only thing I can do to feel useful at this point is grab an extra 5D with a 70-200mm lens, have Renan set up the correct F-stop, ISO, aperture, shutter speed or whatever, and sulk my way up to a good vantage point.
It’s hard to explain how instantaneous the regret comes after backing off something like this. However as I watch Xavier climbing the last few hundred feet, I think about all of the gnarly shit he has done and how even though I’m not happy about my decision, deep down I know that it was the right call. Even though I’ve never filmed a line before, I figure I’ve seen enough shred flicks in my life to know how I want it to look. So with my ego stuffed into the snow I make sure that I film this line as best as it can be filmed.
It was pretty damn amazing to watch him descend the face. Even through the small screen on the back of the camera, it looked ridiculously steep. He absolutely nailed it. As he comes flying out of the bottom of the line, I can only imagine the excitement he must be experiencing at this moment. In the end, I really enjoyed the experience of watching someone who truly is pushing the limits of our sport, even if it was from the sidelines.
The next day was spent relaxing for the first time since we had arrived six days earlier. This was really cool, because it allowed us to be complete tourists for the first time of the trip. We were lucky enough on this day to spot some Minke whales, as well as one of the largest penguin colonies on the Antarctic Peninsula. This truly is a beautiful place, and despite my regrets from the previous day, I couldn’t have been more stoked to be in this foreign land.
It was almost a full two days after The Captain before we were able to get back on slope. On the previous day we had seen a really cool spine face that got some epic evening light. The hardest part for me was having to wait around all day until it was finally ready to shred. I was a bit anxious to get back on some steep terrain and see if I could overcome the mental disaster of our last shred day. Despite my anxiety, before I knew it were skinning up to the base of the spine wall. I never can tell how my mental game is going to be until I’m fully immersed in the situation. On this occasion, I was feeling damn confident. Maybe it was due to my bailing out on The Captain,
or maybe I was just more comfortable with the style of this line. Either way, I was fired up. I threw on my crampons, made a sketchy climbing move across the bergschrund, and fired the boot pack all the way to the top.
I had charged so hard up the face, that it wasn’t until I though about getting my board on my feet that I realized how steep and exposed I really was. For some reason, which I will never understand, this was one of those scary situations that I completely had under control. The ten minutes that I spent on top of this line were quite enjoyable. It was 9 o’clock in the evening and the view was one for the record books. Not being scared shitless allowed me to really take it all in and appreciate how lucky I am to have these opportunities.
I had to use all of the techniques that Xav had taught me to switch out of climbing mode and get ready to drop in. I knew that the conditions would be less than perfect, but this time I was ready for it. After a deep breath and a final view of the beautiful Antarctic ocean environment, I dropped in. It wasn’t quite the same style of riding I had enjoyed on our day of pow. Instead it was a very firm crust with only a few centimeters of soft snow that our edges were able to have purchase on. Either way I felt good about making a somewhat fluid descent of this steep spine wall. I had eyed up a nice schrund gap at the bottom, and nailed it perfectly as I exited the face onto the glacier.
As Xav dropped in I thought to myself how cool it was to be riding with one of the best in the game, and how much I personally had progressed even on this trip. He nailed his line, and once again we were sharing our stoke together as we rode down to the waters edge to await our zodiac ride back to the ship.
Follow Mission Antarctic from November 21st to December 21st at www.thenorthface.com/missionantarctic or on Instagram at #missionantarctic