Rick's World

Where's Rick now? Check in to find out. Stories from the mountains of the Sierra Nevada and beyond...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

November Powder

Who says there's nothing worth skiing in the Sierra?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Opening Day @ Mt Rose

First turns of the year at Mt Rose on the Ponderosa!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Antarctica 2008: The trip that didn't happen

Well, if you're reading my blog your most likely a friend of mine hoping to find pictures of the journey I was making to Antarctica (I was supposed to be there right now). I will post a longer trip report of my Southern Hemisphere journey with pics and all when I return to the US and my own computer.

First off, just to get it out of the way, I've been skiing powder the last two days, in Ushuaia, not Antarctica. Life doesn't suck :-)

Short version of the story: we didn't get to go, the ship broke down before we ever left port.

Longer version of the story

I left from SFO on 10/25. After too many hours of uneventful travel I landed in Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires is a great city. I did the typical touristy things, ate lots of beef, and hung out with my friends Kyla and Mike (Kyla used to live in the same buiding as my sister) who are living in BA for a year.

Got to the airport a little early on the 29th as I had received conflicting updates on what time my plane left. It ended up due to an equipment problem we were delayed a little over an hour. No big deal, I saw someone else with ski boots sitting at the coffee shop, not many skiers heading down to Ushuaia this time of year, so it was a pretty safe assumption they were heading down for the Antarctica trip too. It ended up it was profesional skier Chris Davenport. Several people asked us about where we were heading as we chatted about the trip. Chris pointed out to me that this was going to be one of the largest gatherings of pro skiers, ski movie makers, ski guides, and industry insiders that has ever occured. We ran into a couple more people heading down for our trip and were all very excited.

The little airport in Ushuaia was packed when we arrived. A LAN flight had arrived just before ours so many trip participants were getting their bags and getting to our hotel. Everything went smoothly, it ended up I was rooming in the hotel with professional snowboarder Sean Bugsby who I had run into in the BA airport the day I arrived.

That night we had a big group dinner and it started to be really clear just how many industry "big wigs" were here. In addition to Chris I recognized Andrew McClean, Ingrid Backstrom, Warren Miller's film crew led by Tom Day, Jessica Sobolowski and husband Kevin Quinn (who own Points North Heli Ski), a big group of the PNHS guides, and many others who looked familiar. There was a huge Squaw/Tahoe crew and I also ran into David Marchi who had guided the first trip I made to attempt Mount Shasta in 2004. Everyone was super excited and ready to get going. Trip organizer Doug Stoup let us know the ship had encountered some bad weather on the way down and was going to be a bit late, so we would need to hang out the next day after checking out of the hotel, reconvening in the afternoon for an update.

Woke up the next morning and still no ship. Sean and I hung out around Ushuaia checking out the local sporting good stores, stocking up on snack food at the grocery store, and generally wasting time. Checking the wave forecasts was a favorite past time in the hotel lobby, as big as 60 feet with a huge low hanging over the Drake Passage!! At our afternoon meeting we learned the ship was near so we would get dinner on the town that night, then embark.

Sure enough, just before dinner we saw the ship coming up the Beagle Canal. After one more steak dinner we all gathered again and got on the ship. I learned that Dave Marchi was gonna be my roommate which was very cool, someone I already new! Finally we were on our way........

At the initial briefing we were told about "Drake Proofing" our cabins, basically we were expecting BIG seas so we needed to make sure things in our cabin were secure. The ship was going through inspections so we weren't exactly sure what time we would sail. We were told to take our sea sickness medicine of choice before bed and if we started off soon we might do our life boat drill before bed. Just after the meeting they announced no drill as it was already getting pretty late and many of us retired to the bar. I went to bed around 2am with the boat still not moving.

I woke up the next morning a bit spacey from my Scopolmine patch but it was obvious we were still not moving, indeed we were still at port. At breakfast we were told that the boat had a problem and didn't pass one of its inspections. They were working on repairing the problem, but for the time being they had arranged a couple buses to take us up to the nearby Martial Glacier where we could do some skiing and practice our roped glacier travel, no big deal, we could get that out of the way before we got down there.

Upon returning from a nice day of skiing we all met in the dining room for afternoon tea. The update now was that they thought they had fixed the boat, but it still didn't pass inspection. They were working on addressing the problem, but with the accident last year on the Explorer (a ship that sank on an Antarctica cruise) the authorities were being very particular. The next inspection would be the next morning so we would not be leaving before then. For the first time the idea that the ship might not be able to make the trip was raised as well as the idea that it might be possible to extend the trip a day if we were further delayed, and would anyone absolutely not be able to do that. It was Halloween and many people dressed up for a big party that night.

The next morning, no update. I slept off my hangover, lunch on the boat, and more waiting for our afternoon update. When it finally happened the news we all feared came true. In testing the engine after the second repair it had become clear the problem was much more serious then initially thought. Coolant was leaking into the engine oil and the repair was going to take many, many days. Our trip was definitly canceled and the next one was in jepordy too.

On the verge of tears, Doug said we would be getting our money back and we are going to do this next year! To their credit, Quark Expeditions, the company that runs the boat, told us that in addition to refunding the tour costs to Doug's company, they would also allow us to stay on the boat with free food and open bar as long as the port authority allowed it to stay at the dock, they would put us up at hotels in Ushuaia after that up to as long as the tour would have gone, and they would pay for all change fees for people that changed their flights.

Obviously, there were a lot of very disappointed people and a lot of questions. Everyone was in a state of shock as people started to ponder what they were going to do now. Phone calls were made, web searches happened, flights started being rebooked, and all the booze people had brought on board for are 11 day trip was being consumed rapidly in addition to the open bar.

Yesterday, a big group of us headed up to the closed Cerro Castor ski area and after an hour hike up to snowline skied some nice fresh snow that fell the night before. There was rumor starting to spread about the possibility for some to get on another boat that has some space, but it was unclear if skiing would be a possibility, and if so a maximum of 3 days. However, spirits remained high, we had a lot of fun, and another late night last night.

Today we had to disembark the ship so it could move out to anchor. I'm now in a hotel in Ushuaia. I headed back up to the Martial Glacier again today and found some more great powder skiing.

The reality of the whole thing is really still just sinking in. I've had a great time with the folks on the trip, it's an experience I'll never forget. I plan to come back next year for sure, as do the vast majority of folks I've talked to. Doug, Karen, and the Ice Axe crew have been fantastic. To put in bluntly, shit happens in adventure travel. I'm sure glad it happened at the dock and not in the middle of 60 foot sees in the Drake Passage!! I'm going to hang out here until Thurs and ski some more, then head back to BA, maybe check out Uruguay while I'm in the neighborhood.

One final thought for now, if you're one of my skiing friends, I'm going to be putting the hard sell on to get you to join me down here next year. This is an AMAZING oppertunity to see and ski one of the last truely wild places in the world with a unique group of people that would never all get together for anything else. Start saving your money, build up points with the significant other, don't get the wife pregnant, let's ski Antarctica together in 2009.

More when I return to the US...(go vote!)

P.S. Sorry for the lack of proofing this post, spell check won't work and there are people waiting for the computer.