‘Mission Antarctic’ Expedition Blog with Lucas Debari and Xavier De Le Rue
Xavier De le Rue and Lucas Debari are currently on expedition with The North Face to Antarctica. Follow along with the ‘Mission Antarctic’ expedition while the two share real-time dispatches as they ride some of the steepest and most beautiful lines at the bottom of the world. This Blog will be getting updated as the trip unfolds, and look out for the full feature in the March Issue of TransWorld SNOWboarding Magazine.
Photo Gallery from the trip
Xavier De Le Rue: Dispatch 5 (final blog entry)
Here I am sitting at this very brit looking like cafe place in Stanley Falklands just getting my head (and stomach) together after four days of delightful seasickness through the Drake Passage.
Coming back to the civilization, I’m getting all these flashbacks in my head.
The bays surrounding us, all the untouched faces, all the moments we shared with the crew through hell and heaven.
Beforehand I felt that this could be the trip of my life and I am certain now that it is indeed true.
I am so thankful to have had the chance to put the dream trip together and I can’t wait to share it all with everyone.
There is a massive packing underway back at our boat the Golden Fleece. We are flying off tomorrow to hopefully make it on time for father Xmas.
We could feel all the way back on the peninsula all the stoke from our posts and it really helped us to carry on day after day with our exploration.
Thank you sooo much from the whole crew for all your cheers.
Stay tuned for more!
See the Full Feature and all the epic Photos in the March Issue of TransWorld SNOWboarding Magazine
(Print and iPad editions)
You can Follow the Story through the blog updates over the next pages
Lucas Debari: Dispatch 4
An Except from Lucas DeBari’s Journal…
Despite our intentions of riding the captain today, we all take notice of an ever-encroaching cloud bank 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, and 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.
by Lucas Debari.
Above Video Leak from the trip
Click Through to Page 2 for more Dispatch stories from the crew’s trip to Antarctica
Lucas Debari: Dispatch 3
It has been a wild ride since we left the Falkland Islands over a week ago. Now that we are not puking our brains out and are within the protection of the small bays and inlets, we have had the opportunity to switch our focus to snowboarding.
Despite the many distracting endeavors required for us to be here, that is after all why we are here!
As the weather cleared that first day, we laid our eyes on the real terrain that this foreign land has to offer and it’s steep, real freakin steep. The first line we saw was about 55-60 degrees and continued this pitch directly into the ocean. With one good looking line as a prospect, our spirits were starting to rise.
I know that any trip with Xavier is going to be scary, but this is a whole new world of shit. My major concern at this point was that the snow would be hard, and I straight up do not enjoy riding big lines in anything other than fresh pow. Riding steep lines in pow is how I have made it to where I am, although I did know coming into this that I would be pushed way beyond that comfort zone of mine.
So with my head spinning, we continued our navigation of the coast in a southerly direction. As we crested around a small horn it came into view. Holy shit, it was the most perfect, steepest line that I had ever seen. I’m calling it the ‘captain’, because it is the most impressive chunk of earth I have seen since I first laid eyes on El Capitan in Yosemite Valley. It was perfect. The Bergshrund was small and positively oriented, there was not a single cornice or objective hazard the entire way up the thing. It looks about 1500 feet tall from the schrund, and the majority of this looks at least 60 degrees from any vantage point. The film crew shit their pants, though I’m sure they can imagine the glory of their documentation if Xav and I are willing to step to this. We had found a gem, but it was the most intimidating gem I had ever thought of touching.
The next day, we awoke to our first blue skies. The stoke was high and the scenery was unlike anything that I could have imagined on the journey down. We had found a nice looking warm up face the day before, and as we approached it in good light we realized that it was a legit 400 ft spine wall that belongs somewhere up in Haines, Alaska.
Still, very apprehensive of the snow conditions, we skinned up to the base and started climbing. Our guide Tony Lamiche is a French badass, who has been getting gnarly in Chamonix for years. He has a very competent and confident persona to him and this is very helpful in building my own confidence in these rowdy situations. As we topped out on the ridge we could not help but look across the bay at the Captain, sitting there staring right back at us, looking nothing short of dead vertical from our vantage point. How the hell are we ever going to ride that? As we traversed the ridge to our drop in points I am wondering what the hell I am doing there. I have no business riding this shit in these conditions. I have very little experience with hard packed mountaineering descents.
Nonetheless, there I am strapped in with my ice axe in hand ready for my first real line of the trip. The signal from the camera crew comes over the radio and I drop in. No fucking way, it’s pow. Not like knee deep Mt. Baker pow, but pow. What seemed barely rideable to me at first sight is now getting ripped apart by my snowboard. I came flying out the bottom of the run over the schrund and into the flats. I’m screaming shouts of joy and stoke as the adrenaline pumps through my veins. Am I back in the Wrangells with Jones and Ryland?
It was unreal. Xavier was ecstatic as well as he came flying down from the highest peak at speeds only he seems to reach. Neither of us had any hopes of touching pow on this trip. I quickly threw my board on my pack and sprinted up to the ridge for another lap. My next line was a bit shorter, but much steeper and more technical spine riding. Less than an hour later the camera crew was set and I’m dropping in. Three to four steep turns, a nice straight line and one big leap, and I’m over the schrund pinning it into the flats of the glacier.Once again ecstatic hoots of stoke are being screamed from my body. That is the kind of shit I live for. The snow was great, even by AK standards.
It was almost midnight as we sat down for dinner with the whole crew on the boat. In a matter of five hours I had gone from shitting my pants just thinking about riding some of these lines, to being fully stoked that it was a very realistic possibility. Even the captain of the boat and his crew seemed to catch the fever of stoke that we all have. They have never seen anything like what we are here to do, but are beginning to comprehend our addiction and passion for it.
Everything is beginning to make sense. I did come to Antarctica for a good reason, I’m here to shred.
After today, anything is possible.
Xavier De Le Rue: Dispatch 2
We are here sitting in the living room of the boat and it feels like we are back in the storm, except that the boat is dead calm. The vessel is laying on it's side on a 25-degree angle since this morning when we got stuck on the shallow bottom approaching a line in a little hidden bay. The boat has actually been seriously stuck since this morning and we are waiting for the tide to come back up to it's full position so eventually maybe we will able to get it out of here… Haha, no big deal….the captain is fairly confident. We should hit the high tide point soon and get out of this trap.
In the mean time, we still managed to hit that big line we were aiming for. The snow wasn't as good as last night's, but the surroundings were definitely super impressive and made for a great experience.
We're starting to feel really comfortable with the snow. It is really perfect to both climb and ride – reeeeallly steep terrain. We have two amazing faces, just waiting for us to go and get them… Definitely way higher standard of riding than what I was expecting. We have been incredibly lucky with the weather, and we are making the most of every second of our adventure.
Xavier about to drop
The team is a great combination of talent, and the long days really give us the chance to try to capture the immense beauty of the peninsula. One thing that is tiring here it is how much we keep repeating to each other how incredible it is…
I feel so lucky to be a part of this trip, and I can finally feel released from all the pressure that I've had on my shoulders in the last few months putting the trip together. And by the way….the boat just got out of its trap so we are sailing off to some more adventures!
Thanks for tuning in!
Scoping new lines
Above Video: Xavier Getting Ready for the Trip
Lucas Debari: Dispatch 1
It was 9 a.m. when I landed in Santiago, Chile. I had missed a flight and temporarily lost my passport and wallet along the way, so you can imagine how stoked I was to see both of my checked bags come sliding out of the tunnel into the baggage check area. Xavier and the crew had arrived the day before.
At 4 a.m. the next day we woke up and began our travels to the Falkland Islands. With the possibility of setting sail that night, Renan handed out some motion sickness pills that Jimmy Chin’s witch doctor had hooked us up with. An hour later and for the majority of that day, we were all so messed up that none could comprehend each other's words even when speaking our common language of English. By the time we landed in the Falkland Islands everyone seemed to be coming around. It was a military base that we arrived at, and it was only a matter of seconds before I was being scolded and threatened for taking photos of the camouflaged planes.
The next evening, despite the storm, the captain decided to set sail and begin our voyage to the Antarctic Peninsula. I was surprised, considering the size of the storm spiral on the satellite, but all we could do was trust our fearless leader. It was only about a half hour or so before we emerged from the protection of the bay and were in the open ocean. Within 20 minutes our entire crew was laying down using every bit of mental focus to not vomit or fall out of our beds in the turbulent seas.
Our captain Jerome is supposed to be one of the most experienced sailors in the South Atlantic, which brings some assurance to my uneasy feelings about sailing across the Drake Passage to Antarctica. What seemed fortunate at the time was a 1000-kilometer-wide storm that was in our sailing path. This gave us an extra day in the Falklands to carefully pack up the boat and get acquainted with our living quarters. Spirits were high at this point as everything was coming together quite smoothly.
The next 72 hours were possibly the most miserable three days of my life. I think I left my little nest of a bed for a total of an hour during this time. I managed to put down a bowl of ramen and a few crackers here and there. Renan is in the bunk across from me, and keeps going on about how this is just like suffering on the big-wall portaledge during his epic expedition on Meru the year before.
Simple tasks like unscrewing a water bottle for a drink seemed to be just as difficult as they were for me at 17,000 feet on Denali. Overall, I was completely over it at this point, the thought of snowboarding on this trip seemed unfathomable, and that wasn't just me. You should have seen Xavier during this time. He looked like a ghost, vomiting after every bite and barely able to open his eyes. I never saw him move once from his bed. The storm that had granted us an extra day in the Falklands was now pushing us to our very limits of sanity.
Every day is a new day, and today we awoke to calm seas and much lifted spirits. Xavier is walking around with a smile, we all ate some pizza for lunch, and are now hanging out together in the living area for the first time since we left the harbor. Trying to write this, I my computer flew off the table when we hit a wave and I made a highlight reel catch. For me, it is the first time in days that I have had some confidence in myself as well as the expedition. With more open ocean ahead of us, we can only hope that our overall condition will continue to improve.
Thanks for following,
Hitting the Drake Above Video
Xavier’s Trailer for the Trip Above
Stay tuned for more updates right here on TWSNOW.com as the trip unfolds