Sam Beaugey in Antarctica: a "Train kite" expedition!

This winter, Sam Beaugey and his friend François traveled to the “white continent” to attempt rock and mixed climbing first ascents on never-before-climbed summits. They completed an entirely self-sufficient 12-day traverse of the Holtanna Range via "train kite." An ingenious combination of skis and sleds propelled by kite!
Sam and François were kind enough to share a trip report of their recent adventure…

 

Sam Beaugey and Antarctica

Sam Beaugey en antarctique

After 4 years of traveling through Queen Maud Land, Antarctica is no longer terra incognito for Sam. In 2010, he, Géraldine Fasnacht, Seb Collomb-Gros and Manu Pellissier, made the first BASE jump ever in this vast realm of ice, christened “Holstinnd 2041,” from the summit of Holstinnd Peak (in the Holtanna range).
This year he returned to the very same mountain range with the desire to show and share with his friend one of the most spectacular landscapes on the planet, Antarctica! This uninhabited land where, when the wind dies down, the light and silence turn it into a sight far beyond anything one could ever imagine.

 

12-day traverse by "train-kite"

One of the most memorable days was the 3rd day of our traverse. Early morning both wind direction and speed were perfect for our kite, in addition to the fact that we were on a 15km wide, extremely flat glacier. Our “train-kite” technique was born: one kite for two people and two sleds. We averaged 25km/hr on soft snow with practically no sastrugi (small wind ridges in the snow).

As soon as we reached the confluence of two glaciers, there was more ice and less snow. By the time we realized what was going on it was too late: we suddenly found ourselves in the middle of crevasse-ridden terrain. Just as I turned around I saw one of François’s skis plunge into a hole… I lowered the kite and came to a stop. After setting up an anchor with ice screws, I crawled over on all fours to take a look. We had backup skis in our sleds, but they were cross-country skis and we still had a long way to go. A quick look in to the abyss was terrifying. Four meters down the ski was precariously perched on two small mounds of snow, but the crevasse was enormous, like the vaulted ceiling of a cathedral. The extremely fragile edge made rappelling into the crevasse to retrieve the ski way too risky. Using duct tape, we assembled a makeshift fishing rod with two ski poles and an ice axe to try to recover the ski. We were able to hook the binding without the ski sliding away; mission accomplished!

Now we had to figure a way out of this minefield. After looking through our binoculars, backtracking looked much more dangerous than heading east. We roped up, double-checked the release grips on our sleds, and for 30 minutes skied as carefully as possible, holding our breath for most of the way…

We did it! We were able to safely reach smooth ice. By the time it took us to put on crampons, with sleds in tow, and descend to the moraine the day appeared pretty much to be over… But one last obstacle was waiting for us: a glacial stream flowed between us and the moraine. We tried again and again, but the film of ice on top of the stream was just too thin, the water too deep, and the current too swift to traverse. We headed southwest for an hour in search of a detour until we realized, by looking through our binoculars, that there was no moulin where the water could flow into the glacier, and that this 70-meter wide river continued for at least another 15km south, completely blocking our path. We needed to find another way to cross. After a few more tries, it looked as if there was an area where the ice covering the river was just thick enough. We first crossed on skis without sleds, probing the ice with our poles to lighten the load considerably and test the ice. It worked! We then repeated the maneuver, this time with our sleds. After a 3-hour battle, we finally reached the other side; all that remained was to find a small patch of snow to pitch our tent. Another beautiful day in Antarctica!

-- Sam Beaugey

 
 
 

The trip in photos

In spite of a late start, we still traveled 20km on this windless day. The next day, our goal was to ski over a steep pass with both sleds. We decided to shuttle loads, otherwise crossing the pass would not have been possible.

 

 

Around 22:00, the katabatic wind started to blow and wouldn’t stop for the entire night. We were getting close to extremely windy areas, and would need to remain alert.

 

There was not a lot of snow where we could plant our tent. The entire region was wind-scoured, leaving the glacier ice exposed. Ulvetanna Peak breaks up the horizon more than 100 km from our first base camp.

 
 

 

Tungaspissen's sentinel

A never-ending dihedral up the face; a common feature in the region.


 

40km from our end-point, following a 4-day wait in our tent due to poor weather and 5m visibility, it was time to go; we skied 6 to 7 hours straight per day.


 

A quick stop at the Russian research station. This tank can pull 3 to 6 containers on skis to bring cargo from the ice breaker ship to the station.

 
 
 

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