Union Glacier is ALE’s logistics & operations base in Antarctica, and the first place you visit upon arrival. All other transport is made from here, weather permitting. They have a large camp for their clients (see above) along with a camping area for climbers such as ourselves with IMG to set up our own tents, etc. In addition, they provide bathrooms, showers, mess/dining tent and library tent for the general well-being & entertainment of their staff and clients while at Union Glacier.
In short – it is a top class operation, and I marveled at the buffet meals provided three times daily, with the variety of incredibly tasty options (including fresh made pumpkin soup along with fresh baked bread each lunch time) that we devoured while waiting on the weather to change. Shackleton level hardship? Not quite! The only hardship suffered those few days was by our waistlines. It was just remarkable, to pause and remind yourself, you were in Antarctica, not some cafeteria in a western city – and not a single ingredient consumed was (or could be) sourced locally. It is quite the logistical feat.
We quickly rechecked our gear during the downtime, ensuring boots, crampons, ascenders, etc. all working and fitting properly, and after that, kept ourselves busy (when not eating) with crosswords & sudoku – ALE had contracted with a media company to very conveniently provide a several page news of he world bulletin, along with tedious sudoku challenges and possibly the most cryptic daily crossword I have ever seen – all perfect for killing time. The 24 hour sunlight certainly takes some getting used to (the cover photo for this post was taken at 3AM!). I had experienced this in Alaska when climbing Denali, but there was at least a manner of dusk in Alaska, where things were a little darker – less so here in Antarctica, especially the further up the mountain we get.
Between all the down products in my tent and the time in the mess hall, I stayed comfortable, but fair to say that general anxiety began to increase across all the teams as the weather refused to cooperate and Thursday turned into Friday turned into Saturday. Finally, Saturday night we saw a satellite image that showed the clouds clearing over Vinson and more importantly, by the tiny airstrip at Vinson Base Camp where we were to be dropped off. If everything continued as-is, we would be leaving Sunday AM for VBC!