Firstly, my apologies for only getting to update the blog now. As promised, there was no internet on Antarctica (a beautiful thing!) and so I was limited to documenting & photographing the stages of the trip from the moment the Ilyushin door closed in Punta Arenas and we took off bound for Union Glacier.
There was quite a buzz around town on Wednesday morning as we were preparing to fly out – firstly, because we were leaving for Antarctica a day earlier than anticipated (always a good thing!) and secondly, because the name Jimmy Chin was spotted on the flight manifest by one of our team. Turns out he was flying to Antarctica along with two North Face sponsored skiers (Jim Morrison & Hillaree Nelson) to meet up with Conrad Anker, where they were going to attempt to ski several first descents on Mt. Vinson and Mt. Tyree. We Irish folk are know for our stoicism in the face of celebrity, but I have to admit to being more than a little awestruck with these folks – given their incredible skill and accomplishments in the mountains (innumerable climbs and ski descents) and indeed, on screen (Meru, Free Solo). Good company to have.
We were instructed not to take any photos while being bused out to the Ilyushin plane (Punta doubles as a military air base), owned by ALE (Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions – a crew that runs all of the logistics and operations for climbers, trips to the South Pole, trips to the coast to see Emperor penguin colonies, trans-Antarctic expeditions, etc.) – so our first glimpse was somewhat muted (see photo below) which I took when later flying out of Punta after the expedition – as the Ilyushin was parked away from the immediate terminal area.
We disembarked the bus and jumped right on (into) the Ilyushin, through a small entry door near the front of the plane, and entered into a fitting chariot to fly us on a whole new adventure for all of us. This is an old Russian military plane with 5 rows of seating in the front of the plane and the rest of the hold for cargo, machinery, equipment, etc.
Photos above give you an idea of what it was like inside the belly of the beast, so to speak! I was reminded of that old line about the only difference between men and boys being the price of their toys and thought amen to that!! This was one big adult boy scout adventure about to kick off!! Approximately four hours of a surprisingly comfortable (if loud) journey later, we were told we’d be landing in the next 30 minutes. At that point, final gear adjustments were made in our seats, additional layers were added – including full-on Everest boots – to be ready for the biting cold we expected upon landing. Half hour later, after again surprisingly gentle landing (considering it was of a huge metal plane landing on the blue ice runway of Union Glacier), we came to a halt and the entry door once again opened, and bright, bright white glared in the doorway. Welcome to Antarctica!
We disembarked from the plane and began to take in the vast emptiness around us, along with a true appreciation of the magnificent aircraft that had safely carried us from Punta Arenas here to Union Glacier.
With remarkable efficiency, the ALE folks greeted us and directed us to one or other of a number of snow-cats, to shuttle us several miles from the runway back to the Union Glacier camp proper, where we were just in time for dinner and a weather forecast for Vinson Base Camp that didn’t sound so good and meant this was going to be our home for the next few days at least.