We woke Saturday morning to what were most certainly worse conditions than those we had summited in the day before – and we thanked the stars we had made our push then. The air about camp was upbeat given everyone (us, MountainTrip, even the ALE guides & rangers) were all headed down the mountain and hopefully back home in the coming days. After a quick breakfast we broke down camp and donned packs to head back down to the top of the fixed ropes and from there, to make as rapid a descent as we could back down to C1. There, we would cache some group gear (to be used next year by the next IMG team), collect any of our belongings deemed unnecessary for the upper mountain, and rope up our sleds before trekking back down to VBC.
After a long day, descending the fixed rope followed by trekking with sleds, we made it back down to VBC, where the team were greeted by ALE manager with celebratory champagne (a nice touch), likely in the effort to take the edge off what we already knew – the weather was awful and the plane from Union Glacier would not be able to fly, so we were stuck here – for now. Half of the CTSS team that had descended on Thursday (it was now Saturday eve) were also stuck here – which I have to admit made me feel a bit better! The only thing worse than the anxiety of having yet to make the summit and uncertainty about the weather – is having made the summit, being ready to go home and stuck at base camp due to bad weather!!
Three days went by stuck at VBC, each day checking the forecast, each day learning that today was not to be the day – but maybe tomorrow. On our last full day at VBC, the weather was so tantalizingly close to clearing that we all sat out for hours through the afternoon, trying to gauge if another 10 feet of runway were now visible, until we finally hit 8PM, when the Union Glacier pilots called it a day. The following day, the weather finally cooperated, the skies clearing and the sun coming out. We took last photos, delighted to be moving on – and out.
We dashed to the Twin Otter and piled inside as quickly as humanly possible – almost fearing that had we not, someone would call to say the weather had turned and the flight had been canceled. None of us wanted to spent another minute longer here than necessary. We were all already dreaming of home and warmth and loved ones. Again, couldn’t help but spare a thought for the Ernest Shackleton’s of this world – and all they had to go through to get back home, long after the original decision to do so. We, on the other hand, would be home in a matter of days at most. Speaking of – our excitement was piqued due to the fact we had learned the Ilyushin was already en route from Chile, and we would have just enough time after landing at Union Glacier to gather our gear, grab a quick bite of lunch before embarking on that flight, which would take us one major step closer to home.
The hour flight back to Union Glacier was when I could finally relax, exhale, enjoy the moment and savor the accomplishment. Number six was done. I had seen Antarctica – what an incredible place – and I was heading home. I took a few more snaps of the view from the plane – none of which really can do justice to this incredible continent – and the small snippet of which I am now familiar. It really does help put into context just how insignificant we re individually (and indeed collectively). It is abundantly obvious from this vantage point, that mother earth will carry on – with us – or without us. We can either tend to her, or destroy her… but the latter really does seem like a fool stranded at sea, stubbing out his cigarette, burning a hole in the very life raft that keeps him alive. I can only hope we learn the necessary lessons before it’s too late.
Ending on a bright note – collectively, we had another $10,000 for the American Kidney Fund – another great achievement, which I want to thank you all again for supporting. Many of you are repeat donors from my first expedition in Dad’s honor to Mt. Everest – so I thank you for your continued support – and hope that this blog provided some entertainment in return for your generosity. I promise – the next appeal won’t be until the next big mountain (and I am running out of them on this particular quest)! No idea yet when that may be, but I will keep you posted as & when things develop. There is much life to be lived back at home in the mean time.