Heading Home

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.

 

Summit Day

After moving to C2 (high camp) on Wednesday and seeing the CTSS team come down from the summit in what appeared to be as good conditions as anyone was likely to get this go round, we were champing at the bit – and getting increasingly nervous with the now closing weather window. The plan was to rest Thursday and go for the summit Friday. After our first night at high camp, Thursday came, and with it, more cloudy & overcast weather – a far cry from the day before. To make matters worse, the forecast wasn’t improving. What should be a slam-dunk summit was rapidly turning into more of a maybe. I started wondering if my notoriously checkered luck in the mountains had followed me all the way to Antarctica?!? After seeing several friends summit this peak earlier in the season in perfect conditions, was I going to return unsuccessful, hampered by the weather this time? I pushed this thought out of my mind for now, but I still felt it gnawing away quietly in the background of my subconscious.

Given the worsening weather, two other small teams decided to make a push for the summit on Friday, and we could only watch longingly as they disappeared into the cloud, wondering what might be – for them, and us. Much (MUCH) later that day, both teams returned to high camp after making the summit in what had been both a very long day and really bad (cold, cloudy, windy) conditions. They were chilled to the bone and fatigued – but – the uncertainty and doubt was gone from their minds and their faces. They had made the summit, and all remained now was to get back to VBC and wait for the first flight out. An enviable position. By contrast – our fate, and that of the one other team (MountainTrip) that had mirrored our schedule – still hung in the balance. Would Friday be more of the same weather – or worse? We dare not dream of the alternative – i.e. better weather – fore surely, that was setting oneself up for nothing but disappointment.

Friday morning arrived, and with it, unfortunately, a sick tent mate that had somehow contracted a stomach bug (even on a relatively short climb such as this, all the major personal mountain issues and risks are prevalent) and started his day off unceremoniously by throwing up last night’s dinner just outside our tent door. After some time recovering and cleaning up, he roped up and we prepared to go. My biggest concern today was the cold. This summit is typically very cold – even in perfect conditions, and we were heading up in far from perfect conditions. That said, the sky seemed just that bit clearer than the day before – which did lend some hope to our endeavor.

I was particularly concerned about my extremities (hands, feet) as I do have a tendency for them to get cold – and today was certainly going to be cold, if nothing else. I wiggled my feet and toes and everything felt pretty comfortable, between my fresh socks worn overnight and my Everest boots. A good start! Typically, something had to go not as planned – and today, it was that the batteries to electronically heat my big summit gloves had died in the cold, despite been tucked in with me in my -40F sleeping bag overnight (bit of a major design flaw I’d say!!) – so they were now out of the running. Thankfully, I had on-hand good old fashioned chemical hand-warmer packs which heated up and did a perfect job on my gloves instead. So far, so good – and with both feet and hands in good shape, a major concern now off my mind.

Roped up, we finally headed out of high camp around 10AM, heading for the summit. This could be anywhere from 7-10hr+ day depending on conditions, our pace, etc. and we were hoping for the lower end of that range – but pretty quickly we discovered that being roped up has both its advantages and disadvantages. My tent-mate was clearly quite ill – both nauseous and light-headed – certainly far more so than he was admitting to, as less than two hours out of camp, his pace ground almost to a halt. Add to that, various team-mates repeatedly stopping to layer up or down, and it seemed like this was going to be a much longer day than any of us had hoped. That was the bad news. The good news was that while far from perfect, the worst of the predicted weather conditions were holding off, and making our ascent not so bad, so far.

We slowly would our way up the mountain, stopping every 1-1.5hrs and so far, were out of the worst of the wind (which was definitely there, in the higher and more exposed parts of the mountain). That was going to change – and we could see exactly where. The next rest point lay sheltered, just below the beginning of the summit approach, and beyond (and above) it, we could see the wind hurtling the clouds by at great pace. This was the point where we would layer up into our heaviest battle gear – full Everest parka, switching from ski gloves to mitts, and switching from glacier glasses to ski googles, buff, etc. to cover every centimeter of our faces, leaving absolutely nothing exposed. At this point, any mistake – by any one on the rope team – would mean that everyone would likely have to descend.

Despite our forward progress, the thought we might yet have to turn around through no fault of my own still weighed very heavily on my mind – as my tent-mate, immediately behind me on the rope could now barely make it 30 feet at a snails pace without having to stop and had spent the last few hours dragging off the back of my rope. Meanwhile another team member had just set his mitt down unprotected and untethered on an ice slope in howling wind and risked losing it. This simple act of carelessness could easily end the trip for all of us – our guide repeatedly shouting at the top of his lungs, finally got his attention and he snatched it before the wind did. I was growing increasingly agitated inside – knowing that all the preparation in the world would make no difference in the event either of these climbers had a mishap – and this resulted in me barking more than a few words to the rope behind. One way or the other, I was not coming back here – so having come this far, we damn well better make the summit.

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Looking back down the summit ridge

 

Despite this agitation, step by step, we were still progressing – now, above the sheltered part of the climb – being blasted by the wind, which dropped the temperature into a whole other realm (we later heard from Union Glacier report that with windchill, the temperature hit almost -60F that day on the summit ridge). Still, 5 layers on top and 3 layers on the bottom meant that while uncomfortable, it was most definitely manageable. The miracle of modern technology! As on Everest, I couldn’t help but think of those who came before me – and in this case, not just those that climbed Mt. Vinson, but anyone who had spent time in Antarctica, particularly in the early years of voyage and discovery. Dear god, that’s when people were tough! No synthetic down suits, no triple boots, no chemical hand-warmers, and on and on. I smiled under my buff, laughed even – what did I have to complain about. Step, breathe, rest, step – and repeat.

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Summit day route on the upper mountain, including u-turn on to the summit ridge

The final approach involves a short ascent below the summit ridge itself, followed by a u-around and up on to the ridge proper, where after a short, steeper ascent, you then follow the ridge back to the iconic summit of Vinson itself. By now, we had pushed our way through the wind, made it to the u-turn, and it was finally at this point that I figured, short of a full-on storm, from here, we are likely to make it to the top. I could finally breathe a small sigh of relief – at least from here, for now – it looked like we wouldn’t be the only team not to summit.

The MountainTrip team had started out of high camp after us, but were making good time and with all of our stopping & starting lower down that day, had passed us leading into this final stretch. As we made it up to the summit ridge proper, the clouds parted somewhat, and I could make out the summit, approximately 20-30 mins further (given our pace), and could also see the MountainTrip guys making their way back towards us. Good for them – they were all great guys and we were delighted for them and exchanged congratulations as we passed them.

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MountainTrip team on their way back down from the summit

This was all the encouragement we needed and with the weather clearing, at least at our altitude – you still couldn’t see much below us, we followed Jon with new vigor and renewed energy in our legs, making our way to the summit. After all was said and done, despite unforeseen difficulties and doubts, we made it – as a team – to the summit. Full (and incredible) credit goes to Jon Schrock for getting us, again, as a full team, to the summit – as without him, I expect things would have gone differently – for some or all of us.

My eyes welled up as I got to the top, thinking of Dad – it had been a while – his memory comes and goes these days – as we are now 4+ years since his passing, and life both continues and gets in the way – and I don’t always get to reconnect with my memories as much as I would like. These last few hours, as the uncertainty had built up in my head, I had recited Invictus over and over in my head, and thought of Dad and what he would have made of all of this. And after the tears, that brought a smile to my face too (you’ll notice the big beaming grin in the photo with Jon at the summit!). I suppose you shouldn’t necessarily have to go to the literal ends of the earth to free your mind and reconnect with loved ones and cherished memories – but sometimes that’s just what it takes. And here, at the arse-end of the world, on summit number six of my seven summits quest, I was able to do just that, and boy did it feel good! We didn’t get the bluebird weather that you usually see in summit photos, but we did get a split in the clouds to at least see the summit itself, and we were here – and were made to work for it a little – always a good thing.

 

So after 15 minutes or so on the summit, photos taken, hugs exchanged and some food & water consumed, we turned tail and headed back down the mountain as fast as we could. Just below the summit was nigh-on whiteout conditions and Jon led our rope team from wand to wand, every 30-40 feet to mark the way, until eventually we made it back down below the final summit approach and into calmer weather. We still pressed on as the forecast had been for the weather window to snap shut – and with the summit now attained, we had no desire to be caught out in the pending conditions. And true to form (if a little later than expected), we were only back in high camp and zipping into our tents when the wind picked up significantly and with it, the snow and we were all silently thankful to be back down and out of the worst of it. Nothing left to do now but hope for decent weather tomorrow and get back down to VBC ASAP and begin the long trek home.

C1 to C2 (Up the head wall)

So despite our impatience, the rest day at C1 came and went, and the weather continued to cooperate, providing us a perfect day to make our move to C2. For those of you who paid particular attention to the planned schedule at the start of this trip, you will notice that moving from VBC to C1 and C1 to C2 were listed as following a typical schedule – i.e. carry much of the bulk from one camp to the next on day 1, returning to the first camp to spend the night, then moving to the higher camp on the second day (carry day, move day).

You will also notice that moving from VBC to C1 and now C1 to C2 – we were/are opting to move everything in a single day – which involves slightly heavier loads but spares us making the trip twice. Given our rest day at each camp and the relative ease of the terrain and our loads (certainly compared to other mountains), we are more than happy with this decision. Good news for today – we only climb the head wall once, and will be at high camp later today. We are moving from 9k feet to approx. 12.5k feet, most of it up the fixed ropes, followed by ~1.5hrs from the top of the ropes to high camp. This is why IMG called this a mini-Denali… as in Alaska, phase 1 is hauling loads, pulling sleds; phase 2 is up the head wall and beyond to high camp; phase 3 is final summit push.

The cold is pervasive – while we were very warm during the day hauling our sleds from VBC to C1, once there, and through our rest day – we quickly had to layer up in 3 & 4 jackets and pants to keep warm and it certainly hit -20F in our tent overnight. That said, today is perfect, and by the time we have completed our march to the head wall and the bottom of the fixed ropes, everyone is disrobing to base layer & fleece. Just as important to staying warm is to avoid sweating as much as possible. Any moisture will freeze if not dealt with, and that will only make me colder.

We had watched the previous two days as human bodies turned into ants and ants later turned into dots as several teams made their way up the head wall – and also heard of more than a few of them taking 10hrs+ which sounds like a really long day! We were hoping to have better luck and not replicate that performance – and thankfully, that’s what happened. Unlike Denali, we were not roped together (for the first time on this trip) on the head wall, so everyone free to make their way up at their own pace, but the good news is that everyone seemed pretty strong, there were some good steps kicked into the mountain by the previous teams and we made very steady progress up the hill, clipping in and out at each anchor/transition point from one rope length to the next.

Jon set a steady pace and we followed. The further up the head wall we advanced, the better the view became – behind us, C1 far below and the infinite sea of white beyond; ahead and to the left, Mt. Shinn. After a few hours we took our first rest on a broad ledge and enjoyed these fantastic views, had a snack and then pressed on the final hours to the top of the ropes. From there, we would un-clip from the protection of the fixed ropes, rope our team up together, and make the final 1.5 hrs into high camp.

We were making good time and were on track for 5-6 hr day all-in, a perfectly respectable time considering the terrain and moving in a single day with heavier packs. Jon’s plan was to take a third and final rest day at high camp before pressing on for the summit (weather permitting). That was the one niggle in the plan… the forecast didn’t guarantee the good weather would persist, and if anything, was likely to worsen in the next day or two.

At any rate, we needed to put all of that aside and simply press on to C2, make camp, get fed & rested and be in a position to head for the summit after our rest day. With that in mind, after a very pleasant break on that ledge, we once again donned packs and pushed to the top of the head wall.

Thankfully, everything went without a hitch, we all made it handily to the top of the fixed ropes, took a short break before roping up and what was a slow grind from there to C2. As we pulled into C2, we could make out the larger Seven Summits team in the distance, making their way back to camp after a summit push in what were great conditions. We could only hope that the forecast would cooperate and while we didn’t expect perfect weather like you typically see when you google “Vinson summit”, at least that the wind and cloud would be held to a reasonable level and make the summit day not unbearable.

I’m posting two videos from the head wall climb – the first is shorter (~3 mins) and gives a taste of the day’s climb fro slightly lower on the head wall; The second video is far longer (~16 mins) and is somewhat repetitive for much of the video (just ascending the head wall, which as you will see is hours on end of stepping up the hill, moving your ascender as you go – can you see yourself doing this for 3-4 hrs?!? Note around min 6:27 I ask out loud if the is a stairway to heaven or stair master from hell… you decide! Also note – this was WAY easier than the Lhotse face, if nothing else, because it is so much lower in altitude, and the ice on the Lhotse face was far harder), except in the last 5 minutes when we reach the top and you get to see the view we had. Both videos also give you some idea of the slope as I look up the head wall past Jon. Also shows you the rather precipitous drop to our left, and you can see Mt. Shinn on occasion in the top left corner of the video. First (shorter) video is 4k so much better resolution than the second one, which is so long I had to tone down the resolution before uploading.

 

VBC to C1

So after our first evening at VBC, we were delighted to see the good weather continue and ourselves and our companions from MountainTrip all roped up and began the slow and steady trek to C1. IMG had promised that the Vinson climb would be like a mini-Denali, and I could now partly see why. For this leg of the trip, we 5 (4 climbers and Jon guiding) would be roped together, hauling our sleds behind us – much as you do in the first few days on Denali, as while the route is well traveled, you are still crossing over crevasse-ridden territory, and being on a roped team would help mitigate any issues in the event one or other of us ran into trouble.

The scenery was terrific, as we crested the hill above base camp, looking ahead at the head wall and ice fall and beyond to the upper mountain, and back at the view out past VBC and beyond to a sea of white as far as the eye could see (below).

Happy to report, that other than the usual joys of roped team travel – i.e. getting used to one another and synching our individual paces, the day itself passed off without any issue. While hauling a sled uphill is no treat, it can oftentimes be far more preferable to pulling one downhill, as in the latter case, the momentum of the sled takes on a life of it’s own, and without a diligent rope partner behind you to belay the sled, you can be in the unfortunate situation of having the sled repeatedly hit the back of your legs and/or move ahead of you – which makes for a trying time (speaking from experience!)

We successfully navigated the 6-7 miles, stopping en route several times for breaks, tracking along the bottom of the head wall, for the most part, just out of reach of the avalanche danger zone and arrived at C1 approx 5-6 hours later – a good day by an standards. As you can see from the photos, this was not a cold day – if anything we needed to strip down layers to base thermal and maybe a fleece – and I was sweating. In Antarctica. Let that sink in 🙂

C1 itself is situated at the foot of where the head wall ends, in the far left corner of the valley where the Branscomb Glacier emanates from.

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C1 looking up at the head wall

First glimpse of the head wall itself, and the tiny dots that were climbers ascending to C2 that day, was a little intimidating. It just looked big and likely to take quite a while. Photo below shows you three different teams in various stages of traveling up the head wall on our rest day (Tues) highlighted with red circles – as you can see, the white on white of the snow & landscape belies the sheer scale of the place.

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Three teams (circled) making their way from C1 to C2

We later heard some horror stories of teams taking up to 12hrs+ that day in reaching high camp – a feat we did not plan to replicate. Jon’s plan was to take another rest day (Tues) here at C1, ascend to C2 the following day (Weds), followed by rest day (Thurs) there and summit the day after (Fri) – all weather permitting, of course.

For those keen observers, the small avalanche in the above photo was triggered around 1AM Tuesday (I believe) when the North Face skiers made a line down the face. Happy to report we could see the ski tracks for everyone descending back on down to VBC, so no one injured and they then flew out to tackle some other mountains.

We were certainly more than a little impatient whiling away the hours at C1 that rest day, but everyone champing at the bit now and happy in the knowledge that instead of a more typical carry/move involving two trips up the head wall over two days, we would simply do one heavier, single move – and be done in a day. Every cloud, right?!? Speaking of – see below for his & hers loos with a view…

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Loo(s) with a view

 

Union Glacier to VBC

For this leg of the trip, we would be flying the 100 miles (approx.) from Union Glacier to Vinson Base Camp in a Twin Otter (twin propeller) plane. We were in the third plane (of three) along with 3 other climbers and a guide from the MountainTrip company, whom to date, we had established quite a crossword rivalry with and were glad to have them keeping us company. Our guide (Jon) was also good friends with their guide (Jacob) and there was some sense that there was safety in numbers and if we kept the same schedule, that if anything were to go wrong, collectively, we would have options, in effect feeling like one bigger team with two guides, rather than the more limited options afforded to two smaller teams, each with one guide.

While Union Glacier had many mod cons and incredible food, you could quickly be lulled into a false sense of security – you were still in one of the wildest, most remote places on earth – and if you didn’t take care of yourself, (very) bad things could happen to you. Bravado aside, our guides do all the hard work and in my opinion, literally lead us “clients” by the nose (almost) to the summit. It is they that deserve the real credit.

So, on a bright and sunny Sunday morning, we happily made our way to the plane on what was a perfectly clear day, joining our luggage and headed for Vinson Base Camp.

Approximately 60 minutes later, after some of the most stunning views I had ever seen, we were landed, unpacked and getting our camp set up at Vinson Base Camp.

Moonscape shots from the plane (above) and the Twin Otter lands at VBC (below).

Several other teams had arrived earlier that day and weren’t sticking around – they had heard the weather window was good for 4-5 days and were moving straight up the hill to camp 1 in an attempt to summit during the good weather and get out ASAP. We were doing the opposite – staying at VBC tonight and then moving to C1 tomorrow. Already there was some concern we might be missing our opportunity to summit – but seemed too early to tell – and more importantly, I (if not the other 3 on my team) had climbed both on Aconcagua and Everest with our guide, Jon, so trusted his judgement calls. We rest tonight, then rope up, along with our backpacks and sleds and haul our gear to C1 in the morning.

At this point, it’s probably a good time to give you a reminder of the route (below). This clearly shows you Vinson Basecamp, where the Twin Otter lands squarely in the middle of that space and you can see the steep headwall and Mt. Vinson summit that is visible behind basecamp in the photos above. The route takes us on a long trek with packs & sleds, slowly ascending from VBC to C1, followed by a trip from C1 to C2 (high camp) via the fixed ropes – less mileage but more vertical that day. We then will rest for a day at high camp – as we hit ~12k feet there, before making a push in what can be quite a long summit day with 3,500 feet of ascent/descent over approx 8-10 miles.

RouteMap

Home away from home – Union Glacier

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!

Long Overdue Update… Punta Arenas to Union Glacier

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.

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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.

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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.

 

On Our Way

Quick update from the departures lounge at Punta Arenas… with an incoming weather system in Antarctica, our flight has been pushed forward a day to avoid a likely delay of several days in the event we wait.

Check-in done and got just about the coolest boarding pass ever…

Now just waiting next 45 mins or so before we board and hopefully wheels up at 4pm local. Approx 5 hour flight to Antarctica and then remains to be seen what type of weather they have and how soon we get connecting flight to Vinson Base Camp.

No internet from here on on but I will be able to do limited posting to map share and twitter (find the first on “links” page: GPS, second can be found on home page) – will provide 1-2 updates daily as we progress.

Here’s hoping for a successful trip and will be in touch!

Gear Check

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Final gear check just performed and happy to report everything in order! Will do a FINAL final gear check down in Punta Arenas tomorrow when I catch up with guide Jon Schrock and make any last-minute tweaks at that point. Bottom line, we are each given 50lbs weight allowance on the plane from Punta to Union Glacier – not including what we have on our body/back. Having been on enough of these trips in the past I am pretty confident the above articles are 50lbs or less, but once you throw in group gear, etc. our packs will quickly become significantly heavier.

Just noticed some kind words from American Kidney Fund this morning – and really want to thank THEM for their support and encouragement – and giving me this opportunity to once again hit the mountains in Dad’s honor and helping raise awareness for this cause. I can hardly believe but it’s been over 4 years now since Dad passed – the years have been jam-packed with their own events and issues and sometimes it is easy to feel like I am losing connection with Dad. Times like these, I get to reestablish that connection, to reflect, and to continue to make some sense of his passing.

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So, given it’s 10:15AM and I have to hit the road at noon, time to wrap up this post and get ready to go. I’ll leave you with a view of the Union Glacier camp we will first stop at in Antarctica, before flying to the more remote Vinson Base Camp – here’s hoping the weather is this good!!

A final thank you to everyone who has helped us reach over $7,700 in fund-raising for the American Kidney Fund – and for anyone still interested in donating, chick here.

Next (and likely final) blog posts from Punta Arenas before we leave for Antarctica!

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The Route

Well, last post gave you the likely itinerary and this time round, I want to give you a few visuals to go with that itinerary – to give you a better idea of the route.

First – a view of the entire climb – moving from Camp 1 on the Branscomb Glacier, traversing around the sheer face (via Camp 2) before making our way up the snow/ice slope to Camp 3 (high camp) and from there, a long day to the summit.

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Next – a view of what lies await on our summit day, moving up from Camp 3…

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And just a quick thank you again to everyone who has donated to the American Kidney Fund – helping us reach almost 5/6 of our fund-raising goal – and for anyone else still interested in helping drive home to our total, you can still click here