Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve at Vinson Base Camp

Here's a holiday message from Paul & Denise live from Vinson Base Camp!
They're having a white Christmas!




A champagne toast with the members of the other teams, all of whom made it to the summit as well! Look closely at the hands of the Japanese man in the blue jacket (top row left). He lost all ten fingers climbing Mt. Everest seven months ago, reminding all of us about the dangers of the extreme cold and the consequences of mistakes during any high altitude pursuits. Calling in by satellite phone with our periodic updates:


In adition to hiking the hill to take a ski run, here's a video of another way we passed the time waiting for the weather to clear. Although you can't see their faces, the person in front is Krushnaa Patil who is the youngest Indian woman to summit Mt. Everest (age 19 at the time - May 2009), followed by Helga Hengge who was the first American woman to summit Everest from the North side, followed by us. Quite an impressive bobsled team! This wasn't in the ALE Vinson brochure but it should be - watch the video!!


video

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Summit Day

Breaking news just received from Paul & Denise, listen to the satellite call here:


Here is the actual view from the top of Mt. Vinson on our summit day. You may have figured out by listening to our call that the previous photo with blue skies was borrowed from an earlier expedition and uploaded in advance. The pre-written part about "extremely high winds and biting cold" was certainly accurate but the "spectacular views" were not exactly as earlier described.

This will be our longest day yet, the route is exposed and subject to extremely high winds and biting cold. The rocky summit ridge gives way to spectacular views of Mt. Gardner, Tyree, Epperly and Shinn. At the summit the true scale and majesty of the Antarctic continent become overwhelmingly apparent. There are a multitude of smaller peaks that emerge from the vast ice sheet that streches to the horizon. We will take photos, savor the moment, and retrace our steps back down to High Camp.

Monday, December 21, 2009

We Made it up to High Camp!

PAUL & DENISE MADE IT TO HIGH CAMP!!! Latest news just received from Paul & Denise via satellite phone. Click on the play button to listen:



Taking a breather at the top of the fixed lines. Unclipping and taking a wrong step here earns you a 3,000 vertical foot express ride back to Camp 1:

This was a difficult 8-hour day climbing many steep, fixed rope sections on 45 degree icy slopes. Elevation gain was 3,350 feet and we established our High Camp at approximately 12,350 feet.



If you would like to send a text message to our satellite phone we would love to hear from you. Simply send a short email (less than 160 characters) to the following address: 881651416463@msg.iridium.com We apologize in advance as we will probably be unable to respond. Cold fingers, fatigue, and altitude-induced dimished brain funtionality may prevent an intelligent response anyhow. Nonetheless we will read your message and reciprocate when we are able.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Camp 1 and Beyond

Click on the play button below to hear the latest report just received from Paul & Denise via satellite phone:



Our Camp 1 or "Low Camp" site, complete with wind protection walls that were already pre-built prior to our arrival!




We move upwards along the Branscomb Glacier to Camp 1 carrying our tents, gear, food, and fuel - some of which we are hauling behind us in sleds to lighten the load on our backs. We will be roped together due to the crevasse danger.

Friday, December 18, 2009

We Made it to Vinson Base Camp

Click on the play button below to hear the latest report from Paul & Denise via satellite phone:



The trusty Twin Otter, our transportation to and from Vinson Base Camp:


Here we are with our guide Scott Woolums, and a nice view of the Vinson Massif directly behind us:Carving up a slope above Vinson Base (it doesn't even have a name since so few people ski it!) Where's Warren Miller and his film crew?




Above is the location of Vinson Base Camp (notice the group of tents at center left). Elevation at Base Camp is 6,900 feet, although the earth's atmosphere is much thinner at the poles making the physiological effect on our bodies feel more like 10,000 feet. We will acclimatize here and eventually follow the trail heading to the right, up the Branscomb Glacier towards Camp 1.

And here's a view of Vinson Base Camp when the weather isn't as nice...


Here´s a video of the Twin Otter touching down for a landing on the snow:

video

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Patriot Hills

Today, December 17th, was our first full day at Patriot Hills, which is an impressive operation located along one of two areas of blue ice on the continent suitable for landing heavy aircraft. The runway, while not quite as smooth as an ice skating rink, is very slick and climbers eager to rush off to the side to snatch that perfect photo often find themselves flat on their backs.



Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions (ALE), the only non-scientific operator of flights to Antarctica, maintains a number of Weatherport tents and a good deal of heavy machinery needed to keep the runway open when strong winds off the Antarctic Plateau cover it in snow. We have contracted directly with ALE (with Scott Woolums as our guide) and have use of these tented facilities where we will cook and dine in relative comfort in an otherwise most inhospitable place.

Today we took a 6 hour hike to the highest peak overlooking the Patriot Hills camp.

The next step in our journey will involve flying 1.5 hours to Vinson Base Camp in ski-equipped Twin Otter aircraft (in background of top photo). We are all eager to start climbing but must be patient for weather conditions to permit this next leg of our adventure.

Flight to "The Ice"

After loading gear into the IL-76 Russian cargo jet, we board through the rear belly ramp and prepare for a most unusual and memorable flight. Huge piles of gear are secured by cargo nets in the center of the hull and anxious, adrenaline filled climbers are lined up in jump seats along the walls. Almost like young soldiers fresh out of basic training and heading into battle for the first time, we nervously anticipate our impending adventure during the 4.5 hour flight.

Our Russian pilots take us over Tierra del Fuego, then the Drake Passage, and at 60 degrees south latitude we cross over the Antarctic Convergence. The ocean here is rich in plankton and other tiny creatures that form the base of the food chain. We have now entered the area governed by the Antarctic Treaty. At 66 degrees south we cross the Antarctic Circle, where the sun never sets at the the austral summer solstice and never rises at the austral winter solstice. Further south at the pole, the sun rises and sets only once a year.

Eventually we pass over an area of the Bellingshausen Sea, west of the Antarctic Peninsula, which is punctuated by an increasing number of icebergs. Not long after we fly over the ice shelves from which the icebergs calve, then along the Ellsworth Mountains, and finally reach Patriot Hills and the blue ice runway where our wheeled aircraft can land.

Boarding the Ilyushin-76!

We got the call this morning that weather at Patriot Hills is good and the ice runway is mostly clear. We have made a stop in Ushuaia, Argentina (which is the southernmost city in the world and capital of Tierra del Fuego region of Patagonia). We are picking up 18 Argentine scientists who will be spending 14 months in Antarctica. Bye for now, plane is taking off for "the ice"!!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Bienvenidos a Chile

We arrived yesterday in Punta Arenas with all of our gear and situated ourselves in our hotel overlooking the Straights of Magellan. Today consisted of a briefing by Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions explaining and mentally preparing us for the extreme conditions where we are headed and the necessary safety precautions. We were treated with gruesome photos of several victims of frostbite, which was akin to watching the old "Red Asphalt" movie in driver's ed class.

We also had an opportunity to meet the others who will be making this journey, some will climb Vinson with us and others who are headed to the South Pole. Tomorrow is our first attempt to fly down to "the ice". Our gear is already loaded on the big IL-76 and we are on standby until we get news from Patriot Hills that the weather and conditions of the ice runway will permit a flight or not.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Next Up - Antarctica! Departure Dec. 13, 2009

"MEN WANTED...
For Hazardous Journey. Small wages,
bitter cold, long months of complete
darkness, constant danger. Safe return
doubtful. Honour and recognition in
case of success..."

-Ernest Shackleton's 1914
Expedition Recruiting Ad

Click on map for closer view
Vinson Massif at 16,067 feet is located in the Ellsworth Mountain
Range near the Ronne Ice Shelf, 750 miles from the South Pole.
Average summertime temperature is -20°F,
not including wind chill factor.

Vinson Itinerary (est.) & Other Details:
Note: Time zones become very close together the further south you go towards the pole. Combined with nearly 24 hours of daylight during the austral summer, the clock becomes somewhat arbitrary. Nonetheless for purposes of satellite phone calls and coordination of logistics, operations at Patriot Hills are based Punta Arenas local time which is Pacific time + 5 hours.
Dec. 13, 2009: Depart LAX 1:50 pm, arrive next day in Santiago, then flight to Punta Arenas at southern tip of Chile.
Dec. 15, 2009: After meeting with our expedition leader Scott Woolums, who will also be our guide on Everest, we do a final gear check and briefing with other climbers who will be joining us on the adventure.
Dec. 16, 2009: This will be our first attempt to fly out from Punta Arenas, over the Straights of Magellan and the Drake Passage to Antarctica. We are heading to the most difficult and dangerous place in the world to fly, so we have to wait for a near perfect weather forecast before attempting the 4.5 hour journey. Last year at this time our Polish climbing partner and good friend Ania waited TWO WEEKS and spent Christmas in Punta Arenas waiting day by day for a chance to fly.
Day 1 -Date TBD: The IL-76 Russian Cargo jet touches down on the blue ice runway at Patriot Hills. We unload our skis, climbing gear, food, fuel, etc. and wait. If we are lucky and the weather is good, we can continue our jouney to Base Camp this same day.
Day 2 or ??: Getting from Patriot Hills to Vinson Base Camp requires flying 1.5 hours in a much smaller turbo-prop aircraft - the Twin Otter, which is equipped with skis for landing gear. We have flown in this type of aircraft before landing on the Kahiltna Glacier en route to Denali, and also a wheeled version flying to the famous Lukla airstrip in Nepal.
Days 3-4: Acclimatization at Vinson Base Camp. The altitude here is 6,900 feet, but feels more like 10,000 feet due to the fact that the earth's atmosphere is thinner at the poles. We will ascend one of nearby peaks in the area and hopefully have a chance to carve some turns on slopes where relatively few people in the world have ever skied.
Day 5-6: We move upwards along the Branscomb Glacier to Camp 1 carrying our tents, gear, food, and fuel - some of which we are hauling behind us in sleds to lighten the load on our backs. We will be roped together due to the crevasse danger.
Day 7: Rest day at Camp 1 - 9,000 feet. Possible additional rest/acclimatization day depending on weather.
Day 8: This is a difficult 8-hour day climbing many steep, fixed rope sections on 45 degree icy slopes. Elevation gain is 3,350 feet and we will establish our High Camp at approximately 12,350 feet.
Day 9: Rest day at High Camp recovering and preparing our gear and bodies for a summit attempt the following day (weather permitting of course).
Day 10 - Summit Day: This will be our longest day yet, the route is exposed and subject to extremely high winds and biting cold. The rocky summit ridge gives way to spectacular views of Mt. Gardner, Tyree, Epperly and Shinn. At the summit the true scale and majesty of the Antarctic continent become overwhelmingly apparent. There are a multitude of smaller peaks that emerge from the vast ice sheet that streches to the horizon. We will take photos, savor the moment, and retrace our steps back down to High Camp.
Day 11: Descend from High Camp back down the fixed lines, along the Branscomb Glacier and all the way back to Vinson Base Camp. Here we will wait for good weather (common theme).
Day 12 or ??: Fly back to Patriot Hills and wait again (perhaps days) until the big IL-76 is able fly back onto the ice and return us to Punta Arenas.
Dec. 30, 2009: Whenever this happens to fall into the above itinerary - it's DENISE'S BIRTHDAY!
Jan. ??: Tour Patagonia region, as time allows.
Jan. 14, 2010: Scheduled to return home, although likely sooner depending on climbing itinerary.