Wednesday, December 16, 2009

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.

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