Welcome to the world of big mountain climbing. Patience is the key.
I woke from the warmth of my cozy bed around 7:30am. Our room has no heat, but lots of blankets on the bed. I wandered down for breakfast which was pretty much the same as yesterday with the addition of cans of Root Beer. I have only had one sip of Root Beer in my life and I did not figure I would change that this morning. Who knows what a few days in the future may hold however.
After breakfast we wandered down to the ALE meeting. Today is about 10c with high winds and rain which is pretty typical for Punta Arenas in the spring. The hotel where the meeting was being held was down by the water and the wind picked up the closer we got.
About 40 climbers and ALE staff packed into the small meeting room. Peter, one of the ALE partners, showed a short movie depicting life at Union Glacier and on Mt. Vinson. It was quite exciting and inspiring to watch.
The basics of the presentation included:The history of Antarctica:
many countries have land claims in Antarctica, but instead of fighting it out as we humans usually do all the claiming countries signed the Antarctic Treaty in 1960. This treaty states that the continent will be governed collaboratively for the use of peace and science. All land claims were frozen from that point on. There are some groups that are lobbying to have recreation activities (climbing and skiing) banned from Antarctica because it does not fit within the peace and science guidelines.Rescue:
Rescue is not provided on the mountain and all teams must be self reliant. ALE does have 4 guides stationed on the mountain at any given time and they will help with rescue if necessary. All groups are expected to support one another. There has never been a death on Vinson, but there have been serious injuries, hypothermia and a lot of frost bite. There are several caches of rescue equipment available on the mountain if required. All teams must report in to the base camp manager once a day and all group locations and movement are closely monitored.Environmental Protection:
Antarctica is a pristine environment and those that manage it intend on keeping it that way. Virtually everything that goes into Antarctica also comes out. At the Union Glacier camp all garbage and human waste, including urine, is flown back to Chile. All gear must be checked for dirt, seeds and plants.Flight to Antarctica:
The flight to Antarctica from Punta Arenas is 3050km and approximately 4:20. We will fly in a Russian built Ilyusian 76TD aircraft. This is a very powerful cargo and transport plane that can carry 17 tonnes of cargo and 48 passengers. The plane is built for off-strip landing and take off. Although the ice runway is well maintained not all planes could negotiate it successfully. There is no in-flight movie or meal service. There is a porta-potty however.Union Glacier:
Union Glacier is the main jumping off location for all Vinson climb's and most South Pole ski expeditions. The base was moved from Patriot Hills last year to present a better wind direction for flying, and nicer conditions for those living at the base. The base is staffed by 45-60 personnel who will live in tents for their 2-3 month stay. Upon landing all expedition members are provided with a meal (if you are staying that long) and they can feed up to 120 expedition members at any given meal. They have three big snow melters that produce water for the camp. Only about 10% of the people who go to Union Glacier are women. There is a multi-purpose tent which has a library, and a medical tent with a full time doctor. The camp is laid out in zones of safety. The Green Zone includes the camp and the runway and is safe from hazards such as crevasses and avalanches. The Blue Zone has been surveyed with ground penetrating radar and is safe, but less so. The Black Zone is entered at your own risk. There is a lot do around camp if you are stuck there for several days including climbing and skiing day trips.Vinson:
If all goes as planned (which is unlikely) we will fly to Vinson a few hours after we land at Union Glacier. The base camp will have a manager (Scott Woolums) who will check us in and give us our fuel. There will be 5 climbing periods this season with ours being V1 and V5 being at the end of January. Vinson is then abandoned for the season the Union Glacier is cleared out by mid February. I will provide more details on the mountain in the next few days.Our Flight Logistics:
When we fly to the mountain we will send our checked baggage 1-2 days in advance and this will be held until the flight. We will leave a "town" bag at the hotel with things that are not needed on the mountain, and we will have a carry-on of stuff we will need in-flight or upon landing. We will be dresses in all our polar gear so we are ready to face the elements when we land.Now the bad news:
due to the weather in Antarctica we will not be flying until November 19th at the earliest. This season has had a very stormy start and the runway is currently under two feet of snow. Union Glacier was scheduled to open around October 18, but they were not able to get the first flight in until the end of October. Vinson BC is usually open about a week before the climbers arrive, but this year the base camp staff will only go in about one day before us.
We now have a few days in Punta Arenas with time to kill. This will eat into our schedule and may impact what we can and can not due in the end. We do have several contingency days built into our schedule, but this delay will absorb most of them. While in town we will try to keep busy and maybe find time to visit Torres Del Paine National Park and maybe go visit some Penguins.
Although this is disappointing, it is not unexpected. On these trips you always plan, but then plan for the plans to change. If you have followed any of my previous expeditions you will know that few of my climbs ever go off as planned. Our main objective is to climb Vinson and that is not in any jeopardy. The ski back to Union Glacier I think will be especially cool, but this is what will need to be adjusted if necessary. This comes with the territory and control over the weather is beyond my control.
The afternoon was spent reading and working on the computer. At least we get internet here at the hotel. I wanted to send out a special hello to Michael who is following along on my blogs.
We went to the local grocery store and bought some food for lunch. Restaurant prices are pretty similar to what they would be back home so we don't want to eat out for every meal. The South Pole people who have been stuck here for over 2 weeks now are sick of eating out and I think their budgets have been blown as well. Tonight they were eating cereal for dinner. We are not at that point yet and just got back from a nice dinner of pizza and pumpkin soup.
Vegetables do not seem to be a big part of the meals down here. Not one meal that I have ordered so far has come with any kind of greenery. I did have some pumpkin soup tonight and Ron had a salad, but it is expensive and not a standard part of a meal. It is a good thing I have my Adult Essentials vitamins with me. They are providing me with what I am not getting from the food.
Due to the internet connection I have been able to call home with Skype and it is nice to see and talk to Susan and the kids. It makes me feel better and I'm sure it does them as well. Once we get over to Antarctica that will no longer be possible so I will take advantage of it now while I can.
We were talking at dinner about how much technology has changed expedition life. Just 10 years ago when you left on an expedition you were out of contact for the duration. Today it is easy and relatively inexpensive to keep in touch from virtually any point on the planet.
So now it is the end of another day in Punta Arenas. Not much was accomplished today, but we are one day closer to getting to Antarctica. We just don't know when that day will be.
Pray for good weather.
Summit Life! Scott out.