Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Day and Night at Vinson Base Camp (7000 ft)

The team took 2 air flights to get from Union Glacier Camp to Vinson Base Camp, first a DC3 to get close by, then  the Twin Engine Otter that can land in a snowy, tight area.  Once there, the guides had a meeting and decided to set up their camp, remain at Base Camp for the rest of today, and head up tomorrow for Camp I.
Here's a picture of the Vinson Base Camp, not much here since it's basically a place to fly in, get organized, and start the climb.

Randy called twice from Base Camp today, strikingly different conditions from one call to the other.
The first time the sun was brilliantly shining, it was absolutely gorgeous, and he felt he could see for hundreds of miles.  They were surrounded by massive walls of snow and could see some slides and crevasses in the distance.  There was absolutely no wind and, with the intense sun, Randy was comfortable in only 2 layers of clothing, and his baseball hat, and buff.  Of course, they had been setting up camp for a few hours, so I'm sure that helped keep everyone warm.
The first order of business upon arriving at Base Camp today had been digging out a "posh tent" used for cooking and eating. This is basically a pyramid shaped tarp, with vents in front and back, which functions as a roof for a kitchen they literally carve out of the snow. The team members takes turns digging a huge 5 ft or so hole underneath this tarp, leaving the center elevated as a table, and creating snow "benches" they'll sit on with their foam cushions. You can see an orange posh tent in the picture below in the foreground with the sleeping tents behind.

The second time Randy called post cheeseburger and french fries dinner, the clouds had rolled in, the sun had dipped behind the mountain, and it was frigid.  In fact, he said it was probably the coldest he's ever experienced.  He had on 5 layers, including his big down summit pants and huge puffy jacket, and said he'd probably even sleep with that jacket on.  They were told to sleep in till 9 am because that's when the sun peaks around the mountains.  In a previous blog I said the difference between sun and shadow can be 20 degrees, but Randy said it's more like 60 degrees, meaning you can go from 20 above to feeling like it's 40 below just by the mountain blocking the sun.

Randy was in great spirits though, and he, Anders, and the team are ready for their move to Camp 1 tomorrow.  One of their guides, Mike Hammel, had already climbed Vinson twice this season so had stowed some fuel and food higher up on the mountains.  That's really good news because it means the team can carry everything they need up to Camp 1 without having to backtrack and make a second trip.  They will each have about 70 - 80 lbs, half on their backs and half on sleds they will haul with a body harness.  Anders has experience with hauling sleds from Denali, but this will be Randy's first time with this rather awkward burden.  I remember Anders said it took a little getting used to especially on steep terrain, so we'll see what Randy thinks of this after tomorrow.  They will climb about 2500 elevation to Camp 1 at 9500 feet.

Besides that, Randy said the team is getting along great, the two guides Greg and Mark are phenomenal, and everyone is pitching in to carry, set up, and move all their many pounds of personal, climbing, and survival "stuff" necessary for their endeavor.   So all good, and I'm sure by now he and Anders are already snuggled in -- trying to stay warm in their little sleeping bags, on their insulated mats, on a mile of ice, not far from the South Pole!

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