Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Made it to the "Big Ice"

Randy, Anders and their team made it safely to Antarctica around 1:30am, landing on the Union Glacier at Patriot Hill.  He said the take off and landing were "intense"; the aviation company had set up a Go Pro so they all could watch.  Randy also recorded it, so I could watch later. What did he mean by intense?  "Pretty wild, incredibly loud, windy, just really intense."  Yikes, I think he forgets that I sometimes have to hold his hand when it gets pretty bumpy on a flight!

Their other guide, Mike Hammel, who was meeting them in Antarctica, had already started setting up the 4 tents for the 8 of them.  Randy and Anders helped clear some snow and finish setting their tent, before crawling, fully clothed, into their sleeping bags.  Somehow they ended up with the smallest tent so were pretty cuddled together!  They slept about 3 or 4 hours and had to dig themselves out of the couple feet of snow that had drifted onto their tent during the night.  Then breakfast, and time to get packed up for very busy day.

The camp at Patriot Hill is pretty comfortable by mountaineering standards.  Antarctic Logistics Operations, which operates the Union Glacier Base camp, has set up and staffed some large heated, Quonset Huts for meals and team meetings, and the team was served bacon, eggs, and coffee for breakfast.  There were even toilets and a shower! This will be the last of these creature comforts for Anders and Randy for a while.

Here's a couple pictures of what the Union Glacier Base Camp looks like.  Note: these and all pictures I will post during the trip are from prior expedition posts.  The satellite radio works well for communication, but Randy can't beam me pictures from this southernmost glacial land. So you don't have to sit and try to figure out which of those little bundled up figures is Randy or Anders! These will give you a sense of what they are experiencing. When Randy and Anders return, we'll add in their pictures, which I'm sure will be amazing.

One cool thing is that it never gets dark in the Antarctica "summer".  The sun and the moon are out all day.  Depending on where they are on the climb, at times the sun will dip behind the mountain and create shadows, but they can basically climb during the day or night and take advantage of when the weather/wind/conditions are most favorable.  Direct sunlight vs shadow can mean almost 20 degrees difference, so they will time their treks accordingly.
It was quite gusty when we were talking,  about 25/30 mph.  Randy said the wind chill felt about 40 below, and he had to keep his back to the wind  so we could hear each other, not to mention that he was freezing! Since a storm was forecasted for their current location, they were not planning on sticking around.  They will take a ski-equipped Twin Otter (pictured below) specially configured to ferry equipment and climbers up above the glaciers to Vinson Base Camp, at the foot of Vinson Massif.  

Typically, they would then set up camp and have a rest day before heading to Camp 1.  However, taking advantage of a weather window, their plan is to fly up to Vinson Base Camp (7000 feet), quickly get organized, then climb with heavy backpacks plus other camp gear to Camp 1 at 10,000 feet.   This will be a very long day, and as Randy said, a real test of his leg injury.  He said Anders is doing well, ready to get going, and they are both looking forward to the incredible views in the mountains.  Stay tuned, and I hope to hear from them later tonight!

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