Saturday, January 10, 2015

There and back again!

After four days of sitting around at Union Glacier for 4 days we finally where able to lift off the Big Ice and fly in last night to Punta Arenas!  After a quick shower and some "stuff" organization the team went out for our final dinner together.  We had some nice wine and a tasty meal and celebrated our collective success--this truly was a great team!

Anders and I fly out of Punta this afternoon up to Santiago and then on to Houston where he goes left and I head right.  With any luck I'll be home Sunday night--can't wait.

It was a wonderful trip, which I'll write at length about and post a detailed trip/summit report.  At the moment my mental high is matched by a physical low--I'm pretty beat up after the climb.  It certainly was a role of the dice to try to do something as tough as this on the little training I had but it worked.  Now there is a price to pay--for probably another week or two....

I'll be posting a lot of pictures as well.  Here's a couple to give you a sense.  The first is me nearing the mid-point of the fixed lines on the way to High Camp.  Mike Hamill is behind me and behind us is over 1,000 feet of vertical--the slopes were about 35 degrees in this lower section:

And here is a pic of Anders and I on the summit together (we were on the same rope team) and Anders is holding a picture of our family during our younger days (its the same pic he brought to the summit of Denali.  Interestingly, while we have climbed a lot together and Anders has climbed 4 of the 7 summits and I 3 of 7, this is our first of the Seven Summits where we were atop together....

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Hurry Up and Wait: Safe, Sore, and Stuck in Antarctica!

I've had quite a few nice, long chats with the guys so I can fill in some details and update on their whereabouts.  Bottom line, they are still waiting to fly out of Antarctica.

Last I had written on Monday afternoon, they were eating chips and drinking a beer at Vinson Base Camp (7000 ft), exhausted and relieved after their summit and descent, waiting for the twin engine ski plane to fly them to Union Glacier  Camp (2300 ft).
After a couple hours they were flown to this relatively comfortable Union camp, looking forward to some warm food, thicker air and, most importantly, no more climbing. They arrived on Monday and have been there since waiting for the chance to fly back to Chile. They had summited earlier than expected because they guides had skipped rest days to take advantage of a favorable weather window. So they have to wait till the big Russian cargo plan can fly in and pick them up.  The current plan is to fly out tomorrow (Friday) to Punta Arenas, Chile, but that is dependent on weather, of course.

Union Glacier is run by Adventure Network International,  accessible only by air, and operates basically as a very remote hub for climbers, researchers, skiers, and other hearty souls partaking in some way in Antarctica's frigid, yet alluring uniqueness.  It is only open in the Antarctic summer....that is November through January.  Undeniably the best perk of this camp is the large, heated dining tent where the staff cooks and serves hot meals.  Randy and Anders are still sleeping in their small tents, eleven nights now sleeping on the ice, but they mostly hang in the big tents for meals, reading, playing cards, and socializing.  They are staying warm and well provided for, but as you can imagine, ready to fly back home.

From the pictures below, you can see why, compared to the barren campsites at the higher elevations, they feel like they are "living large" as their guide reported.  On the other hand, they are still on a glacier in the middle of nowhere with thousands of feet of ice between them and anything that even resembles ground.  

Here's an aerial view showing the remoteness of this "luxury" camp on a glacier in the middle of quite imposing mountains.

Union Glacier bisects the southern Ellsworth Mountains in the midst of the Sentinel and Heritage Ranges.  The mountains form an amphitheater-like border and protect the camp and the natural runway from the intense arctic winds.  Randy said it's like they are in the middle of a horseshoe with massive mountains curved all around them and then open at one end with ice and more ice as far as the eye can see.

Below is a close up picture of the natural ice runway where the Russian cargo jet will land for the 5 hour flight back to Chile.  I've now had the opportunity to ask Randy what he meant when he described the landing as "intense" on the trip here.  He said they can't use brakes on the ice, so they basically fly in, touch down on the ice, throw the engine into reverse, and screech and skid down the ice for about 5 miles till they stop.  Thank God it's a very long runway!

Here's the highlights of life at Union Glacier Camp where they are hanging out with about 50 - 80 other folks also waiting to be transported to or from various adventures:

Anders is doing great, feels really good, and very positive.  A bit sore, but really recovering well and just taking in the whole experience, as Anders always does.  I realize more than ever that through some combination of disciplined training, high pain endurance, natural ability, a growing experience base, and a positive attitude, Anders is very well suited to these intensive climbing expeditions.  He's now spending a lot of camp downtime talking to all sorts of mountaineers, many of whom have climbed the Seven Summits.  One can only imagine that these conversations are certainly not diminishing his desire to attempt to join their ranks.  But I'm ignoring that for now! As the mother of someone who frequently does things that terrify me -- jumping out of planes, riding his bike on the Pacific Coast Highway, climbing intimidating mountains, I've gotten very good at compartmentalizing this anxiety. And I do know that, as unlikely as it might sounds, he is extremely safety conscious and risk averse and takes all steps necessary to ensure safe and successful outcomes.   On this particular trip, that meant choosing a highly-respected guiding company, International Mountain Guides, timing it to go with extremely accomplished guides (Greg Vernovage and Mike Hamil), researching and buying the best clothing and gear , and training as much as possible.  So for now I'm just thinking that I'm proud of him, I love him, and of course I'll be glad when he's safely back in California!

Randy is also feeling great about the experience, but not so great about how this accelerated climb impacted his body!  Unlike Anders, he is VERY, VERY sore!  In fact, his right quad is killing him.  He must have torn it or really strained it on the climb, but he's hurting.  It's tough, even for this Ironman, to put yourself through this intense physical test at 57, especially when his training was curtailed because of injury. He's just not as agile as Anders, and the constant strain, in particular descending the fixed ropes while facing downhill on a steep slope, bending all the way over with a 50 pound pack to clip and unclip at the anchors close his feet, probably was a little too much for him. Yesterday I was googling 'quad tears' while I was talking to him and telling him to ice and elevate it.  I asked if they had ice there, then realized that's about the dumbest question I've ever asked in my life!  Since then, he's been doing what the doctor (me) ordered, and hopefully he will heal quickly.  Surprisingly his prior calf muscle injury that he had been so worried about doesn't bother him at all.  So he's in good spirits, but sounds very ready to come home.  And I am very ready to have him back here safely!  In the meantime, he's trying to relax, stretch, recover, take pictures of the mountains, gently exercise his leg, and enjoy life at the camp.  They have lectures, movies, and all sorts of activities to keep them occupied.  He and Anders even went on a 10K bike ride out onto the glacier on specially adapted fat tire bicycles.  He realizes that it is unlikely he'll be back in Antarctica so he might as well enjoy the very stunning view!

That's it for now.  Randy did fill me in on many more details of their grueling summit day and his very challenging descent down the fixed ropes.  But I'll leave that for another entry which might even be by Randy if they get back to Chile, their hotel and Internet tomorrow!   If you get a chance to leave any comments for the guys, they can read them when they return.  It will be great when we can see their pictures and hear their first hand account.

Thanks for all the support!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Pringles and Beer at Base Camp

Randy and Anders called late last night to say they had made it back from the summit and were literally collapsing into their tents at High Camp.   It was a 9.5 hour round trip and they were both completely depleted but still thrilled they had been able to summit. Neither of them could talk long because it was so frigid and they couldn't wait to get into their sleeping bags.  The satellite connection wasn't great, and they were speaking through several layers over their faces, so it was hard to hear them,.  But I did hear "awesome, gorgeous, great climbing, amazing, exhausted......"   And I do believe that Anders even said it was really fun!  The incredible exuberance and strength of a young, well-trained athlete!

Evidently, the summit at Vinson is just a small area atop a very steep ridge.  And with the sub zero temps and pounding wind, they could just endure it for a few minutes, enough to take in the view, snap a few pictures, high-five, and head down.  I can't wait to see their photos which I know they will share on this blog, but for now here are a few shots of previous teams near the peak so you can see what it's like up in the ozone layer near the South Pole.

A team Approaching the Summit
The Narrow, Steep Ridge at the Summit of Vinson

The Summit Ridge
And here's an aerial view of Vinson; you can imagine the views they had from the peak!

This morning the team loaded up all the gear from Camp Two then faced the challenging and somewhat intimidating job of descending the fixed ropes with 50+ pound packs.  I'm sure it was a relief to be heading downhill, but descending a very steep headwall clipped onto fixed ropes is not easy with such cumbersome loads.  Then they had to stop at Camp One, pack up everything there onto the sleds, and hike down to base camp with their backpacks and full sleds.  I haven't heard all of the details, but they did call from Vinson Base Camp saying they made it safely in six hours.  They were very happily sitting in the snow, eating Pringles, and drinking beer.  I am positive that those beers tasted great!!
At that point, they were waiting for the Twin Otter to fly them to Union Glacier Camp, where they would once again set up camp and spend the night.  At Union, they may have to wait a few days for the Russian Cargo plane to transport them back to Chile, based on weather and availability.  They were actually ahead of their planned schedule so they may have to wait till Friday.  But the good news is this Union Glacier camp is the one with heated Quonset huts for meals and team meetings, and even toilets and a shower!  I am pretty sure the team will have a celebratory dinner in one of those warm huts tonight and bask in the well-earned satisfaction of their pretty spectacular individual and team triumph!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Unbelievable..They Made it to the Top! The Top of the Bottom of the World!

After Randy admitting to me he wasn't sure he could make it because the mountain was kicking his butt; after the macho Russian team had turned back because it was too cold and windy; after a week where no one summited because it kept snowing (in the arctic desert) and the wind chill was bone chilling; after thinking there was no way Anders and Randy could summit together because Randy was so much slower, after me carrying my cell phone every single place I went this week, I mean EVERYWHERE, so I wouldn't miss their call....I got the breathless, emotional, and somewhat incredulous call from Randy that at 3:30 pm today, he and Anders and their whole team had stood on the summit together.

To be precise, they stood on the top of the bottom of the world!  Which is a bit mind boggling to think about, isn't it? They summited Vinson Massif, the highest mountain in Antarctica, 16,050 feet high but equivalent to a much higher altitude because of the decreased oxygen in the lower pressure air way down by the South Pole.

Significantly, it is one of the Seven Summits, meaning Anders has now climbed four of the seven summits, and Randy three.
Beside Vinson, Anders has climbed Aconcagua in South America, Denali (McKinley) in North America, Kilimanjaro in Africa
And Randy had climbed Aconcagua in South America and Kosciuszko in Australia

Randy could only talk for a minute because it was so cold, and they had to get back down to High Camp.  He was a bit breathless from lack of oxygen and I imagine exhaustion.  I'm not sure how he could even take his gloves off to dial a phone, but I'm glad he did! 

Here are his words:

We made it!  We made it to the summit.  I'm calling from just below the summit, at 15,800 ft.  The views are just unbelievable, so incredible you can't even imagine. It was spectacular.  The guides were amazing, they are so amazing.  We all made it together.  We left at 9am today and got up to the top at 3:30.  It was hard, so hard.  But the guides are the best guides in the world.  They got us up here. We did it as a team

I asked, You mean you and Anders stood on the summit together,?

Randy got very choked up and said, "Yes, we did. It was just incredible.  And the sun is out so the views are just unbelievable.  The most beautiful I've ever seen.  I'm sitting here talking to you right now looking at God's view. "

He said he couldn't talk longer because the guides wanted him to take care of himself, which I believe meant have some nutrition, water, and get his gloves and face covering back on!  So I told him I was proud of them, I loved them, and to get his and Anders' butts back down the mountain safely.  He said he loved me, tell everyone he loved them.  He held the phone out so Anders could yell hello and send his love from up high.  It was very emotional to hear the exhilaration and pride, yet a pride mixed with humility, in their voices.  I am sure a very satisfied but completely spent team is plodding back to camp now to collapse in their tents.  They said they'd call later to fill in the details!

Here's some pictures of the guys goofing around and getting ready at Anders home in CA last week:

And I can't resist posting an old picture of these two from a long time ago.  Who would have thought they'd be standing on top of Antarctica together?

More later when I hear from them.......

On their way to the Summit!

Just a quick update...If they didn't call me today, which they haven't, that meant they are definitely heading up for the summit!  Here's the latest weather forecast at Vinson:

Looks like the sun is shining but a numbing windchill on top!  They were planning to leave around 9am today for the 9 - 12 hour round trip summit attempt. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers to make it safely back to Camp Two tonight.  I hope they get to stand on top of that huge mountain, but mostly just hope they are safe.  Thanks for all your support and well-wishes for these two very adventurous, and a bit crazy, boys!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Made it up those steep fixed lines to Camp Two!

Well I had thought Randy just might find some strength inside to make it up those fixed ropes, and he did!  After 6 hours and 20 minutes of climbing today, the whole team (2 guides plus the 6 climbers) made it to High Camp at 12,500 ft.  

Randy and Anders were both pretty spent, especially Randy, but they were doing pretty well after some chicken nuggets and mashed potatoes, and very happy to be getting into their tent for the night.  It's extremely cold up there, and they were carefully bundling up for the night.  The prior night in Camp One had been particularly chilling; they estimate around 25 below in their tent.   Both Randy and Anders woke during the night and put on extra layers.  They have these very thick, mummy-type sleeping bags but don't usually have to use that head section.  Last night was so frigid that in the middle of the night, they both tied that snuggly around their head.  They didn't budge until the sun came out around 11am.  They headed out around a little after 1pm and got to High Camp 7:30pm.

Randy reported he felt surprisingly strong today, so although he was the slowest of the group, he wasn't as far behind!  He did say the last part of the headwall that he hadn't climbed a couple days ago was quite steep.  He said as usual Anders was really strong all day.  After the headwall,  they had about another hour climbing into the Camp.  That last part was surprisingly challenging, so by the time the arrived at Camp Two, they were definitely ready to stop.  Of course when they get to camp, they have to dig out a place for their tent, set up, help set up the team equipment and cook tent.  So they were definitely maxed out for the day.

They called me back a little while later and said the summit attempt is on for tomorrow.  I am sure they could have used a rest day, but the weather looks good, so they are moving on quickly. No team has been able to summit in the past few days because of the horrendous weather, so their guides want to take advantage of the relatively good forecast. That Russian team I mentioned in the prior blog entry had turned back during their summit attempt due to weather.  It is always just unthinkably cold and windy on top of the mountain, but tomorrow the sun should be out so that helps a lot!  Today they really lucked out; the sun was out and there was very little wind.  So although the temps were chilly, they were climbing for a while in just base layers.  As they climbed higher,  they just kept adding more clothes.  The views had been spectacular today and when I was talking to them the sun was still out and they were looking up at the summit!

Here's a couple pictures of other teams summiting Vinson so you get a sense of what they will experience if they are lucky enough to get to the top.

The plan tomorrow is to leave at 9am their time.  They will all be roped together, so the whole team will move at a measured pace.  It should take around 6 or 7 hours to summit, and then half that time to descend back to High Camp.  They will try to call me from the summit if they get up there, but we just aren't sure if they will get reception.  So I don't know when I'll hear from them but certainly will have my phone with me at all times hoping to get that call! 

Friday, January 2, 2015

Rest Day Update/ Randy's perspective on things...

Rest day today so they all can recover!  I just had a long talk with Randy.  Sorry if this is a lengthy post, but we covered a lot.  He shared his thoughts on how this experience is for Anders.

In Randy's words:

"Anders is truly a mountaineer; he eats this up.  It's in his heart.  He loves the environment, the experience, the team.  And everyone loves climbing with him because he's competent, strong, and enthusiastic.  He loves talking to the guides about their experiences, and they love him. They all joke around a lot. Even right now he is sitting in the guides' tent, just Anders and the 2 guides, yucking it up.  Every few minutes I hear the three of them burst out laughing; I can hear Anders' laugh across the camp, and I'm 70 yards away.  This is in his blood; he just loves it.  

The guides know he's strong. Yesterday, when Mike and I (Randy) left, there were still 5 climbers and only 1 guide.  They like to have a guide in front and one behind.  On the way down, they had Anders lead the group and Greg went last.  Anders did a really good job and it was tough -- white out conditions by the time they came back.  He had to very carefully try to find where people had been walking to trace their way back and avoid crevasses, and he led them safely back to Camp."

When I (the mom) hear this I have so many mixed feelings. For those of you that have read my previous blogs about their mountain climbs, we've been here before, haven't we?  Of course I am proud that he's so competent and strong, happy for what clearly is pure, unadulterated joy at doing something he loves so much, but worried for his current safety and especially where this might lead him.   Meaning of course, the big "E" word that I like to avoid....Everest.  I asked Randy if the guides (who each have summited Everest many times) have been talking to Anders about it, and he said a definitive, "YES!  A lot!  They know he wants to do it, they think he definitely can, and they are strongly encouraging him.  In fact, they want to go do it with him.  So do the other climbers.  They all want to have Anders on their team because he's really the perfect mountaineer to have with you in terms of competency and attitude."

So as we all process that from our various perspectives, here's a Randy update:

Randy is sore, but he said everyone is sore. They are all resting to try to move to High Camp tomorrow.  As early as the following day, they could try to make their summit attempt, depending on weather.  Randy's calf (more specifically his nagging peroneal tendonitis) is hurting, but he thinks that's to be expected, and today should help a lot.  He's making sure to get super hydrated, eat well, stretch a lot.  He's staying positive yet realistic. He was very objective and introspective about the whole experience and his prospects for summiting.  The best is for me to tell you in his words:

"I am not a mountaineer.  It's so different from doing an Ironman.  When I go to do those races, I know it will be 12 or even 14 hours of suffering, but I love it.  I am not overly nervous, just excited.  I'm not fast, but I'm confident and competent.  In mountaineering, I'm NOT in my element.  Yes it is unbelievably beautiful, you can't imagine how gorgeous, and I enjoy the challenge.  And it's amazing that I can even be part of this experience especially with Anders, but it's not in my blood.  Even though yesterday was only 4 or 5 hours, it was really hard for me, and I wasn't confident.  At times I wonder what the hell I'm doing up here. It's a real struggle mentally and physically. Anders came back yesterday and said, "That was so much harder than Denali, one of the hardest climbing days I've ever had. Wasn't it awesome Dad? Didn't you love it?"   He's just so much more into the whole mountain experience than I am.  One of our guides, Greg, lived out of his truck for 12 years just to afford to climb mountains.  Some people just have so much passion for this; Anders has that.   What I love is hiking in Shenandoah for 6 or 7 hours; I love when people come with me, and I even love hiking alone.  But this is really tough for me. 

Now that being said, I do think I can get to the top of the fixed rope tomorrow.  I know it will be a very hard 4 hours, but I think I can do it.  Then at the top, it's another 1.5 hour hike to Camp Two.  Once there, the real question will be, can I get up the next day and deal with a 9 - 12 hour summit day?  Can I do that?  That is what I don't know.  My ego is not tied up in summiting this mountain.  It's not like Aconcagua where I had to go back and summit.  I know I won't be standing on the top of the mountain with Anders anyway, because they will put him in the faster group.   I'd be in the slower group. Anders can't go with me; he'd get too cold waiting for me and it wouldn't be safe. The guides make those decisions for the best of the team. Of course, it would be amazing to summit and stand on the top, but I'm going to listen to the guides and  do what they tell me. I'll be honest with them about how I feel.  At this point, the guides think I can do this; they are telling me to definitely go for it. One thing I've learned is this: NOT KNOWING I CAN'T DO SOMETHING IS NOT A REASON NOT TO TRY IT. As long as I'm in my comfort zone safety-wise, which I am, I am going to go for it if I think there's a chance. If I get to Camp 2 and I can't go on summit day, I'll stay in my tent in my sleeping bag and wait for them to get back. I'll be completely fine with whatever happens. I'll make sure I leave enough in my tank so I can get to safety if I need to."   

So back to me (Judy) and what can I say except I am not surprised at all that he is going for it.  And I won't at all be surprised if he calls from High Camp and made it.   I'm reassured that he's being philosophical about it all and not all tied up in the outcome.  And I hope if he keeps saying that enough to himself and to me, he'll believe it!  : )

In other random news at the camp:

  • It snowed again last night. This might not sounds strange, but despite its thick ice, Antarctica is actually classified as a desert since it averages less than 8 inches of precipitation a year.  In fact, their very experienced guides had never seen it snow in Antarctica.  The combination of low clouds,  falling and swirling snow, and the relentless wind is causing some very cold, brutal, low visibility conditions.  The wind chill was over 50 below today.  This is important because although the plan is to go to Camp Two tomorrow, Mother Nature might delay this.  
  • Kind of cool side event:  A Russian team left Camp 2 today, even in these very harsh conditions, and was attempting to summit.  The group of 15 included the Chief Economic Advisor who a few days ago had a video conference from Base Camp with Putin.  The Rangers are worried about the safety of this group, so a few of them were sent today to High Camp in case the Russians get into trouble.  I'll update when I hear what happens with this intrepid team.
  • Last night it was FREEZING... The guys slept with 2 or 3 layers on bottom, 4 layers on top, in their '30 Below' rated sleeping bags. They pull their buffs over their noses and hats over their eyes.  They have full water bottles and empty "pee" bottles so they do not have to venture out of the tent at night.  Maybe TMI...
That's it for now...let's see what happens with our boys tomorrow.  Send positive thoughts and feel free to leave comments for them to read when they return!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A Very Challenging day on the Fixed Ropes

"Very, very tough" is how Randy described the steep headwall today.

They had woken up around 11am to a very bleak weather forecast, so they guides had decided to wait a day before trying to carry to (Camp 2) High Camp (12,500 ft).   But Mother Nature is fickle, so a few hours later, the weather cleared, and they decided to give it a go.  After packing up the gear, food, and fuel they planned to cache up on the mountain, and making sure everyone was trained on how to ascend a fixed rope, the team set off around 3pm for the demanding climb.  The goal was to trek from Camp One across the upper ridges of the Branscomb glacier to the base of the fixed ropes at the  snow covered headwall, a 2000 ft monolith averaging about 35 or 40 degree slope.  They would haul themselves up the steep headwall, hike towards Camp Two, cache their gear, then descend the ropes back to Camp One for the night.  Climb high; sleep low.

This is what it looks like to climb the fixed ropes up the headwall (archived shots):

Each climber has to get himself up this headwall with about a 25 pound backpack.  They are not roped together since they all climb at different speeds, but each is connected to the fixed rope by an ascender and a safety, and of course, they always have at least one hand on the rope.  It's a laborious, demanding process where they take a step and jam their crampons into the snow, slide their ascender (called a jumar) up the rope, make sure the jumar locks,  take another step, slide up the jumar and keep going, resting when necessary.  When they get to an anchor, they have to very carefully unclip and clip back in.  And of course they do this all in increasingly thinner air and severe temperatures.  It sounds brutal.

The head guide, Greg, led the way, followed by some of the faster climbers.   Randy was at the back of the pack followed by the other guide, Mike.  In Randy's words, he was the "slowest by a considerable margin".  He found this fixed ropes ascent very, very fatiguing.  On the positive side, he got used to using the jumar, his calf didn't hurt, and surprisingly he wasn't overly intimidated by the steep terrain, but on the flip side, the physical exertion was kicking his butt.  His calf injury had really hurt his training regimen.  He had known his endurance was compromised, he just wasn't sure how much and had thought he could just rely on his accumulated general fitness and "suck it up" when he needed to.   But today, he felt his physical fitness just wasn't up to par and he had to take his time, try to get into a rhythm, and conserve his energy.  Mike was very encouraging and stayed with him,  and they finally arrived at an 11,000 ft rest point, about 60% up the headwall, after 2.5 hours.  The faster members of the group had gotten to that point in about 2 hours.  Randy said Anders was very fast and strong, right up in the front with Greg. At that point, Randy was pretty fried, and Greg made what I think was a good judgement call.  He told Randy that they didn't want to "blow him out" on this carrying climb, so Randy should give them all his stuff and climb back down with Mike.  Both guides assured Randy that this didn't mean that he won't be able to climb back up with the team and try to summit.  But since they were all coming back to Camp One anyway, Randy could skip the final 1000 ft up the headwall and conserve his strength for the next time.  Plus it was was getting colder and windy, and it would be safer if the other climbers could move quickly up and down.  Tomorrow would be a much needed rest day for everyone.
So Randy, guided by Mike, carefully and painstakingly descended down the fixed lines and made his way back to Camp One.  A very tired Randy called me a short time later filling me in and was definitely wondering if he has the physical fitness level required to summit this mountain.  I think at that point there was a confluence of factors that were giving him pause:  climbing the fixed lines was more taxing than he expected, he had gone from basically sea level to 11,000 ft in a few days, he has a terrible blister on his foot which was bugging him during this punishing day, he had never used an ascender, and it was colder and windier than he's ever experienced.

But like the mountain weather, Randy's ability to climb this formidable mountain is unpredictable. As to what will happen, he says, "It'll be interesting."  He promised me he'd listen to his body and to Anders and the guides, and he'd wait at camp if he felt he couldn't make it.  So I just don't know what to expect. Those of you that know Randy know how stubborn and determined he is, so I will not be surprised if he rests a day then wills himself up that headwall in position for a summit attempt.

It was reassuring to talk to Anders a few hours later, hear about the rest of his climb, and get his perspective on Randy.  He, Gregg, and the 4 other climbers had made it to the top of the headwall in another hour with Randy's and Mike's loads added to their own backpacks.  They cached the gear for Camp Two, then descended back down the fixed ropes.  After 6 hours of major exertion during deteriorating weather conditions, Anders was pretty beat up too. He definitely agreed climbing up the headwall was draining.  He had previously used fixed ropes ascending the infamously steep headwall at Denali. I asked how this compared, and he said Denali was steeper, but it was 800 ft and this was 2000 feet, so this just went "on and on and on" and was undeniably grueling.  But he loves this stuff, was still feeling strong and optimistic, and he thought Randy would feel a lot better with a day of rest.  Anders has a keen sense of what it takes to keep moving up the mountain and is very in tune with how Randy is doing, so I really trust him to help Randy decide how much he can handle.  Anders could not stay on the phone long because a front had come through and it was getting extremely frigid.  It was 20 below while we were chatting and getting colder.  He said it was A LOT colder than Denali, but assured me that in their tent, sleeping bags, and lots of layers, they were definitely warm enough.

What a day.  Thank God for a rest day tomorrow.  I think we all need it!

Happy New Year and Successful Move to Camp 1

Randy and Anders called last night to wish us Happy New Year and report on their successful climb to Camp 1 (also know as Low Camp) at 9500 feet.

They both slept really well the night before at Vinson Base Camp, having been instructed to stay in their tents from 7 PM to 9 AM because of the frigid weather.  Since they were actually moving up to Low Camp and not just dropping off gear and descending, it took quite some time to have breakfast, break down camp, load everything into their backpacks and sleds, and rope together for safe glacial travel.  By then the sun had peaked around the mountain, and it was at least relatively warmer, so they set off on their climb.  Since they'd be carrying heavy loads and moving, they each were wearing only 3 layers.

As the day progressed, clouds came in and it actually snowed a little, an infrequent event in Antarctica.  Surprisingly, Antarctica is the driest continent in terms of precipitation.  I guess once it snows on top of all that ice, it never melts or goes anywhere because there certainly is a lot of snow in all the pictures. But this was the first snow of the season -- a very dry, light snow.  Randy described it like tiny pieces of styrofoam.

Hauling about 80 pounds up to 9500 feet made for a tough, physical, and demanding day.  It took around 5 hours to travel the 5.2 miles.  Randy's back was sore, but he was so relieved that his calf injury didn't bother him.  For those of you that don't know, he's been suffering for about month with some bad tendonitis and was concerned how his leg would hold up particularly on steep inclines.  Today wasn't overly steep, so we'll have to see how his calf reacts on the very steep ascent to High Camp. But so far so good!  Randy said the sled is a challenge. It is attached to their backpacks and intermittently yanks them, so they'll be forging ahead while this cumbersome sled does it's best to jerk them backwards.  But he did it well and kept up with the team, which I think is pretty impressive for being 57 and the oldest in the group.  I guess training for and completing all those Iron Man races many times over helps!  I asked how Anders was handling it all, and he said Anders is just "great and super strong" and had no problem with any of it.  Nice to be 28, have an incredible spirit of adventure, and be very fit!  Plus Anders is just in his element out in the mountains.  It is said that Antarctica is the closest to you can come to being on another planet without leaving this one since it is so barren, intense, remote, and awe-inspiring, so I knew Anders would be completely invigorated by this unparalleled experience out in the middle of nowhere and would "crush it" as my kids would say!

Here's an archived picture of a team pulling sleds near Low Camp to give you a sense of what they are experiencing and seeing.

By the time I spoke to Randy, it was about 9 pm their time, and they had set up camp and just finished some pizza and soup.  He said the mountain and the headwall above them look enormous, and they were all getting into their tents soon because a massive ventricular cloud had appeared and that meant a COLD night.  They were told to stay in their tents until a very reasonable 11am since the sun was expected to hide behind the massive mountain from 3am till then.  The guides' plan is to emerge from their tents, assess the weather, and decide whether it's clear enough for a carry to High Camp at 12,500.   They have to conquer an intimidating 2000 ft vertical wall where they use ascenders to climb fixed ropes.  Ascenders are mechanical devices, attached to the climbers' harnesses, that slide up the rope and then lock. Anders learned how to use an ascender on Denali, but this will be Randy's first time.  They will only do this if the weather is clear.

Here's a look up from Low Camp at the steep headwall they have to scale up to High Camp.

I was so happy to later get a Happy New Years call from Anders.  He had still been in the dinner tent when Randy had called.  Anders said it was "pretty nice out" which made me smile because it is SO Anders to downplay the intensity of the weather, or really any part of these expeditions.  He doesn't like me to worry.  I did laugh when he admitted he did have on 5 jackets and 3 pairs of pants!  But it wasn't windy at that point which is a huge break on this extreme mountain.  When I asked, he said they could all feel the low oxygen effects of high altitude, but no one was sick from it.  Interestingly, because of the proximity to the South Pole, climbers feel an exacerbated altitude effect, meaning at 10,000 ft, they feel like they are at 12,000 feet.  It has to do with the low air pressure in Antarctica. So whereas 9500 ft at Low Camp wouldn't typically have a significant impact on them, I could already hear a bit of altitude hoarseness in both their voices.

Like Randy, Anders raved about his team and especially the two guides, Greg and Mike.  For those of you that are interested, here's a couple bios of these two climbing rockstars.

Antarctica is 2 hours ahead of Eastern time.  As I'm writing this on New Years Day at 10am, the guys should be up by now and deciding on the plans of the day.  I'm sure I'll hear from them soon and will update on their schedule.  For now, the guys had said to wish everyone a Happy New Years, so know that they are thinking of everyone and appreciating all your support.  Happy New Year to you and all your families!