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!


JRN said...

Great work Gus! Enjoyed following your adventure and kudos to your mother for the detailed account while you guys were killing it. Safe travels back home and keep up the good work!

boceking said...