Hurry up and wait!
01/09/2006, Finnis Terrae Hotel Punta Arenas.
Info from previous 2 day's from Don Lewis.
Waiting is part of the game
We came early knowing that if everything went according to plan we would have some extra time. And, for the most part, we have some of the "waiting part" to deal with. Fortunately we have come to a destination type of city. One of the good parts of the area is that they some wonderful wine at extremely reasonable prices. Chile apparently is a wine mecca.
Our Chief Guide, Jamie's room in our hotel is simply too tight. He has a lot of equipment and will be provisioning our trip. The "inn is full" and one good option was for him to move, which he did. He says that his new room is quite spacious. It had better be, the trip provisions will require quite a bit of room to repackage. As an FYI, in a previous posting I had said that we would have a 500 pound allowance for the four of us. It was a jet-lagged error - there are only three of us and the weight limit will be 375 pounds. This morning Jamie said that even meeting that weight limit will not be slam dunk easy. Even with my slightly heavy camera, we have done our part in limiting weight with our "sporks" and leaving deodorant back in Punta Arenas. But obviously, a toothbrush handle here, and a spork there and we will make much progress with cutting down on the 375 pounds of gear. The weight comes from the food, fuel, multiple tents, skis and ski boots for Jamie, cooking gear, and the long list of necessary individual items. And, if truth be known I am sure that there is a bottle of champagne in there somewhere.
Did You Remember the Deodorant Honey? I am guessing that few people would find it tolerable to go two weeks or so without a shower. But surely our ancestors's first 999,900 years were without hot-water showers so I am sure we can survive. I wonder if they have masks for the tight plane ride back to Punta Arenas with activated carbon filters as well as those ubiquitous multi-purpose paper bags with fold-lock tops? Perhaps our training program should have included getting hot and sweaty and fermenting in a tight closet for eight hours to get adjusted to the confines of a tent without showers for a couple of weeks. On the other hand, perhaps living in a below-zero freezer will keep the "ripeness" down to a dull background "odour" (the French version) ... time will tell.
Cold Temperatures Jamie met with the aircraft operator along with other groups going to "the ice" (the term for Antarctica) to get updates, our schedule and to make other arrangements. He spoke with one highly-competent expedition leader (he has summited Mt. Everest multiple times) just back from the ice and he said that the temperatures there were the worse he has ever seen. My understanding is that the temperatures were in the -40F range in the high part of Mt. Vinson. As a detail, the Celsius and Fahrenheit scales intersect at -40 so that -40F and -40C are identical. Due to the very cold conditions there were three cases of significant frostbite with some frozen fingers and nose damage for some on a Mt. Vinson summit attempt. Apparently these individuals were there without the assistance of an expedition leader. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to deal with -40F.
Apparently it really was a dark and stormy night when we arrived. We heard a report that a sail boat sunk in the Cape Horn area and that a family of four had to be rescued. I'm guessing that the loss of their boat does put a crimp in their travel plans. At least they were safely rescued.
Penguins! Some have asked if we will see Penguins in Antarctica. Unfortunately, we say 'no' since we land inland far away from the sea life. With some extra time on our hands we rented a car and "got out of Dodge" yesterday (Saturday) and drove to a delightful Penguin nesting area. It was just delightful. We saw Penguins swimming that a speeds up to an incredible two meters a second, momma grooming babies, and the "penguin wobble" as they walked. They are designed to feed in the sea, not walk on land. So, we did see Penguins in the wild after all.
While we were having a picnic lunch at the Penguin area, we met two motorcyclists. In addition to motorcycling around Asia, they motorcycled around the US, drove up to Alaska, back to the US, down Central America, through Venezuela, through Columbia and were now at the southern tip of South America. Now, that is some motorcycling! One would never guess their favorite country - it was Columbia, South America of all places. Apparently tourists are as rare in Columbia as Polar Bears in Antarctica and they were well-treated there.
Carolyne and I went out for dinner on our own last night and we asked a young male about restaurant opportunities. After his first recommendation of a restaurant was one that we have already visited, he said that he could get us into the Naval Club, a restaurant for Chilean Naval Officers. Apparently he was a naval officer. We invited him to join us and we had a delightful time talking to him about his travels and life in the Chilean Navy. He was an exceptional bright young man.
Jamie has purchased the food at the local store that looks like a Sam's Club. His best judgment from difficulties experienced by others on mountain climbing expeditions is that the failure to eat sufficient quantities of food by trip participants is a major problem. There is not so much as a single package of freeze-dried food in the 20 or so bags of food that Jamie purchased. He has said that we will probably lose body weight and that we will have to more or less eat all the time. Apparently our appetite will be significantly reduced.
JANUARY 8, MONDAY Our first window of opportunity to leave is tomorrow. We have a group meeting followed by a weigh-in with all of our gear. We have separated everything into three piles, the first is the "stay at home pile," street clothes, etc., the second is the "go in the cargo section bags," (the heavy part), and the last is "the pack that we carry on the plane." We take the last two for the weigh-in to see how we are doing with the 125 pound per person limit. Extra weight costs a small fortune at about $30US per pound. We will bring back our "carry on the plane bag" with cold weather clothes, synthetic climbing boots, medications, etc. Weight is serious business.
After The Group Meeting
Our flights are provided by Antarctica Logistics and Expeditions and they provided a short meeting for all of those who are flying to Antarctica. This includes the mountain climbers as well as a group going to the South Pole. It was a sobering meeting.
We are at the end of the season and the flights after ours will be to pick up participants, not to deliver more. So far this season they have flown 309 down to the ice with about 250 clients going to the pole or to Vinson for the most part. At any one point in time they can have 100 - 150 people as participating in something or the other.
The Champagne is Safe! Good news, we are under 375 pounds, but just barely. Our food and gear weighs 122 Kg (about 268 pounds).
Can We Fly Tomorrow? The runway is blue ice and they have picked the location as someplace flat with little snow. But, they might get some snow tonight which might put a crimp in our travel plans. We will get a call at 9:30 am in the morning for an update. We have been advised that we can get a call anytime and are expected to be ready to go in 35 minutes. The earliest that they will call is 6:30 am and we will be expected to have paid our bills and ready to rock and roll by 7:05 am. But their best guess is that we will not fly until tomorrow evening.
Bad Weather This Season The representative of our flight said that the weather this year has been the worst in the 20 years or so of their operation. As we sit, there is a group of climbers on the high camp on Vinson socked in by stormy weather. They have had three bad "blows" this year in Patriot Hills including a 100 knot gale (nautical miles per hour). They have had the most snow in 20 years as well.
We are at the high point of risks for crevasses. They have already had one difficult crevasse extraction this year and one the year before. Perhaps more significantly, there has been a major avalanche on our route. But Jamie indicates it was more of a glacier collapse than a true avalanche not that it matters a lot. All in all, this is not a mountain of great risk. There has been only one recorded fatality on Vincent.
1,000th Successful Summit of Vinson Recorded This Year We understand that the 1,000th successful summit was recorded this year. If we were hoping for a triple digit historical rank we are out of luck. This compares with 2,500 - 3,000 successful summits of Mt. Everest and, as an estimate from Jamie of probably a quarter of a million on Kilimanjaro.
Postings from Antarctica If there is a delay in website postings, it will be good news since it will mean that we have flown to Antarctica. But we understand that we can wait for one, two, or more days. Subsequent postings from Antarctica will be via satellite telephone.
Very late, and still a little light.
I´m beat. All in good fun though. It´s 12:30 AM and I´m off to bed. I´d include a great photo of all this great stuff we did today, but like a cement head I´ve misplaced my camera in all the shuffle. Yeah go figure, just my luck.
We had a great day. We rented a car, and drove north, thought we´d make it to Torres Del Paine, but we didn´t get far past the penguin colony. It was just so cool. They were active, feeding off shore, pulling feathers off the chicks then egging them into the ocean was more enlighting and humorous than anything I´ve seen a long time.
I´ll catch up on photos in the AM after I get them back from Don and Carolyne, for now this will have to suffice.
I will mention though that the Illuyshin took off last night, so the flight schedule for the ice is right on track. The bigger question is will we put in on Monday?
I bought nearly 150 lbs of food, have it sorted and bagged accordingly. We have a meeting in the AM to go over flight logistics and weigh our gear etc. Then all that gear not staying with us in P.A goes on the plane and waits for us Monday.
All the best, sorry if this was dry but one eye is already asleep.
Long equipment list and even longer grocery list.
Don Lewis and Jamie
01/06/2006, Punta Arenas
I'm going to hand over the words of the last couple of days to Don. It's 21:30 at the moment and the sun is still high. Long days equal loads of production. It's been good, and were all right on schedule. These entries are from yesterday and todays activites.
JANUARY 5, 2006
Just by chance, our flights into Punta Arenas, Chile, matched up with our expedition leader in Dallas. Fortunately I am a member of the American Airlines Admiral's club and we were able to meet in a relaxed setting. It might be appropriate to explain the difference between a "backpack," a "trek," and an "expedition." Having "backpacked many tens of times for some 'hundreds' of days, it is a mode of traveling in the backcountry while carrying one's gear, including tent, sleeping bag, food, and carefully selected gear. It is truly a wonderful way to move through the various parks and wilderness regions in the US and some brave individuals do this in foreign countries as well. My personal backpacking has been limited to the US and Canada. "Trekking" is another form of travel throughout regions of the world (but apparently, not the US) that may go through area that range from populated to 'remote wilderness.' Generally, there is a staff of porters (or pack animals), and a staff to cook, guide, and take care of accommodations, whether tents or tea-houses. These are more like "guided" tours on established tourist routes than real adventure. Participants of treks generally carry light day-packs with cameras, water, and perhaps a coat. "Expeditions," are more raw and are as close to real adventure as one can get on this planet. These may or may be without assistance to carry the heavy loads along the trails and up the steep pitches. In the most adventuresome of expeditions, participants carry their own gear including multiple trips up and down the route to get all of the necessary gear to the various camps.
In our brief meeting so far, our expedition leader, Jamie Pierce, seems to not only be quite competent, but I am sure that we will enjoy his company. The first part is essential and the second part is a pleasure. Considering the amount of time we will have together, this is a good thing.
When one takes an extended trip of this type with nearly 20 hours on an airplane, some of is bound to occur on "red-eye" flights and this trip is no exception. Our 10.5 hour trip trim Dallas to Santiago, Chile started at 9:00 PM. It is never easy consuming the food and going through the excitement of a flight and then trying to get eight-hours of sleep. Surprisingly, all three of us managed to get a significant amount of shut-eye.
We had what seemed to be a generous three hours of layover time in Santiago, but we did have endless details of entering Chile, collecting our luggage, and making our connecting flight. But in fact, we ended up being a bit rushed due to the endless lines. There was a long line to get our luggage x-rayed and inspected. It had that ugly look where many travelers were wandering up to the front of it leaving those at the end in what seemed like a line that didn't move. We suffered at the end with the rest of those who chose to be good travelers. Even so everyone was friendly and pleasant. We did have a welcome of sorts from the government of Chile. We were ushered into a line for first-time visitors and had to pay a world's record high country entry fee of $100 US per person. But the fee is good for the life of our passport.
We finally made the connecting flight and headed off for Punta Arenas, Chile. We landed and even caught a glimpse of the cargo plane that will take us to Antarctica. Apparently it will either be Russian Illushyin or a Hercules C130. It had better be a cargo plane since our total load limit for the four of us will be 500 pounds. Can you even fathom starting a backpacking trip for four with 500 pounds? Fortunately we will be leaving a lot at our camp that we setup at basecamp.
It Was a Dark and Stormy Night
It was a dark and stormy night . really, except for the "dark part." We suspected that since we were on the southerly part of South America we would be close to the Straights of Magellan, I didn't know that we would be at the Straights of Magellan. The sea was a bit frothy and it was raining. I can only imagine the sailing ships passing this way a century ago. To add to the effect it was raining quite a bit. As we drove through town Carolyne noticed that no one was carrying an umbrella. And I mean no one. Out of the hundreds of people we saw walking in the rain one would have thought that carrying an umbrella would have attracted lightning. Jamie says that the wind would invert an umbrella here and people just go without. And only a few had on rain jackets with hoods. It seems that people everywhere here just let their heads get wet. They are a hearty group I presume. It is going to be "a bad hair day" in town tonight.
Everything was uneventful. Life is good . we checked into our rooms, had a delightful meal and await the much-anticipated equipment check tomorrow morning.
JANUARY 6, 2005
By Donald E. Lewis
The Devil is in the Details
We are finally able to get our report card from the long process of gearing up for this very unusual expedition. The gear for this trip is surely the most expensive gear on earth as well as the most time-consuming to obtain. After all, where does one go to get prescription ground, extra dark sun glasses with side shields and a nose guard? I have honest never been through anything like it before. But the success or failure of our trip depends upon our gear, and in fact our very lives may depend on it as well. In the near worst-case scenario a single piece of inadequate gear could cause us to terminate the summit attempt. In the worst case scenario we could turn into a solid "frosty the snowman" if we had a gear failure. The adequacy of our gear is determined by our experienced Chief Guide (the title on Jamie's coat). The "come to Jesus time" was after breakfast. As an aside thought, I wonder whether Jamie's cholesterol count is over 1,000 or not, but surely his doctor would not bless his breakfast with seven scrambled eggs and enough butter to grease the axles of a wagon train.
The gear check looked like a rummage sale run amok in our too-tight room. Although we do have a king-sized bead our gear is double and triple stacked. Space is at a premium and even Jamie's (expensive) room looks they priced the construction by the square inch.
Jamie said in advance that it would be unusual if we did not have to go searching for something or the other and in fact that was the case. We pulled out each and every item from our five-pound, 900 loft down 40F below zero sleeping bags and the custom-made Pillsbury Dough Boy down coats to mere 81 mg enteric coated aspirin. Jamie's prophesy was right . we did have some issues including a significant one. Our big problem was that Jamie said that our outer shells were simply not durable enough. He pointed out all of the weaknesses including the thin limited rip stop nylon, the weak zippers, and even the too-large size of the stitching. Apparently in my zeal to cut out the weight I skimped on the cheap immitation Gortex shells and pants). These outer-gear components are real "bet your life" pieces. As luck would have it we have exactly what we need . but it is back in Connecticut. We also had some failure to communicate on our water bottles and had to replace four of those too. I also have those back in Connecticut. Added to our inadequate gear list was our wimpy eating bowls. Jamie even looked down his nose at our "sporks" (combination forks and spoons). Even with these "issues" Jamie said that we ended up a much better than average but perhaps he was just giving it a good spin. Since the commute back to Connecticut would kill us and it would take DHL four days for an "overnight" delivery (we checked), we had to head off for the North Face Store to shore up our weaknesses. When we land at "Patriot Hills" in Antarctica there won't be so much as a candy bar for sale on the entire continent. Better get the gear here "chop chop" and move forward to sampling the fine Chilean wine. Punta Arenas is a great place . if you own a sporting goods store. It was "hemorage money" time and I will never admit, even under torture, how much we paid for the four pieces of Gortex shells. As a hint, I think I would have rather bought drinks for the entire town's population at the local bar.
Jamie went off to buy the food and Carolyne and I went shopping at the local bazaar. We are all back and as I write this at the end of the day, the sun is still "15 fingers" over the horizon and it is 8:20 PM. We are only about 2,000 miles from the South Pole and we are in the land of the midnight sun. Tomorrow we are off for some hiking in Patagonia.
Evil Spirits Away .,.
I've attached a picture of the obligatory good luck activity of Carolyne kissing Magellan's toe in the town square. Surely this will ward off all evil spirits as promised.