Field report
01/29/2006, Punta Arenas

Here is a really long posting about the climb, sorry it's late. I also stopped before the second summit attempt, and will write that later. Enjoy this for now. Also note some of this was written awhile ago, and I've just added to it.

We arrived at Vinson base last night around 12:30 AM, late yes, excited yes, cold not really. After leaving the incessantly windy Patriot hills we were happy to be onward to the climb. As we got the final word for our flight onto Vinson in smaller planes than we hurried to break camp down. As we did this winds picked up from being already gusting at a steady 35-40 knots to a few gust of over 60+ knots, Don was breaking down the inside of his tent, me on mine. As I was stepping into the tent a gust blasted us incredibly hard, it wreaked havoc for about 20 minutes, it was a bit out of control. We lost a few things in the wind, retrieved some, and lost others, no deal breakers though. We managed to get it all figured out, what a total eye opener it was, and we had not even got out of Patriot Hills, so none the less, a lesson was learned, as long as that was the final one. We did get a tent thrashed a bit, so after I was bragging about quality of a certain tent, it was in the end not the type but the way in which it happened, and it was a drag. I brought a spare just in case, and now it's being put to good use.

Today we woke to negative 5'F, cold-oh yeah. I made some fast warm brews, and then went on to build our cook shelter, which on these trips is our communal area. After lunch it was time to go over technical skills, did all that in the comfort of the cook tent. The plan is to do a carry up tomorrow to an intermediate camp, return tomorrow night, then the next day Saturday make the move all the way to Camp I. It will be the first big test of all the skills up to this point; really it's a long walk so more a test of endurance over a sustained period.

I'm having some major problems with the laptop, so what I will have to do is limit the updates to when I'm here at Vinson Base, because Steve here at base camp is letting me charge the laptop. My battery is basically worthless, which I've already figured out the problem, but obviously it can't be solved here. I may have a solution tomorrow but we will see.

Don and Carolyn are holding strong. Right now they are in the tent snugged up. It's really blowing again outside, and visibility is really poor. Talking with other guides they have all commented that that the weather is about the worst most of them had seen down here in some time. In my experience the temps do seem colder than usual, which I know it's Antarctica, but still it's unusually cold, in the negative temps, which again is a little odd sounding but true in my opinion.

Anyways I need to be going, do some more work, then make the move onto bed, I'm feeling good in all, missing friends, and hello to all.

Friday 11:09 PM. I'm going to keep on adding to this message, and unfortunately this may be the last message for a bit. Today we did a carry to our first camp, and returned. Don and Carolyn did really good. The skies parted and we climb in rather balmy conditions, a nice change no doubt. Tomorrow were going to make the move to camp I, which will take probably about 10 hours to make. The following day we will take a break, and the following day weather permitting, carry to high camp. If all goes well, we will summit on Wednesday. So I'm signing off for now, keep your prayers up for our climb and take care friends and family.

Monday Jan 26th, it's been some time since any of us have done an update to the log, mainly because the lap-top did not go up the mountain, so I'm going to give a long update of sorts of what has happened thus far, it's been a long time, so I'll leave out many details.

When we arrived at base camp here on Vinson we had great weather to speak of, calm winds and temps hovered in the teens, for here that is acceptable, and you learn to take what you can when you can. We decided to take a rest on the 12th and I wrote about that a little above. Really it's all about the prep to go up the mountain, food planning, loads divided and so much more. The bottom line is we needed to get our way up the mountain and I was getting anxious.

The following day on the 13th we did a carry to what has been called 1/2 camp, a little demoralizing really since it really is only half way to camp I, the first real camp of the climb. A carry insinuates at some point we will get that gear/food again and carry on with it up to in this case Camp I. A good day in all, no major weather, and no major problems, we sorted out the ropes, who does what, and how it all needs to happen in a place like Antarctica. We returned and prepared a nice meal, drank brews and staged things for the following day. I was the only one that pulled a sled, Don and Carolyn carried packs, and proved strong, as I wanted to see how the fitness level was for the group so I pushed a little, they did fine.

On the 14th we woke to really poor weather, visibility was nil, and the temps had plummeted, making a start earlier out of the question. In a radio conversation with another guide up high we found out it was an isolated storm to Vinson Base, so we packed and prepared for an imminent departure, time unknown. We left I believe at 6:30 P.M., and carried on through to 1/2 camp, loaded a few more sleds, and pushed on to camp I. It was a long, arduous walk, but we did it, showed up into camp around 3:00 AM. We pulled ourselves into a large tent that ALE let me use, since we were getting in late, and I started to make a brew right away, and warm the tent. It was really, really cold probably -25 F. In fact it was a really good thing we all piled into the tent since it was so cold, as now I could just get Don and Carolyn all hydrated. That night on the walk in was the first time in 16 years of guiding I suffered some frostbite on both ears on the top, they swelled and got painfully red and tender. I tried my best to avoid it, not proud of it but it was unavoidable. The temps that night dropped to minus 38 degrees. I must say it was really flipping cold, the serious of our situation took on a whole new meaning.

The next day we all slept in until nearly 3:00 PM. That day was the start of our whole time shift, we started to get on a later schedule and ended up keeping it most of the trip. Time begins to totally wane from thought, dates and all other things as well as you get into a rhythm of either climbing, or the jobs to just keep alive. I made a big breakfast, brewed many cups of warm drinks, and drank coffee until it was warm enough to go outside. When I did I met with some of the other guides and discussed what they had been up to. Most had done a carry up to high camp with fuel and food, and were then taking a rest day. I decided after much thought that a carry was going to be out of the question given the length, necessity and effort it was going to be for Don and Carolyn, so I decided to make the climb the following day up the headwall in a single push. That afternoon I packed all the food, and remaining items I knew we'd need to be in high camp for a few days. Then that night we all settled into the tent and had a hearty meal and warmed up. That day the temps rose, and it was comfortable being outside for a long time, and in fact found it really pleasant.

The next AM I woke around 10:00 AM and started the stove, made brews and breakfast, and prepared the loads for the climb. Don and Carolyn had never seen the "Headwall", and heard only my stories and other climbers who had just experienced it the day before. I reassured them all would be fine. In fact it was, we set out under a beautiful day, warm temps in the low teens but full sunshine shown upon us, and good thing, that climb had been turning down multiple parties all season, in fact Heather Morning a guide with ALE and Vern from Alpine Ascents had been turned down many times just previously on there attempts before we arrived. I rolled the dice, and went we made it to high camp in less than 6 hours. It was simply beautiful, the views were amazing, and it's the Antarctic I love when it's like that. Over the lip of the headwall, crevasses were fairly tame, and nothing major to speak of, as long as you stepped in the correct spots and didn't tempt fate and wander off my track. I shortened the rope to negotiate some tight spots and in all Carolyn and Don did wonderful with that stress. When we arrived at camp we still had a bunch of work to do, in fact I just took out the stove, made a little kitchen in a snow bank, and Carolyn tended the stove and melted snow for water, we were all thirsty! I set up the tents and started to dig in hard for any storms we might see, good thing because it did blow later that night.

The next afternoon, (we all slept in until 12:30 P.M.) I was back at the stove making water and warm drinks. I do this from inside my tent, not outside, I left the cook tent, a Mountain Hardwear "Kiva" down at Camp I, and so the comforts of stretching out were gone, unless you wanted to step outside. It keeps me warm in the tent, and it's very well ventilated, this was a skill I've mastered after being in tents for so long, one has to make it comfortable. I had many things to do that afternoon, mainly build the walls up around the tents, and that took me some time. Don and Carolyn rested and read from the comforts of the tent, it was nice outside and most of the guides all socialized and joked around with one another. I was trying to build a fortress out of snow blocks I cut from my snow saw and shovel. It turned out the wind walls were a saving grace because that night the wind came out in full force. I don't know what it was gusting up too, but it was strong, no doubt a true test of any tent is can it stand up to Katabatic winds coming from the South Pole. Ours did, but honestly I thought at times my wind walls were definitely coming down, thank goodness they held. It made all the difference in the world, or more comfort knowing your protected to some degree. At this stage I was just feeding and pushing fluids with Don and Carolyn, something they needed to do, I started to really crave fat, something I did not get enough of. I had made a critical error and bought "Margarine" instead of real butter, that was a really stupid mistake. In fact the one thing my body need more of, and the others was fat at this stage of the game. Butter is a needed component on any trip, and the whole "bad for your heart thing", well that goes right out the window. In fact if someone through down a box of Crispy Cream donuts I'd have eaten the packaging! In all we had a nice rest, and planned on our first summit attempt the following AM, Don and Carolyn were realizing the days were now getting short to summit.

I woke and started the stove at around 8:30. It was not really nice outside, but I decided to go through the motions anyhow, as it would be a good drill no matter what. I filled the water bottles with hot water, feed Don and Carolyn, and prepared to depart. This process from the time I woke them until the time we were roped up and leaving took almost 3 hours. Things are just not hurried, and Don and Carolyn were in tight quarters since the main tent they had at Patriot Hills had been shredded by wind; they were now stuck in my emergency back-up tent. They just lived with it, and honestly dealt with it like champs.

When we pushed off the visibility was in and out, the pace was slow, but that was fine. In the air snow grains had been blasting into our faces, and wind making it's way down to your core. No doubt it was miserable. Vern another guide was out in front of me. I had made the choice not 10 minutes out of camp that we were going to turn around, but I wanted to continue for the sake of experience for them both, and they were enthusiastic. In a way it served it's purpose well, as they both were able to fine tune the clothing and figure out layers properly. I pushed on for about an hour, and looked up and Vern had turned around and was heading towards us. The wind was really blowing hard at this point. Vern passed and all I heard was "not today", I had made up my mind already and continued up a little, and then we turned around.

Back down, I made a big lunch of Chocolate, Salami and Cheese, soup and Oreo cookies, funny the things that will get one excited. To me a good book, some solace listening to the wind and warmth from my sleeping bag was just what the Doc ordered. I have just realized I forgot to mention that I had Bronchitis as well. I had been coughing up crap I won't describe, and at night sometimes up for long periods having coughing fits. One of the Doc's in Todd's group gave me a look over, and told me this days before, which was great because most the time I have to self police ailments of myself and my clients. So I felt as if my working lung capacity was a little reduced, thus the rest thing began to be important to me. The altitude was not having any affect on Don and Carolyn, they were taking a low dosage of Diamox and baby aspirin as a preventative measure, but really were doing well considering.

We went to bed hoping the weather would improve, and when we woke we were really happy to find it had in fact. We went through the whole process again, this time in an organized manner. I'm going to explain the next few days in another posting. Thanks for reading this thus far, and if you're asleep I understand, but at least read about the rest of the summit day.

Long time....
01/29/2006, Punta Arenas

I wish I could have done better on the webcast, but it was out of my hands. I will be adding a full report about the trip, which was incredible, but I need rest.

We all arrived late last night, in fact the whole team, not just mine but other trips as well in the end pulled together so well, it was an incredible trip.

I have minor frostbite, and will be fine. Don and Carolyn did fine, in fact I was the one in the end through no fault of my own got injured.

Right now I'm off to sleep more.

Jamie Pierce
01/10/2006, Some place over the Southern tip of South America en-route to ice

On board, loaded and heading south

I'm going to get a jump start on this web cast. All in all the waiting was better than years past, I've seen it better and I've seen it worse. I figure it's better to just not sugar coat the realties of waiting for good weather, you can't if you except it, it makes the journey so much more enjoyable.

Don and Carolyn both were wonderfully patient no doubt. It's not easy waiting, especially since planning this trip began so long ago. It's hard waiting when your so close to the continent. Anyhow that was soon over after we got the call to leave, we paid the room bills, and headed out for the airport. I have to say it was remarkably smooth considering we had 40 folks, personal effects, luggage, gear, and so much more through the airport in a fairly expedited manner. So hats off to Antarctic Logistics, and the great manner in which they handled all of us. It's not easy thing, and they did it seamlessly. We were on the plane and leaving no more than 2 hours after getting the call to leave, that is impressive.

The excitement mounted no doubt when we rolled onto the tarmac and the plane was staring us down. Getting off the bus and looking up at this monster plane is really exciting to say the least, as well really intimidating. The back of the aircraft has these monster doors that swing or rather butter-fly open, and this is where we loaded up. In all after a few photographs, we were loaded up and strapped down. This aircraft is a cargo plane, no comforts at all, it's designed to transport mainly equipment and troops, except now it's a peaceful mission, and one that has 40 wide-eyed adventurers sitting on the interior sideways on wooden benches with no padding. I can't imagine a flight lasting much longer than 4 1/2 hours, but they do, and one deals accordingly.

I'm on this plane next to Todd Rutledge trip leader from Mountain Trip leading his own group, and Lori Baker a Radiologist from San Diego California flying onto the South Pole. She has been to the North Pole as well on the Russian Ice breaker the Klebnikoff (sorry to hack the spelling up). Don and Carolyn are right across from me and looking very excited, they both have a permanent grin on there faces. It's so fun to see them so excited. They are in for such an adventure I'm not able to describe it. They have trained hard, and it will pay off. In fact just yesterday while we were waiting out for the weather to clear up, Don was the only one around doing stairs, exactly 142 of them to be exact, with his pack on.

I will finish this tonight after I get to the ice, get camp established and our tents all set up. I can tell you one thing, in my experience having the best tents in the world is a matter of life and death, and in my opinion the best tents in the world are Hilleberg tents from Sweden. That is all we use for any polar expedition and high altitude climb such as Vinson Massif.

I'm keeping this short, it's 3:00 AM and I'm heading to bed. Everyone is snug in there massive down sleeping bags, tents are up and were here. It was a great flight, no problems as all. I will give more details in the morning.

Good night, or good morning.

Newer ]  |  [ Older ]


Powered by XJournal