Avalanche education and preparation
02/03/2006, Colorado Springs
I'm back home in Colorado, rested and ramping up for a trip to Africa in a few short weeks. My team on 2 separate trips are busily doing final preparations and training to climb in both Tanzania on Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya, some of the most incredible culturally rewarding trips we do.
This weekend and last we started our 2006 AIARE level 1 avalanche course. Last weekend Tom Murphy the Executive director of AIARE and Chad Peele started it off here at Colorado College to a sold out course and fantastic enthusiasm. Its always an exciting thing for me to see such motivation and effort put forth by folks to learn more about not only snow science and the many hazards that loom in the backcountry, but young folks taking time out to learn about proper risk management. This weekend were back at it here in Colorado Springs and I'll be teaching it alongside Chad again. Colorado leads the world in recorded avalanches each year, as well as fatalities, so here at PPAS and SEI were working hard to get the word out on education through a whole host of outreach targeted at reducing these numbers.
This photo was taken in Kenya last year when I visited an orphanage for HIV positive children in Nanyuki Kenya, home to the Tumani Children's Hospital. We started working with them over a year ago in bringing them not only money, but also much needed supplies. Were continuing our efforts this year and have raised more money, but managed to gain supplies for them to continue the wonderful work they do. Contact us here at SEI for more information and find out how you can help this wonderful effort.
Back in Colorado
02/03/2006, Colorado Springs
It always takes one a few days of transition to regain a foothold on day-to-day life. In this case its getting use to sleep patterns and adjusting them. I'm back home after a rest day in Punta Arenas; in all seriousness I could have used a couple more days. It feels great to be back home, now I ramp up for a trip to Kenya and Tanzania.
This will be the final report from Vinson and serve to close this expedition. When we aborted the first attempt on the summit the weather had proven the upper hand and reminded us in no uncertain terms just who was boss. It did though serve as a great shakedown to what would become our real summit bid the following day. We came back to high camp in really reduced visibility, I brewed up some hot drinks made a big lunch and graduated into the sleeping bags and caught up on journaling and reading. For me the time I love is just that, solace and peace, just the noise of Antarctica, no distractions, nothing but simplicity of nature.
We woke up to great weather the following AM. I again made breakfast and hot drinks. Filled the water bottles with hot water, made a thermos of sweet tea, put on the boots, and all the other clothing, which takes forever, then stepped outside. No wind, sunny and a day made for walking.. We left camp ahead of schedule at around 09:30, and started up the glacier again, this time with great visibility. The climb is straight forward in good weather, about a 2.5 mile long glacial approach over a fairly mild gain in elevation, no major crevasses to speak of, and no real objective danger, thus it's nice to just enjoy the scenery. We do a dogleg of sorts near the mountain, which presents itself not long up the glacier, and you have an unobstructed view of the summit ridge. Once closer it's again a moderate gain of elevation to a col or pass near the final summit ridge. Before then some folks actually un-rope, I don't because of hidden crevasses near this ridge. Once on the final ridge it's a beautiful climb over rock and snow to gain the main summit. We made the summit around I believe it to be 4:00 PM. Proud of both Don and Carolyn, and many obligatory photos later, we headed down. We got back to camp around 10:00 PM, so in all we made good time. The descent was just the same as the ascent in terms of weather, so we just enjoyed the sun and views and took our time. Once back at camp we enjoyed warm drinks and a great meal, then to bed we all went. We slept and packed up the following day and headed down all the way to Vinson base, that took us somewhere in the neighborhood of about 8 hours in all, and what a great sense of elation that was. We thought we were going to make a flight that day, and then possibly the Illushin later on, but that did not happen. We were at Vinson for about 4 days, and Patriot hills a couple of days before heading north.
In closing, a big effort complete, and no major injuries to speak of. It was some interesting weather this season no doubt. For me not an issue of temps but a noticeable rise in precipitation, I've never seen it snow like it did this season. That may seems strange but you have to remember that Antarctica is a dessert really, and it just does not snow. I did manage with other guides to get in some great skiing that was truly memorable, and for me that was certainly a highlight.
Thanks for reading and until next time, this is Jamie signing off.
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.