Sunday, December 6, 2015

Safe and Sound - Union Glacier

Doug's team managed to catch the last plane from base camp back to Union Glacier today!!! So he is back to Antarctic "civilization." It sounds like they are expecting some weather to move in so flights to Punta Arenas might not happen for a few days but my fingers are crossed for an early return home.

Unfortunately, the other client climber on Doug's team got frostbite on a few of his fingers and on his nose so he's spending the night in the infirmary hut. Doug volunteered to look after him overnight so he's enjoying the warmth before heading back to sleeping in tents tomorrow. Thoughts and wishes to Michael for a speedy recovery!! I wish I could overnight the Russian frostbite cream Doug got when he was climbing Elbrus - that stuff worked like magic. But besides the frostbite everyone is well and back at Union Glacier. :)

Saturday, December 5, 2015

On top of the bottom of the world!!!

Just got a phone call from the SUMMIT of Vinson Massif!!! THEY DID IT! :D I might be the proudest wife in the world right now!! They're at the summit right now (1:15PM PST) taking photos. But it sounded pretty cold so they'll be heading back down to high camp soon!

WOOO HOOOOO! Highest peak in Antarctica? Check.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Tsk Tsk, but really YAY!

I haven't heard from Doug since Monday, hence the tsk tsk in the title (someone's sat phone better be out of batteries :-P ) But have no fear! I've done some internet sleuthing and Mountain Madness (the guide group Doug is climbing with) has posted an update!

Mt Vinson Expedition reports that the team is at high camp and will make summit attempt tomorrow. Wishing them all the best for a successful summit and safe return!

TOMORROW!! That's the YAY part!!! It looks like the weather has kept nice and everyone is healthy and in good shape. Cannot wait to hear news of a successful and safe summit! :)

[photo: Mountain Madness]

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Made it to Massif

I got a chance to talk to Doug yesterday. The team made it safely from Union Glacier camp closer to the base of Vinson Massif in the ~2-3 days since the last update. Yesterday they did their first altitude run up to about 10,600 feet and dropped a bunch of supplies. The plan for today is to move up to low camp.

He's met some of the climbers on the other teams and apparently they're pretty cool, so he's having fun. The clothes and sleeping bag he took are keeping him warm but apparently when the sun goes away it gets "holy smokes" cold really fast.

That's all for now! Over and out.
- Maggie

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving - Touchdown Union Glacier

Hi all! Maggie here, taking over comms for Doug who has officially gone dark as of this morning. So while we were enjoying our delicious turkey dinners, Doug was making his way down to Antarctica.

The group got a thumbs up on the weather to fly so they headed to the airport. Doug hopped a 757 (a proof of concept pilot program that I guess they usually fly around Iceland). He actually ran into an Everest buddy of his and ended up sitting next to him on the flight.

The plane landed safe and sound on Union Glacier. (I've included a picture of what I assume Camp Union Glacier looked like... Doug will have to validate the accuracy of the photo when he gets home.) In terms of how frigid it is, apparently it's "not that bad" until the wind blows and then it's "really freaking chilly." It sounds like there are a number of climbers there from the Everest climbing community and someone brought a football, so I'm not worried about him getting bored or not having any fun.They may be hunkered down at the Union Glacier camp for a few days since the wind has picked up but I'm sure they'll make the most of it. I'll keep everyone posted on when they make their move towards Vinson.

Ok, time for me to sleep off this turkey! Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Gear! Gear! Gear! Said the Sergeant

Today started off with a bang- Michael, Ossie and I grabbed breakfast in the hotel and connected on the plan for the day.  First up was to do a gear check to ensure nothing critical was missing, filter through the nice-to-have's and do a weight/value consideration on if it goes or not.  At about 10:30, ALE (Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions) - the only show in town who are authorized to fly non-military/government air onto the continent- did a quick weight check and then whisked away our team supplies and personal gear duffels. We won't see them until on Union Glacier, although we did separate pack key items like down jackets, boots and several warming layers. These go into your backpack that is hand carried at all times. which isn't that bad a plan should you need to put additional layers on in short order once on Antarctica.
With bags enroute, the rest of the day was then spent orienting ourselves with lovely Punta Arenas- walking the streets, checking out statues of Magellan, great pizza joints and generally exploring while tying together a series of last details before going dark on the world. Ossie spent a good deal of time covering the specifics of 'leave no trace' that ALE and pretty much every responsible party are held to by international treaties. Everything (and I mean everything) that we bring to the continent gets hauled out.  Gear, trash, waste... everything.  You do have to hand it to the sentinels of this policy- their decree is to keep Antarctica from becoming what portions of Everest are. Through a rigorous screening policy, guides are vetted over a period of time before ALE will agree to let them guide. Guides then in turn keep their team in check.  It all works this way.  The snow stays white, the granite rocks stay black, a landscape devoid of any living thing save transient visitors stays pure.
At 17:00, we were invited to an orientation at ALE, which covered the details of our travel plan.  It's all dependent upon the weather, which has proven to be fairly squirrely. Weather stations on Union Glacier are reporting back to Punta Arenas where meterologists and pilots go heads-down to decide if the flight across the Southern Ocean is a go or no-go. This happens on a daily basis.. so if tomorrow at 06:00 the readings aren't favorable to land a multiple engine airplane on a pure ice runway, we delay a day.
We also learned all about life at Union Glacier- it's a mini-city from what we were told, complete with zones that host different camp visitors.  One area is for 'permanent' staff, one area is for 'guests'- those people traveling between stations, and one area is for Vinson climbers. It's apparently chock full of food- you can gain weight at Union Glacier from an unending supply of free food. There are also social tents, a place to get your gear situated and a follow-on runway for the single engine skiplanes that will ultimately take us from Union Glacier to Base Camp at Patriot Hills. This should be quite an experience after a ~4 hr flight down to our future and hopefully temporary waypoint enroute to the Sentinel Range.

After a quick chat amongst the ~35 odd other travelers who will be flying once the green light is given, we grabbed our boarding pass for the flight and headed out to grab a last dinner.  Final packing underway, gear all set to go this is hopefully our last night in Punta Arenas for a while.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Touchdown- Punta Arenas

“But I reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before."
-  Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)

It only took two days, but we finally made it- the team is in place having all arrived in Punta Arenas. Definitely chilly here- and surprisingly dark given we are almost at the southern terminus of South America.  Isn't it supposed to be light even close to midnight? Maybe I'm not calibrating our true latitude correctly and aren't as far south as we thought. 

Couple notes on an otherwise un-noteworthy trip down:

- Flying into Santiago is incredible, threading through the snow capped Andes and then foothills surrounding the city. Both sides of the plane had cameras out and even while at the airport the surrounding landscape provides Santiago with a spectacular setting.

- English is a pretty rare commodity, so far I can count the number of people speaking Eigo on one hand and have had to rely on awesome and dazzling High School Spanish to get by.  Fortunately, people here are pretty relaxed and accommodating of my efforts struggling to get rust out of the Spanish gears in stitching together sentences.

- Apparently Chile and Spain aren't besties, or I just misread an experience at Customs with one of my bags spread all over a table. An agent flagged one of my bags and bypassed about 15 bags of candy, nuts and freeze dried food to hone in on two vacuum sealed packets of Prosciutto. The agent confiscated the meat and when I asked about it was told that it wasn't the meat- it was because it was from Spain. I didn't argue, just re-packed and went on my way.

On the taxi ride from the airport to hotel, it was amazing to look up into a vividly bright sky with whole constellations not visible in the northern hemisphere twinkling away, the Southern Cross sitting high in the sky. At one point, I pulled out my phone and opened my compass app.. heading due south, my compass had us on a northerly heading as it dialed in on the magnetic South Pole, not that far away. We zinged along in taxis toward our hotel (Best Western Hotel Finis Terrae- or, End of Earth) at the not-so-exorbitant rate of $12 fixed price.. this nation isn't all that expensive from what we have seen sofar.

Arriving, Michael and I met the third in our party- Ossie and planned for tomorrow.  Plenty going on in preparation and planning to be had, so tonight is sleep for the weary travelers. And as tomorrow comes along, we prepare to light out. Like Huck Finn's unbreakable spirit incapable of simply settling down as a boring old townsfolk do. We yearn to seek adventure, see the unknown and experience all that life has to offer.


Monday, November 23, 2015

Antarctica- Enroute At Last

Finally on the way! 

I can't believe that the day has arrived and wow did it come quickly. The last few weeks involved one major deliverable after another, and given the compressed timelines, travel here and there for Marines, family commitments and work requirements it's been a manic, hectic month.  Fortunately Maggie was pretty consistent in making sure that required gym time and packing were built into the schedule.. if not, I doubt that things would have fallen into place as easily as they did. 

Forecast: South Pole- Amundsen Scott

The gear list itself is about half that of Everest, although some key components are most definitely required. The other day I went to try and figure out what the forecast was for Union Glacier, Patriot Hills or Vinson.. and quickly learned that the closest forecast that's being reported is the South Pole itself, from Amundsen-Scott Station. It's warmed a bit since last time I looked, a balmy -20 on the day we'll likely land on the glacier but as is expected with polar climes at the extremes of the planet -20 will actually feel much, much colder. It is promising to see that the skies are expected to be clear.. one of the largest challenges of this climb is taking advantage of weather windows when available, and the first big step in effectively sneaking up to the top of Vinson is crossing the Southern Ocean.. specifically the Bellingshausen Sea, tracing the peninsula and touching down on the frozen runway of Union Glacier.  Without a weather window, I'd be parked in Punta Arenas until the clouds part.

And so, the gear list needs to reflect those cold, cold temperatures.  I pulled items like my -60 sleeping bag that's seen time in Alaska and the Himalaya out of mothballs, Scarpa Invernos w/ Intuition liners and Alti-Mitts are all now packed happily away in compression bags and ready to rumble. Other items, such as comfort foods and Nalgene bottles have insulating layers to keep them from flash-freezing.  There are some stark differences in gear, however. No need for critical avalanche gear like beacons or poles, from what I understand the ancient land of Antarctica receives so little snow, and is so cold that the ice encasing the Sentinel Range effectively stays where it lies. Likewise helmet.. rock isn't really moving so there isn't much objective hazard to rockfall, especially due to any melting (not happening given those temps).  I did pack a bunch of extra goggles and sunglasses.. with the Ozone Layer basically gone over the South Pole and all that reflective light bouncing off white, white snow the last thing I want to deal with is a lost pair of glasses.  Backups in these, and other categories come with experience, but are highly sought after on the once-in-a-million time when you need 'em.

And so, this morning the family threesome of Maggie, Mochi and I headed out to the airport with close to 200 lbs of gear spread amongst four backpacks and gear bags. While Maggie and Mochi headed to DC for Thanksgiving turkey, I'm off in different direction and the expedition is ON. First to Houston, then Santiago, and the southern terminus of South America- Punta Arenas. From there, gear check and departure over the water toward the bottom of the planet. 


Saturday, October 31, 2015

Vinson Massif- Prep

Happy Halloween! 

The time has come to start focusing on the next chapter of the Seven Summits and in doing so, have decided that Vinson Massif will be the next mountain to zero in on. It's been a while since I updated this blog, and in planning for Vinson decided that it was high time to resurrect it with experiences planning, coordinating and then ultimately executing this next expedition which should have quite a few unique moments along the way. The challenges for this mountain, so I'm told, vary greatly- from extreme cold to extreme remoteness- of being parked nowhere near civilization, the closest outpost several hundred miles away at South Pole station. Aside from the occasional sat call, there will be no Internet, email, television or any of the other luxuries we have come to take for granted in the day-to-day grind people are now accustomed to. It will quite literally be the most remote place I have ever visited.

Mt Elbrus Barrels
The past few years haven't been quiet- I summited Kilimanjaro in 2011 on New Years Day (check out this cool Photosynth), took a shot at Elbrus in 2013 but turned back 800' from the top when winds and -30 temperatures left my face scorched with frostbite.  Quite the experiences, at some point when things slow down a bit I'll go back through the journals written on both of these trips and make sure to convert over to blog entries- they were each unique and different in their own way.  Getting in to and out of Tanzania presented different challenges from Russia. The gear you need to climb each of these mountains vary as much as the climates you travel through, the steps you need to take to prepare for each vary as well.  Likewise, the Caucasus mountains are so starkly different from equatorial Africa.. one of my enduring memories of Elbrus is seeing a large Russian man in tank top, bare skin hot pink from the wind while riding a chairlift and casually smoking a cigarette during 20 degree snow flurries.  That's about as different as you can get when compared to a pride of lions lazing fat and happy in the baking sun of Ngorogoro Crater after making a meal out of a Wildebeest- essentially the cheeseburger of the African plain.  They both are just absolutely spectacular mountains, unique in their own right and special chapters in a fantastic ride that the Seven Summits deliver. In many ways even banging out these quick sentences harkens back to truly enjoyable experiences and I'm looking forward to cracking those journals open and digging up photos for a trip down memory lane.

Rainier summit crater tent camp
Rainier is pretty much a standard, living in the Pacific Northwest allows the luxury of being able to spend time on that mountain with little planning, and pulling together a team of willing Marines to go overnight in the dead of winter or take advantage of a beautiful weather window to sleep on the summit of that majestic mountain is fairly easy. Sure, hauling tents, bags, gear, food and everything else up to the top isn't the most efficient of ways to climb, but it takes a fairly routine route and laces it with all the newness and excitement of making it feel special all over again.

There have been plenty of other experiences over the past few years as well. I married a beautiful and fun woman who challenges me in many ways both intellectually and personally. We now have a spunky puppy who joined our blooming family and thinks she runs the joint, despite weighing five whole pounds. We bought and continue to upgrade a great house that routinely sees parties and events to liven the place up but requires constant upkeep.  I picked up and then turned over a Battalion of Marines, followed by two new roles and the rank of Colonel. Work has it's highs and lows as much as anywhere, but I landed on a great team and enjoy it when feeling like I'm adding value. Operation Human Being has smacked me in the face as hard as I guess could be expected and the days while away, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, springs become summers and summers become fall. 

Fixed Ladders on Rainier
And as a result, the Seven Summits siren call continues to draw me in.  Vinson, the highest peak in the Sentinel Range, located on the highest and most ancient of continents is exceptional for a variety of reasons. First off, getting there is a complete bitch.  It's no joke that researching travel to <-> from this mountain has taken years.  Several of us tried -unsuccessfully- to figure out what alternate routes existed beyond the traditional ALE/guide service path and learned one dead-end after another that if you want to climb this mountain, you really are either resigned to having some inside line with National Science Foundation or.. you go guide service.  We looked at hopping Space-A on one of the Operation Deep Freeze C-17s out of JBLM Lewis-McChord, submitting for a NSF Grant, alternate charter flights.. nothing panned out that wouldn't have us abandoned on a runway somewhere in New Zealand and in the end, we fell back on guide services.

Fortunately, after a few trips through McKinley (that's right, I didn't mistake this and mean to call it Denali) and the Himalaya, my gear is pretty much up to speed and it didn't require much to make sure the gear list is complete and ready to roll.  There's specific emphasis on cold weather gear for sure- and a series of questions/answers with experienced climbers as well as understanding what sort of creature comforts I want to haul along versus leave behind (do I bring the 8,000m down climbing suit that is super warm but weighs a ton?). There's also the training aspect- getting to the gym, hitting the trail, cardio galore, etc. Going through the Mountain Madness prep guide to make sure nothing gets overlooked.  Flights, on the other hand to/from Punta Arenas took some planning. The final routing goes something like this: Seattle -> Houston -> Santiago -> Punta Arenas with hours of layovers and I'm pretty sure there's a stop somewhere in between Santiago and Punta Arenas as the LAN Chile flight threads it's way down to the southernmost point of South America.

And there you have it- the blog is back alive. The trip officially begins on 23 November, but as the continued preparation unfolds there'll be more to this story. Looking forward to it, and to seeing what this next great journey has to offer.