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.


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