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. 


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