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.

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