Monday, January 21, 2013

Vinson Photos; Back to UG

Well done, team! All the Heavy lifting's done, and now it's time to kick back and play the waiting game. The team members who didn't join the Vinson climb know the waiting game all too well. They finally made it out of Union Glacier yesterday. They were very nearly reunited with the other half of the team!

Anyways, after summiting Vinson two days ago and trudging all the way from High Camp to Base Camp yesterday, the team spent the morning nursing hangovers. Sounds like they had a little celebration last night.

And why not?! They stood on the South Pole and on top of Antarctica's tallest peak in the same week! That's something to celebrate!

Check out some of the team's Vinson photos below:

Saturday, January 19, 2013


Brian, Nick, Simon, Ian, Alexey, Taylor and Keith stood on top of Antarctica today! Well done, boys!

They summited Vinson Massif, and did so in unrelenting cold. Gone were the blue skies and still air of two days ago. No one was climbing in shirtsleeves today.

The temperature dipped to -25 Celsius, and the wind sustained 25 mph, gusting higher. These conditions produced a sustained wind chill of around -41 Celsius--serious, serious cold.

You must stay active in that kind of cold. Otherwise you put yourself at risk for cold injury or exposure issues. That's why the team didn't linger on the summit. Everyone worked so hard to make the summit, but once they did, they knew it was about time to get moving again.

The plan for tomorrow is to descend to base camp and catch flight back to Union Glacier, where they just might meet up with the rest of the South Pole team. If all goes according to plan though, Heather, Diego, Michel, Dale, Niall, Sasha and John will be on their way to Punta Arenas tomorrow.

Friday, January 18, 2013


Both team contingents were in a holding pattern today. The team in Union Glacier passed another day at the foot of the Ellsworth Mountain Range awaiting their departure to Punta Arenas. They are living in a sublime setting, but anxiously await their reintegration to normal life (and indoor plumbing).

The Vinson team awoke feeling a little run down, so they spent the day napping, rehydrating and stoking the caloric furnace. Yesterday's warm weather and still wind made for excellent climbing conditions, but it also made it difficult to stay hydrated. Some team members went down to their shirt sleeves to avoid sweating too much.

Tomorrow the team will put today's respite and refueling to good use. They expect to spend between 9 and 13 hours on the move, covering over 7,000' in elevation change. Weather permitting, they'll tag the summit and return to High Camp for the night.

Check back tomorrow to see if the Punta team gets on their way and if the Vinson team bags the summit! 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Two Days, One Update

The storm that ravaged Union Glacier has long since blown through, and both team contingents (the Vinson climbers and those returning to Punta Arenas) are enjoying wondrously blue skies and curiously still wind.

That's the upside. The downside is that the Punta team was meant to have been on their way immediately following the storm. But, as is often the case with air travel, they have been delayed, probably until Saturday or Sunday. Indeed, delays tend to be the rule, rather than the exception, when it comes to charter air in the world's wild places.

The Vinson team made it to base camp yesterday, and, since the tentbound storm day gave them some time to rest and organize the kit, they were able to start climbing immediately.

Today they it all the way up to High Camp, and will sleep there at 12,400'. The summit stands at 16,050, and they may well reach it tomorrow! It all depends on how they feel in the morning. They will take a very conservative approach if anyone is struggling with the altitude. Even if that means taking a rest day with continued blue skies and still winds.

Check back tomorrow to see if they bag the summit!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tentbound Storm Day and More Pole Pics!

As Keith (and the noisy wind gusts) spells out in the audio update, it was a wild day at Union Glacier, 50 kt. wind gusts, extremely warm temps (-5 C) and no flights.

Building snow walls takes a lot of energy, but can provide a vital wind block.

The intense weather kept the team in tents and the planes on the ground. So, instead of embarking, they read, played cards and slept. All things considered, it's a blessing in disguise for the Vinson team. They've worked VERY hard over the past ten days, and could probably do with a rest day before the next leg of the adventure.

The worst of the storm has blown through, and we expect Punta Arenas and Vinson bound flights to be on schedule tomorrow.

Below are some more South Pole pics that the team sent on today. Enjoy!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Back to Union Glacier

Back to "civilization". Back to heated structures and modern transport--they're still waiting on indoor plumbing though.

The team touched down in Union Glacier around 8 PM local time, and are currently enjoying the creature comforts of base camp. Keith mentioned something about 18-year-old single malt when he called in the dispatch. 

Tomorrow the team will split and board two different aircraft, one bound for Punta Arenas, Chile, the other bound for Vinson Massif base camp. Six will return home and eight will attempt the tallest peak on the continent. Stay tuned for their adventure!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Pole at Last!

They made it! Today each team member stood on each longitudinal line at once. They stood in every time zone. They "ran out of south".

The Ceremonial South Pole and Amundsen-Scott Station (photo courtesy of Wikimedia)

They arrived at the Pole this evening. After taking a few photos at both the Geographic and the Ceremonial South Pole, they toured the Amundsen-Scott research station, named of course after the first two explorers to reach the Pole.
Amundsen-Scott from the air (photo courtesy of Wikimedia)

Tonight the team is celebrating. They've already enjoyed a dinner that they didn't have to cook themselves, and have moved on to drinks and cigars.

Well done, team! Drama and accident free expeditions are well organized undertakings made up of intrepid, team spirited folks.

Back to Union Glacier tomorrow

With all the touring and celebrating that must be attended to tonight, the team has not had an opportunity to send many photos from today. Tomorrow they will return to Union Glacier Base Camp and send in some good ones. Be sure to check back tomorrow for Pole Pics!


When the team encountered clear skies they could actually see their ultimate goal (well, the research station immediately adjacent to the Pole) while they skied. They put in another solid seven hours and now stand at 89 degrees, 52.1 minutes south, just under eight nautical miles from the bottom of the globe. 

The team worked very well together. As Nick mentions in his audio update, everyone is looking out for one another, and every kind gesture or bit of teamwork carries immense weight. Whether it's a simple matter of sharing chocolate bars or carrying extra weight when a teammate is feeling less than 100% or just making sure to be ready to ski when it's time to ski, each bit of positive energy helps create a safe, successful and unforgettable expedition--memories to be proud of and cherish.

The team pitched the big group shelter tonight so that they could treat themselves to another specialty meal. Tonight's menu: steak, sauteed vegetables and mashed potatoes. Keith and Taylor didn't mention what was on the drink menu, but you can bet that everyone's having fun in the "green room".

Thanks for following, and check back tomorrow for notes from the South Pole!

Friday, January 11, 2013

South Pole on Sunday?

After today's 8.6 nautical mile push ("Can we go 9?" asked one of the go-getters), the team is just two solid ski days from the Pole! They sleep tonight at 89 degrees, 43.8 minutes south. If tomorrow brings clear skies, they may even be able to see the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station by midday.

Contrast between land sky gets fuzzy even when it's only partly cloudy.

Today they encountered warmer temperatures, variable 5-7 kt winds and fast moving weather systems. The skies would change from overcast to clear and back to overcast during just one of their hour and a half pushes.

Aside from some lingering cold symptoms that many folks seem to be passing around, everyone is feeling strong and well rested. Keith concluded the dispatch by saying it was time for him to get horizontal for the next 12 hours.

Dale and Heather

No one specifically asked this question, but many people wonder about coming down with a cold while on expedition. It's not uncommon for folks to bring multi-vitamins, vitamin C tablets or vitamin packed drink mixes, but these are usually intended to boost antioxidant stores and keep the body in good general working order after long, hard miles in the harness.

The cook in his kitchen. You can just make out the teapot lid above the knee.

The Arctic and Antarctic aren't what you would call germ laden. If you pick up a cold while on expedition, you almost certainly contracted it from a team member rather than the environment, and that seems to be the case with our team.

As always, thanks for following and check back tomorrow for more notes from the field.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Over Halfway Home

Remember yesterday's description of challenging conditions: flat light, windy, cold? That's what the team had today. Michel, who joined PolarExplorers on the Test Your Limits 2010 North Pole Expedition, said that it was the coldest ski day he's ever experienced. The mercury read about -30-35, and the wind was blowing a constant 10 kt all day. Chilly!

Fleeting blue skies turned overcast quickly

And overcast, flat light conditions can really make it hard to see. The horizon disappears, and the whole environment takes on the same fuzzy grey appearance--so much so that it becomes really difficult to see  the tracks from the skier right in front of you!

Growing out the ice beard

In spite of those conditions, the team covered about 8.4 nautical miles in seven hours, which puts them at 89 degrees, 35 minutes south, over halfway to the Pole! From this position they can maintain their current pace and reach the Pole in three days.

Woo-hoo! Halfway!

We posed another blog follower question to the team today: "Does the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station measure temperature in Celsius or Fahrenheit?" Everyone except Keith, Brien, Taylor and John responded, "You Americans (or Yanks) are the only ones that use Fahrenheit. Every other place uses Celsius."

So there you have it. Thanks again for following, and check back tomorrow for more notes from the field.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Nearly Halfway

The team spent their biggest skiing day yet adjusting goggles and face layers, because today was also their coldest trail day yet, -30 C with a bit of wind. Just like yesterday the team skied for 7 hours and took three breaks. Unlike yesterday they covered 8.5 nautical miles in that time.

Heather, don't you recognize her?

Goggle management is an ongoing challenge on Antarctica  It's very easy to accidentally fog your lenses, and, once you do, it's very difficult to defog them. They may be a pain at times, but goggles are absolutely essential for exposure and UV protection.

PolarExplorers loves to answer questions from blog followers. If you're wondering about anything expedition related, now's the time to ask, because you'll get a firsthand answer from a team that's in the field.

Today's question has to do with skiing skills. Specifically, do team members ever fall over? Our answer: hardly ever. The main challenge of expedition skiing is endurance, not skill. The skis are wide, the sled acts as a counterweight and the poles make it even easier to balance.

However, if it's windy and overcast, things get a little trickier. A cloudy sky will occlude the horizon, making it very easy for skiers to lose their equilibrium. Windy conditions force skiers to tighten up their facial layering system, which can restrict their field of vision. These combined factors can result in skiers taking a few tumbles, but the cause is always environmental, not from the physical challenge of skiing.

Thanks for following. Check back tomorrow for more notes from the field.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Beating AMS

The team sleeps tonight at 89 degrees 18.3 minutes south latitude after skiing roughly 8.1 nautical miles in 7 hours. They covered that distance by pushing forward for 90 minutes at a time, taking a short break and then repeating.

Keith and Dale skiing strong

The team's increased endurance shows that they have acclimatized to the altitude. While acclimatizing it's important to eat well, stay hydrated and avoid overexertion because your body is already working overtime to produce more red blood cells. 

The warm weather spell continued today. The temperature dipped back to -25 Celsius, and we've heard reports that the Amundsen - Scott Station at the South Pole has yet to record a temperature colder than -25 C since the season opened.

Dale and Diego

Ian, John and Taylor

The team enjoyed high visibility, contrast and low winds throughout the day. Many team members have stripped down to a single light baselayer beneath their wind anoraks--and even that was a little too hot for some of them. 

As always, thanks for following and check back tomorrow for more notes from the field.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Back to Freeze Dry

That's right, after finishing off their second full day on the trail the team fueled up for day three with the lightweight, trusty (if not extremely tasty) expedition standard: freeze dry dinners. We shouldn't complain. These days the freeze dry fair is actually quite palatable, but you sure do look forward to "freshies" after a week of freeze dry!

The team put in 6.5 miles over the course of six hours, and sleep tonight at 89 degrees, 10 minutes south latitude. They only took three breaks throughout those six hours. Yesterday they took three breaks over four hours, so it seems they are acclimatizing and getting their legs underneath them.

The cook tent
They had another easy weather day too, no wind and only -4 Fahrenheit / -20 Celsius...downright balmy! Captain Keith says he's never had a warmer day on Antarctica. The warm temps and six hours of skiing made some team members so drowsy that they were already asleep while others were calling in the dispatch.

Nick and Simon

The team is starting to hit their pace. You can expect that their mileage will increase as they continue to acclimatize and gel as a unit. Thanks for following, and check back tomorrow for more notes from the field.