Live blogging covering Scott Kress’ 2024 Antarctica Expedition. This is part 2 following his team’s progress in climbing Mount Vinson. Check out part 1: Journey to the South Pole.
Waiting at Union Glacier | Jan 23/24
We are now back at Union Glacier waiting for our flight on Jan 25. The weather has been mixed with cloud and sun. Temperature around -20. When the sun is out it is nice and comfortable. When the clouds come in it feels quite cold. We are the only non-staff here.
The staff are all busy as beavers taking camp apart and stashing it away for the winter. It is quite a huge job as there are many tents and structures and all need to be disassembled and stored in a container of some kind.
The main work vehicles such as front end loaders, bulldozers and snow cats are parked up on high ramps on an angle so they will only be partially buried by drifting snow over the winter making them easier to dig out and get started at the beginning of next season.
For us there is not much to do but hang out in our tents or the dining hall as most other buildings are gone or in the process of being taken apart.
Our guest services liaison, Rickard, is an amateur polar historian and gave us an amazing lecture on the origins of Antarctic exploration with all kinds of interesting stories mixed in. He calls himself a self-taught historian, but I’m sure he would qualify as one of the top experts in the field. He will talk with us again today and I have also arranged for another guest coordinator, Brooke, to give us a talk on Polar Tourism later today.
Currently the weather is looking to break this evening allowing for the flight to come in from Punta Arenas tomorrow as scheduled. Along with us on that flight will be many staff who are no longer needed for the camp closure.
All in all it has been a successful trip to Antarctica in many respects. Ryan and I were able to help many people realize personal goals and have an experience of a lifetime. For me it has been exhausting at times, fun at times, and stressful at times. But that is what expedition life is all about I guess.
The group was one of the best I have travelled with and I enjoyed my time chatting with them and learning from them. It always amazes me what some people have accomplished in their lives.
A couple last interesting points. There is a guy down here, obviously very rich, who has a goal to step foot on famous and infamous spots around the planet. He has chartered the Twin Otter and a Pilot to fly him to about a half-dozen spots in Antarctica where he steps out of the plane, takes a photo and then leaves.
There was a woman down here for 2 months to set the record for the most km run in Antarctica. Every day she would get up and run laps around the camp averaging 40-50km a day. In the end she beat the record with just over 1300km run.
There is no question that when you go to these very remote parts of our planet you always run into a very interesting mix of people.
Until next time, Scott.
Heading Home | Jan 22
With the summit complete all we needed to do now was to get home. This is a long journey with many steps. The first was to get to base camp.
After another poor night of sleep at high camp I woke at 8am and started the stove for breakfast. At 9am we had a breakfast of mac and cheese and then started to pack our bags and pack up the tents. The tents and our camp supplies (stoves, fuel, food…) we buried in the snow and marked with a GPS bearing to spend the winter waiting for the next expedition season to start next December.
With gear packed away we departed high camp at 11:15am and made our way down hill to the top of the fixed lines on the 1.2km headwall. We clipped into the fixed lines and started to descend. Brendan went first, followed by Mei and then me securing the back of the line. Although we were connected to the fixed lines, we were also connected to one another by our climbing rope. My job as the last person on the rope was to arrest a fall should anyone slip.
Going down may be faster, but it can be more dangerous and is much harder on our leg muscles. Pitch after pitch we made our way down the huge mountain face until we hit the relative flat valley bottom. From here we walked into low camp to pick up our cache of supplies we had left there several days earlier.
We were told that weather system was moving in and today would be our only chance to fly out of base camp for several days. ALE sent a plane in for us while the visibility was still good and it would be waiting for us when we got there. Taking off in poor weather is easier/safer than landing in it. “Hurry” they said, the weather is closing in.
We hustled down the lower valley in beauty and silence. Huge walls of rock and ice on all sides. After a 5.5 hour journey and a 1600m descent we walked into Vinson Base Camp and were met by the pilot who said “skis up within the hour or we may be trapped here for days”. No rest for the weary as we now needed to dismantle our base camp and pack it all into a cache in the ice.
Our big dome tent was frozen into the ice so we took sledge hammers and started to break it free. We packed up all the contents of camp and stuffed it into a hole in the ice and covered it with snow. About 55 minutes later, in record time, camp was stashed and we were trotting to the plane as the engines were starting up.
The take off was smooth and while the visibility was poor to start as we got closer to Union Glacier Camp the clouds cleared enough for us to land safely.
Arriving at 7pm we were just in time for a dinner of seared tuna, rice noodles, roasted vegetables and fresh baked bread. Welcome back to civilization; sort of. After a great dinner it was shower time. I knew someone in our group smelled and thought perhaps it was me.
ALE has a shower building that looks like a sea container. Inside are 2 shower stalls. Snow is melted in a huge vat and we fill a bucket of hot water. We temper it with snow and ice to get the right temperature. Inside the shower stall we place the bucket on the floor and insert a hose that is connected to a pump and a shower head.
If you did not get the water temperature correct before starting there is no chance now to adjust. You turn the pump on and off to conserve water between lathering and rinsing. All “grey” water is collected and flown back to Chile for disposal.
Summit! | Jan 21
As Sir Edmund Hillary said after climbing Everest, “ We knocked the bastard off”!
It was an epic day. The winds were enormous. Constant 20 knots gusting to well over 30. It was difficult to stand at times. Somehow though we made good time. Most groups will be 10-12 hours return trip and we did it in 8 hours 12 minutes.
I almost pulled the plug a few times as we neared the summit ridge as it was getting hard to withstand the gusts, but we persevered. The summit ridge was one of the windiest I have experienced in 30 years of climbing.
I had my huge mitts on, which I have never needed before and it was the closest I have ever come to getting frostbite. We took a few quick photos then got the heck off the summit.
On the walk down the wind shifted so it was once again in our faces. Everyone is tired, but at least we have eaten now and are resting.
Tomorrow is also a big day as we descend all the way back to base camp.
Wish Us Luck! | Jan 20
Not much to report from today. We had a great rest day. It was a beautiful sunny blue-sky day. The temperature was about -22 Celsius but the sun was so strong it hardly feels cold at all.
The rest of the groups packed up and left early this morning, summited then made their way back down to base camp. We could hear the twin otters coming and going to ferry the climbers back to Union Glacier camp. They will fly back tomorrow to Punta Arenas I think.
For us we have now finished dinner and hydrated. We got lots of calories in our bodies and rested our legs. We are going to have a good night sleep and be ready to go for the summit tomorrow morning.
Checking the barometer and it is steady. There is a pressure system stuck on top of us so I don’t think the weather is going to change and it looks like we should have a beautiful day to go for the summit. Wish us luck!
Made it to High Camp | Jan 19
We are tucked into our tents at high camp now. We packed up and left Camp 1 at 1:15pm. We walked over to the fixed lines, clipped in and started going uphill. We went uphill for hour after hour. It is quite exhausting but the weather was excellent, blue skies and very light wind, maybe – 20 Celsius.
We got to the top of the fixed lines and had a short break. We then headed up the rest of the trail to high camp. We arrived at high camp at 7:15pm, so a 6 hour trip including breaks, which is a pretty good time. Everyone is feeling well. When we got to camp it was full! There are 48 people here, dozens of tents everywhere, so we had a hard time finding a place to put our tents.
One of the nice things about having all these people is Garrett Madison came over and offered us water. The Tejas camp over and offered us some soup. These offers were very much appreciated and made our nightly chores a bit easier. It took us about 2 hours to set up the tents and we’re now in the tents tucked into our sleeping bags. We will sleep well tonight.
Tomorrow is going to be a rest day and then we will look at the weather to decide what is the best day to go for the summit. All of the other teams are leaving tomorrow so we will have high camp to ourselves.
Tough Decision | Jan 18
I made the difficult decision to keep the team at Camp 1 today. This is not unusual as most teams will take a rest day here. We were excited and ready to move to high camp and were all packed up and about to take the tents down when I called it off for the day. Looking up the head wall I could see streamers of snow blowing down the face and snow rocketing off the ridge above indicating very high winds. I had made this climb in those conditions before and had no desire to repeat that. The winds were blowing 20 knots at high camp all day so I think I made the right call. It is predicted tomorrow to have lower winds so we will try again then. We still have lots of time to wait out so we can have the best climbing conditions.
Arrived at Camp 1 | Jan 17
We are now comfortable in our tents at Camp 1. We left base camp at 10:45am. Right out of camp we went up a relatively steep hill. The trail had been drifted over the previous night due to wind, so we were trudging through 6-8 inches of snow most of the way up. The trail got better as we went along. The day was beautiful and sunny, a little bit of cloud maybe -20 Celsius but it felt much warmer. Because the sun was so strong, we took a break every hour. We got to camp after 5 hours of hiking. We were pulling sleds and had backpacks on our backs. Once we got to camp, we set up our tents and secured them in case high winds came. Ryan had left a cache of supplies that we had to find and dig up. There were cooking supplies like food and stoves there for us. We then got into the tent and had a nice meal of hash browns, hamburgers and chicken patties as well as some hot drinks. Our plan is to head to high camp tomorrow if the weather is good. The forecast shows it should be a nice day to head up tomorrow. We have low camp to ourselves as all the other groups have gone up to high camp. One group did try for the summit today but turned back due to really high winds and very cold temperatures.
RELATED: Scott’s past expeditions
Base Camp | Jan 16
We are at Vinson base camp. It is a beautiful day and we spent it organizing and practicing skills. We decided not to move directly to camp 1 as there are currently 50 people there waiting to go to high camp. There have been several days of really cold weather and very high winds at high camp so everyone has been waiting it out hoping the weather will improve. I heard a few teams went up today so once someone is up on the mountain we can get a direct weather report. We will move to camp 1 tomorrow so we are in place to go when the weather breaks. It is nice and quiet at base camp and camp 1 will be better once a bunch of the groups head up.