Preparations Punta Arenas, Chile
We left home early Wednesday morning. Or at least we tried to. Despite our well-laid plans, the shuttle was late picking us up. We thought of a few options for getting ourselves and our eight ponderous bags to the airport, but none of them were viable. When the shuttle finally arrived and delivered us to the airport, we were two hours late. We had missed our flight.
Fortunately we got seats on the next flight, and from there it was nonstop hustling to make all of our remaining connections.
We were in the air for 18 hours, and for much of that time I had my face pressed against the window, watching the landscape and coastlines slip by, and wondering what it would be like to hike through some of those lands.
Finally we touched down just after noon. The air temperature was much colder than what we are used to.
We hired two taxis to shuttle us and our gear to our hotel. Then we set off on foot to explore some of the city of Punta Arenas. It felt good to stretch our legs after so much sitting. Within an hour of walking and climbing the steep streets we had started to acclimatize to the brisk temperature.
We are standing against the backdrop of the city of Punta Arenas, Chile, on the coast of Magellan Straits.
The local grocery store was well stocked and we spent a couple hours there looking at the unfamiliar and interesting varieties of food, both packaged and fresh. This was a trial run, so we bought one of each of the foods we wanted to taste, to see if we liked it. If we did, we would buy quantities of it for the expedition.
We had not been to Chile before and are finding the people very friendly and helpful.
The Condor de Plata hotel is more like a pensionado, with very modest accommodations. Nevertheless, it was a favorite with expedition parties. Besides the friendly proprietors, we met three of our own kind and they were very friendly too.
Hannah McKeand had been on much the same trip two years ago, and she is here to do a repeat trip. We asked her an endless stream of questions about the gear and the route, etc. Her enthusiasm was on par with ours, and we quickly became friends. She had her gear spread out on the floor of her small room, there was almost no room for visitors, but there was much to look at.
In addition, we met Kevin Biggar and Jamie Fitzgerald who are planning a similar trip. We got on very well with them, too. They said they had eighteen bags of luggage, so we didn't feel too bad having "only" eight.
Before leaving home, when the shuttle driver showed up late and we missed our flight, we figured things would likely get much better, and so far this has proven the case. We are having a great time in a really interesting place.
Punta Arenas: Day 2 (2006-11-03)
We spent a fair amount of time comparing notes with Kevin and Jamie, and again they are planning a trip similar to ours but even more ambitious as they are not resupplying along the way. They both are quite friendly, and as it happens they rowed the same route across the Atlantic, a few years after we did. So we are finding much in common. (After returning home, Kevin wrote an excellent book about his and Jamie's trip. Escape to the Pole by Kevin Biggar. It is well worth the read.)
Several months back they quit their jobs in order to devote full time to their expedition preparation, so we both have worked on our respective trips for months and months. And as we confirmed, that is what it takes to succeed - even though our methods have differed greatly. Same as Hannah, and since the three teams arrived we have been lending each other frequent support.
Jenny and I met with most of the ANI staff in their offices up the street, and found them very friendly and supportive also. Suffice it to say one does not go to Antarctica without a great deal of help from the overseeing organization. This includes operations managers, pilots, radio and sat phone coms, doctor, and etc. In all, I think we met about a dozen people.
All that, and we were even interviewed by the local newspaper. Not that it counts for much this early in the game; but were glad to provide a simple story for the newspaper's readers.
Punta Arenas: Day 3 (2006-11-04)
This morning we went for a run along the city streets, dodging the wind and sporadic rain. Then breakfast in the hotel where we met a few other nice people connected with the ANI operation.
Our pulk-sleds had arrived ahead of us, so we collected them at the freight terminal and paid for the shipping.
Our hotel room with our food and gear spread out.
Chilean candy bought at a local store, a two month's supply of metabolic fuel to help stoke the burners. After we had spread it out, we realized our error. We should not have chosen candy individually wrapped, because those wrappers were a lot trash to have to carry until trip's end. So we had to unwrap each candy and place it into a ziplock for more compact storage.
The red stowbags (homemade) contain food for our trip, brought with us from Arizona.
We eat corn pasta for 2 out of 3 dinners when on a trip, at least when carrying a stove. And our time in Antarctica will be no different. In fact, we will categorically rely on corn pasta during this trip because we have found that it provides the most go-power during our long-distance self-sustained trips. And we have done a LOT of of these types of trips.
We had experimented with which kind of corn pasta uses less fuel to cook, and found that corn elbows were the clear winner. So corn elbows will be our mainstay - four dinners a week, 16 oz per dinner for the both of us. For toppings we have Jenny's home-made tomato sauce and other package mix sauces (cheese, pesto, etc) with butter and salami.
Of the remaining three dinners per week, we have two dinners of rice/bean/potato/vegie/meat combination; and one dinner of oatmeal with with lots of butter and powdered full-fat milk, brown sugar, raisins, and nuts.
Also for dinners we will have hot drinks, such as hot cocoa with Cafix and sugar, hot jello and spiced cider, hot instant soup and instant pudding.
For breakfast we will have hot corn grits (some combined with a small amount of bulgar wheat) again with lots of butter and powdered full-fat milk, brown sugar, raisins, cinnamon, and nuts. For quick breakfasts we will have cold granola or muesli with powdered milk.
For lunch we brought some granola with powdered milk, but mainly we plan to eat cookie bars and some candy, gorp and salted nuts because we probably won't have time to stop for long in the cold wind.
To supplement the foods listed above, we will have plenty of variety, such as peanut butter, jelly, and crackers, cheese, salami, and so forth.
Note: In Greenland we learned to not bring much chocolate. It becomes hard as concrete in sub-freezing temperatures and takes a while to warm up in the mouth. So it's not such a good source of quick energy. And again, it's not much fun to eat in cold and windy weather.
Punta Arenas: Day 4 (2006-11-05)
The sled came with runners that slide onto tracks, but the ends of the runners were not pinned down. They could easily peel away. In fact, we have heard of this happening to other users of this same sled, in Antarctica no less. So I borrowed a drill and thru-bolted the ends of the runners.
At dinner with Kevin, Hannah and Jamie. We have become close friends, as we spend each day working on our separate projects but in the same general area in the hotel.
Punta Arenas: Day 5 (2006-11-06)
Hannah and her sled.
We help each other out as much as possible. Here, I'm explaining to Jamie and Kevin how I navigate when sledging. They were about to make the same mistake as we did while sledging in Greenland: following the arrow shown on the GPS.
When sledging, I navigate, not by following the arrow shown on the GPS, but by taking a reading of the bearing to destination, shown on the GPS, then setting the compass to that bearing, then following the compass.
All three of us, Jamie and Kevin and I, had rowed across the Atlantic Ocean so were quite familiar with navigating by GPS. But as Jenny and I had learned while sledging in Greenland, the sledging methods of GPS navigation are quite different from the rowing methods. This is because, mainly, while moving at only one mile an hour or so, the accuracy of the position calculations are not that great; and this throws the GPS arrow off by as much as ten degrees or even greater. But the bearing to destination, shown on the GPS, is very accurate.
Years later we heard from Kevin: "we steered using the compass only. Every day or two we would recalibrate our course by having the person with the GPS walk down the longitude line for a few yards. Although we would check our progress on the GPS most breaks and so any deviation would have shown up quickly." This is called "chasing longitude" because the reading will move all over the place as you travel. It would suffice for sledging, but again, the bearing to destination will not move, while sledging, and setting the compass to that provides a simple and accurate method of navigating.
Hanna has been busy all morning in the kitchen. In the afternoon she gave a batch of fudge to each of us, Kevin and Jamie, and Jenny and I.
In the Condor de Plata hotel, Jamie and Kevin are moving one of their sleds down to the ground floor. On the waill is a photo of Günther Plüschow and Ernst Dreblow, famous aviators who, in 1931, were killed in a crash of their "Silver Condor" near Lake Argentino, 150 miles to the north of here.
Jenny naming my sled.
We were not happy with the sewing of the straps on the new sleds, so we are hand-stitching each strap to make them more secure.
The owner of the hotel helps carry my sled to the waiting truck for transort to the airport. Both he and his wife are very fond of people heading to Antarctica, and offer any help they can.
The backpack leaning against the wall is my old prototype carried on our first thru-hike of the AT, and also on our IUA hike and bike trip. The backpack is still going strong, and it's now headed for the South Pole.
Hannah helps carry Jenny's sled.
Jamie and Kevin's sled were loaded to the hilt with gear and also food and fuel to get them to the pole and back.
None of us can believe how heavy Jamie and Kevin's sleds are.
Even today it's still hard for me to imagine pulling a sled with that size load.
After four days of work for us all, we have loaded our pulks and gear on the truck to the airport. All up, our gear and food weighs 561 pounds. (255 kg). That does not include 11 gallons of stove fuel.
The truck had arrived at our hotel loaded with sleds of a British team, also. And as it happened, my sled didn't fit in the truck all that well, so the staff thought it better to off-load it, and wait for the following day when the truck would make another run. Hannah's sled had to wait also.
With all work on the gear and sleds taken care of, we have nothing much further to keep us busy, so we are - wow! - relaxing.
We wandered into town, to visit the famous statue of Magellan in the city square.
This evening we received word that the Ilyushin-76 has arrived in Punta Arenas. This is the Russian transport that will fly us and our fellow adventurers and gear to Patriot Hills, Antarctica.
Punta Arenas: Day 6 (2006-11-07)
We have to protect the sled runners from grinding and abrasion on the floor of the Ilyushin in flight, so we have wrapped the lower part of the sleds with cardboard. Here's my method of attaching the cardboard to the sled.
Hannah's sled and mine are now loaded onto the truck to the airport.
This morning we attended the final briefing with the company which flies and oversees these expeditions. With that, we are essentially on standby for our flight, awaiting suitable weather. Except that the landing strip at Patriot Hills (PH) has not been plowed, so that will take about two days. But meanwhile, our gear is being loaded on the big jet.
Punta Arenas: Day 7 (2006-11-08)
The expedition teams are waylaid in Punta at least until Friday because the landing strip is not yet cleared.
Some of the staff at ANI-ANI are a bit concerned about Jenny being so thin. They said most people who ski to the pole tend to lose 40 pounds or more. And Jenny does not have that much to lose. So I have put her on a high calorie diet. Today she had a banana split for lunch.
Jenny says that most of the photos here are of her, because "You never stop and pose."
The expedition teams for this year will be six teams, that we know of. One team is starting from South Africa and flying to Blue One, on the other side of the Antarctic continent. The rest of us are flying to Patriot Hills. Four PH teams are headed south. Except Jenny and I. We are heading north for a short ways.
Punta Arenas: Day 8 (2006-11-09)
Kevin and Hannah
This afternoon Kevin, Hannah, Jenny and I went for a four and a half hour hike through a very pretty beech forest to the top of the hill behind town, and back.
Kevin suggested he take a photo of us, using our camera.
We had become such good friends, and I don't remember why Jamie didn't come with us today. We enjoyed the hike to the max. During this rest stop, Hannah said "It feels like we are on the same expedition."
Interesting Beech trees
On the way down we enjoyed views across the Magellan Straits to Tierra del Fuego.
Punta Arenas: Day 9 (2006-11-10)
Morning update: The landing strip at PH has been cleared, and our flight is waiting for the weather.
We three teams are planning to follow the same general route, with some variations. This morning we spent a few hours comparing what crevasses and deep sastrugi fields that previous parties encountered, in hopes of avoiding them.
The Patriot Hills camp is located about 20 miles from Hercules Inlet (HI), an indentation in the coast at 80°S. Once we land at PH, Kevin and Jamie will be flown to HI where they will start their trip. Jenny and I plan to set off on foot (skis) for HI. Hannah plans to set off from PH for a two-week conditioning jaunt before returning to PH and starting for the pole.
Evening update: The winds are picking up, and are delaying our flight.