|Overview: After a year and a half of preparations, we went to Antarctica. Starting from very near the coast, we skied 58 days to the South Pole. Jenny returned home, and I joined an expedition to climb the highest peak in Antarctica, at 16,050 feet. Then I went to Argentina and climbed to 22,025 feet on Aconcagua. Altogether I was away from home for nearly four months.
Punta Arenas, Chile: Phone call at 6:30 am: the plane is ready, and the weather is good.
Within half an hour we were dressed in our expedition clothes, had packed away our city clothes, and had stored our belongings, that we did not want to take with us, in the hotel's storage shed.
Excitement filled the lobby. At 9:00 am a large bus pulled to the curb, and our small crew clambered aboard, clunking up the steps in our heavy, insulated boots.
The crew at the Punta Arenas airport.
At the Punta Arenas airport we were instructed to leave our carry-on bags on the bus, and to proceed into the terminal.
The security check was brief, then we proceeded through Customs. After a last stop at the modern restrooms for everybody, we exited the other side of the terminal, and re-boarded the bus.
British RAF (Royal Air Force) Team, "Southern Reach" Expedition: Warrant Officer Alan Sylvester, Corporal Iain Kirk, Flight Lieutenant Kevin Scully, and Corporal Phil Mainprize. More info
In a couple minutes the bus pulled up alongside our aircraft. Soon we were gathered around the loading steps of the massive Russian cargo jet, the Ilyushin 76. The Ilyushin easily dwarfed a C130 parked nearby.
Teams snapped quick photos of each other, then it was time to climb into the immense belly of the Russian jet. To give an idea of the size, the new PH radio shack (which was actually a container), had been loaded previously, and it took up just one-quarter of the available space. Lined up in front of the container were five large bundles. Several more bundles took up the remaining space aft of the container. These bundles were mostly PH camp supplies for the three-month season. All of this had been loaded through the huge tail-end doorway. The last items loaded were the sleds and skis of the expedition teams.
This cargo area was about 25 feet wide. The fold-down bench seats lined the sides, which left only a narrow walkway running fore and aft. There were only a few small windows; all we could see outside was white or wings.
Peter McDowell, part owner of ANI, and initial PH camp director.
We enjoyed flying on the Russian plane, with the Russian crew's laid-back attitude. Note the clothing hanging on a cord, the tree branch and TP, and in my red circle, a dagger hanging on the wall!
Talking with RAF Warrant Officer Alan Sylvester of the "Southern Reach" team.
The flight time was four hours, and through the clouds most of the way.
The winds were building to 25 knots at Patriot Hills, and the pilots almost turned back. But then the wind diminished to 10.
Day 1: Antarctica!
The Ilyushin lands at Patriot Hills, Antarctica.
Antarctica! After 1.5 years of intense preparation and training, we are ready to start our Antarctica adventure.
We landed at Patriot Hills, as evidenced by much noise and shaking. After a long taxi along the blue ice runway, the plane came to a stop, as evidenced by complete silence. The door opened, and the piercing cold rushed in. We climbed down the ladder, and were greeted by the amazing view of stupendous mountains nearby. Welcome to Antarctica! The time was 1:30 pm Chilean time, and the temperature was -18 F.
The ANI staff and crew got right to work unloading our sleds and gear. They knew we were all anxious to start our journeys. We put on our harnesses, clipped into our sled traces and walked the sleds a quarter mile to the fuel hut. There we poured fuel into our 5 liter cans.
Next we had a short meeting with the camp operations manager, then with hugs, handshakes, and heartfelt farewells to our fellow expeditioners, we were on our way. The time was 5:00 pm. (Note: Patriot Hills latitude 89° 60')
Skiing north, headed for our first camp.
We skied for three hours, heading north. We stopped to make camp in an area where the snow was not ice-hard. We set up camp. While we were moving, the light tailwind was not too cold, as long as we kept moving. Never mind my frozen beard, and our face masks that were hard as a board. But now in the tent, the cold was penetrating, even with most of our clothes on.
Our first camp.
Jenny heated water for hot cocoa, and dinner, and melted more snow for drinking water. Then we closed the tent doors and reduced the cold by half.
Evening camp: S 80° 15.623' W 81° 06.017'