Ascent of the Patriot Mountains (2007-01-28)
The season has ended, and I am waiting for the flight back to South America.
Meanwhile, the winds slackened to 15 - 20 this evening, so I decided to attempt a climb of the Patriot mountains behind camp. I'd had my eye on these mountains since arriving in Antarctica, and a few weeks ago I attempted to climb them, but without much success. So with crampons and ski poles in hand, and a communication radio in my pocket, I clipped on my skis and set off from PH Base towards the west.
Half way to the mountains I reached the ice field, so I took off my skis and placed them where I could find them on the return trip. Then I put on my crampons. With these I traipsed across the vast blue ice that covers the surface for the next mile.
I'm half-way to the mountains across the ice field.
At the base of the mountains, ready to begin the ascent.
The first third of the climb was mixed terrain of scree frozen in place alternating with steep hard-packed snow. I had climbed that part before, but had learned much on Vinson, so it was much easier and more enjoyable this time, and quite a bit safer too.
Once at my previous high point, I took off the crampons and began to climb the steep scree. This type of slope would not exist elsewhere; the constant low temperature glues the scree together.
The terrain was mixed, rock and snow, and the winds were strong and of course very cold. Good practice for my Next Fun Trip, coming up in two weeks or less!
As I climbed higher, the Antarctic ice cap fell away below my feet, and I could see the horizon for tens of miles, and spectacular mountain ranges standing away in the distance. It felt like I was looking at a frozen eternity, untouched by humans for perhaps a few million years.
More steep snow, more steep frozen scree, and I reached the summit ridge in about three and a half hours.
About to reach the summit ridge.
As soon as I popped over the ridge, the cold wind blasted me in the face and the wind chill factor took on a whole different meaning.
I climbed up the ridge with utmost care, until finally reaching the summit of that particular group.
Once again this was not a summit you could stand on, because of the fierce wind and steep snow slopes dropping away. But there was also something in the way: an antenna!
I radioed PH Base and said that I had reached the summit, and was asked if I could take a photo of the PH camp spread out far below. No problem. I also took a photo of Foxy Pass, far away to the south, where Jenny and I had camped on our second night on the way to the Pole.
From the summit, looking east at Patriot Hills Base. The large blue patch is the ice field. The long blue strip is the Ilyushin runway. The short blue strip is the Twin Otter runway.
From the summit, looking north.
From the summit, looking southeast.
From the summit, looking south at Foxy Pass, where Jenny and I had camped on our second night on the way to the Pole.
The descent was no problem, but I did have to change in and out of my crampons a few times when encountering steep and frozen snow fields. And I did have to warm my fingers under my armpits once.
I returned to Base Camp long after dinner time, and most people had gone to bed. But I did manage to score a few choice pieces of home-baked chocolate cake with cream and strawberries. Ah, such a life!
Waiting for the Ilyushin (2007-01-29)
This strange photo shows a bunch of hard-core mountain climbers looking pretty glum. A camp doctor invited us to a lecture where he was instructing us on the recommended method of frostbite treatment. No one likes to see that, but we all wanted to learn. When he pulled the bandages away, all knees went weak.
The patient recovered straightaway, and later asked if she could take this photo with me. Not shown is her left hand with the frostbitten and well bandaged thumb.
Something else you don't see every day: people sitting outside on metal chairs, in Antarctica! Normally a metal chair would quickly freeze to your butt. But not in this case. Welcome to the tropic of Antarctica where the skies are blue, the wind is still, and the temps are not all that bad.
We all have climbed Vinson, time to party!
The Ilyushin is on it's final approach to land on the ice runway.
The Ilyushin-76 at Patriot Hills. Photo by John.
Flying first class on a Russian Cargo Jet. Just make yourself comfortable, anywhere will do.
Here is a better photo of the dagger I mentioned while flying in.
Ilyushin-76 en route to Punta Arenas (2007-01-30)
I am writing this on the Ilyushin-76, on my way back to Punta Arenas. The time is 2:00 AM, and we have been in the air 30 minutes. The Ilyushin is a big Russian cargo jet, about 30 feet wide, with a long bench seat along each side. Almost every seat is full, and there is hardly room for our feet due to the cargo.
The front half of the plane is loaded with empty fuel barrels, strapped in place, on which sits our gear. On top of that, several passengers are sleeping. The aft end of the plane contains more cargo, but I can't see what it is from here. Somewhere back there is my sled, hopefully.
Earlier tonight the weather turned into some of the best I have experienced during my visit to Antarctica, with clear skies, relatively warm temps, and - get this - no wind. As we waited for the plane, a party atmosphere ensued, with most people happy to be going home. I was happy too, but for a different reason.
Jenny and I were on the first plane load of the season on November 11, 2006; and now, 80 days later, I am on the last plane load for clients. I love Antarctica. I was very reluctant to leave.
Not that I don't like it at home. I certainty do, and I miss Jenny terribly. But I figure that I will get home soon enough. So with Jenny's blessings, I have decided to delay my return for another three and half weeks. Therefore, I am happy because I am planing to pursue my Next Fun Trip in the series.
Obviously my NFT will not be in Antarctica. The season there has ended, despite today's appearance. So my NFT will take place nearby, geographically speaking.
One theme amongst the climbers was the question "What are you going to do next?" I mentioned to a few people that I would like to have a go at Aconcagua. And as it turned out, three Vinson climbers were headed that way. And they said that I am welcome to join them. They were a guide and two clients, and I didn't want to take part in that kind of arraignment. So I just said "I hope to see you there." But as it turned out, they helped me a great deal.
Early morning we land in Punta Arenas.
The owners of the Condor de Plata hotel in Punta Arenas gave this mug to Jenny. It is her favorite coffee mug.