Going to Antarctica is a little like going to the moon to me. It’s so foreign, so far away, so difficult to access.
My whole life, I thought only unique explorers went there and named the hostile peaks they climbed after themselves because it was so unlikely that anyone else would have ever set foot on them. I believed that until my ex-boyfriend crossed the Drake Passage on a rickety boat for first ascents of mountains on the seashore of the Antarctic Peninsula. Not much of a writer himself, he had me write his story in my own words for the Swiss Alpine Club review. In doing so, I started to feel like, or at least dream, that I had been there, amongst the snowcapped mountains and colony of seals. I knew I had to see it for myself.
All dreams have their down sides. Maybe it’s what makes one appreciate the upsides so much more. The biggest cloud of the trip is always packing. Packing for an expedition is a lot like having a consuming full time job—there are so many little details to think about, deadlines to meet, and things never go quite as planned.
I am usually a last-minute-packing kind of girl, but this time I decided to start planning early. Despite that, a few things came in the way that added to the overall pre-trip tension. First, I had to have tooth surgery a week before leaving. A small infection that the dentist thought would go away spread to a few of my front teeth. The surgery was certainly the most pain I have ever experienced. That, combined with a cold and my strong desire to go skiing, made these past two weeks quite frustrating.
The boots—Scarpa Phantom 8000—I had ordered back in September still hadn’t showed up, and I only got them a week before departure. They felt way small and I was worried they wouldn’t work out. I had a back up plan with Melissa Arnot shipping me her La Sportiva boots in case mine didn’t fit. After some debacle, both my ski and alpine boots were ready with only a day to spare. Because I had never worn a big down outfit like the Peak XV pants and jacket we are going to wear on the expedition, it didn’t really cross my mind until the last minute that, yes, a larger size harness would come in handy.
A million other questions arose as the days went by: How warm a sleeping bag to take, should I wear heating inner soles, what kind of personal solar power would be best, how cold is it really going to be down there, etc. It’s always difficult to fully prepare for something you haven’t experienced before, but I figured that on such a cold continent, you couldn’t go wrong with being too warm.
We have two goals on this trip: First, we will guide Mount Vinson, which at 16,050 feet is the highest peak in Antarctica. After Vinson, we will say goodbye to the clients, maybe even take a shower (!) and then fly on to some remote area and to find unclimbed peaks with beautiful ski descents. We will set up a basecamp close to the most beautiful lines and radiate from there. I am so excited at the idea of going where no one has ever been before. It doesn’t seem like there are many such places in the world left.
Guiding in an area where I haven’t been before is what I love most about my job: reading maps, looking at the terrain, helping clients feel at ease and climb safely, tending to their needs, assessing conditions on the mountain, figuring out where to go and how to get there, etc. What makes my job so interesting is always having a new puzzle to put together. A mountain is never the same, day after day and you constantly need to reassess.
I should really say that we have three jobs down there. Beyond guiding, exploring and skiing, we will be testing the First Ascent Fall 2011 line. We have been working on them since December 2009, and it’s really gratifying to see them take shape. We are going to use the products that we create ourselves! How cool is that?
Peter, Ed, Seth, Kent and Cindy are now all waiting for our flight to fly from Santiago for Punta Arenas. In a few hours, we will be at South America with the Drake Passage separating us from our final destination. Hopefully, the weather will be nice and we can fly directly onto the ice. If not, you’ll be hearing more from me! So keep your fingers that you won’t.
We are flying at 4:30 a.m.! We have barely been here 24 hours. I had heard nightmarish stories about having to stay in Punta Arenas for up to 18 days before the weather is good enough to fly down on the ice. I had mentally prepared for the wait time, taken a season of Ally McBeal with me, figured I would catch up on work and sleep, have time to repack my bag for the millionth time, get the haircut I have been procrastinating about, and so much more.
When the ALE—Antarctica Logistics and Expeditions—spokesman said that we might fly at 11 p.m. today, everyone’s jaw dropped. We looked at each other and rapidly realized all that was left to do before they would come and pick our bags up at 3 p.m. this afternoon: food shopping, mounting the tents to make sure all the flies fit correctly, loading up videos and music to our iPods, getting a battery for my Suunto, which of course died than this morning, making a few last phone calls to loved ones, etc.
By 3 p.m., we were all in the lobby with our many First Ascent duffle bags ready for pick up. Even Kent Harvey’s ski bag showed up on time—it hadn’t arrived with the rest of the luggage yesterday. Now, we are all resting, taking our last showers, going to have some nice seafood in town, and drinking lovely Chilean wines before our departure time. We couldn’t be more ready and excited to set foot on the frozen continent!
Video courtesy of Ari Novak, Oracle Films.
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