Mountain Climbing in Antarctica, Part 1

Entertainment |

Eighteen of us are tightly packed toward the cockpit of a Hercules C-130 aircraft, bracing for a landing that the pilot has never tried. Below us is the most unbelievable and surreal sight that I’ve witnessed. We are about to touch down at Patriot Hills, Antarctica, withOUT skis on the landing gear of this massive plane. The pilot informs us that he’s bringing the temperature of the plane down, so we can get “used” to Antarctica. Fear not, however, there’s currently a heat wave at 8 degrees below zero with calm winds. The plane bounces then violently shakes around as we slide on the ice for what seems like miles. Amazingly, we make it, unscathed.

Stepping off of the plane, at midnight, the bright Antarctica sun and vastness, catches everyone in disbelief. It looks like it’s noon, not midnight! My eyes scan the landscape; there is nothing but white, untouched icy land. Not much to actually look at, except our large plane sitting in the middle of nowhere, on thick blue ice that is used for a runway.

A Patriot Hills camp manager approaches us wearing a T-shirt and shorts and informs us this is the nicest day they’ve had. My husband, Stan and I are visiting Antarctica to climb the highest mountain, Vinson Massif. We are attempting to summit the highest peaks on the seven continents as a husband and wife team. We have already summited, Mt. McKinley, Mt. Elbrus, Aconcagua, Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kosciusko. For this Antarctica climb, we are climbing with Hall and Ball, Adventure Consultants out of New Zealand. Rob Hall has climbed the seven summits in seven months and has also been to Mt. Everest 5 times, summiting 3.

A smaller plane called an Otter begins shuttling the group of climbers from Patriot Hills to Mt. Vinson base camp. The flight is fantastic! The incredible vastness is overwhelming. There’s nothing but white! Vinson Massif is a spectacular mountain and there’s a wonderful landing area near the base camp. Our climbing team finally reaches the beginning of our true journey. There are 18 climbers that will attempt to reach the highest peak on Antarctica. The key members of our group are Rob Hall and his wife Jan who summited Everest last spring, David Keaton and Dolly Lafever who have both climbed with Rob in the past, Dolly also just summited Everest.

December 22 – 23, Base Camp – 8,000 feet
We are already into the normal mountain routineā€¦eat, sleep, & read. The weather is poor with much snow. I hate to say it, but it’s getting kind of boring! Nothing changes here, not even the light of day!

December 24 – 25 Camp 1 – 9,500 feet
We leave base camp at noon with full backpacks and pulling sleds with more equipment and supplies. The sun is extremely bright and hot, even though it’s below zero. We have to stop frequently to re-dress and cover exposed parts of our body. The first part of the route is pretty steep, but we are all at a good pace. We arrive at Camp 1 at 4:30. The tents are put up quick, which gave us more time to plan the cook area. I carved a Christmas tree with the ice saw and trimmed it with an ornament that my mom gave me to take to the top. We are having tea when the last climber staggers in and drops to his knees. I hope he recuperates fast because I have a feeling it’s not going to get any easier.

As the cook is about to drain the pasta water, the climber asks if he can drink it. The Japanese team also held out their metal cups for some. Hmm, I wonder if it’s good?! Merry Christmas!

December 26th, Camp 2 11,000 feet
Cold, cold, cold!! It was 30 degrees below zero last night. We start climbing at 3:00pm and pick up the pace so we don’t freeze! The last section of the trail is steep and causes pain in all my major muscles. Camp 2 is smaller; we have to cut tent platforms and a cook tent area in the ice. We ditch the sleds here (yahoo, we each get to lose 40 pounds) and go with packs up the rest of the mountain.