Punta Arenas, Chile
Everything and everyone is in place at the tip of South America… ready for a flight to Antarctica. The past few days have been fun, but also a little stressful and hectic. There were the usual assortment of missed flights and lost luggage, but in the end, our team of five climbers made it down the length of the world intact. I arrived two days ago with the bulk of the team equipment and spent a day shopping for extra provisions and getting over jet lag. Today was the official start to things, as we began at 10 AM with our official introductory meeting with ALE (our logistics company for this trip) This orientation was a two-hour long gathering of all those who will be sharing the Ilyushin 76 transport plane with us to Antarctica. Roughly, there are about 25 climbers bound for Vinson who will be the big Russian jet’s final customers bound for the Ice this season.
It has been fun to run into old friends and guiding partners down here, as usual. Mike Sharp, one of the principals of ALE, gave our briefing today and had me reflecting back to my first visit to the continent in 1995 when he and I spent a stormy week in a tent together at Jone’s Sound on the Antarctic Peninsula. He showed slides of the operation at Patriot Hills and described the program out at Vinson Basecamp. He tried to impress on those assembled just how far from any government bases they would be and how independent and self sufficient the company and its customers must be. Afterward, I walked with my five climbers (we’ll meet our second guide, Namgya, down on the ice, where he is already working with other teams) out into the bustling but friendly center of Punta Arenas. This city of 150,000 is a gateway for tourists coming to see Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego as well as Antarctica, but it is also an industrial town of great importance to Chile. We walked the few blocks back toward Magellan’s Strait, and into our hotel at the water’s edge. The next task was to get rid of the bulk of our gear and supplies. We brought it all downstairs to be weighed and collected on a truck. ALE will do the heavy work of loading the mammoth IL 76 out at the airport today in the hope that we’ll get to fly tomorrow morning.
I got together with the team in the evening to go over maps and pictures of the Ellsworth Mountains in order to get everybody up to speed on which glaciers we’d be landing on and climbing up. We discussed strategies and expected hurdles… but I hope that we also got rid of some of the worry and nervousness that stems from choosing a goal in such a far-off and unique environment.
The work done, it was time for a dinner out on the town and a little relaxation. Punta Arenas has great dining spots… but we don’t want to visit many more of them. Our hope is that we get a call early tomorrow telling us that the weather window is open and that we should get our boots on and get set for flying to Antarctica.
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