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Vinson: Get A Helmet

Sometime around 560 B.C., a guy named Siddhartha Gautama - otherwise known as the Buddha - established as one of the fundamental tenets of Buddhism that to exist is to suffer. Not a very inspiring precept at first glance. But, what the Buddha was really getting at is the idea that everything in life is in a constant state of flux and change, that even joy must one day come to an end; thus, everything is transient, security is simply not a reality.

Our time here in Antarctica - especially these last few days - has proven the 2500 year old thoughts of the Buddha quite right.

With a bright sun and bright hopes, we packed eagerly this morning at Vinson Basecamp. Only a few wispy clouds were visible, and we were all excited to be dropped by Twin Otter in a new place to make the first tracks on an unknown peak. As we zipped our duffels, the whining of the Otter’s engines rattled through camp, and the pilot, Monica, soon touched down on the snowy runway.

But, she brought bad news: another weather system was moving in, and the forecast called for the storms to close in - shutting down all flights in this vicinity - by tomorrow night. Time to change plans; it would be imprudent to be dropped on a remote glacier with a major weather system bearing down. So, we decided to fly by some predetermined spots and, if things looked good, get dropped, climb through the night, and zip out before the weather stranded us.

Soon, we were aloft, saying goodbye to our friends at Vinson Basecamp, and zipping around Vinson, Shinn, Epperly, and the other giants of the Sentinel Range. Then, on we went toward Union Glacier…and more change. With every passing minute, clouds on the horizon built up. Thirty-five minutes into the trip, it was obvious that this storm system was a big one, bearing down fast. If we got dropped down, there was a good chance Monica would not be able to get back in tomorrow to pick us up. And, the latest news was this storm could be 5-6 days. A biggie.

Sadly, our hand was forced, and we made the prudent decision: land back at Union Glacier camp, and hope to be able to zip out in some reasonable weather in the next couple of days to do some climbing, skiing, and filming.

To exist is to suffer. Life is transient. I’ve always thought, had he lived a bit longer, the Buddha would have agreed with the comedian Dennis Leary, who once said: “Life is tough…get a helmet.”

-Jake Norton


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