Entries from Vinson Massif
November 28, 2014
We unanimously agreed that the temperatures were a bit warmer than the night prior and we all slept much more warmly, although we did find out in the morning that the temps were hovering around -18F when we crawled out of the tents around 9am this morning. Despite the cold bite to the air, the skies had cleared overnight and we set about breaking down camp and preparing to move to Camp 1 (known as “Low Camp” on Vinson). We hit the trail midday and climbed back up the Branscomb Glacier, navigating the first crevasse field again with ease, crossing the long basin above, and reaching our cached gear by late afternoon. The landscape, under clear skies this time, were completely different and we were able to soak in the surroundings: the bulging seracs and icecliffs of the Branscomb to our left and the towering rock and ice faces of Vinson’s main Massif directly in front of us.
After reaching our cached gear we transferred the loads from yesterday into the sleds we were dragging behind us and set off toward Low Camp. We made a long arcing turn from east to north facing around a second crevasse field and then set off across the upper stretches of the Branscomb, walking along the base of Vinson’s towering walls stretching 3,000-4,000’ above us. The glacier was an undulating plateau that felt like a false flat - the perspective lent itself to thinking we were traveling along flat ground but in reality we climbed another 800’ over several miles. The constant backward tug of our sleds was a good reminder of why we were working so hard hauling our heavy loads.
By early evening, with the sun still high in the sky, we reached Low Camp and set about establishing camp. Whatever chills we felt from the occasional breeze was quickly chased away by the hard work of shoveling out a tent platform and a place to cook in the thick wind packed snow. We needed saws to hack through the dense snow and had to wield our avalanche shovels with care for fear of bending or snapping the blades. Despite the firm snow, within a few hours we were settled comfortably into camp and enjoying a warm meal. It’s now half past midnight and the sun is still high above the horizon, traveling from west to east now. We are crawling into the tent eager for a good night’s rest after the long climb with all of our gear but very happy to be up here and staring up at the more exciting climbing above us.
RMI Guide Linden Mallory and team
On The Map
Se tenir au chaud… d’accord?
Posted by: M. Homme on 11/29/2014 at 6:04 pm
Cool Stuff! (literally and figuratively)Jon, 65 F in Tuscaloosa today…
Posted by: Tom on 11/29/2014 at 9:57 am
November 28, 2014
Another no-fly day at Vinson Base. We were at the edge of a thick sea of clouds for much of the day and from what we heard, weather wasn’t very nice at Union Glacier either. Temperatures were low again today, reportedly -23 C but most of the team felt more comfortable with the conditions today, perhaps we are acclimating. It was a little tough to be anchored down in VBC today as a couple of our neighbors and friends pulled out and moved up to “Low Camp” but we’d very much like JJ Justman to be along for that journey. So we did a bit more training and preparing. Tomorrow, perhaps, we’ll have the whole team in one place… the way we like it. And we’ll go climbing.
RMI Guide Dave Hahn
Climbing…always testing the patience. Training, preparing and having the whole team in one place sounds like a good idea. Soon. Hang in there GB and team! Hopefully, you have some good reading material : )
Posted by: kerry on 11/28/2014 at 9:55 pm
Well, sit tight, wait for JJ and better weather! That’s my advice from my seat in front of my computer in my house warmed by a wood fire!
Hi Haldis! *waves*. Saw you in the picture where you were weighing in your gear! :)
Hi to Tom too!
Your loving sister/in-law.
Posted by: Monica Glasenapp on 11/28/2014 at 8:04 pm
November 27, 2014
The team spent Thanksgiving Day at 7,000 ft above sea level on the Branscomb Glacier. “VBC” at the foot of Mount Vinson. Most took it on faith that Vinson was towering over us, since we couldn’t see it, or much of anything today. We were clagged in with cloud and light snow throughout the day. All were thankful to have come so far yesterday, via buses, two exotic airplanes, and a big wheeled van at Union Glacier. The team would have been even more grateful if JJ Justman had been able to fly into VBC with us. He was scheduled for the next flight, due to lack of space on our ski-equipped Twin Otter, but that next flight didn’t go when the weather deteriorated. We muddled on without him today, reviewing some safety procedures with climbing harnesses and Avalanche beacons, and generally getting set for glacier travel. It was quite cold for most of the day, with many of the team choosing to wear the big puffy down garments brought more specifically for the summit. We enjoyed a visit and briefing given by David Hamilton, ALE’s basecamp manager. In late afternoon, our gang took a little time to rest and to consider how all the football games back home might be going. We then assembled on the snow benches of our dining tent for a five course meal.
Happy Thanksgiving to all those back home sitting on real furniture.
RMI Guide Dave Hahn
Dave, JJ -
Hi Guys! Wish I was down there on the ice with you. Say hello to the ALE folks for me. Have a safe climb.
Posted by: Larry Seaton on 11/28/2014 at 12:04 pm
Wishing Greg Barber and the RMI team a Happy Thanksgiving. It’s going to be cold here in Vancouver Greg, going down to -2C. Brrrrr…. Stay warm and safe buddy!
Posted by: Kim Morgan on 11/28/2014 at 8:50 am
November 27, 2014
Happy Thanksgiving from 78 degrees south of the equator on the Vinson Massif!
The sun finally slipped behind the mountains around 3am last night and the temperatures here at Vinson Base Camp instantly dropped even further, causing us all to stir from our slumbers to burrow deeper into our sleeping bags. Despite the cold we all slept soundly. After reluctantly crawling out of our bags we set about preparing for the day: melting snow, boiling water and sorting gear to carry further up the mountain. We took our time this morning, waiting for the low hanging clouds that hung over the glacier to break but they never did and by midday we set out up the Branscomb Glacier with our packs full with food and fuel for nearly a week above Base Camp.
The climb out of camp ascends the gently rolling glacier before entering a minor crevasse field that guards the entrance to a large flat bench at about 8,400’ on the glacier. Snow at very cold temperatures is known to be “crunchy” or “squeaky” as the crystal is break and fracture instead of bending or bonding and we settled into a routine on the climb out of camp, listening to our skis glide across the cold snow and settle under the weight of our feet with an audible crunch. As we approached the crevasse field our hopes to break through the clouds to clear skies above dissipated and we navigated our way through the cracks under a world lacking any sort of contrast. Glimpsing only occasional wands or tracks left from a previous group. We climbed another hour like this until we lost all visibility completely. We were in a world of white with no ability to differentiate the sky from the ground or near from far. Climbers refer to this as being “in the ping pong ball” - like being inside an sphere of impermeable whiteness. Having crossed the plateau and nearing the second notable crevasse field for the day we opted to drop our loads there, near a no longer used camp spot called 1/2 Camp, instead of pushing forward navigating only by feel. We unloaded all of our gear into a large duffel bag, lashed it securely to the ice, marked its location, pulled the skins from our skis and turned our sights toward Base Camp.
We were able to retrace our skin track without too much difficulty, following the telltale marks of pole tip plants and skin tracks (and keeping an eye on the map and gps just to be sure) back down the glacier. A couple of hundred feet above Base Camp the clouds thinned and we could spot our tent alongside the airstrip. We skied back into Base Camp grinning. Despite the poor visibility today, it still felt good to be on skis in Antarctica.
We celebrated a southern Thanksgiving swapping stories of traditions back home and sharing a package of Oreos. We’re wishing all of our families a Happy Thanksgiving and just so there’s no confusion: Tasty Bites are no comparison for home cooked Turkey!
RMI Guide Linden Mallory & Team
1/2 camp! Nice work, boys!
Posted by: Kir on 11/28/2014 at 2:51 pm
November 26, 2014
Hey – this is Dave Hahn calling from Vinson Base Camp. Yeah – I know, we started the day at the tip of South America, but we have made it all the way through Union Glacier and up to Vinson Base Camp. It’s 1:30 in the morning, we got the day going a long time ago. We were picked up from our hotel this morning a little after 7 in the morning so we have been on the go all day. The weather was a little iffy at Union for getting out to Vinson and it took a little time but we got out, or most of us got out. Jeff Justman, JJ, my other guide on this trip is still back there at Union Glacier. But we took the opportunity to get all the climbers out, but my co-leader, JJ, is back there at Union. So we will hope to have him to join us tomorrow. That would be nice if that works out. We will see what the weather does.
We have our Base Camp built and conditions aren’t too bad here right now. We are pretty optimistic and pretty pleased with our selves getting all the way in, two big important flights done and we can start concentrating on the mountain.
RMI Guide Dave Hahn
RMI Guide Dave Hahn checks in upon arrival at Vinson Base Camp.
Yahoo! You’re there! Continued safety and good fortune! See you next update!
Posted by: Kristin H. on 11/27/2014 at 4:31 pm
Wonderful!!! Great news and hope the weather holds. Happy Thanksgiving and my alarm is set for 7:30 am daily to especially think of you then. Blessings to all. Love to Chris. Mom
Posted by: Carol Colleran on 11/27/2014 at 11:43 am
November 26, 2014
True to the forecasters’ predictions the weather in Punta was clear and calm this morning and shortly before 8am we arrived at the Punta Arenas airport. We piled out of the bus and walked through the nearly empty terminal, a line of climbers wearing layers of down, gore tex and expedition boots waiting patiently with passports in hand to pass through airport security. Shortly thereafter the pilot gave us the thumbs up and we headed out onto the Tarmac to board the plane. The Ilyushin is a giant Russian built cargo jet made for field landings with a glass nose and the plane was full of equipment and supplies bound for the Ice with just a few rows of seats in the front of the cargo area. We climbed onboard and settled into our seats while the Kazakh crew gave us the safety briefing. Within a few more minutes we were airborne flying south.
The interior of the windowless plane doesn’t offer much in the way of entertainment but the crew has rigged a gopro to film the view from the cockpit and it displays on a tv screen at the front of the cargo area. We spent the next 4.5 hrs swapping stories, reading, and gazing at the screen while we watched the southern tip of South America disappear behind us then a stretch of ocean that gradually filled with ice until all we could see was an expanse of white stretching out in all directions. As we neared Union Glacier the crew gave us a weather report: -15C and winds 10-15 out of the south - a beautiful Antarctic day. We all bundled up, adding layers of down and hats, sunscreen and gloves, as the plane lost altitude. On the screen the expanse of white began to be interspersed by rocky outcroppings and small windswept peaks - the foothills of the Ellsworth Mountains. Soon a faint strip of blue came into view: the ice runway of Union Glacier. Needless to say, landing a fully ladened cargo jet on a ice runway takes a long time to stop!
Stepping out of the plane was incredible: we were surrounded by an expanse of ice and snow framed by mountains in every direction. Glaciers that seemed close enough to reach out and touch them were really 6-10 miles away. The cold snow and ice squeaked underfoot and the light breeze felt like a biting wind. With all of our gear unloaded we caught a ride in ALE’s big oversized vans to their camp where we were greeted by their staff. They served us a delicious hot meal on the ice while they took stock of the weather and the loads and then delivered more good news: the weather was holding and they felt comfortable flying us the final leg to Vinson Base Camp. We hurriedly finished our hot drinks, grabbed our bags, and then climbed aboard the smaller Twin Otter aircraft parked outside.
The flight along the edge of the Ellsworth Mountains went smoothly, we climbed steeply out of Union Glacier, passing through a layer of thin clouds, to an elevation of about 9500’ and the flew north. To our left the Antarctic Ice Sheet stretched into the horizon while on our right a series of peaks passed by, gradually getting larger and larger until suddenly the Vinson Massif itself sprang into view. A 4,000’+ wall of rock and cascading glaciers guards most of the Vinson Massif and towers above the surrounding ice. We flew along the walls until the plane banked a hard sweeping downward turn and we came to a smooth stop on the Branscomb Glacier at Vinson Base Camp.
We unloaded our gear from the plane, thanked the pilot, and then set to work establishing camp and setting up shop. We are now cozy in our sleeping bags and it’s nearing midnight while the sun still shines on our tent. A thin layer of clouds has been moving over camp and the temperature is downright chilly in the shade but were staying warm and are thrilled to be here. We can’t believe our good fortune in getting to the mountain so smoothly. Tomorrow were hoping to move a portion of our gear to the base of the steeper climbing at Camp 1 and find some good glacier skiing on our way back to Base Camp.
RMI Guide Linden Mallory & Team
On this Thanksgiving morning I am thankful for your arrival at base camp and your great communication along with technology that allows it.
Posted by: carol colleran on 11/27/2014 at 6:27 am
November 25, 2014
As planned, we completed packing today. Our bags were heavy and ready for an 11 AM weigh-in down in the hotel lobby. It was a relief to then load them onto the ALE cargo truck and to be done with them. The team members had one last day of individuality in which to indulge in Punta Arenas. Some went along the shore for miles, stretching their legs and exploring the fringes of town. Others shopped or exercised. And some napped and caught up on correspondence. At five in the evening, we migrated the four or five blocks over to ALE’s headquarters for a briefing on the logistics of our planned trip. Within a few moments of arriving, we were informed that weather was so good around Union Glacier, that there would not be any “stand-by” and no tension of waiting for a phone call… The flight was on, plain and simple, be ready for pickup first thing in the morning. We enjoyed a few celebratory cocktails, an informative slideshow and then a great dinner out. We were torn between the urge to celebrate and raise toast after toast… And the need to get back to the rooms for a full night’s rest.
Moderation won out, we have high, high hopes for a big day tomorrow. A trip to Antarctica’s interior and a great deal closer to the Vinson Massif.
RMI Guide Dave Hahn
Great to read that weather is awesome and you are off on what I hope will be a fantastic time. Good luck! Big hug for the group -
Posted by: Diana Olney on 11/26/2014 at 5:27 pm
Good luck and can’t wait to read all about it!
Posted by: Kristin H. on 11/26/2014 at 2:20 pm
November 25, 2014
The expedition officially kicked off Sunday afternoon with the arrival of Jon and Penn in Punta Arenas. After dozens of hours of flights, connections, luggage carts, and check-in counters, it was a huge relief to see all of our gear safely back in our hands here in Chile. We’ve spent the past two days completing the final preparation for the trip: packing and repacking our gear, chasing down the final but crucial odds and ends (fresh cheese & coffee!) that we need to feel fully outfitted, all the while keeping a careful eye toward the weather forecast for the coming days. With our bags fully packed, we checked in with our logistics partner ALE late this morning and weighed the some 300 pounds of food, supplies, climbing and ski gear into a somewhat manageable stack of duffels and ski bags. Once tagged and sorted, we sent them off to the airport to be loaded onto the plane to be ready at a moment’s notice for the flight into Antarctica. It feels great to have the wheels in motion after so many months of preparation.
The fickle Patagonian weather was still holding clear so with our gear in order and facing the luxury of an unstructured afternoon, we caught a ride to the base of Cerro Mirador, the local ski area that sits above town, to shake out the travel from our legs. The spindly but dense trees along the hillside provided just enough protection from the whipping wind to keep us warm as we climbed. Near the summit the vegetation thinned and the full gale of the normal afternoon Patagonian winds swept around us, shaking the towers and brightly painted chairs of the chairlift where we ended. The gusts were strong enough to push us from out stances every now and again but the views down over Punta Arenas and across the Straits of Magellan toward Tierra del Fuego - and eventually Antarctica - kept us focused. After a few minutes of gazing out across the whitecaps far below, we retreated down through the woods and made our way back to town by mid-afternoon.
In the evening we joined up with Dave’s team and headed over to ALE’s pre-flight briefing. After running through the ins/outs of flight logistics, what to expect when disembarking on an ice runway, and how to handle passport control when heading to Antarctica, our ALE coordinator gave us the news we’ve been waiting for the past few days: the forecast summary and planned flight schedule. Typically the conditions and forecast are reviewed every morning and periodically throughout the day before making the decision whether to fly or not. In the next 24 hours, however, the ALE team is feeling so optimistic about the weather that they went ahead and gave us the thumbs up to fly tomorrow morning. We are crossing the Drake Passage to Antarctica so we’re prepared for the best laid plans to go awry, but we’re all thrilled to hopefully being on the ice by midday tomorrow. We’re back at the hotel now wrapping some final loose ends and heading to bed shortly before our early departure for the airport and into the interior of Antarctica tomorrow.
RMI Guide Linden Mallory & Team
Congrats ; all hear enjoyed turkey & football while you were on the top. Hooray!
Posted by: B Lee mallory on 12/4/2014 at 3:01 pm
Go team. Penn and Jon, you guys are nuts. Wishing you a successful and safe climb. Best, Jim J.
Posted by: Jim Johnson on 11/27/2014 at 10:55 am
November 25, 2014
The RMI Expeditions Mount Vinson climbing season is kicking off in style. The team flew in to Punta Arenas, Chile yesterday from various and distant North American locales. Miraculously, the all-important duffel bags accompanying those team members actually made it into town with them.
After a good sleep, the team assembled this morning for introductions and instructions on how to prepare for flying to The Ice. The day was then spent with gear checks, packing and a little exploring of this classic Patagonian town nestled alongside Magellan’s Strait. It was a typically crazy day, weather-wise, here at the tip of South America. We cycled through bright sun, dark clouds, intense wind and rain out of clear skies. It is a great place for bumping into fellow climbers, guides, explorers, adventurers and scientists bound for Antarctica. In the evening, the team relaxed over a fine dinner out on the town. Tomorrow we’ll put the finishing touches on our packing and receive a briefing from our logistical partner -ALE- on our prospects for getting the adventure going in the next day or two.
RMI Guide Dave Hahn
Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Best of luck to all and please be safe.
Posted by: Dudley Macfarlane on 11/27/2014 at 8:06 am
Hope you are still having fun. I’m reading the blog and eating the bag of nuts n bolts I made for you but didn’t get sent in time. Happy trails
Posted by: Barb on 11/25/2014 at 4:38 pm
December 19, 2013
Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever had a trip down and out from the Vinson Massif go so smoothly. A day ago our stoves were getting the breakfast ice melted at 12,300 ft in Vinson high camp. It was colder than it had been the day before, when we’d gone for the summit. We packed up our tents and roped up to go down the steep lines toward low camp and Basecamp. The day got warmer -naturally- as we got lower, but there was still a lot of cloud, just as there had been all week. Six hours after beginning the descent, we hauled heavy packs and sleds into 7,000 ft Vinson Base. The place was humming with activity. We were told to be ready for a Twin Otter on skis in a half hour. That meant 30 minutes of feverish packing and repacking and last awesome views of Vinson for the year. At 5:30 PM the Twin put down and we got in. Not only was the flight through the sunny Ellsworth Mountains magically beautiful, it was taking us to an on-time dinner at Union Glacier. One that none of us had to open, boil, or rehydrate. We reached camp there at a time when it was mostly ALE staff and not so many needy “customers” such as ourselves. Over dinner, we were told that our next flight was already on its way in. The Ilyushin 76 landed with a distant roar on the ice runway at 12:30 AM. We got on after a bunch of freight had been unloaded. There was plenty of room to stretch out as in addition to the five of us climbers there were perhaps three or four staff and assorted personnel going for the ride to South America. I saw the distant Vinson summit sliding by the port side windows after we’d reached cruising altitude. At 7:30 AM the plane touched down gently in Punta Arenas, where summer is currently coming on strong.
The team piled into a car and then hotel rooms for a big snooze. We’ll feast tonight and fly homeward tomorrow. Small world… but full of great climbs.