Climbers and attitudes

10:08 a.m. on January 9, 2007 (EST)
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I just got back to some semblance of civilization after spending much of the last months "stranded" in a very remote part of the globe. At least, that is the way at least one on-line news service reported our situation. The group I was with was a mix of old geezers who have been climbing for more than 5 decades (including me), some children of the olde geezers (in their 40s), a "young" documentary photographer (along to document the 40th anniversary of the first ascent of a "7 summit" peak), and assorted others. The region in question remains very remote by even today´s standards. Unfortunately, commercialization has set in. We had some long discussions while¨"stranded" on the topic of modern "adventure travel" (the aircraft that was to return us got damaged in a storm, plus weather prevented retrieval for a couple weeks). One of the principals of the company providign logistics spent some time with us (he flew in with a Russian military flight that was "showing the flag", so to speak). His comments were particularly interesting, and very contradictory to some of the comments made by nicatrails, anniek, and others supporting them in the recent Everest TV show (he happens to be an Aussie and knows Brice personally). One of his big worries is the increasing number of untrained, inexperienced, and underqualified people heading for remote locations (7 summiters, Last Degree skiers, solo fliers - we had a Pole to Pole helicopter record attempt pass through). There was indeed an accident as we were arriving at the start of the trek in which an inexperienced client of a major 7-summit company followed the rope instead of the footprints and fell into a crevasse, ultimately necessitating a rescue by other parties and serious cold injuries. And there was a climb by a heart transplant recipient on which the two physicians in support suffered serious altitude illness (HAPE in both cases) and had to be evacuated (this was before the storms moved in).

The logistics person and his company try to screen people coming in, but a lot of the responsibility falls on the guide services. By his comments, the guide services are lowering their screening standards year by year. He had some harsh words for Brice as one of those taking less and less qualified people and providing less and less support themselves, relying on there being lots of other groups there (themselves having less and less qualified clients) to provide the bailout.

Oh, yeah, about our suffering in being stranded - the plane finally got repaired and storm let it in 2 weeks behind schedule. We ran out of fresh vegetables and fruit (the wonders of modern logistical support) and beer after the first week delay and had to subsist on sushi (freshly made by one of our group), smoked salmon, chicken and fish curries (and beef and lamb for the red meat carnivores), wine (ran out of hot chocolate mix, too), varius wines (the port supply held out). While waiting, we took day hikes and climbs up a number of nearby minor peaks. The tents held up well to the 70 knot wind gusts, and the sleeping bags were adequate for the -40 temps. I do have to complain about my new garmin GPSr, though - it failed utterly about a week into the expedition. But I found the crashed DC6 without it anyway.

Main point here is that technology has brought a lot of comforts to remote places. But technology does not substitute for years of experience. Remote cold, windy, stormy places, whether Everest or the polar regions, can not be made perfectly safe for wannabe adventurers. Nature will extract the price one way or another. Wnd when she does, everyone venturing into that situation has to work together. You don´t just walk by someone in trouble, even if they got there by their own dumbness.

6:05 p.m. on January 9, 2007 (EST)
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You got my vote for president.

8:48 p.m. on January 9, 2007 (EST)
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Welcome back, Bill!

You ran out of beer and still made it back alive? Simply amazing :-)

Can't wait for the full TR...

10:19 p.m. on January 9, 2007 (EST)
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Bill S
Ok Bill, how come you're hiding the exact location of that DC9? You're not going to sell your story are you?
Jim S

7:58 a.m. on January 10, 2007 (EST)
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Not a DC9

No, Jim, not a DC9, it was a DC6. Some years back, when the blue ice landing strip was discovered (you can land with wheeled aircraft on blue ice, skis not needed), they flew in Hercs, DC3's, DC4's, and the DC6. One trip, the DC6 set down in a whiteout abt 6 miles short of the airstrip. Since then, it has gradually been covered with drifting snow, so that the top 5 feet of the tail is all that is still showing - and the tail is white, which makes it hard to find against the white snow and on the overcast day I went looking. I didn´t have a working GPSr, so it was a bit difficult to locate, but I did find it. The planes that went in and out while we were there were an Ilyushin 76 (our plane), a small Antonov, the local twin otters, two Bell helicopters, and two Russian MI-18 helicopters (supposedly private, but painted in camo).

Dave, we had wine to substitute for the beer. But Chilean white (blanco) is nowhere as good as their red. But watch out for the Ukrainian "cognac" - something like 80 or 90 proof.

8:08 a.m. on January 10, 2007 (EST)
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Gear usage

The brands of gear used by our group might be of some interest.

Most of the sleeping bags were Feathered Friends. There was one Stephenson (yes, Jim, with the down air mattress insert).

Most of the parkas were Feathered Friends or Marmot, with the exception of the old geezers there for the 40th Anniversary, who had their Eddie Bauer red expedition parkas from the original first ascent trip.

Boots included the Millet Everest, Scarpa´s version of that all in one, Scarpa Invernos with overboots (Brooks Rangers and Below 40), and a couple Koflach).

Tents were loaned, but were mostly Kelty 3-person tents that I definitely do not recommend - much too hard to put up in a storm. We did have some Mountain Hardwear and TNF tents, plus our beloved Posh Tent (a tent desinged for a dining tent, of the pyramid design).

XGK stoves were used exclusively, as you would expect for a real expedition in a harsh environment.

crampons were mostly Grivels, and ice axes a wide variety, including a couple wood-handled ones from the original first ascent.

Cameras were almost all Nikons, with a few Canons, mostly DSLRs, and lots of small P&S digis as backups. But there was one "old faithful" Nikon FM film camera.

9:49 a.m. on January 10, 2007 (EST)
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Re: Gear usage

Bill - read your posting with great interest - so how was Vinson?

The goings on with David Sharp and others on Everest this year were shameful - in concert with the military execution of the folks trying to make it from Tibet through Nepal and into India, witnessed by (and reported by) climbers at the basecamp of Cho Oyu it was a black year indeed. I give hearty credit to the climbers who did report and provide video and still image proof of what was going on there.

I cannot imagine walking past a fellow climber in trouble and doing nothing. I've never been on an 8000 meter peak, and I'm sure the desire to reach the top has to be very strong, but as a human being, I cannot see myself being willing to allow a fellow human being to die so I can reach the top of any mountain.

Steve

6:30 a.m. on January 11, 2007 (EST)
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Vinson

Steve -

You would have to be there to appreciate the fantastic scenery on Vinson. The movies and TV shows do not come close to conveying the magic of the continent. We were a bit more rushed on Vinson than I would like, with the result that we only got 2 of our party to the summit. One returned to Patriot Hills from Low Camp. I had a bit of indigestion on the morning of the summit attempt, and the rest stopped about 100 feet short of the summit. So we didn´t put any of the original 1st ascent party back on the summit. We agreed that another camp was needed between High Camp and the summit (there was one on the first ascent and many of the subsequent ascents). But not tagging the absolute summit does not detract from the wonderful time we all had and the overwhelming scenery.

In view of the dismissive comments by some of the posters in the Everest show discussion, I should note that the environmental regulations, imposed by the climbers themselves, are far more extensive than almost anywhere else. Everything, including human waste, must be packed out. This includes spilled granola bits, tiny bits of wrappers, and, yes, ALL human waste (at the base camps, you pee into empty fuel barrels, and the barrels are flown out, while on the trail, you carry your pee bottle and empty that at base into the barrels).

I don´t believe that most of the people claiming great environmental consciousness from treks even begin to comprehend this kind of LNT practice. The end result is that the only traces of human presence you see are footprints (which are quickly drifted over) and at the campsites themselves (the tents and people who are there). There are a few plaques and summit registers, but few of those, and some plane remains from early exploration before LNT was fully put into practice.

At this time, even with the increasing number of commercially guided groups in the interior, there is a large amount of mutual help in case of incidents like the crevasse fall and altitude illness that happened while we were on the ice. Completely different from the Everest scene.

12:51 p.m. on January 11, 2007 (EST)
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Re: Vinson

Bill

When I was growing up the father next door did research in the antarctic (penguins) - he was a professor at Swarthmore College - he used to tell us about how different and beautiful it was. I'm glad to hear that it's being well taken care of.

I've been following some of the polar explorations through http://www.thepoles.com/ with great interest - I find the planning and logistics fascinating -

I suppose if I want to find out just how fantastic the views are, someday I'll have to go South for a vacation~!

Cheers

Steve

12:15 p.m. on January 12, 2007 (EST)
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Re: Gear usage

What a great adventure, though it would be a bugger to run out of beer.

It is interesting to hear that so many people used Feathered Friends bags since Western Mountaineering seems to be all the rage these days.

8:10 p.m. on January 12, 2007 (EST)
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Re: Vinson

Ummm, Steve, hate to tell you, but thepoles.com is basically the National Enquirer of the polar regions. They had a story about our "ordeal" with the storms and broken plane that isn't quite right. I mean, they forgot to describe how we had to "suffer" with the daily fresh-baked bread, omelettes, pancakes, orange juice, and such at breakfast each day during our stranding. Well, yeah, thepoles.com is funny reading, particularly when picking it off the web during our wait. Read this one, for example - http://thepoles.com/news.php?id=15444

Or this one - http://thepoles.com/news.php?id=15430

Hannah's report is a bit of a takeoff, and fun to read -
http://www.adventurehannah.com/sptracker.html

" The Grim Truth
6 Jan, 07 - 17:47

Well, it's been just over a week since the Twin Otters came to collect me and the other teams from the South Pole. But I am still on Antarctica. At first the issue was simply windy weather, which prevented the Illyushin 76 from getting in to collect us, but on the 3rd we received the news that the big plane had suffered some damage in high winds at Punta Arenas airport and was now in need of repairs. The part would need to be brought from Moscow and the whole fix might take up to five days. Well, the latest is that the part is arriving in Punta today and the plane should be operational by sometime tomorrow. The great thing is that it has stayed consistently windy here in Patriot Hills and we have not missed a single flyable slot due to the damaged plane. So although the delay must be frustrating to the ALE management and also those clients waiting in Punta to fly onto the ice, but in fact the delay is no more than one should be prepared to expect from a prolonged period of Antarctic fickle weather.

Things here in camp, stranded, isolated in one of the remotest places on the planet are, as you might imagine, pretty desperate. There is some concern about the food supplies. The grim truth is that we are nearly down to the last ton of fillet steak, the thick cut smoked salmon will run out within a month unless we resign ourselves to only eating it at lunchtime and the beer has run out, forcing the whole camp to drink wine, champagne or port in the evenings. Many of the icebound refugee's are suffering the severe effects of overeating (distended stomachs the need to nap after meals) and the medics fear that supplies of indigestion medicine could run out.

During the day the forlorn castaway's of Patriot Hills do their best to keep their spirits up by hiking in the breathtaking hills, skiing and tobogganing on the slopes of Windy Pass, taking skidoo trips out to various sites of interest, building igloos, learning to kite ski, baking various patisserie style delicacies and playing a fiercely fought ping-pong tournament. At night the Indian Navy entertain as with singing and guitar playing and Sam Silverstein from the American Antarctic Mountaineering Expedition 40th Anniversary team writes and performs comic songs and poems for our amusement.

There is also lots of other interesting activity to keep us diverted. We have been visited by two Russian MI8 helcopters and their crews, who appear to be enjoying their stay so much they don't want to leave, in fact they are awaiting passengers to take to the Pole, but they too are waiting in Punta with their fully functioning An74 which is also unable to fly in due to the windy weather.

Truly, things are tough! If they don't get us out of this winter wonderland soon, I just don't know what we're going to do! I can tell you now, if I have to give up one of my mattresses to the Russians I may be going out for some time!"

What she is referring to in the comment about giving the Russians a mattress is that the MI-18 helicopters arived without any sleeping bags for their crews totalling 9 men! So we rustled around to loan them bags.

8:25 p.m. on January 12, 2007 (EST)
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Re: Vinson

Hi Bill, Really interesting trip. I thought at first you had gone to Russia; now I find out it was Antartica. Vinson? Pretty amazing. See any penguins marching around?
Sounds like you all were really roughing it.

8:02 a.m. on January 13, 2007 (EST)
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Re: Vinson

Are you sure this was a climb and not a (grimace) a Trek based at a Bed & Breakfast?

Such pain you had to endure... drinking port. I bet they ran out of the 30 & 40 year old tawny and forced you to drink the 20 y.o. and younger. Or worse yet, maybe not even a tawny?! My god man, where's the humanitiy?!

Glad you had fun. Where's the pictures?

ag
patiently wating 'til retirement so I can play like a kid again.

7:20 p.m. on January 13, 2007 (EST)
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Re: Vinson

Adam -

Indeed the port was a very nice tawny (you would hardly expect less from a Brit-run logistics organization, now would you?)

Tom -
No, we didn't see penguins at Patriot Hills or Vinson. These are beach-lovers, and won't travel 1000 km inland (despite "March of the Penguins"). We did go out to the Penguinera near Punta Arenas when we got back and were trying to sort out our various flight arrangements back to the states ("We can get you on a flight tomorrow for an additional fee of $6000" - ummmm, say what?!?!? Yes that is the price one of us was quoted, and yes US dollars, not Chilean pesos).

Good question on the photos. I can load a fairly large number to Yahoo photos (my email provider), but I think I have to email specific "invitations" to people to view them. I will inquire of Yahoo to see if there is a way to post a URL that points directly to one of their "albums" (their way of grouping photos). My website (from Pacbell/ATT/Yahoo) is limited in size and pretty much full right now, unless I remove a bunch of stuff. I should probably get one of the photo "memberships" that a few people have used here (unless Dave has some way of hosting a gallery temporarily??? hint, hint, hint). I will post a few photos over on MtnCommunity, but that will probably be limited to a dozen reduced size from the 12Gbytes I shot. Plus, the group is going to share photos, with Sam having shot something like 20G the last I heard. Since mine are RAW, they will reduce considerably for web viewing, but Sam's 20G are all JPG, so much compressed already. I think Tony's are all restricted until the documentary is completed, but in his case, it is mostly HD video.

12:02 a.m. on January 14, 2007 (EST)
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Re: Vinson

Bill, I'd be glad to host your photos. Shoot me an email and we can work out the logistics.

9:27 p.m. on January 26, 2007 (EST)
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Finding the DC 6

Hi Bill! Just curious how easy it was to find that DC 6?

6:58 p.m. on January 31, 2007 (EST)
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Re: Finding the DC 6

First try was unsuccessful, mostly because the directions I was given were "It's that way, about 6 or maybe 8 kilometers", accompanied by an arm waving through an arc of maybe 10 degrees, with the added comment to "follow the road". The "road" in "that" direction turned out to be a track made by one of the tractors hauling food out to a dump site of a ski traverse group and not the intended road. The intended road had been laid out by a couple of snowmobiles for the 100k race (yes, a running race) held about 4 weeks earlier (somewhere there is a website with pictures describing the race - search under Patriot Hills, Antarctica, marathon, some such combination of words.

For the second search, one of the Patriot Hills staff who had been out there the previous year, one of the medics, and I took a couple SkiDoos and headed out along the marathon track, but soon lost the track (3 or 4 weeks of Antarctic winds, including up to 70 knot gusts, leaves a lot of sastrugi and no "road). We had not taken a GPSR (my 60CSx had died a week earlier, due to some unknown cause that Garmin has not yet explained, or been able to explain - just one of many problems that cropped up with that model in Antarctica - and no, cold was not one of the problems or a source of the problems). If we had had a GPSR, we could have taken the coordinates. The guy who had been there the previous year wasn't sure where the DC6 was (well, to be fair, in a semi-whiteout, on a pretty featureless flat icefield, you don't see any features anyway). We measured an approximate distance on the snowmobiles' odometers, looking around, and continued some distance further before turning back. We could see the hills (Patriot Hills really is next to a range of hills), so could pick out the peak most directly above the camp. On the way back, I spotted something way off to our left that looked like the tail of an airplane, so we went over to it (turned out to be around 200 meters off our course). White tail sticking up out of a white icefield in a white blowing snowcloud - I was just lucky to see it.

If we had used a GPSR with the coordinates, it would have been fairly easy to find. Some others who went out there when the wind had not eroded the "road" found it pretty easily. I think if we had a bearing from the camp, it would have been relatively easy as well, since you could make out distant mountain peaks. I also think if I had gone on foot, having been given a moderately accurate starting point and description of the actual marathon route, it would have been fairly easy. On foot, I could have spotted the remnants of the track, despite the sastrugi, but riding on the back of the SkiDoo and trusting that the driver could remember where he went the year before just didn't work.

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