Of course, the night wasn’t complete as we learned that the ANI (Adventure Network International – whom runs the guiding on Vinson & elsewhere on Antarctica) group was having a party in their heated tent just across camp from us. Naturally, we obliged, and joined in for a fun night of drinks and getting to know some incredible people, some of whom held speed ascent records of Mt Everest (Lhakpa Gelu) and other whom had been climbing in the Himalaya for 20+yrs but were simply doing the weather reports on Vinson (although we waited for these twice a day, and planned accordingly). It’s a pretty small community down there, full of a wide range of experts (Dave Hahn with nearly 30 ascents of Vinson & 14 summits of Everest) all of whom are humble, friendly and gracious people that enjoy everyone else’s company.
The next day, with not too many people having sore heads, we got the news that we had the chance to fly back to Union Glacier. Of course we jumped at the opportunity, almost literally given that we had one hour to pack everything up and be ready to be boarding the twin otter plane.
Back at Union, we set our Hilleberg tents one last time, and settled in for the next few days while we waited for the Ilyushian flight back to Punta Arenas. Life at Union isn’t rough at all. They have heated tents which are large enough for 10-12 dining tables, plus a full kitchen & cook staff. Three cooked meals a day, and all the books about Antarctica you could ever (or never) want to read. The first day back was great, and it was a relief to have somewhere else to go other than your tent and the dining tent.
After 24hrs, the place does get extremely small, and you look to do anything to keep yourself occupied while you wait. The second day, the group went on a walk to “the beach” which was about an hour’s walk from Union Glacier where we could see a point where two glaciers were slamming into one another. We also got walk around on the green rocks & quartz up the hill where we could see the wide expanse of ice beyond the horizon. Again, trying to process the remoteness and uniqueness of the experience is very humbling and overwhelming. I am extremely fortunate to be able to go on such an expedition, and I know that I’m of a few that have had the luxury of doing so. Antarctica is so far from anything you experience in daily life that it’s difficult to completely sink in and come to terms with where you are and what you’re experiencing.
Finally, the day to go home had come! Given that the weather is so critical to the schedule of everything related to Antarctica, you can’t count on any flight happening until it’s in the air, en route and almost near by. Fortunately though, the weather was solid and the Russian cargo jet made the flight from Punta Arenas to Antarctica and landed safely. We were able to arrange with ALE (Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions – ANI’s logistics arm) to be near the runway to watch the plane come in and land. It was pretty fun to be there when the next group of climbers landed all decked out in their down parkas, down suits & face masks. Since we had grown accustomed to the cold, we were nearly all in our base layers, baseball caps & sunglasses. Looks aside, I’m sure we smelled like roses to the new group. I’m sure they were wondering, like we were, what to expect and if they’d look the same in a few weeks.
We boarded the flight, and got ready to head back to civilization, or the closest thing to it that we’d seen in weeks. We’d all been dreaming about what we’d do when we got back, whether it was a Pisco Hot, or just a shower, we all had our plans set in stone.
Now that I’ve been back home for over a month, and starting to get in the mindset of another upcoming expedition, I’m appreciative of the opportunity to go down to Antarctica, and climb Vinson Massif with a great group of people and an outstanding set of guides. With the prospect of Mt. Everest ahead, it’s starting to quickly sink in what a big journey it will be, both in terms of time and the height of the hill. I’m anxious and excited for the experience, and needing to stay focused on training & gear prep to ensure I’m as ready as I possibly can be.
Until I start the next, this one has been another successful trip, to say the least!