16 December 2018
Door to door – 28 days (11 days blocked in the icy continent)
Elevation – 4892 alt
Route – Normal route
LEARNED HOW TO SURPRISE, ALMOST LOST MY NOSE TO FROSTBITE
The Ilyushin’s door swung open and the cold wind swept over my body covered in the special clothing for those freezing temperatures. We landed on the ice and started walking towards the snowcats that would take us to Union Glacier (Antarctic Base). The first thing we did after arriving at Union Glacier was a tour around the camp.
I lost all sense of time, because of the daylight around the clock. Soon thereafter, a small plane picked us up and flew us to base camp. It took off right away, and we were left alone with our heavy bags and sledges. We had a micro-home with us. We spent the first night at the base camp, and the next day we woke up in the afternoon and decided to make some progress towards Camp 1, transporting some of the gear, so that it would be easier on the day we decided to move to that camp.
Around 1 am we returned to the base camp, and the next day we moved to the first camp, and on the way, we stopped to pick up the gear we had left buried the day before. We put up the tents in and went inside to rest. Then it was time for dinner, but it was too cold to go to the ice kitchen we had built, and I all could think about was the food and the hours I had to wait for it.
In the Antarctic you have to carry all your physiological excrements and throw them in special places, such as poop bags and pee holes.
We spent a few days at the first camp, as the weather on the mountain slope we would climb was not stable. The passage from the first camp to the second camp had to be made through the fixed line, which everyone described as the most difficult part of the route, and so it was. After spending a few days in the low camp, it was time to continue climbing. We prepared the gear and this time we’d go at it in “one push”, because the weather would not be promising for more than 2 days. The backpacks were heavy, as we had stuffed some of the gear of the sledges into them, and we started climbing the steep, frozen slope. At the end of the fixed line, we ran into a storm with strong winds and thick fog. We had a hard time finding the camp.
Fearing the worst for out tens, we put great effort into working together as a team, helping each other, as teamwork in the mountains is the most important thing to stay alive. That night we rested in our tents and were ready to make a dash for the summit…
The morning was cold and dominated by strong winds, which made it impossible for us to climb.
Mike (the expedition leader) told us we had to wait for the next day, as today it was impossible. I remember, I didn’t step out of the tent for 24 hours, it was almost unbearable.
On December 16th we headed for the summit. We left the wind-swept camp behind and started the climb. After almost 2 hours of climbing, the sky cleared up and the winds completely stopped, and step by step we reached the summit of the Antarctic, and as usual I hugged Dad, but this time more than ever, because it was a good start to my project, which I like to call ‘our project’, since nothing would be possible without him.
Sunlight shone on the crystal white snow and on our happy faces, but not for long. The descent was hellish. At 4,567 m the next storm began, but this time twice as strong. I couldn’t see a thing, not even my feet. We kept walking like ghosts, without knowing where we were putting our feet. We looked like zombies…
We made it to the camp. All the other groups were inside their tents, in fear of what could happen in the wee hours, and we, we were having enough trouble trying to get inside our tiny icy shelters…
I was exhausted and ready to go inside, but my tent mate was having trouble with her hands, she was too cold and unable to remove her crampons. I tried to help her, and at that point I heard Mike loudly telling me to get inside the tent, but I kept helping her. Mike approached me, looked at me and said: you are having a nose frostbite, go inside your tent immediately or you’ll lose your nose.
I went inside and heard Dad calling me from outside. He had no idea where I was… Mike told him I was in the tent and he burst in,all out of breath, and asked me how I was doing and what happened to my nose. I told him what happened, and we lied down. Neither could fall asleep… We were worried the winds would destroy and take our tent away, then as the guide would put it: Game over…
Morning came and we rushed to get ready and descend to base camp. It was a horrific night.
After a few hours of descent, we finally made it to base camp. One of our group members had frostbite on 3 fingers and had to be sent back to Punta Arenas (off Antarctica, in Chile) as soon as possible to be visited by a doctor, but things took a different turn from what had been planned. This is where everything begins.
We were stuck for 11 whole days at the Vinson Massif base camp, on a continent with -25C constant temperature. The bad foggy weather reigned over the Antarctic and prevented the plane from flying us back to Union Glacier.
All incoming and outgoing traffic from Antarctica had been suspended.
Scary… Every day and night we prayed for the weather to improve and return to our loved ones. Food stocks started to run out as the days went by, and we broke every record of forced stays in that place…
We celebrated Christmas at the camp, even though we had been scheduled to be home 3 days earlier. We built a Christmas tree with ice and snow and decorated it with ropes and ice picks. We just smiled, gripped by strong emotions and trying not to lose our patience and morale.
I’ll never forget the morning of December 28th. The weather had begun to clear and the whole camp was buzzing waiting for the plane. Our joy erupted when the horizon opened up and we noticed the plane making its descent. The waiting was quite discomforting though, almost anxious, as the groups took off by turn, and it took hours for the turn to come. To make things worse, I and Dad were scheduled for the last flight out…
After almost a month in the icy heart of the Antarctic, we finally made it out of the icy continent and returned to our homes, to our loved ones, on New Year’s Eve, this time stronger than ever…
This expedition taught me me that stamina is the key to everything in life.