December 20 – Another Day at Vinson Base Camp

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The vastness of the Ellsworth Mountains

This dispatch is from Vinson Base Camp, December 20th on the Branscombe Glacier, Antarctica. We’re still here.

I got up early this morning and spoke via radio with Jason, on a high frequency radio with Jason at Patriot Hills and gave him our weather report. Our weather report today is simple and not a good one. There’s light snow, complete cloud cover, contrast nil and horizon nil. In other words there’s no way to fly here, and if somehow you could fly an airplane here you couldn’t land it.

So Gus, Will and myself will be here at Base Camp for another day it seems. If you’re wondering what life is like here, I have to report it’s not that bad. We have two large rigid tents that are permanent, that we have to use during the day. We sleep in our regular mountain tents, but we stay quite comfortable and warm in the large tents. There are no external heat sources but it’s still dry and it’s a place to walk about and stand around, we even have chairs in here!

So we’re comfortable hanging out during the day. I’m using the Panasonic Toughbook to process the digital images I took on the trip. Unfortunately I don’t have the data capability with the Iridium system right now to upload any of these but at least we’re collecting them and from Patriot Hills or Punta Arenas or some place we’ll send you some digital images.

The Toughbook is as reliable as ever and it’s a great resource to us. This is the same computer we had for 9 weeks at Everest Base Camp this past fall. It still boots up every time in cold weather and having watched it travel in the Himalaya on Yaks, and now to Antarctica on a Russian jet and Twin Otters, I know it’s a rugged machine. It’s been on the glaciers of the Himalaya and Antarctica in the last few months and it’s still absolutely reliable.

Life is quite good here at Base Camp. You may know there are still 2 groups of Vinson climbers above us on the mountain. I spoke with them on the radio yesterday. They’re at high camp, quite high winds and blowing snow, no visibility. So we don’t envy those folks at all.

One of those groups did climb Vinson the same day we came down and another group attempted Mount Shinn that day. Since that time they have basically been stuck, so even though we’re not at Patriot Hills and on our way home we are very thankful that we’re down here living in a much more comfortable environment. I know those guys will be fine up there. There’s a cache of fuel and food and everything needed but they’ll no doubt be anxious to get started down as soon as the visibility improves.

If you’re wondering what the temperatures are like here, it’s really an interesting situation. We’ve got basically very consistent temperatures. It cannot be warmer than about negative 5 Fahrenheit here; in fact in this particular season I’m sure we have not seen it that warm. The temperatures are going to fluctuate between negative 15 degrees C to a low of negative 35 C; positive 5 Fahrenheit to maybe negative 30 Fahrenheit.

We’ve seen quite cold temperatures but we’ve talked a lot about it being hot. How can that be? Well there’s 80% of the incoming solar radiation that’s reflected right off the white snow of the ice cap. That 80% goes right back up into space and it keeps this continent very cold. Our bodies aren’t like that however, they absorb that same solar radiation so you can walk around in a dry almost sand-like snow environment.

It’s extremely cold and as I keep saying easy to live in because it’s so dry, yet you are soaking up a lot of solar radiation, if you have sun. Well I have to say we miss the sun today here at Vinson Base, but I’m calling you from a big dry tent, and I have to say I’m quite comfortable even though the temperature outside is extremely cold.

Well that’s today’s report, we’ll keep you posted. One of these days we’ll fly to Patriot Hills or one of these nights I might say, 24 hours of light here. And one of these days we’ll be back on our way to Chile and home for Christmas. You’ll hear from us tomorrow.

This BAI expedition
is sponsored by:

AlpineAire Foods

Panasonic Toughbooks