November 22 13:46 Local, 16:46 GMT
“Off deck” at Punta Arenas Airport:
Martin, Woodie and I walked up the large cargo ramp that loads the rear of our Ilyushin 76 jet during a light rain late this morning. 1800 nautical miles away, in Antarctica we have a report that conditions are very favorable for a landing there in 4.5 hours.
We have met up with several old friends as well as some new friends who will be beginning this adventure to the “frozen continent” with us. Rob and Kit DesLauriers from Teton Village Wyoming are here. Damian Gildea is back for another of his remarkable seasons of climbs and exploration for the Omega Foundation (see archived BAI dispatches, Embree Glacier 99, 2000). When we were picked up for the ride out to the airport this morning I was pleased to see a familiar face from Alberta, Jamie Clark. The list goes on, we have an excited group of teams and friends on this flight a huge, cold, pure and demanding world awaits us on the ice.
I am typing this report sitting atop a large load of cargo which is netted down in the center of the fuselage of the Ilyushin. I am seeing a relaxed crew around me. Woodie and Martin are reading books and chatting. Kit is taking a nap on top of the cargo. After we reached cruising altitude high over the Drake Passage we enjoyed sandwiches and chips. We are a colorful crew because we load the aircraft wearing our full Antarctica clothing. It is warm on board now, but we deplane at Patriot Hills we will be in a different world.
The Berg Adventures Team, Vaughan, Glynn and Berg feel prepared and we are determined for success on the adventure that lies ahead. Yesterday at the briefing held for the entire flight we enjoyed relating to Peter McDowell, the man who is in charge of the operation here in Punta Arenas and an old adventurer from polar regions and oceans around the globe, that our climb this year was in honor of and to promote recognition of Carl G Vinson.
There are many people back in Georgia who know well the legacy of “Uncle Carl” Vinson. I suspect that even there however there is little appreciation of the honor that was bestowed on the congressman from Milledgeville when after an accomplished team of mountaineers and explorers made the first ascent of the highest peak on the continent of Antarctica, December 18, 1966; the peak was named for Vinson.
Woodie Vaughan remembers Vinson well, because when Woodie graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1964, it was Vinson who gave the commencement address. As we prepared our gear to go into hold on the aircraft yesterday Woodie, Peter and Martin were looking at a photo that Woodie brought along from that graduation night at Annapolis all these years ago. There is a young fellow in the photo, Tillman Snead, sitting next to Uncle Carl. Our plan is to call Tillman by satellite phone from Antarctica on Thanksgiving day, during the bi annual Vinson family reunion to send the family some news of our progress.
The adventure ahead for the three of us is full of unknown and it will be challenging. Big mountains always demand courage and a deep reserve of mental and physical strength. But they also demand patience and humility. We will remember words spoken by “Uncle Carl” after he finally retired from 50 years of public service in 1965. He said the true test of character that one should reach for is “to be able to combine humility with pride, to be wisely aggressive without being dogmatic, to be firm without being stubborn, to be capable of making decisions without being rash, to accept criticism without resenting it and tie be compassionate without being weak”