When we last heard from our team they were back at Union Glacier, briefly, before they continue on to their next destinations. For Jim Holliday, Steve, John and Keith the next destination is Punta Arenas. For Jim Lumberg the next destination is Mt. Vinson.
The team departed the South Pole for the Union Glacier basecamp around 10:30 this morning. The flight across the interior of Antarctica is amazing if you can grasp the enormity of what is passing below. Often the passing shades of white lull you into a deep state of meditation or sleep and the flight passes quickly. Other times the flight provides the perfect opportunity to reflect about life on the polar plateau - skiing in white-outs, pulling a sled, the camaraderie of tent life, and the simplicity of expedition travel. The same is true for the flight back to Punta Arenas, which is roughly four hours. It's a good time to reflect.
When the team lands in Punta Arenas they'll transfer to their hotels where they can soak in the luxury of indoor, civilized living!
This is not the case for Jim Lumberg who continues today to Mount Vinson, the tallest mountain in Antarctica. Jim is in the good hands of guide Garrett Madison and together they plan to depart Union Glacier today for the roughly 40 minute flight to Vinson Basecamp. This must be one of the most scenic flights in all of Antarctica. Mountains everywhere. Big glaciers. Craggy peaks. It's stunning, and a great start to this amazing climb.
This will be the last post for the Last Degree Ski Expedition. Great job guys! We are proud of you! And for Jim Holiday a very special congratulations on the completion of your Grand Slam. Your mom is surely smiling :)
Check back regularly for the latest on Jim's ascent of Mt. Vison. If we receive any additional information tonight we will post it.
Below: The view from Union Glacier
Welcome back! The team spent the day at the South Pole, taking pictures, reflecting on their experiences and relishing in their accomplishment. While they are still "rouging it" they have the luxury of heated tents that they can stand it (!!) and a basecamp chef who makes excellent meals. No doubt it feels like five star luxury to them! Everyone is doing good. They LOVE the messages that many of you are sending through to them. Soon (tomorrow if all goes as planned) four of the five team members will be returning to Punta Arenas, Chile, where hot showers, a real mattress and all the creature comforts of civilization await. Jim Lumberg will continue on to Mount Vinson where he will attempt to summit this tallest mountain in Antarctica. You can follow his progress here. We'll also post a final dispatch from Jim H, John, Steve & Keith in Punta Arenas.
We have three audio dispatches today and they are all excellent! Have a listen to their very heartfelt messages with touching shout outs to friends and family.
Below: Last night's celebration
Below: At the Geographic South Pole
We are very proud to share that our South Pole Last Degree team reached the Geographic South Pole today at 4:30 PM local time today. This is a huge moment for all of our team members and we can't be more happy for them. For Jim Holliday it marks the completion of his Explorers Grand Slam (climbing the seven summits and skiing to both poles), an endeavor he started in 2005. Congratulations to all of our team - Jim, John, Steve, Jim and Keith for this remarkable achievement. Well done!
You might wonder what exactly is "local" time when you are standing a spot where all the time zones on the planet converge. The short answer is that it can be anytime you want! The longer answer is that people and organizations (such as the National Science Foundation or our Last Degree Ski team) choose the time zone that makes the most sense for them. The South Pole station runs on New Zealand time because all people flying to the Pole with the National Science Foundation are coming through New Zealand. Our team is on Chilean time, because they originally came from Chile. The 24 hour sun means that anytime can be morning, or night, or happy hour!
Here's a review of our team's day. They woke up to relatively clear skies and milder temperatures (around -15F), but still had a persistent wind. This wind kicked up the ground snow into a bit of a "ground blizzard" meaning that while there was blue sky overhead the visibility of the horizon was limited. It wasn't until they were 5 nautical miles from the Pole that they got their first glimpse of the station. The the wind died a little allowing for better view during their final approach. All in they skied 11 nautical miles today - which is their longest day yet - and a full day of skiing by any standards! As if to make the last day extra special they were rewarded with a double sun dog to their left for much of the day (see below if you don't know what this is).
The plan is to be at the Pole for two nights before flying back to Union Glacier basecamp on the 14th, and making a quick transfer of planes to get back to Punta Arenas same day. Jim Lumberg will be staying in Antarctica to climb Mt. Vinson, Antarctica's highest mountain, and we will continue to post updates from the expedition here. In the meantime there will be more stories to share, including their time at the South Pole.
A couple audio dispatches came through but they we cut off. As soon as we receive another dispatch we will post it. Additional photos to follow in tomorrow's post.
Below: A sun dog is a type of halo around the sun, caused by refraction of ice crystals. If often makes it look like there are three or four suns. This pic was taken at the South Pole, but not by our team. Hopefully they got some good shots of the double sun dog they saw today. (Image thanks to NOAA, Lieutenant (j.g.) Cindy McFee, NOAA Corps)
It warmed up today for our South Pole Last Degree ski team - but only by a few degrees! Even though it was warmer the wind was a constant companion, as it often is. Antarctic is the coldest, windiest, highest and driest continent on Earth.
The team is narrowing in on the pole. They expect to get there tomorrow if all goes as planned. Today they learned that the kite they saw yesterday was one of two French kiters who skied from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole. The skiers stayed for a couple days before turning around to kite-ski back. The winds, which typically flow from the Pole towards the coasts, will allow them to travel greater distances with the use of a kite, but it's a lot of work!
If the visibility improves tomorrow they can expect to see the station as far away as 7 or 8 miles (sometimes ever further). At first it feels like a trick on the eyes: a mirage-like blip that is vague, and seems to disappear if you look directly at it. Then, as you get closer, it begins to take shape. Large antennas and radar stations... then buildings... then smaller structures like trucks, then windows on the buildings. Maybe a person or two. It seems very surreal, sort of like the rebel station on the frozen planet of Hoth in the Star Wars series. Their approach to the station will be very deliberate, following a series of waypoints to avoid sensitive areas that are a part of scientific studies.
When we talked to the team they were having crackers and salami and preparing for bed. They are looking forward to an exciting day tomorrow. Our fingers are crossed that they reach the Pole!
We are hoping for an audio update but it has not yet arrived. We'll post it if/when it arrives.
Check back again tomorrow for another update from the team!
Below: If you could view our team from a distance as they ski to the Pole this is what they would look like:
Below: A typical tent kitchen scene cooking up an all-time favorite: Surf and turf!
It was a cold, cold day for our Last Degree skiers. The coldest yet, with a 10 kt wind straight out of the south. That means it was a headwind for Jim, John, Steve, Jim and Keith. But they did a good job of closing the gap to the South Pole, and they were rewarded with two signs that they are getting close. The first was a column of exhaust that, for a few moments, floated up from the horizon due south of them. Was it a plane taking off from the station? A different kind of exhaust? They couldn't tell but it was definitely something artificial to the environment and they are guessing it's from the station. The second thing they saw was a moving kite, likely from a kite skier. It was very far away, but distinctly a kite. Who was it? They don't know.
Days with a cold wind, like today's headwind, are especially difficult. The wind seems to constantly batter you and the cold always finds its way past your inner layers during breaks. Everything is harder including eating and drinking. Your muscles get tense early and stay that way. You have to consciously try to relax. Despite the challenging conditions they made good progress. They were even able to appreciate the beauty of the day as you'll hear in Jim Holliday's audio dispatch (below). Now that they are in their tents, enjoying hot drinks, quesadillas and dinner, they are slowly recovering and relishing the comfort provided by the thin nylon walls. On sunny days the tents can be remarkably warm, thanks to the large amounts of solar radiation in Antarctica. Like a greenhouse, the tent traps the heat and it can be quite comfortable. We wish them a great night's sleep under the 24 hour austral sun!
Jim Holliday hosts the audio dispatch today, in two parts. Have a listen!
If you'd like to send messages of support or ask questions to the team feel free to email Annie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Make sure to check back again tomorrow for another update from the Antarctic plateau!
Brrrr... this morning's thermometer reading!
Our guys on the Last Degree are really finding their stride. Today they achieved another 8 nautical miles at a faster pace than yesterday AND with more challenging weather conditions! The team now has only 24nm standing between them and the Geographic South Pole. The weather this morning was clear and calm, but a weather system caught up with them in the afternoon bringing blowing snow and zero contrast conditions. The good news is that the weather system looks to have passed and there is more clear sky behind it. They rewarded their efforts with a dinner of hamburgers and laid down for an early sleep. Jim Lumberg describes the day very eloquently in the latest AUDIO UPDATE below. Have a listen!
For those of you unfamiliar with "zero contrast" conditions, here is an example from a previous expedition. As you can see, you can't see anything but the person in front of you. These conditions are particularly difficult due to the eye strain and occasionally vertigo that come with zero contrast visibility.