Last Degree Update:
Our last degree ski expedition had their first full day of travel today. It's always nice to put that first day behind you. All things being equal (ice conditions, weather, mood...) everyday gets easier as the sled gets lighter and YOU get smarter and more experienced! The team covered 7 nautical miles from their drop off point last night, ending at N89.08.72, E 138. That's a good first day, especially considering they didn't get to bed until 2 AM last night! They had a cold day with temperatures remaining steady at -30F / -34 C. In temperatures like these it can be a struggle to keep your hands warm, especially right after breaks when your body is slightly chilled. The key is to stay well fed, well hydrated and to move, move, move! It's also critical to pay close attention to your body and take action to warm up those parts of your body that are cold. There was a slight headwind on their faces as they skied. No doubt they all had their face masks on, or layers pulled up and over their noses and cheeks.
They are all cozy in their tents, after a filling meal of appetizers, soups and a hearty dehydrated dinner. A few well placed hot water bottles will make their sleeping bags feel extra cozy tonight. Not that they need the help falling asleep, they are probably tired enough from all the hard work.
Click here to listen to Keith's audio dispatch and check back again tomorrow for another update from the team.
Half Degree Update:
We have another team heading to the ice soon! Team Fioretti Mountaineers with Peter and Bob Fioretti and guide Eric Lillstrom have been training in Longyearben and they will be departing for the Barneo Basecamp tomorrow (Monday) morning. So far on their journey they have explored Longyearbyen and the surrounding valleys during their overnight Shakedown training. They practiced camp routines, traveling with their sleds in tow, and many of the systems that they will use to stay safe and comfortable (at least as comfortable as possible!) during their expedition.
They are looking forward flying to Barneo and starting their journey! Click here to listen to Eric's audio dispatch and check back again tomorrow for another update from their team.
Below: Heading North!
Below: Peter, Bob and guide Eric Lillstrom (sorry... for some reason this blog software insists that this photo be sideways)
The team reported in again at 2 AM local time. They had a relatively short stopover at the Barneo Basecamp before heading off by helicopter for their starting point at N 89.01.1, E 140. They skied a short distance before making camp at N 89.1.58, E 140. The weather was clear with a blue sky and a breeze of around 6 knots. The temperature was a brisk - 30 F / -34 C. That's cold! But cold temperatures are preferred over warm temperatures, because they tend to come with stable weather. Warm temperatures tend to bring low visibility, wind and generally deteriorating weather.
The cold weather will require that everyone is vigilant about keeping their extremities and core warm, while also not overheating from the hard work of pulling a sled. Temperature and moisture management are two of the hardest parts of the expedition, along with maintaining a high level of energy throughout the day. That may sound easy if you are reading this from the comfort of a warm house, with water flowing from a tap and a variety of food at the ready. At the North Pole it is something that you have to constantly work at to maintain. Simple but difficult. Like so many things when it's -30F/-34C outside!
We are happy to report that our team has departed on schedule. Woot woot! This may not seem like a big deal, but it is! (This season has been fraught with delays and our team is one of the only teams not to be delayed by 10 days).
As they drove to the airport the team was nearly giddy with excitement. They were chanting BARNEO! BARNEO! The flight to the Barneo Basecamp takes roughly 2.5 hours. Because there are only a handful of windows on the plane most people don't get to see the pack ice before they land. When the plane's door opens they emerge into a landscape (actually a frozen seascape) that's unlike anything anyone has ever seen before.
It's likely to be a late night for the team. The word "night" describes the time of day but not how light or dark it is because they have 24 hour sunlight. Upon arrival the team will meet with the basecamp manager, review their communication schedule, get a weather update, learn as much as they can about ice conditions, select the best departure point, load the helicopters with kit and people and take off for what may be an hour flight to their starting point. But as soon as the helicopter drops them off all the noise and hectic moments melt away and everything becomes much more focused and simple. Eat. Drink. Sleep. Ski. North.
Click here to listen to today's audio dispatch sent by Keith and Abdulla Al Alahbabi just prior to the flight to Barneo. Also click here to check out what landing at Barneo looks like from the pilot's eye - it's pretty awesome!
If we receive a second dispatch we will update the blog, so check back again soon.
Below: Ready to go!
The team spent the day in Longyearbyen prepping for their departure and making sure everything is in order. They practiced setting up tents, they organized their food supplies and they readied their sleds and brought everything to the airport. At present, it looks like they will be flying to the ice tomorrow, sometime in the afternoon. That's great news (!!) and everyone is excited.
What's it like the night before departure? Usually your mind is darting wildly, crossing "things to do" off imaginary or real checklists. "Did I remember to pack my second pair of gloves? What about my bowl and spoon? Extra batteries?" Then there is the unknown to contend with... "How cold will it be? Will we see lots of open water? Will we have drift? And in what direction?" But just as strong, if not stronger, are the many positive feelings of embarking on a grand adventure. The anticipation is almost over, the planning and preparations will be put to use (!!!) - and it is a wonderful way to fall asleep.
Click here to listen to today's audio dispatch from Keith and check back again tomorrow for another update, hopefully from the ice!
(Below: a team selfie)
Below: Our team at the airport - sleds are delivered and they are ready to go!
The PolarExplorers 2018 North Pole Last Degree Ski team officially kicked off their expedition tonight in Longyearbyen, Norway. The team gathered for a pre-flight briefing followed by welcome reception and dinner at a lively pub in Longyearbyen.
At the pre-flight briefing they learned that their flight to the ice is scheduled for April 14. That means they will spend tomorrow reviewing expedition procedures, making final preparations with their kit and transferring their packed sleds to the airport by early afternoon. If all goes as planned they will fly to the Barneo basecamp the following day (Saturday). From there they will get transferred to their starting point on the ice.
We are happy to report that everyone is doing well. The level of excitement is high. Our finger's are crossed that there won't be any delays. The team wanted to share this link to a video of the plane dropping the tractor and supplies, by parachute, to build the Barneo runway and basecamp. They should be putting the finishing touches on it tomorrow.
That's most of the team below (Harvey, Abdulla Alahbabi, Zdenek and Abdullah) in Longyearbyen. Make sure to listen to today's audio dispatch from Keith and check back for another update from the team tomorrow!
It's our favorite time of year - North Pole season! Our guides have arrived in Longyearbyen and are busy preparing for the arrival of our various North Pole teams. This season we have a team flying to the North Pole and spending a night at the Barneo Basecamp, a team skiing the last half degree and a team skiing the last degree. Everyone has been busy with final preparations for their expeditions and they are looking forward to meeting up soon in Longyearbyen, Norway.
We are excited to share the progress and daily goings-on of our teams. Check back to this site regularly for updates, images and audio dispatches from the ice.
The North Pole Last Degree updates will begin on April 12 (meet the team here).
The North Pole Half Degree updates will begin on April 15, and the North Pole Flight updates will begin on April 16.
Do you have questions or messages for our teams? Send them to Annie ([email protected]) and she will make sure to pass them along and post any responses.
Check back again soon!
We are thrilled to be sharing the North Pole with a wonderful team of North Pole Last Degree Skiers. These team members will be posting daily audio dispatches from the expedition starting on April 12. Make sure to check back regularly to follow their progress!
The world is full of female explorers, but very few of them guide polar expeditions. To celebrate International Women’s Day we asked PolarExplorers’ guides Nancy Moundalexis and Annie Aggens a few questions about what it’s like to be a female polar explorer.
The teams are officially back to civilization and on their way back home! They made the flight from Punta Arenas yesterday morning. Everyone is happy to be back on solid ground after several days of delay at Union Glacier camp. We'd like to congratulate the whole team and give a special thanks to Madison Mountaineering for being our partner for this Vinson Climb. Listen below to Annie's last audio update from Antarctica! And as always, thanks for following along! Stay tuned for another exciting Last Degree expedition this April, but this time to the other end of the world, the Geographic North Pole!
For the last two days, our team has been hunkered down at Union Glacier, awaiting a break in the wind. On Saturday the team was able to make the short transfer by Twin Otter from the base of Vinson Massif, back to the much more luxurious Union Glacier Camp. They took advantage of the hot showers and celebrated Jeff's birthday with champagne toasts. Due to the stiff wind (about 35knots in camp) they've opted to remain indoors rather than explore the area surrounding Union Glacier. The camp meteorologist has forecasted a break in the wind tomorrow (Jan 23) which will hopefully allow the Ilyushin to fly in and get the team back to Punta Arenas tomorrow night. Stay tuned for details.
Jeff Glasbrenner with "birthday cake" in hand.
The team has been waiting for a weather window to fly out from Vinson Base Camp, but the weather has not cooperated yet. It snowed last night and the camp is still socked in by clouds, offering very little visibility. To entertain themselves, the team has been hanging out in their tents, eating a lot, and Annie devised a creative game to pass the time. The game was a version of Bozo Buckets, but instead of the buckets they used their empty expedition sleds, and in place of the balls (to throw in the buckets) they used their frozen-solid wag bags. (After so many days of activity, the boredom of a layover day brings out come pretty creative ways of passing the time.) Everyone is doing well and enjoying the opportunity to not have packs on their backs but are eager to start the journey home.
We'll keep you posted with the flight schedule as it develops. Listen to the audio update below for more details from the day.
Yesterday our team descended down the mountain and into the clouds, back to Vinson Base Camp. Low clouds had the camp socked in, but the good weather held long enough for an optimal summit day. They spent the evening relaxing and preparing to make the flight by Twin Otter back to Union Glacier Camp this morning. From there, if everything stays on schedule, the team will organize all of their equipment and board the Ilyushin for their final flight back to Punta Arenas and civilization. Listen to the last audio update from Mt. Vinson below and stay tuned for the last blog update after the team is safely back in Chile.
The team at Vinson Base Camp
After a 6.5 hour push out team, led by Garrett Madison (from Madison Mountaineering), Keith, and Annie, reached the top of Antarctica! It was a beautiful day to climb, with clear blue skies overhead, clouds shrouding the rest of Antarctica below, and relatively little wind The last half-hour was the highlight of the climb as they traversed the summit ridge. At the summit, the temperature was -35°C with a 5 knot wind (which made the felt temperature closer to -43°C). Not wanting to rest too long in the frigidity, the team spent 20 minutes on the summit, taking pictures and celebrating before making the 3-hour trek back to High Camp where they feasted on pork, chicken, corn, and chocolate. We are so proud of the team for accomplishing this feat with strength and style, and a special congratulations goes out to Maria Conceicao for being the first Portuguese woman to summit Vinson.
Listen to the audio updates below for details from the Summit as well as the end of the day back at high camp. While you might think they are having an easy time of it (from Tamas's audio update) be sure that they worked their butts off on this mountain, and are all truly world-class explorers... and they don't each have their own private bathroom. :)
Partial group selfie from the Summit of Vinson Massif