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
Yesterday our teams made their way from Low Camp to High Camp in beautiful conditions. After considering the conditions at high camp, the team decided to take a layover day to rest and recuperate in the tents. The weather looks good for a summit push tomorrow and everyone is feeling strong and in high spirits. If conditions hold, the team will make a summit bid tomorrow and return to high camp after. We'll keep you posted with their progress as they climb to the top of the white continent.
During their rest day, one of our team members, Jeff Glasbrenner (renowned mountaineer, 25-time Ironman, and amputee), received some special questions from a school group and shared his responses via the audio update. Use the link below to listen.
Jeff Glasbrenner at Vinson High Camp
Our Vinson team has been doing well, having spent two nights at Low camp. They are eating like kings, feasting on fish, pork, hamburgers, and fries. Everything they need to keep the energy high before making the next step up the mountain. Yesterday, they had a skills session, practicing ascending a fixed line and traveling on a rope team. The weather has been good, giving clear views of the mountain valley all around; a stark difference from the flat snowscape of the Antarctic plateau they finished skiing across just a few short days ago. Listen to the audio update from Annie below. It becomes garbled by bad signal half-way through, but you can still get a sense of the energy of the team.
Photo of the fixed line review session.
After leaving the South Pole, teams made their way back to Union Glacier. Their ride was the Basler BT-67, a retrofitted and updated model DC-3 (an aircraft that revolutionized air travel in the 1930s-40s), which is one of the major workhorses of inter-Antarctic travel. Once back at UG, which felt like a sunny beach compared to the South Pole, they began to separate out all of the group equipment and the Vinson climbers made the transition over to climbing gear and repacked. In the Evening, they had an award ceremony in the large mess tent, recognizing our "bi-polar" team members (Tamas, Mike, Mei, Maria, Danny, and Rob B), and also Mike Gibbon's completion of the Explorer's Grand Slam.
Yesterday, the Vinson team flew to basecamp and then proceeded to hike 5+ hours to low camp where they spent the night. For those team members that did not continue on to Vinson, they spent one more night at Union Glacier and are planning to fly back to Punta Arenas today, which will conclude this incredible expedition. Listen to Danny Lubert's last audio update for the South Pole Ski team below, and Keith's first Vinson Climb audio update.
Yesterday afternoon at 4:30PM (GMT-3) Our teams finally reached the South Pole! They were given a warm welcome by the ALE South Pole camp manager Hannah McKeand, and thankfully were able to have a tour of the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. After the two hour tour, the teams spent an hour at the South Pole, taking pictures and celebrating. When we spoke with them, they had returned to their camp where there was a hot meal and champagne toasts waiting for them in the heated mess tent. An absolutely well-deserved celebration.
The teams are scheduled to fly back to Union Glacier Camp today. From there, Mei, Tamas, Jeff, and Maria will continue on to climb Vinson Massif, while the rest of the team will begin the journey home! Updates for the Vinson Massif climb will begin tomorrow.
A huge congratulations to all our team members and guides for completing this adventure in style, and thank you for making this Last Degree Ski another unforgettable experience for the record books!
Another cold day out on the ice for our two teams with temperatures hovering around -25°C in the sun. Clear skies with a stronger breeze made each push feel longer, but nearing the pole has everyone in high spirits. Both teams had a pre-Pole celebration in the tents tonight, indulging in some after dinner drinks, before setting in for their last night on the Last Degree. Listen to the audio updates below for all of the details from each team and visit PolarExplorers on Facebook to leave a question or comment for us to pass on to the team while they are relaxing in the comfort of the South Pole camp tomorrow evening!
Our Last Degree teams have had another successful day progressing toward the Pole. Temperatures dipped noticeably (-30°C this morning) as the cloud cover that had been keeping the temperatures up was swept away revealing an unmarked, vast blue sky. With colder temperatures comes shorter breaks during the day. While skiing, it's easy to stay warm, but once stopped, that body heat quickly dissipates. In addition, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep your fingers warm and your goggles clear of frost. However, with 5 days behind them, the team handled these challenges with ease, accomplishing another full day of mileage (9-10 nautical miles) placing them only 18 nautical miles away from the pole.
Listen to the audio updates below for all of the energetic details from the team and visit PolarExplorers on Facebook to leave a question or comment for us to pass on to the team tomorrow!