In this page you will be able to read my ”Day by Day” log of the Mount Vinson expedition, in Antarctica. As you will notice it is written as I transmitted it on the phone.
Hope you enjoy it !
In this page you will be able to read my ”Day by Day” log of the Mount Vinson expedition, in Antarctica. As you will notice it is written as I transmitted it on the phone.
Hope you enjoy it !
11.11.01 - Punta Arenas / 8:08 pm, Chile, 6:08 pm, Montreal
It is Sunday. Everything is going well here. We made it safely to Punta Arenas overnight from Friday to Saturday. We're quite tired from all the flights. But everything went well; all our luggage arrived safely and we had absolutely everything we needed. We spent a short night in Punta Arenas and began making preliminary preparations toward the Antarctic. We then left for Torres del Paine National Park, which is located approximately 450 km north of Puntas Arenas. This is a very special geological formation at the end of the Andes mountain range; its peaks tower more than 2000 metres high; it is very, very beautiful.
We set up camp at an altitude of 60 metres. We're not very high up, but the hiking, the training is done with good backpacks for hours and hours; we're adapting to the altitude, climbing a lot, training a lot-we're getting ourselves ready.
It is spring here. Everything is starting to turn green. There are dandelions; the birds are all atwitter; the sun sets around 10 in the evening and rises around 5:30 in the morning. The wind blows constantly, which is typical of the tip of South America. Near Cape Horn, the weather changes constantly. Within a few minutes, there can be a strong wind, clouds, two or three snowflakes, and then the sun comes out, the wind stops, it is warm, and then it starts all over again. It is very, very unstable.
Training is going very well, and the more we train, the more psychologically prepared we become to reach our next goal, Mount Vinson.
The further south we look, far, far beyond, there are great chunks of ice waiting for us in the fastness of the Antarctic.
Returning to these places in Punta Arenas makes me a bit nostalgic; I am reliving everything, seeing again the places I visited during my expedition to the South Pole, the preparation in Puntas Arenas, etc. I have very beautiful memories.
13.11.01 - Lake Grey / 4:34 pm Chile, 2:34 pm Montreal
We're still in Torres Del Paine National Park, 450 kilometers north of Punta Arenas, training and making preparations. We're in an area of glaciers and very strong winds, with very unstable weather. We soon must return to Punta Arenas, maybe tomorrow, to see whether we still can leave for Antarctica on the 16th.
Apparently the weather in Antarctica right now are terrible, with howling winds and extreme conditions, which may delay our departure for Antarctica. We don't know when we'll get the green light. Our flight from Punta Arenas to Antarctica will be in a Soviet plane, a Russian plane. I'll give you the specifications of this aircraft later, because we don't have them right now. It's a Russian plane. Once in Antarctica, we'll be using two types of planes, a DC-3 and probably a Cessna. So for right now, we're just making preparations.
So it's always windy, very strong winds, which is typical of spring and summer in Patagonia. Curiously, the wind dies down in winter, probably because the temperature gradients or differences are smaller. But right now we are experiencing constant, strong winds. I don't know if there is as much wind in Antarctica, I certainly hope not, but the wind here is blowing very strongly all the time.
We have gone on extended hikes, long hill walks, to train and develop the proper frame of mind for the expedition, and also to enjoy the amazing scenery here. I should point out that Torres Del Paine National Park is a protected site. So it's very beautiful, very uncommon. And quite popular with visitors. Part of the park gets many visitors, but to approach the mountain range and get close to the rock faces is a lot more difficult. There are only footpaths, often with sharp gradients to approach the summits.
16.11.01 - Punta Arenas / 10:10 am Chile, 8:10 am Montreal
We have returned to Punta Arenas after training in Torres del Paine National Park. We learned yesterday that we will not be able to fly in before November 21, because there must be several days of very good weather, and a firmly established high pressure area, before approving a flight between South America and Antarctica. So if the weather turns nice, even very nice, today the 16th, the flight could not leave before 21 November.
So that gives us more time here for better preparation of our equipment, all the logistics as well as a few visits to Punta Arenas.
That's all for Friday 16 November. Talk to you again soon.
19.11.01 – Punta Arenas
We are still in Punta Arenas, but expect to leave on the 21st or 22nd. The latest weather satellite photos are still showing very high turbulence and very bad weather over Antarctica. Very strong low pressure systems will continue to prevent us from leaving for Antarctica before November 21.
The statue of Magellan
I will take this opportunity to tell you a little about Punta Arenas. The name means sandy point. This is a city of 125,000 people, founded in 1848. The site was discovered by the Portuguese explorer Magellan in 1520. He was seeking a much calmer inside passage to bypass the wild storms that lashed Cape Horn (which is famous for the most violent ocean storms on the planet). So the Strait of Magellan was discovered in 1520. There is actually a park in the middle of the city with a statue honoring Magellan's achievement. It portrays the explorer with two Indians sitting by his feet. Legend holds that if you kiss the foot of one of the Indians in this statue, it will give you good luck and ensure that you return alive if you are venturing further south. We took heed, since Antarctica is a long way to the south of here. So we kissed the Indian's foot, because the legend says we'll come back alive. I also did this in 1995, before leaving for Antarctica.
The economy in Punta Arenas is based primarily on sheep ranching. There are a lot of sheep here - they are a major export, along with fish, giant crabs and a variety of seafood. Punta Arenas is a fairly large port. Its location on the Strait of Magellan affords fairly good protection from the wind, although it is always very windy here in Punta Arenas.
20.11.01 – Punta Arenas / 4:15 pm, Chile, 2:15 pm, Montreal
Good news today! The first flight has reached Antarctica.
The first was a DC-3, a Canadian plane, with a crew of just the pilot, copilot, a radio operator and a mechanic. Just four people. This DC-3 left Punta Arenas three days ago, landed on the Antarctic Peninsula at a British scientific base on the Antarctic point. After that, they weathered a few good storms, but very early this morning, the DC-3 was finally able to take off for Patriot Hills, the arrival point for the expedition to the Antarctic continent.
So this DC-3 was able to take off this morning - a flight of a few hours. It was able to fly over and land on the ice, since no landing strip has been prepared. This is what you could call a natural strip, with no preparation. This was the first plane to land at Patriot Hills this year. They landed in midday. They noted the natural condition of the ice and managed their first radio communication. We should now be able to fly out Thursday evening November 22 or very early Friday morning the 23rd, destination Antarctica.
We will be using a Russian plane know as an Ilyushin-76. This is an absolutely huge plane with four jet engines. Empty, it weighs 90 tons. For the flight from Punta Arenas to Patriot Hills, it will burn 35 tons of fuel one-way and could carry 50 tons of cargo (what we could call our baggage). The plane has a cruising speed of 800 km/hour. The distance from Punta Arenas to Patriot Hills is about 3,000 km and the flight takes roughly 4 hours and 15 or 20 minutes at an altitude of 9,000 to 10,000 meters. The captain's name is Vladimir. The crew of six Russians consists of highly trained specialists with extensive experience in landing on this icy terrain. In the past I have met crews on flights in Siberia and to the ice pack north of Siberia, toward the North Pole, and they are some of the best flight crews in Arctic or Antarctic conditions.
This plane will land with wheels rather than the skis on the DC-3, on a strip built on a mountainside, on a windswept natural field of moving ice.
At Patriot Hills today, there is a 90 km/h wind, the ice is shifting and rugged, but we think the huge Ilyushin-76 will be able to bring in all the equipment, the communications staff for Patriot Hills, all safety personnel and members of the various expeditions pursuing various projects in Antarctica. Mountain climbers, skiers and other types of tourists or photojournalists must fly on this Ilyushin-76.
So we now have a green light if the good weather holds and there is no shift in the weather, and provided the wind in Antarctica dies down a little on Thursday evening or Friday morning. We're very hopeful. We met some mountain climbers who have already been waiting one month in Punta Arenas for the first flights.
We should point out that the weather has been very bad in Antarctica this year. Six years ago, in 1995, Thierry Petry and I were able to land at Patriot Hills on November 5th for our expedition to the South Pole. This year, we should arrive on November 22 or 23.
22.11.01 – Punta Arenas / 6:00 am, Chile, 4:00 am, Montreal
We have just learned that the weather is still bad in Antarctica. The weather conditions that were supposed to improve are not improving. Thus, no flights are planned before Saturday.
We hope to be able to take the Ilyushin Saturday morning and fly to Antarctica.
The Antarctic is exerting a strong pull on us. We hope it will be all we expect and that it will at least be nice enough while we are there so we can complete the expedition safely and quickly.
Thus, we are very, very anxious to leave. We are hiking a great deal to stay in shape. We hope to send you some news soon and tell you that we are finally in Antarctica.
24.11.01 – Punta Arenas / 4:00 pm, Chile, 2:00 pm, Montreal
Well, we are still in Punta Arenas. We have been receiving weather reports from Antarctica every three hours since 6 am on November 24. There was a lull in the wind yesterday, but it picked up again last night. We are still waiting, hour by hour, for an opportunity to leave. Thus, everything is ready. We could leave at any time, even during the night. Here in Punta Arenas, it gets dark at night, but in Antarctica, there is no night. Thus, it does not make much difference for landing the plane.
All of our equipment for the expedition is already loaded onto the plane. Only a few personal belongings remain; we will bring them with us in small daypacks.
So, we are ready to move, but still waiting. We have been waiting since November 16; we hope the weather conditions improve in the next few hours, so we can finally start our expedition.
The weather is unstable; the winds die down and then pick up again. However, when it calms, large clouds roll in and cling to the mountain ramparts. Thus, the cloud ceiling is quite low, reducing visibility to zero for a large plane such as the Ilyushin, a Russian jet aircraft, to land on a natural, unmaintained airstrip.
Nothing else to report at this time, except for an increasingly lengthy wait. However, morale is excellent and we are taking advantage of this wait to strengthen our focus and look at things from a philosophical point of view. There is absolutely nothing we can do. Our schedule is totally dependent on the extreme conditions in Antarctica. We must be patient. Thus, we are waiting for Antarctica to open its doors to us.
26.11.01 – Punta Arenas / 3:00 pm, Chile, 1:00 pm, Montreal
We are still in Punta Arenas. The weather conditions in Antarctica are not improving at all. There are huge cloud banks accompanied by strong winds, which makes any thought of flying impossible. The next weather updates will come at the very end of the day, and we will know whether we can leave this evening, overnight or tomorrow. We don't know yet, but for now, no flight can land. There is no way the Ilyushin aircraft can land on a natural ice landing strip in these conditions.
So we're still biding our time here in Punta Arenas, waiting for our flight.
Talk to you again soon.
27.11.01 – Punta Arenas / 6:30 pm, Chile, 4:30 pm, Montreal
At 7:00 o'clock this morning, the call came for us to get ready. The weather conditions apparently had cleared up quite quickly. The winds were still far too strong this morning, but appeared to be settling down. A trend toward better weather conditions. So we got ready: we left the hotel here by bus for a half-hour drive to the Punta Arenas airport. Then we went through the typical flight check-in, although this was neither a domestic nor an international flight, but a special flight to Antarctica. The Russian crew was already there, so we joined them to wait for the weather to break. But the clearing trend quickly stopped. The conditions stabilized with very strong winds and gusts, especially gusting winds in Antarctica, making any landing on the Patriot Hills natural airstrip impossible for the Ilyushin-76 aircraft.
So we waited until 3 :30 pm, almost the entire day, with weather updates every 20 minutes, but no improvement and no deterioration, steady winds with very strong gusts. This pattern continued for the entire day. So we decided to return to Punta Arenas and reclaim our baggage left at the hotel. All our equipment, however, has been loaded on the Ilyushin for several days, ready for takeoff.
So here we are back in Punta Arenas, where we continue to wait on weather updates every two hours or so, for a takeoff window. But we have absolutely no idea when. The call might come in the middle of the night, so we're waiting for another break in the weather.
So this was a false start. Everything was ready, we had put on our mountain-climbing gear, so we would be ready to deplane in Antarctica in the middle of a fierce storm and freezing temperatures. But we returned to our starting point to wait yet again.
Our only consolation is that the mountain isn't about to go anywhere or lose altitude, and it's not like the ice is going to melt in Antarctica. So we're trying to keep our spirits up as best we can, while we wait. There's nothing else to be done. We're waiting again for another tentative departure, as soon as the weather conditions in Antarctica calm down a little.
28.11.01 – Punta Arenas / 7:40 pm, Chile, 5:40 pm, Montreal
This morning the weather was still terrible over Antarctica, but at 3:00 pm we received a call to go to the airport. The Russian crew wanted the various climbers and skiers to go, in case we could take off because the weather reports and the latest satellite photos showed some possible improvement over Antarctica.
So we went to the airport. At 4:00 pm, there we were waiting and we were getting weather reports every 20 minutes, but nothing was confirmed. The wind was picking up again and clouds were moving in. We waited until 7:00 pm before the Russian crew decided that we should return to Punta Arenas and wait.
We have now met other climbers who also want to climb Mount Vinson, but, unlike us, they had planned to leave for Antarctica at the end of November to make the climb in the first fifteen days of December; as a result there are many of us here now-the November climbers and the December climbers, so to speak. We get along fairly well and we have had the opportunity to get to know them, including mountain climbers from Norway, Austria, and Scotland. There is also a climber from Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and Romania and some climbers from the United States. And if it carries on like this, I have to say that Santa Claus will also be coming to join our expedition since time is marching on and people are starting to talk about very long delays.
We are in fairly good spirits. We are very focused on climbing this mountain and nothing is going to upset us, at any rate, not very much at the moment. We are waiting for good weather. It is indeed an atrocious spring in Antarctica with dreadful weather up to now, with the result that there have been no flights to Antarctica, except this first DC-3 flight, which was able to land at Patriot Hills.
Everyone is waiting-there is nothing else to do. When we leave for the airport it feels strange because here in Punta Arenas, it is definitely springtime. The trees are in bloom and we can see lilacs and tulips, yet we always leave the hotel dressed for winter in our big down suits, huge climbing boots, anoraks, our hat and gloves in our hands, and our rucksacks on our back. And once on board the Ilyushin, it is not very well insulated, so it's cold. However, four and a half to five hours later, when you get out of the plane at Patriot Hills, you are immediately greeted with very strong winds and ice, on which you have to erect a small nylon tent.
So we are waiting for the flight after the DC-3, which will take us to the base camp at Mount Vinson; as time wears on, there seems to be a bigger contrast between our clothing and our preparations, and the weather here in Punta Arenas. The children will finish school in a few days for their summer vacation, when people start eating ice cream in the street. Life goes on here in Punta Arenas.
29.11.01 – Patriot Hills / 7:00 pm, Chile, 5:00 pm, Montreal
We have finally reached Patriot Hills in Antarctica. The Ilyushin-76 was finally able to take off at exactly half past noon today. There were very strong gusts of wind over Chile, but it didn't matter because after four and a quarter hours in the air, we touched down at Patriot Hills at 4:45 pm.
There were strong gusts of wind and it took the Ilyushin a very long distance to brake without skidding. This aircraft lands at a speed of several hundred kilometres an hour. The winds are very strong, so the wind chill must be about 40 below.
Everything was perfect and we were able to get all our equipment.
WE'RE FINALLY IN ANTARCTICA!
Of course, the sun is shining. There are clouds, but it's quite cold in the mountains near Patriot Hills. There was a huge contrast between our flight path and our arrival in Antarctica. But it's perfect. We're at an altitude of 876 metres.
Our plan now is to wait until the wind dies down here as well, so we can take another flight, whenever the conditions allow. It might even be tomorrow morning that we take off.
Nathalie and I have been very moved by our return to Antarctica. We walked, and looked over the landscape stretching to the horizon. This has stirred up memories that had been dormant for a few years. It's very beautiful. It's still every bit as beautiful, the snow is still just as white. We have finally arrived and we're now calling you from the tent, and it's very windy outside, but it doesn't matter, we're happy. We're here.
ONWARD TO MOUNT VINSON.
Until we talk again. I hope to talk to you again as soon as possible.
30.11.01 / 5:35 pm, Chile, 3:35 pm, Montreal
We left Patriot Hills on board the DC-3 for a 50-minute flight along the mountain range. The scenery was magnificent, quite outstanding; we got the impression that the mountains were rising out of Antarctica's great polar ice cap. We saw cliffs, ridges, snow-covered mountains as well as very black, very dark, rock faces. The DC-3 landed on the large Branscomb Glacier, with all our equipment and gear. This was the first flight this year. There had been an overflight to check out the crevasses. Once we had landed, we saw that a Cessna was also there and we got in the Cessna for a five-minute flight to avoid the large crevasses in our path from the Branscomb Glacier to the Mount Vinson base camp. All it took was five minutes. We landed on a glacier, which gives the Cessna a better chance of slowing down quickly or taking off again quickly. On landing, it was calm, the wind was no longer blowing, but it was fairly cold. We immediately set up camp.
We could see the summit-it is very beautiful and impressive. All around us, there are many other summits, including the summit of Mount Shinn, which is just on the other side separating these two mountains, Mount Vinson and Mount Shinn.
The Base Camp
The tents are now set up and tomorrow morning, we will prepare to depart for camp I. As we set out, not very far from the camp, there are some crevasses of about 150 metres. We must assess the terrain to reach camp I; it should take us about six to eight hours to get to camp I tomorrow.
Now we are even more on our own; we are using sleds to carry our load as far as camp II: food, fuel, tents and all our climbing gear. At camp II, we will leave the sleds behind because the slope is much too steep: we must climb this glacier to reach camp III. Therefore, we will leave camp II with less equipment and many fewer supplies to reach camp III quickly and make an attempt to reach the summit. If however the weather does not cooperate, we will return to camp II. It is part of our strategy to use camp II as an advance base camp where we have a little more equipment. This is why we are going to use plastic sleds that we will pull behind us. These sleds are just like the ones children use for sliding. We will load our gear onto these plastic sleds and we will also have our rucksacks; this will enable us to carry more of our gear.
We are rather limited with these sleds and when it becomes too steep, we can no longer use them at all. From here, the glacier rises 1,000 metres up to camp II, on a fairly gentle incline, which means we can pull the plastic sleds behind us. But after that, it becomes much steeper: we have to use spikes and ropes and it becomes impossible to pull the sleds.
When we talk about the base camp, perhaps some people who are not familiar with mountain climbing think that we arrive at a place where huts are already set up. What we call the base camp is the starting point of the expedition, in other words it is a good location, especially in relation to the mountain, to set up camp. For example, we determined this year that we could set up camp roughly in this location, so a Cessna flew over the location once or twice and determined that there are not too many crevasses, so we could set up camp in this place. However, this changes from year to year, since the crevasse field shifts and can expand or contract. Slopes are created gradually, just a little more every year, but it doesn't change a great deal one year to the next. But it is always windy, with great gusts of wind.
So what we call the base camp is often the first camp we set up and sometimes we leave things there. It is our starting point, to which we also return. Setting up the base camp takes a great deal of time, because if the weather turns bad, we may stay there for several days, even several weeks. We don't want to do this, but we choose the location very carefully just in case. It is not a temporary camp like the other camps.
So, this is a little bit of our strategy; I hope to be able to send you another message tomorrow.
01.12.01 / 20 H 00, Chile, 18 H 00, Montréal
We left this afternoon at 2:00 pm because we were waiting for the sun at the base camp. The base camp is located at an altitude of 2,280 (nearly 3,000) metres. We left when it was at its warmest because it is already very, very cold, especially at night and when the sun is behind or hidden by a mountain. Luck was on our side and we advanced for 4 hours and 20 minutes and we arrived at camp I, where we decided to set up camp. We have just passed an area of crevasses, then an area of seracs. We then found a place we thought safe and we set up our tent there. We are at an altitude of approximately 2,500 metres (2,917) according to our altimeter.
When Nathalie talks about seracs falling, these are blocks of ice from glaciers that are very strained and trigger large blocks of ice that can fall at any time. When Nathalie talks about our punkas, she is referring to the small sleds we pull. They are about 180 centimetres long and are like the plastic sleds used by children. We put a lot of our gear on them and in our rucksacks and then we move forward like that tied together. In other words, the climbers are tied together by a rope approximately every 5 to 10 metres, so if a climber falls into a crevasse or the snow collapses under our feet, one or two climbers can hold on to him. We continue on this glacier that rises steadily, but there are some sections with very deep crevasses. We always move tied together with rope.
The weather was extremely beautiful today. It was cold, but there were no clouds. However, in the late afternoon, around 5:00 pm, the clouds moved in, and in Antarctica, under the midnight sun, when the sun is behind clouds or you are in the shade or another mountain is blocking the sun, the temperature falls dramatically. It is, of course, very, very cold; the snow is very dry and it can get extremely cold. So, we are hoping the fine weather will return so we can continue.
So this is what awaits us. Our tent is up. We cook using a small stove. We melt snow and we often eat dehydrated or freeze-dried meals. It cooks very quickly and is also extremely light and non-perishable, of course. In any case, with this cold, nothing is perishable-except us.
02.12.01 / 9:00 pm, Chile, 7:00 pm, Montreal
Here we are at camp II at an altitude of 2,935 metres and we wanted to go a little further today. This is how the day unfolded.
We left when the sun reached the mountain sides. We still have our sleds, our full load. We crossed a large glacial field with quite a few crevasses. We still had to be tied together. Then there were quite a few gentle slopes, not too steep, that took us to a much steeper place where the mountains are much closer together and you have to go through much narrower passages, with more crevasses and it is a little steeper. At an altitude of 3,000 metres, we turned toward the very steep glacier that takes us to camp III, which is called an ice fall. When we turned toward this narrow valley where this glacier rose up, there were terrible, extremely strong gusts of wind that almost stopped us from moving on. We advanced very slowly, with a few small chilblains on our faces, but nothing serious. We reached an altitude of approximately 3,125 metres and we absolutely had to return to 3,050 metres. Once at this level, we had to set up camp III, but it was impossible because of the gusts of wind and snow. So, we had to turn back, retrace our steps and go down a little further. We left this very narrow corridor between the mountains to find shelter at an altitude of 2,935 metres.
A storm came up and gusts were shaking the tent quite violently a few minutes ago. The good weather we had yesterday appears to be over. From the rocky ridges above come howling sounds-Antarctica is speaking loudly to us once again.
So tomorrow, we will watch what the weather is like. If the storm is still raging, we have no choice but to stay here. There is nothing to be gained from going higher. It would be too dangerous to take on this ice fall, since it is a very steep slope that will take us 600-700 metres higher than camp III. It would be very dangerous to do this in a storm.
Bye. Until next time.
We are still at camp II; yesterday, we attempted to go a little further and we reached about 3,025 metres. We had to retrace our steps and find shelter because of very strong gusts of wind. So, we found shelter, but it was not for very long because a few hours later, the wind reached the camp, just before we were in shelter.
Gusts of wind raged all night. There is now a terrible storm with extremely strong winds, perhaps at speeds of 80 to 100 kilometres an hour. These very strong winds move a great deal of snow around. Visibility is down to around five metres. It would be dangerous to venture outside. It is just impossible. So, we have stayed in the camp. We have gone outside a few times to see if the weather is going to improve. But it does not appear to be getting any better in the immediate future. The wind and the gusts are awful. All our gear is under the tent so it is well protected. The wind is moving the snow around and we have snow drifts.
At the moment, we are still at 2,945 metres. We are still waiting for the good weather to return. The wind has now been blowing extremely hard for 24 hours.
This morning, the weather did not improve; in fact, it got worse. Since visibility is down to 5 to 10 metres, it impossible for us to move on because there are crevasses all around us. Also it is so cold that it is dangerous to continue on. So, we have stayed put. We have used this opportunity to make a sort of inventory of all our gear and especially to ensure that the tent remains solidly anchored and that all our gear inside the tent is firmly secured so nothing can blow away in the storm.
04.12.01 / 9:00 pm, Chile, 7:00 pm, Montreal
We are now at the base camp. Yes, the base camp at an altitude of 2,160 metres. This morning when we were at an altitude of 2,945 metres at camp II, the storm had raged all night with violent winds. It was getting steadily worse. The tent held well. This new Ureka tent is extraordinary-there is no other word for it. It withstood the wind with gusts that were getting ever stronger, and this morning the storm became threatening-and I mean really threatening: we had difficulty standing up outside the tent. The gusts were enormous, so we decided to retrace our steps, go back, climb back down to where we are now, at the base camp, to find shelter. The gusts were unbelievably strong (we estimate them to be easily around 80 knots) and the winds more than 145 kilometres an hour. I can tell you I have lived through some wind storms in my life, during my various expeditions, but I think this one beats all records. Visibility was at zero and sometimes the wind lifted us off the ground. It was all rather UNBELIEVABLE.
We have neither broken nor lost any of our gear. Nothing has blown away in the wind. We set about constructing a wall of snow, making a shelter; we left a lot of gear up there that we will find useful above camp II, for example, food, fuel, and a stove. We then climbed down with just our rucksacks with the bare necessities to reach the base camp, to return and bring back down everything we had carried up. However, here, there is no wind, none at all. But as the crow flies, we are maybe just four or five kilometres from where we were. There is absolutely no wind. Visibility was zero higher up: we could see absolutely nothing. However, here, we are in a mass of clouds, visibility is also poor, but there is no wind. So, for the moment, we are trying to stay here until it improves higher up so we can climb back up once again, retrieve our store, our cache, so to speak, find all our gear again, re-erect our tent up there at camp II and continue the climb. Of course, all this delays our attempt to reach the summit by at least a few days.
So, these violent winds forced us to climb back down today. It became threatening and there was a great risk of hypothermia with the windchill factor. I do not know how cold it was on our faces, but the frostbite appeared almost immediately on the end of our noses and especially on exposed skin.
So that's all for now. Until next time.
The weather was excellent today, so we left the base camp.
We found our cached gear at 1:45 pm and then we used our sleds again. We loaded as much as we could on them and climbed to camp II, just at the foot of the icefall at an altitude of 3,120 metres.
So, we are now at 3,120 metres. We reached this point at 2:45 pm-it was a very quick climb. We are pulling very heavy loads.
We are very pleased. There is no wind, but it is fairly cold and a few snowflakes are coming down (it has snowed a little). But here, at our camp, it is quite extraordinary. We are at the foot of the icefall. It is like a large frozen waterfall. At the bottom of the icefall, there are large pieces of ice that have broken off; one of them is called a serac. This is a huge piece of ice that has broken off the icefall and is about as high as a three-story building. This protects us from the winds that come down from the glacier. As you know, in the mountains, the winds blow down; they do not climb to the top of the glacier. These winds are cooled by the ice and the air becomes colder and heavier when it comes down from the glacier. So, we are hidden behind this huge piece of ice, which is perfectly blue. It is solid and does not lean over toward the tent-it is solidly anchored. It may have been here for years, perhaps 10 or 15 years, since here it will never melt. I can tell you that it will never melt because we are nearly in the middle of summer in the Antarctic and it is still very cold, I can assure you. So, we are using this huge serac (ice block) as a shelter and our tents have been set up (very close together) very close to it.
Tomorrow, we will take our backpacks (we will leave the sleds because the slope is too steep). We will leave the sleds here and take the backpacks, which will be very heavy and full of crampons, spikes and ropes. We will climb this icefall, which is 600 metres high. It is a wall of ice, very steep with as much as a 50-degree slope. It is about as high as Mont Tremblant or Mont Sainte-Anne, approximately a 600-metre climb to reach camp III at an altitude of 3,700 metres tomorrow evening, if the weather permits, of course. So, that is our agenda for tomorrow.
If communications are still good, I would like to add, not as a test but as a sort of idea, that people often think that those who go off on expeditions do not like routine, they want to escape the cities or want to leave regular activities behind. We often give the impression that we do not like routine, that it is not a good thing, but on expeditions, the success of an expedition often depends on the quality of the routine established.
Nathalie and I have known each other for a very long time, through many expeditions, and we do not even need to talk to one another when we are setting up camp. I take care of all the outside tasks, such as anchoring the tent, putting down the bags, the spikes, getting everything out of the backpacks and all I do is throw all this inside the tent through the door and everything is automatically arranged inside. The sleeping bags, thermal mattresses, electronic equipment, telephone connectors and chargers, notebooks, items to be dried and food are all where they should be. Everything is done automatically and safely. It happens just like that. It works very well because we both finish at the same time. We must not break this routine: we must not change it so that I do her jobs tomorrow. That's when we're likely to forget something.
07.12.01 / 7:00 pm, Chile, 5:00 pm, Montreal
Early in the afternoon, we were still in shadow at the base, where it was extremely cold, and we wanted to take advantage of the sun to climb this ice fall. The change in altitude is about 700 metres, and the slope is very steep in places. There are quite a few crevasses, most blocked with seracs, huge blocks of ice that sometimes tumble down the slope as the glacier moves, or remain perched in balance. So we have to take our time and keep a sharp watch.
Today I was quite distracted and didn't know which way to look. As we climbed higher we got a beautiful view of the horizon. We could see mountains, some of the largest glacial expanses on our planet, ice stretching away to the horizon, steep cliffs, and blue crevasses. Although this is a dangerous landscape, it is still quite beautiful. These seracs come in every shape and some are as large as a four, five or even eight-story building. We walk along them, over them, around them, we take shelter in their lee as we sip hot tea. So I'm very distracted since we can't walk on the line, we have to look far ahead, stop, take a photograph, but it was so beautiful I didn't know which way to look, it was so amazing. Here at camp III, we're on a col, a vast plateau between Mount Vinson and Mount Shinn, which is a little lower than Mount Vinson.
The weather is very cold. The least wind instantly chills us. Altitude is starting to be a factor, we're a little short of breath at 3,870 metres and we carried very heavy loads from camp II to camp III, and as planned, we left the sleds we used to bring up all our equipment at camp II. The plan to get here could actually be called a bit of a climb. I know this is a rather military term, but that's what it means to put on a backpack with only the bare necessities, so we can carry everything, which is still a very heavy load since we must carry our food in case a storm sets in, so we can stay here for several days: fuel, stoves, sleeping bags, clothing, the tent, climbing ropes, crampons, all our technological equipment, clothing, everything we need to be able to reach the summit and thus survive, food, a little repair kit, a notebook, everything counts, every gram counts at this altitude, in this cold.
So we have to think very carefully, bring as little as possible, but enough to be able to survive a bad storm.
Now for tomorrow, we're keeping our fingers crossed that there won't be any wind, very little wind, because this will be the day we push on to the summit. We'll make our drive for the summit tomorrow.
We expect to take eight to ten hours to reach the top and return. We have to climb about 1,000 metres, which is very long. There is a very narrow crest at the end. The summit of Mount Vinson is not very hard: an initial steep slope with crevasses at the start, and of course there is the bitter cold. So we're preparing ourselves. If all goes well, this will be our last night before we try for the summit. We have to eat well, get a good night's sleep so we can make it to the summit of Mount Vinson tomorrow. We still don't know what time we'll set out. It all depends on how well we sleep tonight.
08.12.01 / 11:22 pm, Chile, 9:00 pm, Montreal
There will be no push for the top today - that's the news.
The wind picked up, began to blow around two in the morning, with gusts of about 30 knots or 50 kilometres an hour. It's not very cold because the skies are cloudy, but it's still cold enough. There are some good gusts of wind, but nothing to compare with the other storm, yet still strong enough to keep us pinned down, because there is zero visibility. It would be very dangerous to venture out for the summit. We can't see a thing, and to be perfectly honest, we have absolutely no inclination to try for the summit, not just because of the danger, but because we'd like to be able to see something from the summit, and right now, we would see nothing.
Here, all the tents (there aren't that many), four, gathered here at camp III, tethered to each other by a rope so they stay in place, surrounded by blocks of snow to shelter them from the gusts of wind. In one tent is an American team headed by Jason Edwards, who climbed Everest last spring, and in another, the Romanian climber Konstantin Lapatufu, who also conquered Everest a few years ago.
So there are three of us. Between gusts, we can share a few tales about the world's highest peak. But while we wait, we're again confined to our tent, going through the sweeping, defrosting, shovelling cycle, checking everything to make sure nothing is carried off by the wind. There will be no try today unless there is a miraculous change in the weather, the clouds clear out and the wind dies down. We could then leave very late today or even during the night, but this would be very surprising.
We're still in good spirits. This is just part of mountain climbing. The mountain dictates its own timeframe. While some climbs may seem fairly simple and then become very complicated due to weather conditions, here we must ration our supplies a little, pay attention to our food, since we climbed to camp III with three or four days of food, knowing that it takes one day to climb to the summit and return.
Same day / 1:33 pm, Chile, 3:33 pm, Montreal
The weather has not improved, the wind continues to gust around 50 kilometres an hour. There is zero visibility, or about 10 to 20 metres at most. There is very fine blowing snow and the temperature must be about 25 or 30 degrees below zero. Nothing is suitable. We can't see. There isn't even a glimpse of blue sky. We have no indication of whether the weather will break. We are preparing to stay here for perhaps a day or two. We're telling ourselves that if this disturbance is similar to the previous one, it will last a few days. Oddly enough, even in the midst of this storm, I don't know, but I feel very lucky just to be here in Antarctica, on this beautiful continent, where the only colour is the rocks and the blue sky.
So today, we're still pinned down by the storm. It raged wildly all night and has not let up today. We're still at camp III. We obviously haven't moved. The tent was buried under snow. Bernard went out a little earlier this morning to dig us out. He'll give you all the details.
I wanted to talk to you a little about our food, what we're eating. When we're in the tent, because we climbed up the glacier, we had to pay attention to the weight we were carrying. So we brought a little less food than we normally would. We certainly did not plan on staying here and we have no idea how many days we'll have to weather the storm. So we have to pay very careful attention. We already started cutting back yesterday, on fuel and food. So I'll tell you a little about it.
In the morning, Bernard starts with a little packet of oatmeal. Normally he would take two, but he's now down to one. A teaspoon. So it's very, very little. I have a hot chocolate and a few spoonfuls of granola. During the day, we hold off, letting the time pass. Normally during the day, we eat dried fruit, things like that, a small portion.
In the evening, we make soup with rice and pasta. So this saves a little fuel by doing everything at the same time.
So we're always a little peckish. It's no big deal, but we're really looking forward to a gourmet dinner in Montreal.
Well, we're still stuck in the storm at camp III, at 3,870 metres. A real storm, high winds, as strong as the other storm we weathered in the middle of last week. So the winds are really howling. No chance to make any headway. Zero visibility. Lots of snow, incredibly fine snow that piles up in huge drifts outside. We can hardly see the next tent just two metres away from our own. The snow has drifted up more than a mitre and a half high. It's quite impressive, and this very fine snow also piles up very surreptitiously (if I can use that word) and literally crushes the tent. So obviously, someone must go out to shovel. But going out means that as soon as we open the flap, gusts hurl a lot of snow into the tent. So someone has to go out. We can't see a thing, even with ski goggles. There are a lot of gusts, our faces freeze instantly, and we have to shovel. Shovel carefully, to avoid damaging the tent. We also have to shovel out the things we have left outside, because our small tent in the high mountains is quite cramped. There are two vestibules in the tent, two little parts that are partly outside the tent, and one in front is used as the kitchen, with the stove, bowls, pasta, thermos, etc. We have to weave our way through all this, and at the other end of the tent, that vestibule is used for storing our backpacks, crampons, various equipment we don't need in the tent. So when we shovel, there are things around the outside of the tent, and we have to be very careful not to break them. And as soon as we shovel them out, they drift in again. But in fact, it keeps us active, keeps our spirits up, and gives something to do.
The rest of the time, if we can, we take a few photos and go through the whole sweeping routine we described, which we described earlier. We have brought a brush, which is vital. We're the only ones here with a brush so everyone borrows it from us. We could actually rent it out to help cover the cost of our airfare, given that our tickets are no longer valid after December 7. These were the return tickets we used to come to South America, to Punta Arenas. So we'll have to buy another airline ticket. So I think that renting our brush would be a good idea.
In fact, there is a wonderful spirit of cooperation among all the climbers during times like this, in raging storms. There is a lot of understanding, even though we don't run into each other much outside, but everyone has his own routine, his own pace, and everyone makes the rounds of the tents to check that everything is fine.
In the evening, or when we settle down to sleep, our sleeping bag, unlike what you might think, is not warm. We have to warm it up ourselves. So when we crawl into our bag, it's as cold as everything else. If the temperature is -30 degrees, the sleeping bag is also -30 degrees. And it takes a long time to bring it up to our body temperature. We can say that it takes about an hour before we're really comfortable in our sleeping bag. After about an hour, I open the zipper at the foot of my bag about 30 centimetres and do the same with Nathalie's sleeping bag, so I can slip my feet into her bag, next to hers, in our socks, so I can warm up her feet. For some reason I have warmer feet than her, so that's how we sleep in Antarctica, dreaming of blue skies and mountain tops.
HURRAY! HURRAY! HURRAY! WE'VE REACHED THE TOP! WE'VE DONE IT…
WE'RE STANDING ON THE TOP OF MOUNT VINSON!
(Nathalie): WE'RE SO OVERWHELMED. BERNARD HAS JUST COMPLETED HIS WORLD TOUR. IT'S A TRULY AMAZING MOMENT.
(Bernard): We reached the summit at 2 :15 pm Chile, 12 :15 pm Montreal. We're still here and it is bitterly cold, with a strong wind. There was a brief break in the weather that allowed us to get here. We left this morning at 7 :45 local time. The climb went very quickly. There was a very dangerous crest, with many rocks and ice, but we made it to the top. Now we're just taking in the view. You should see this. It's Antarctica.
I can't find the words to tell you how happy I am, I'm so overwhelmed at completing this world tour. I have dreamed of this for so long and invested so very much energy and now I'VE FINALLY DONE IT! I have a truly astounding view over the mountains of Antarctica. I have months' worth of memories of the South Pole. It was cold like this, with a bright sun. IT'S ABSOLUTELY AMAZING.
Here now with Nathalie, we're both sharing a very great moment of pride and happiness. There will always be people who, from time to time, climb mountains to reach the summit. Now they'll come here like us, with frozen hands and feet, out of breath. But once they can see the horizon, they will touch the sky, this beautiful blue sky, and above all, they will be able to feel what we are feeling today, BEING FREE!
COME ON NOW, NATHALIE, IT'S TIME TO GO HOME!
Yes, we are at Patriot Hills. We could not send a report yesterday-it was just impossible.
When we left camp III yesterday, we first climbed down the very steep, dangerous part of the glacier with the risk of slipping, snow and avalanche. We had an extremely heavy load to carry. We reached camp II and reclaimed all the things that we had left there. We loaded everything onto our small sleds and we climbed down the entire Branscomb Glacier to reach the base camp where the weather was very good. It was a beautiful day, perhaps the best day we've had since the start of the expedition. We made radio contact and a plane was able to come for us immediately. So, we stayed only a short time at the base camp, a few hours, just enough time to get everything ready. The flight in the extremely small plane, a Cessna 185, was quickly over; it took us back to Patriot Hills. We arrived here last night and we made the most of the place, the activities and we ate sitting on a chair. Then this morning, Wednesday at 9:45 am Montreal, we were told that the Iyushin-76, the Russian plane, was on its way; it had left Chile this morning from Punta Arenas for Antarctica. If the weather does not deteriorate, it should be landing here in a few hours and this evening we should be in Punta Arenas, Chile.
So there we are! We are pleased. Everything is drawing to a close quickly; we had to have a great deal of patience when we were climbing up the mountain, but the return seems to be going very well. We are very lucky with the weather-planes can fly, there is not a lot of turbulence or violent winds. It is currently very nice at Patriot Hills; it is gorgeous weather. It is cold but very nice, just a light breeze along the ground; the Russian plane can land without a problem and return. So, these are our last great breaths of the air here and our last steps on this wonderful white snow of Antarctica; so here we are preparing for our return.
Our arrival in Montreal corresponds with the first snowfall. Our excitement of being home overcomes the accumulated fatigue and our sensitive fingers and face, dried out by the sun and cold.
Antarctica will be carved in our minds…forever.
Thank you for your interest in our expedition to Mount Vinson,