We finally got all our gear from customs on Monday and have spent the last three days packing. The bulk of the effort was dividing all the food rations into day bags, sixty in all. We went out for dinner with Mike and Ronny on Monday night. Mike is head honcho of ALE and Ronny was our Kite and Sail Ski instructor in Finsen, Norway, but works for ALE during the Antarctic Summer season. ALE run the Patriot Hills outfit and are our logistical partners in our attempt on the South Pole and beyond.
This morning we met the other expedition teams who will be either attempting the pole or summiting Mt Vinson. We all hooked up for an ALE briefing about the Ilyushin plane, an overview of the Patriot Hills operation and an interesting presentation by the base’s medical team. Most of the presentation was centered on Frost Bite and how to avoid it, some of the slide show pictures were pretty horrific. It was during this presentation that I came across the title for this blog entry…its basically frost bite of the middle leg and something you really don’t want. Needless to say we were all a little apprehensive afterwards, especially the men.
Our gear was picked up this evening and taken to the Airport. From 6:20am tomorrow we’ll officialy be on standby which means we could receive a telephone call giving us a minimum of 40 minutes notice to get ready to fly out.
The Ilyushin was scheduled to fly some of the base staff down this morning. As it proceeded down the runway one of the brakes jammed causing the wheels to smoke like crazy. The take off was quickly aborted whilst the fire crew sped over to the plane to hose the tyres down. This might have a knock on effect and delay us for a day.
For those interested, when it does eventually reach Antarctica it will land on a blue ice runway. As using wheel brakes on ice is generally not a good idea the pilots get the beast to stop by stalling the engines. We’ve been told to expect a lot of noise when this happens and not to be too concerned…obviously I’m really looking forward to that….not!
We’ll be wearing full gear when we walk down the cargo ramp at the back of the plane as we have to prepared for whatever conditions greet us. Its very cold at this time of year, summer hasn’t really taken hold yet, it’s also been blowing quite a strong wind there these last few days which could make the landing a little more interesting.
Oh, and speaking of the landing, sometimes the pilots have difficulty locating the blue ice runway, which is not surprising really if you think about, being as its completely surrounded by miles and miles of, well, ice! So at about 15KM out a couple of the base crew stand at the beginning of the runway and use two hand held mirrors to reflect sunlight up at the plane. The pilots then use these short flashes to guide the plane down….pretty advanced stuff huh?!
So this is it then, this is finally it. I’m full of a myriad of emotions and feelings at the moment, apprehension, fear, relief, fatigue and loads of excitement. Traversing South Georgia and crossing Greenland in pretty awful conditions has definitely helped boost the confidence, but I would be very foolish to think this is just the same thing but longer. Antarctica is the most hostile place in the world and we will be at its mercy for two or more months. Things can and do happen, I only hope I can do my best to reach the pole, achieve my dream, and return intact with all my fingers and toes still attached.