Vinson 3 of 7: Base Camp to Low Camp

In 1. Vinson, Antarctica, Project 7in4by Steve

What Time Is It?

The first thing to get use to down here in Antarctica (or maybe the second, after the cold) is the sun. At this time of year it doesn’t set, it just does circles above your head. With 24hr daylight it really doesn’t matter what time zone you work off. All time zones merge at the South Pole so you can pick anything. Although we are working off the same time zone as Chile. Saves adjusting our watches.

It is weird going to bed when it is still bright daylight although it is important to try and keep to a normal sleep pattern. I’ve got some eye shades which block out most of the light and help enormously.

On most mountains when climbing you generally set off early in the morning but not down here. Here we will be adjusting our hours of movement based on the position of the sun. Lower down where we are at the moment the temperatures are around -20degC. Higher up it is pushing below -30degC. And that’s without wind chill. -20degC is actually quite comfortable, almost warm, providing you have full sun. The radiant heat from the sun both directly and reflecting off all the surrounding snow makes it feel quite warm. A thermometer will still tell you it’s -20degC but it feels much warmer. The second you lose the sun however it’s a different story, you suddenly feel the true effects of the subzero temperatures.

At Vinson Base Camp, while the sun never sets at this time of year, it does dip behind the Vinson Massif for a few hours from about 5am to 7am. You can really feel the temperature drop, making it a good time to stay wrapped up in your sleeping bag. At the higher camps the hours of sunlight vary depending on shade cast by surrounding mountains so we’ll be trying to set out at times when we can climb with full sun.

A Gentle Stroll Along the Branscomb Glacier

Wednesday we just relaxed in Vinson Base Camp going through gear and doing a few skills refreshers. Yesterday we walked from Base Camp to Low Camp.

The route from Base Camp to Low Camp is up along the steady inclining Branscomb Glacier, starting out East then turning North. For safety while travelling on the glacier, mainly to protect against hidden crevasses, we roped up together. There’s eight in our group, six clients and two guides, so we split into two teams of four. Four on each rope spaced equidistant about 8m apart. The theory being if one person goes into a crevasse the others can self-arrest, catch them and pull them back out. Good in theory, I wouldn’t want to test it.

The walk from Base Camp to Low Camp yesterday took about 5hrs sticking together as a team but could easily be done in well under half that time. Going slowly was ok as it was sunny and still. I was able to stay warm despite the slow, stop-start pace. I’m concerned that as we progress higher, or if there is a bit of wind/cloud, I’ll start to suffer as I struggle to maintain body heat going so slowly.

Today was another rest day, this time in Low Camp. And similar to Base Camp, because we are camped on a glacier we cannot go outside the perimeter of camp for crevasse risk, so can’t even go for a walk. I feel trapped. I want to exercise, I want to keep training, but I can’t. I know resting as you progress in altitude is beneficial for acclimatisation but I struggle with it. Although I am carrying a few niggling injuries from months of consistent training so maybe a bit of rest isn’t a bad thing. It’s funny, I have to go to the end of the world and sit confined on a glacier in -20degC temps to force myself to rest. As you may have picked up by now, I don’t believe in rest.

“Go with the decision that will make for a great story”.


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