Originally the Hercules was meant to arrive here well before 4 p.m. but it reaches 1 p.m. and it still hasn’t even taken off. That remains the position for the next two hours. It is looking more and more as if it won’t fly out today. We sit around drinking endless cups of tea and coffee, discussing possible scenarios when the news suddenly comes through that it has taken off and will land at 7 p.m. There will need to be a fast turnaround so it can take off again at 9 p.m. otherwise, because of the situation at Punta, it might not be able to leave until the next day.
I urge Ian to pack everything and bring it across so they can get his tent ready for the newcomers. After yet another slice of toast and more tea his huge frame ambles off to do just that. Duncan and Lorna come in to announce that Lorna is also to return with us. Her eyes are red rimmed and I don’t know whether it’s just because she is leaving Duncan or for another reason. I had expected she would stay on longer and perhaps she had as well.
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I know that when the Hercules arrives everyone will be very busy welcoming the new arrivals and sorting out their arrangements, so spend the next two hours saying goodbye and offering my thanks to all those who have made my stay so special and interesting and have been so helpful. I set out to look for Hans and Christian and find them, as ever, sunbathing. They don’t seem any browner than when they first arrived. I wish them good climbing and they beam back and seem to be unconcerned at how long it’s taking for them to get started. Then I seek out Max and perhaps it’s his way of saying something but he’s wearing the sweatshirt I bought him. He looks quite dashing in it. He’s with his girlfriend Ann, and I wish them lots of luck together especially when they return to New Zealand.
I know the kitchen will soon be working flat out, so next I spend some time with Fran and Ros to thank them for feeding me so well and being so supportive. Finally it’s time to thank Steve. He’s more than ‘quite a guy and I hope we will stay in touch and meet up, although he has itchy feet and is likely to spend most of his time abroad. When he’s back in England he lives in Cornwall and is a neighbour of David Cornwall, better known as John Le Carre, one of my favourite spy authors, my particular favourite is Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
We can hear the Hercules approaching and now it’s bang on time, 7 p.m. My luggage has already been taken out to the airstrip ready for immediate loading and I grab a lift on a ski-doo to see if I can help with unloading or anything else. It’s certainly a big crowd coming in and I’m pleased for Annie Kershaw. The airstrip looks chaotic with drums and containers and sledges everywhere and huge piles of baggage. However they have it down to a fine art and as soon as the Hercules disgorges all the people and the final loads, everyone swings into action and our smaller luggage is taken systematically on board. I counted 25 people coming off. Annie is actually with them and tells me she has just come back from South Africa where she is starting up another travel company. She will also set up camp out here at McMurdo Sound, the biggest Antarctic base after the South Pole. Annie is a very nice but rather feisty, petite Scotswoman who I understand rarely has time to come to inspect the camp. I can’t help but notice how everyone is very much on their toes when the boss is around.
I chat to some of the new arrivals and am able to give them a few pointers and explanations and tell them what a marvellous treat awaits them. They are so excited and I can enjoy their anticipation. It seems that most on this trip are going to attempt Vinson rather than try to get to the Pole and I feel I shouldn’t tell them about the difficulties Hans and Christian have had. A few ask me to take photographs of them with the Hercules but mostly they are anxious to get into camp and set off trekking across the ice. One woman crashes over but is quickly on her feet and sets off again. It looks as if half at least are women and it’s wonderful how climbing has become as equally interesting to women as men.