Map Of Antarctic

Baby, It’s Cold Out There

Next morning I wake up crouched way inside the sleeping bag, feeling very hot. I remember about the two pairs of socks and reach down to remove them. To my surprise my feet are bare. I must have taken them off in my sleep, unless I’d had a visitor! I re-dress hurriedly and make a quick dash over to the latrines. I hope to be the first into the cook tent but of course Fran is before me. She has already prepared our provisions for the journey to the mountains and staying out overnight in our tents.

Fran seems as excited as I do and I learn this is actually her first chance to leave the camp. I am surprised to hear that her cooking duties are so involving and they require her to be around most of each day and evening to prepare the meals. Although there are two cooks they are really always both needed, especially when there is a full contingent of explorers and travellers. It’s as fortunate for her as for me that this time there are only the four of us making use of these excellent facilities. We are certainly getting the red carpet treatment. Her colleague is happy to double up in these circumstances and therefore Fran can take off most of the day and stay overnight with us. She seems to think that this opportunity has happened because of me and Ian and therefore she always tries to give me more. It’s hard to resist and I need to exercise some double helpings away.

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A 9.30 a.m. briefing on our proposed trip is organised in the Library tent, which also doubles up as a ‘conference room for any kind of special meeting or discussion. I am chuffed to find the US version of my book, Zen In The Art Of Climbing Mountains on one of the shelves. It’s looking a bit worse for wear, as it’s done the rounds and I promise to send out another one. Steve explains our planned route and what we will need to take with us. Principally our sleeping bags and two tents; the two women in one and three men in the other. Also a stove, fuel, general and emergency rations and the essential shovel and flares just in case. As on expeditions in the Arctic you always need things ‘just in case’. The weather out here is like the most ferocious bear imaginable. Hopefully it will keep its distance but if it decides to roar and go for you, better be prepared for the long haul. Steve explains that a long haul here can mean several days or even weeks. Fortunately, Jerczy hasn’t turned up for the briefing so I don’t have to try and laboriously explain everything. He should be able to pick up what is necessary from watching the rest of us. Fran still needs to help prepare lunch so we agree to set off immediately afterwards.

We have a few hours to spare, so Art Mortvedt and Kris Hopping, the second camp organiser, arrange to take Ian and myself to visit a crashed DC6 that came down some years back. We travel out on two ski-doos and head out into what appears to be no man’s land where everything looks the same to my untrained eyes. Fortunately Kris and Art have been this way several times so there is little chance of getting lost. Though if the winds come up suddenly, as they sometimes do, even they could quickly lose their bearings. However, they exude confidence so I place my trust in their judgement. We travel out for about 8 km and then we see it. It’s eerie to see the way the aircraft has been slowly but steadily buried under the snow and little is now visible, just the nose and the tail where it snapped off on impact. But it is a clear statement of the power of the region and the need to take care at all times.

The aircraft came down in 1991. It was intended to be part of the commemorative expedition of Norman Vaughan, the famed polar explorer, who is the last surviving member of Admiral Byrd’s 1928 expedition. The idea was to recreate one of his exploits in trekking through the ice fields with a team of huskies, as an homage to the fact that he was Admiral Byrd’s dog sledge chief. Vaughan wasn’t aboard this plane and fortunately no one was killed although the pilot and his one crew member were badly injured. The huskies mostly escaped and ran off into the wilderness and must have subsequently perished. This is an unsentimental place and it’s a question of survival, not necessarily of the fittest but of those who understand the grave dangers which must be faced and overcome on so many occasions. It seems there were heavy mists at the time with strong winds gusting, the pilot was trying to avoid coming down at the Patriot Hills camp and was forced on to the rocks. Mt. Vaughan was named by Admiral Byrd after Norman Vaughn who heroically re-climbed the mountain in 1993 at the age of 89. He continues to live with his wife in a one-room log cabin, isolated in Alaska.

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