‘True Patriot Love Scotiabank Expedition: Antarctica’ update on the blog

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Where do I start? Besides feeling absolutely exhausted, I can confidently say that we are all extremely excited to be here, in Antarctica! The feeling is definitely surreal. It only started to feel ‘real’ once we were all packed and ready to board the plane in Punta Arenas, Chile. Our initial travel day to Antarctica (January 9th) was a particularly long day, going from Punta Arenas, to Union Glacier in Antarctica, and then within a couple of hours, being called to board our next plane to Base Camp at Vinson Massif, where the team is located now.
We started our morning on January 9th, bright and early, in the Dreams Hotel in Punta Arenas, most of us up at 5:00am to have breakfast and be ready to go at 6:50am. The bus for the airport was picking us up at exactly 7:00am, so I wanted to be early. (The guides have really been stressing punctuality!)
It was when we were waiting at the airport that we started to really feel the nerves and ‘butterflies’ of the adventure that was ahead of us. We were waiting to be called for our flight to Antarctica, in particular, we were waiting for the pilot to accept the weather conditions prior to taking off. There were a few rumblings from the guides, and other participants, of poor weather conditions ahead, so our fingers were crossed so that we were able to take off in good time. The flight to Antarctica is 4.5 hours from Punta Arenas. I learned that once the plane lands in Antarctica, they are on the ground for a maximum of 2 hours before taking off back to Chile, as the pilot requires a least a 11-12-hour window of good weather to set off for the uninhabited continent.
Withing an hour of being at the airport, we were called to board the ‘Russian Ilyushin’. NOW THIS IS REAL.
The flight to Union Glacier (Antarctica) was smooth. It was when we landed on the blue ice runway at Union Glacier that it hit me – we were in ANTARCTICA! We took some time to enjoy the excitement of being on this new continent and taking photos of the incredible new terrain we were experiencing. We were lucky to experience a comfortable -8°C upon landing, with the sun shining bright in the sky. From here on in, it’s 24 hours of sunlight per day!
Large trucks then shuttled us over to Union Glacier camp. We enjoyed a wonderful lunch in their permanent tent, relaxed in another tent with charging capabilities for our cameras, and familiarized ourselves with the environment. We even played a game of volleyball in the snow! For me, it felt a lot like arriving at an Olympic Village – a self-contained community of like-minded people. The excitement was palpable!
One thing that everyone has had to adjust to is that every move we make is dependent on the weather. If the weather is clear, we are likely to move quickly and then keep on moving until weather or exhaustion prohibits us from continuing! Within a few hours of landing at Union Glacier, we were called to prepare for our next flight to Vinson base camp. For the flight from Union Glacier to Vinson Massif, we were split into two groups and flown over to a glacier next to Vinson base camp in old refurbished DC3’s. The flight was about 35 minutes over the impressive peaks of Ellsworth mountain range.
The glacier we landed on was literally in the middle of nowhere – not a person or a building in site. From here, small twin otter planes shuttled the entire group over to Vinson Base Camp. This is it…we have arrived at our final destination! No turning back now.
I was in the first group that arrived at 7:00pm. Luckily, the weather was calm, without the added challenge of the wind, and approximately -15 °C. We immediately began setting up our personal tents and other communal requirements, such as wind walls and the dome tent. The other half of the group arrived around 9:30pm, and we continued to assist in the camp set-up until it was complete.
This morning, we relaxed around camp and got organized for our first climb. We got into our rope groups, called ‘pods’, and did a 2.5-hour trek to what is called ‘Half Camp’. One thing we learned in training is that you should always sleep at a lower altitude than you have climbed that day, so this was great opportunity for acclimatization. We dropped a load of supplies that we would need later in the climb (food, gear, etc.), and went back to base camp to relax. Away from the luxuries of the meal tent at Union Glacier, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that we would have mountain burgers for dinner! Who knew that you could BBQ for 32 people at -15 °c in Antarctica? We were thrilled to have the opportunity to relax and enjoy a meal with our teammates before turning in for the night.
So far, this expedition has been an absolutely incredible adventure. The team are a wonderful group of people, who all look out for one another. We all have our worries and fears (like how are we going to live in this extreme cold???), but in the end, we are all in this journey together. I cannot wait to see what the next week will bring!