Ski day on Union Glacier

We arrived two days ago and stepping off the plane we stepped onto probably the most beautiful scene I have ever witnessed. We landed on a glacier of blue ice going downhill and surrounding us in the distance on three sides were incredible mountains – it was a magnificent sight, truly breathtaking.

After being driven to the ALE camp in a Ford mini-van on tracks we realised that this is no small operation. The camp here at Union Glacier is more like the Hilton of Antarctica. At the moment it houses around 55 guests along with 30 staff, and whilst the facilities have been a far cry from what we are usually used to in the civilized world, considering our current locale they are truly first class. All the guests are here as a stop off point with a different ultimate purpose. There were several groups off to climb Mount Vinson, a group to fly to the emperor penguin colony for the day, another to fly to the pole for the day and us to ski the Last Degree. We are fed three superb hot meals a day, the temperature outside is a toasty -18 degrees C sunny and beautiful, and we have clean bathroom facilities to boot! But alas this will all no longer be the case starting tomorrow when we fly from our current location at 79 degrees South to our starting point for the last degree at 89 degrees South, the trip will be a four hour flight with one stop to refuel covering 660 miles. Temperature upon arrival, -41 degrees C and that will be a whole different ball game, it’s going to make our current location feel like Bermuda! Many simple everyday things that we have become accustomed to become difficult to impossible. Toothpaste freezes, a pee bottle (which is a must) left outside ones sleeping bag after being used freezes, the fog inside a foggy goggle freezes and can’t be unfrozen in the field and DO NOT TOUCH ANYTHING with exposed skin especially metal — yet one forgets what is metal, cameras are metal, so are ipods, tent zippers too, and so is your fly, so it’s a natural instinct when needing to pee while wearing a thick glove that can’t undo the zipper to take off a glove to unzip your fly, at – 40C that’s a frost bitten tip of thumb and forefinger. Down there all the rules of the game seem to change, and whilst we’ve gone over them all so many times one worries because they are so non instinctual and it’s so easy to revert back to instinct with only a slight lack of concentration. Basically down there everything freezes if left unattended and to prevent that you have to either carry it close to your body or sleep with it; I sleep with water, wet wipes, toothpaste, pee bottle, sun block, contact lenses, eye drops and more, the inside of my sleeping bag feels like a grocery bag and to say that I am petrified that any one of those accidentally leaks would be more than an understatement!

We were supposed to fly today on the Basler (a modified DC3) but that broke down, so half of our team had to fly down today with the smaller Twin Otter and the rest of us are flying tomorrow on the same plane.

(I’m sitting in the mess tent on my fifth attempt at finishing this dispatch with a PDA and stylus punching out one letter at a time, it’s 01:20 am and my team have all gone to sleep hours ago, the reason why progress has been so slow is because everytime someone walks in here they start up a conversation and I oblige, everyone is so friendly down here (except for the Chinese group but that’s probably only because they don’t speak English), all from different walks of life and different countries. I’m gonna call it a night but promise more tomorrow).

Haytham.

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3 Responses to Ski day on Union Glacier

  1. Merrill Dean says:

    Greetings Haytham,
    Sounds like you’re going to have a great adventure. Amr suggested I leave a comment as I’m in Scottsdale, AZ and it’s normally hot here on the desert which you certainly know about, but we had a freezing evening Monday, down to 27F :>) Not close to what you’re experiencing. I grew up in Minnesota and would walk to school in -30 F, with no wind chill factor…little breaths works. Have fun and say HI to Waleed, and your other pals…be safe and enjoy that unique beauty.
    All the best,
    Merrill

  2. Suresh Haridas says:

    Looking forward to reading more tomorrow !

  3. Stephen says:

    Hi Haytham, that is such an interesting read, just sitting here at my desk in Vietnam I feel pretty well privileged, pardon the expression but it must be a ‘man’s thing’ the ‘peeing episode’ at -40 is certainly going to be a talking point in years to come!

    Safe travels.
    Sincerely,
    Stephen.

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