Mountaineering :: Trekking :: Ski touring

 

I arrived at Patriot Hills on 16th December 2009 to start my 6th season working in Antarctica. The pre season plan called for me to spend two months working at Mt Vinson, spending some time looking after the Base Camp and some time leading climbers on the mountain. However on arrival at Patriot Hills it became clear that there was an unexpected need for a guide to lead a 'Last Degree' ski trip to the South Pole. This was a project that I had led three times before and I was happy to accept this change of plan.

There were five people in the group, a married couple who had already been in Antarctica for a week plus 3 men who arrived on the same flight from Chile as myself. It took a day to organise the equipment and supplies for the group and then we were ready for a short 'practice' trip close to Patriot Hills. The couple had already made their own practice ski trip and chose to stay in camp at PH. Over the next two days the remaining four members of the group completed a 13 mile circuit around the 'Patriot Hills' from which the camp takes its name.

Unusually for this area there was almost no wind and conditions were very warm. On our return to camp we made a final selection of the supplies and equipment that we wished to take on our journey to the South Pole. On a trip like this enjoyment is inversely proportionate to the weight of the sleds being pulled. So it is important to leave unnecessary items behind and carry the correct amount of food and fuel.

On the afternoon of 20th Dec we flew in a Twin Otter aircraft to our 'drop off' point at 89° South, approximately 112km from the South Pole. We were very lucky with the weather and snow conditions during the journey. The temperatures were not as low as they had been on my previous trips and there was very little wind. In colder conditions when there is a strong wind there is a real risk of people suffering from frostbite. The snow surface was reasonably smooth with none of the wind sculpted rides known as sastrugi that can make travel difficult.

Two members of the party struggled with the altitude on the polar plateau and the weight of their sleds. We made slow progress for five days. On the sixth day an ALE aircraft collected these two people and flew them on to the South Pole before returning to Patriot Hills. We then increased our pace, skiing faster for more hours each day, and reached to South Pole in three and a half days.

We arrived at the South Pole around midday on 30th December and spent a few hours looking around the Pole markers and taking pictures. Several other ALE supported groups arrived at the South Pole over the next 24 hrs and it was interesting to meet teams who had completed the Berkner Island to South Pole ski trip as well as one team making an unsupported crossing of Antarctica via the South Pole. The staff of the USAP Scott-Amundsen South Pole Station gave us a guided tour of their facilities and explained some of the scientific research being undertaken there.

ALE operations are run from Chile all our teams in the field use Chilean time. The USAP is run from New Zealand and all their bases use NZ time that is 16 hours ahead of Chile. We found ourselves in the unusual position of experiencing New Year celebrations twice in the same day. At 08.00 Chile time on 31st December we joined staff of the South Pole station celebrating 'their' New Year. We hoped to be back in Patriot Hills for 'our' New Year but a delay to our flight meant that the clock struck midnight during our return journey. We opened the champagne
as the Twin Otter took off from the refuelling stop at Thiels (a windswept fuel dump half way between the South Pole and Patriot Hills).

The 'Welcome Back' New Year meal at Patriot Hills had been waiting on the table for several hours by the time we sat down to eat at 04.00. In 24 hour sunlight time takes on a different meaning and we were happy to start our third set of New Year celebrations at the best restaurant in Antarctica.

David Hamilton 12/2/2010


Daily Diary (distances in Nautical Miles)

Sun 20 Dec  
Drop Off flight from Patriot Hills
S 88.59.846  W85.34.855  
warm and sunny / no wind

Mon 21 Dec  
S 89.06.053 W87.05.982  
6 hrs travel  
6.3 nM distance  
conditions good / slight breeze

Tues 22 Dec
S 89.09.672  W88.11.050  
4 hrs travel  
3.76 nM distance
conditions good / no wind

Wed 23 Dec  
S 89.14.078  W 89.49.917  
4 hrs travel  
4.63 nM distance
conditions good / no wind

Thurs 24 Dec
Rest Day

Fri 25 Dec  
S 89.19.377  W 91.39.781  
5 hrs travel  
5.48nM distance
conditions good / no wind

Sat 26 Dec  
S 89.24.953  W 94.10.869  
5 hrs travel  
5.83 nM distance
conditions good / slightly colder / light breeze from behind

Sun 27 Dec  
S 89.34.695  W 100.21.800  
8 hrs travel  
10.31nM distance
conditions good / no wind

Mon 28 Dec
S 89.44.756  W 108.54.000  
8 hrs travel  
10.53 nM distance
conditions good / light breeze from behind

Tues 29 Dec  
S 89.54.698  W 130.04.633  
8 hrs travel  
10.53 nM distance
conditions a little colder with 5-10 kt wind from right side

Wed 30 Dec  
S 90.00.00  
5 hrs travel  
5.35 nM distance
conditions good / no wind

Thurs 31 Dec
Twin Otter flight to P Hills.

David Hamilton
High Adventure
67 Castle Road
Hartshill
Nuneaton
Warwickshire
CV10 0SG

Email:  david@highadventure.org.uk

Telephone:    From UK    02476 395422
From other countries     +44 2476 395422

Skype:  davidhamilton8848

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