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Date = 30/11/2017
Day 11 Expedition – Day 16 Antarctica
Location = Graves Nunatuks
Coordinates – 86 43.009’S, 141 25.328’W
Altitude = 2162m
Temperature = -28C
Wind speed / direction = 20 – 25 knt, gusting 30knt
Windchill = -38C
Distance travelled = 0km
Distance remaining = 1831 km
Stable high pressure. they said. Cold but sunny, they said. Warm in the tent, they said. Big kites with long lines, they said. 200km a day, they said… Or was it my research that led me to say all that??
I always knew that we must try to expect the unexpected, and it seems that about this, at least, I was very much correct!
Some historical background;
The Spectre has been climbed once before by the legendary late US climber Mugs Stump who was acting as his older brother’s, and renowned geologist; Edmund’s field guide. In 1980, the year I was born, they with two others, were flown in a big C130 Hercules to a drop off on the California plateau, just a few kilometres from where we sit tent-bound right now. With snowmobiles they spent a month exploring and mapping the geology of this most remote region, and by all accounts had something of a field day collecting rock samples at different altitudes on some of the more aesthetic as well as geologically relevant peaks of course.
Mugs and Ed summited the Spectre from the north side, a technical climb but considerably less formidable than the south spur that is our goal. Both totally reliant on each other, Ed the professor, to harness the resource to get them to the base, Mugs, one of the finest Alpinists of his day, to lead them to the top.
Sadly Mugs died in a freak accident guiding on Denali in 1990. I tracked down Ed in my research for this trip and throughout countless correspondence and two visits to his home in Arizona we have become friends.
He has been an invaluable consultant providing dozens of excellent photos of the Spectre including some that nobody has ever seen, since they were filed in his archive 30 years ago, as well as accurate, first-hand accounts of the approach and terrain we are likely to face.
He wrote a book about the trans-Antarctic mountains called “The Roof at the Bottom of the World” and I have spent many evenings pouring over every detail.
At our current location, I can begin to recognise features from his photos and tent-bound as we are, I decided to send him an email last night. Already following this blog his response was almost immediate.
Amongst some technical details, he said this –
“Remember to approach your base camp with reverence. You will be tracking the foreground of any later image from that perspective…..Enjoy every moment, the tough parts and the transcendent. You likely will never be back again. Ciao, Uncle Ed”
For a man of science these are very artistic and poignant words.
Back to the situation report;
We are still below the Graves Nunatuks. Marginal conditions this morning. They are the worst. Good or bad conditions make for easy decisions. Quite a strong and gusty wind, changeable visibility from poor to fair and fairly flat light. We could dig deep and go for it, but we are pretty drained from so much difficult kiting and I would prefer good viz and light as we begin our descent down the Robison glacier so we are able to see the hazards that it may present.
The last kite session was actually pretty damn full on, and I will not be sorry if we face nothing more serious for the rest of the trip. We have decided not to move. Which according to sod’s law means the conditions will likely improve.
We are off schedule, as so far 5 out of 11 days have been no travel days. Then on the travel days we are only averaging 35km, half our intended target of 70km requiring twice the effort.
But conditions have been poor. We haven’t had any friendly weather at all since we left Union glacier. I wasn’t anticipating such relentlessly strong wind. In fact I was concerned that we wouldn’t have enough wind to move with our big loads. We were expecting to mostly be using our big 15m kites on double length line sets. But we have been blasted, overpowered on our smallest wings every session.
We allowed 10 days to reach the Spectre, but I honestly thought we would do it in 6 or 7. Today is day 11 and we are 100kms short and now beginning to break into our 20 days food supply meant for climbing.
Sometimes I crave more purpose than adventure in itself, to be out here with proper scientific intention, as Ed &, Mugs were, whilst still so full of adventure must have been fulfilling indeed. Other times I count my blessings that I am able to call these hair-brained endeavours a profession. It is so invigorating, if exhausting being out here with no other purpose than trying to reach a very inaccessible point of earth and get home again safely.
Ed’s words “reverence, perspective, transcendence” ring around my head as the wind rips around my tent.
Just one stellar day and we could be at the Sanctuary glacier below the Spectre. And dare I say that tomorrow looks like it may be that day!
[Spectre Admin] Read more about the ascent of the Spectre in this link (thanks Bill Spindler)