Antarctica averages around 30-40 sunny days a year. So far we have had three in a row, so roughly closing in on 10% of Antarctica’s clear weather. We are keeping our fingers crossed and knocking on wood that this will continue. Yesterday we set anchor in the Port Lockroy area and rode amongst dramatic mountains such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and the highest peak on the Peninsula Mount Francis (9,456 ft straight out of the sea). I can’t even begin to tell of how gorgeous the weather has been. I come close to fainting from the overwhelming feeling that I get from the scenery here. As you hike up, you look over your shoulder and see glaciers as old as time, gnarly ice falls, calm ocean water reflecting the majesty of all the mountains and ice flows and icebergs creeping along with the tidal currents - then add in the sounds of penguins and seals. WOW!
Anyways, yesterday we started our tour by taking the zodiacs from the ship loaded with our gear to a landing point on Winkie Island. Once we organized into our rope teams we worked our way up and across the glaciers. On our way we passed by hundreds of penguins and a couple of seals basking in the sunlight on the snow. We quickly went at our objective which was straight in front of us and began skinning up as far as possible. When we could no longer use our skins, we all shifted into boot pack mode with crampons and short roped the remainder up the ridge, ready to self arrest at the slightest misstep with our ice axes. Skipping the fixed rope that was set up by another rope team near the ridge, we took our steps very slowly and maneuvered around cliffs and across the fall line until we reached safety. We kept the rope tight and were all ready to fall instantly into self arrest positions should anyone slip and fall. Our slope looked almost glacier free, but was loaded with crevasses and weak snow bridges that were hiding beneath us in the snow. This made the experience even more interesting. I got to look down a few of these hidden death zones as our boot pack would occasionally break through and give us clear sight of their dark eerie abysses. I remember this place being loaded with crevasses from last year, but they weren’t hidden like this.
The day ended up, despite its beauty, being quite sketchy. There were numerous reports of snow bridge collapses with other rope teams that had many punching through and looking into these gnarly crevasses and even one person who took the plunge of over 35 feet. This marked the end of our day, and began the start of a 6 hour rescue to get the victim out of the crevasse and onto the boat. The rescue went fantastic and quickly and we have God to thank for the clear weather and for the victims safety. Being down in Antarctica, you are essentially days away from help and an emergency of this magnitude can turn to life threatening quickly. Everything that could go right went right and the victim was in good spirits despite the ordeal. Due to the fall occurring while he was still in his crampons, he caught sides of the crevasses walls which broke his bones above his ski boot in his leg as he fell down the giant crack. It is amazing that he survived this fall and that the crevasse was not bottomless or jagged. Once he was brought onto the boat, the crew tried to get him an emergency evacuation from the US Antarctic research base - Palmer, which was two hours to the south of us. Unfortunately, we found out that they would be unable to get him flown out and that we would have to head up to the South Shetlands (18 hours) to get him flown out by a C130.
Today we reached King George Island in the South Shetlands during the afternoon and the plane was there waiting with engines running. It was definitely a different sight to see in this part of the world. He is expected to be in an American hospital in the next 48 hours.
We are now planning on going back down to the Peninsula to an area called Hope Bay. We should be there by tomorrow morning. In the meantime, I am going to enjoy the views of frozen ice floating in the ocean and waves crashing upon them. I also need to get ready for my live satellite broadcast to Wasatch Academy tomorrow.