Journal of Trip to South Pole

Dick Shultz's diary of the "Fly to the South Pole 2003" trip.

January 6 & 7 (Mon. Tues.)
Trip from Washington to Miami, flight was uneventful, but at the Miami airport, had trouble finding the gate for the LAN Chile flight and walked from D wing to A wing then all the way back to to the E wing. I needed the exercise. On the Miami to Santiago flight (overnight), LAN Chile provides great service but I still could not get much sleep. At the Santiago airport , I was able to change my flight to Punta Arenas from departing at 6 PM to the next flight that departed in the morning. Mark Rawsthorne of A.N.I met Roger Colburne Sr. and Jr. and myselt at the the Punta Arena airport droves us to our hotels. Checked into the Finis Terrae hotel and got caught up on sleep.

Jan 8 (Wed) Punta Arenas
Rachel Shepard came and checked out my clothing and gear. It was OK.

I Walked around town, went to the main square and other streets around it. Also went to an Internet Café to read emails, and send a few.

That evening. I attended the A.N.I. meeting with all people making the trip to South Pole. They gave a slide show of the Antarctica in general, and the Patriot Hills camp. The pilot of the Russian IL-76 discussed the air[plane and flying in the polar regions.
I met some of the people taking the trip. · Were told to be prepared to go on the next day (Thursday). They would call us at our hotels with the
status of the flight.

Jan 9 Thursday
In the morning, A.N.I called with the news that the the runway cross winds are too high for a safe landing. They would provide us an update in the afternoon. Again walked around town, went to the municipal pier were there were a couple of cruise ships docked, then up the hill to the army camp, and the park with the cross. I think I have seen all of Punta Arenas. In the late afternoon, A.N.I. called to say that the winds had not improved, no flight today, they will contact us in the morning. Used the Internet Café to read and send emails.

Jan 10 Friday
A.N.I called in the morning, weather report was that the winds are still too high, but seem to be getting better. Would call in early PM for a further update on the flight status. ANI called in the early PM to say it was a go, and we would be picked up in front of our Hotel at 3 PM.
Rode a bus to the airport with every one on the flight. At the airport, we went through the baggage check for our carry on bags. Then returned to the bus go out to the IL-76.

The IL-76 is a large airplane with a big (wide and high) body, since it is a military transport and cargo plane. Low quality airplane passenger seats were placed at the front of the cargo compartment of the plane. The cargo was placed to the rear behind the seats of the plane. The passengers and cargo were took up only a fraction of the cargo space. The cockpit was two levels, the upper level had the pilot controls and engineers, while on the lower was used by the navigator. There was a crew of twelve (Russians) on board the plane. There were at least two pilots and copilots, in addition to the navigator, radioman, engineer, and cargo loading specialist. We boarded the plane through the rear cargo ramp, after the cargo was placed aboard.

The flight to Patriot Hills took more than four hours. There was plenty of room to walk around the plane, and there were a two portable toilets on board. Only had four porthole windows to view the sights. The A.N.I. staff served sandwiches and chips and drinks during the flight.
I was able to visited to the cockpit about 2 to 3 hours into the flight and saw ice bergs in the ocean, which meant we were getting near Antarctica.

We arrived at Patriot Hills at 9:45 PM, to bright daylight. The whiteness of the place is stunning, only the blue sky, the black rocks of Patriot Hills, and in the distant, the specks of color that are the tents of the camp, provides color. I took pictures of the airplane and camp as I walked in. However I lost these pictures when my card failed, and I had to reformat it. At the dining tent we met the staff and got our tent assignments.

I switched my tent assignment to share a tent with Robert Rodergas and Luis Carulla, since Tim Carlson wanted to share a tent with Hans and Urs. They had been together for more than a week in Punta Arenas.

We have a briefing at 12:30 from Fran Orio. She gave us the plan for going to the Pole. There would be two groups, one group, seven of us, would go to the pole on Saturday, and the other group, consisting of ten people, would go on Sunday.
Our group, first group, consisted of Tim Carlson,, Hans Weiche, Urs Glauber, Cynthia Wolfe, Dick and Molly Byers, and myself. I was originally assigned to second group, however I switched with Luis. Luis wanted to go with the Monsignor Livornio Andreatta who was planning to conduct a mass at the South Pole. Everyone in the second group was Catholic, and also wanted to go with the Monsignor.

  • Jan 11 Saturday
    Awoke to a cloudy sky, can’t fly since they only use very stringent VFR rules. ANI and the pilots are very cautious about the safety of the passengers.
    The weather was OK, just the usual wind 15 to 20 Knots. The temperature in the tent was about 40 degrees. I walked around the camp and talked with the people.

    Jaco Wium gave us a presentation about how they forecast the weather (use Satellite photos, and talk to the observer at Thiel, and to he South Pole). There are no Doppler radars to accurately forecast the weather.  Two of the Twin Otter pilots talked about flying and navigating in the Polar Regions (They rely mostly on GPS to know their position).
  • Jan 12 Sunday
    At 2 Am the weather turned awful. Lots of winds and clouds, can’t see any definition in the white out. The bad weather got worse during the day with blowing snow added to the mix.

    I fell coming out of the ice toilet and I think I cracked my ribs. It was very painful, thought that I might not be able to make the trip to the South Pole.
    Later when I saw Dr. Gareth Hughes, he check out my lungs, since the biggest concern was getting fluid in my lungs. Everything seem OK, and he gave me Ibuprofen for the pain.

    Monsignor Andreatta held a mass in the dining tent to celebrate our arrival on the Antarctic continent, and dedicated it to the Antarctic explorers.  In the afternoon, Dave Hahn gave a talk about finding Mallory’s body on Everest, with Conrad Anker.

    We played games and started making a jigsaw puzzle. It seemed very doubtful that we would be going to the pole tomorrow.
  • Jan 13 Monday
    The weather was worse more wind and snow. The National Science Foundation group staying at a nearby camp, came and gave a talk about their work, which is trying to find out how much West Antarctica is moving. They put GPS receivers with tape recorders on different mountain tops while they are in Antarctica. The information from the satellite transmissions are recorded and will be processed later. They believe that they can get positional accuracy to millimeters. Before they leave, they remove the receivers for use later. They expect to have preliminary information within a couple of years.
  • Jan 14 Tuesday
    The weather improved for a while, which raised our hopes about going to the pole. Then in the evening, the clouds returned, and it started to snow again. No Flight to the South Pole today or probably tomorrow.
  • Jan 15 Wednesday
    Again the weather Improved. We saw a hazy sun, and walked to the NSF and Chilean camps.

    Doug Stoup talked about his aborted solo trip with the bicycle, and other trips he had taken in Antarctica.

    I finally fix my camera problems, and reformatted my memory card, which erased all the previous pictures. I hated to do that, but later on I can get other pictures of the camp life. Only sorry for not having the pictures of the IL-76 at Punta and our arrival at Patriot Hills.
  • Jan 16 Thursday
    The weather continues to be bad, very cloudy and windy.

    Monsignor Andreatta conducted another mass, this time outside at the Chilean camp. It was very windy and cold but a hardy group of us went to the mass.
  • Jan 17 Friday
    The weather seems to be getting better, slowly clearing.  We are still reading, working on jigsaw puzzles, and playing card games. Maybe we will be able to go tomorrow.
  • Jan 18 Saturday
    The Weather is great, the single engine Otter is scheduled to leave for the Pole at 10 AM with Cynthia, Urs, Tim, myself, and Di as the trip guide. She will remain at Thiel and Doug Stern will ride with us since he has never been to the Pole.  The twin Otter is to leave at 11 Am, with Dick and Molly Byers, and Hans. At the pole they will pick up a group of skiers.

    The very high winds delays the single engine Otter our take off until 3 PM. The Twin Otter was not affected by the winds, and took off at 12:00.   Since we left so far behind them, we didn’t meet up with the group on the Twin Otter at the South Pole. They were already returning as we were plying from Thiel to the South Pole.

    During the flight we took pictures of the few mountains poking their peaks through the Antarctic glacier.  ANI had sandwiches, chips, and drinks for us to eat during the trip.   After two and a half hours, we landed at the Theil fuel dump. The pilots refueled the plane, while we stopped to relieve ourselves and take pictures. Doug Stern had built an igloo, and Inuit ice sculptures.  Doug then joined the flight to the Pole and Di stayed at the Thiel base, to relay weather information. To refuel the aircraft, the pilots had to use the gasoline driven pump, and hoses carried by the airplane to refuel the airplane from the drums cached here.

    During our 3 hour flight to the pole from Thiel, we saw a few more mountains poking through the glacier, as well as a series of high ice falls. We flew over the Last Degree Skiers, Georg, and Richard, first over the location of were they started, then over their camp, which was "buzzed" by the pilot.

    At the South Pole, we were met by the Summer Operations Manager, and the Chief Scientist. They took us inside the station and gave us a briefing of the of the station operations, new construction, and the on going scientific experiments. We were able to purchase souvenirs and mail post cards through their post office. We then went outside to the Ceremonial pole, and the actual South Pole and took pictures.

    We then reboarded the plane and started the return trip to Patriot Hills. I was very tired on the return trip, since I had very little sleep the previous night, and it was about 11:00 PM when we departed.  I did not get out of the aircraft when we stopped to refuel at Thiel.
    When we returned, at 4 AM Sunday, everyone except me, went to the dining tent to have Champagne and breakfast. I just went to my tent to sleep.
  • Jan 19 Sunday
    Monsignor Andreatta had another Mass in the Dining Tent again, then the second group went to the Pole, using both planes.
    We read and played card games, and I walked out to the Chilean camp for exercise.
  • Jan 20 Monday
    I awoke early, around 4 AM and went to the dining tent to meet the second group's arrival from the South Pole. I joined their celebration of the successful conclusion to the Flight trip to the South Pole.   I began to prepare for the return trip to Punta Arenas which I expected to occur in a day or two.
  • Jan 21 Tuesday
    When I awoke, I recognized that the runway cross winds were too high, and the IL-6 could not land safely.
    We read and played games.  Ken and Di taught us how to play Sheepshead. It is a card game that Tim, Urs, and I continued to play over the remaining days at Patriot Hills.
  • Jan 22 Wednesday
    The weather is still bad, the IL-76 will not come today. We read, and played games.
  • Jan 23 Thursday
    The weather seemed to improve, but not enough to bring the IL-76. Maybe it will be able to come tomorrow. I badly need and want a shower , and I would like to get rid of my long johns, and heavy boots.
  • Jan 24 Friday
    High wind, snow, and no IL-76 coming. I finally was able to sleep for at least 5 hours at night, and had a 2 hour nap in the afternoon. I feel much better, with a little sleep.
  • Jan 25 Saturday
    I felt much better, the wind has died down to about 15 knots, but the Skies are still cloudy and still can’t land the IL-76.
    Roger Colburne Jr. came up with the following quotation
                "Few people can afford to wear the same cloths for two weeks and be cold at night."
  • Jan 26 Sunday
    The IL-76 is coming today. Scheduled for about 9 PM

    Monsignor Andreatta held Mass outside of the dining tent. Doug Stern with help from Roger Sr, Urs and others built an Altar and a cross from snow blocks. It was windy, with very high cirrus clouds during the mass. About twenty people attended the mass.

    In the afternoon, the weather turned very lovely, and it felt warm in the sun. No need for Parkas, as we took many of the last pictures of Patriot Hills.
    Conrad Anker dug out a big chunk of glacier ice, and helped me break it up to put in my water bottle., as a souvenir of Antarctica.

    When the IL-76 arrived, we waited for the staff to unload the transport, then walked out to board it. We then flew back to darkness in Punta Arena.

    I got my flight information from Mark Rawsthorne. I was scheduled to leave at 2 PM tomorrow. But must overnight in Santiago. I still don’t have a confirmed flight from Miami to DC.  At the Finis Terrae Hotel, I felt very warm, and had to open the windows to cool off.
  • Jan 27 Monday
    I went to the LAN Chile office to try to get on the overnight flight to Miami, but it was full. Decided to try again when I get to Santiago.

    I ran into Tim, Cynthia, Ken, and Di in front of hotel while waiting for the A.N.I. shuttle to the airport. They were going to lunch at the "Plastic Chair" restaurant, which next to my hotel. Told them to tell Urs to meet me in Santiago at the hotel nearest to the airport.

    The LAN Express flight to Santiago was a bit more comfortable than the IL-76 ride to and from Antarctica, since the seats are better more comfortable.
    LAN Express serves hot meals on its flights, using plates and silver ware, with metal forks and spoons, but the plastic knives. On board the flight was one of the successful Vinson Massiff climbers heading home to New York. Also on board were two of the Curewalk skiers, Bret Goodpaster, and Jerry Peterson, heading home to Pittsburgh.

    In Santiago, I tried to get onto the overnight LAN Chile flight to Miami, but it was booked, so I decided to overnight at the hotel nearest the airport.
    While eating dinner at hotel's dining room, Urs showed up. We and had a few drinks before retiring,
  • Jan 28 Tuesday
    Urs and I rode to the airport together on the hotel shuttle. I checked my luggage, and got my boarding pass, while he had to purchase a ticket.
    We had coffee together before boarding our planes.

    My LAN Chile flight went to Quito, and Guayaquil before heading for Miami. I arrived too late to catch the last plane to DC.  I had another overnight in an airport hotel.
  • Jan 29 Wednesday
    While checking my luggage in the Miami airport, met a friend of Maximo Pacheco who was climbing Vinson with Conrad Anker. He knew that the bad weather in Antarctica had caused Maximo to miss the meeting they attended.
    The flight was uneventful, but the person in the next seat filled me in on the NFL playoffs, and Super Bowl.
    As we are arriving at national Airport, I noticed that the Potomac river had large patches of ice near its banks, while small lakes and ponds were covered by ice.