Antarctica Countdown 5 Days and Counting: Thankful for a Snow Day

The snow came without wind this time so the house did not shimmy or shutter like it often does during a winter storm. Perhaps this one, the first one of the season, want to creep in unannounced. When I first awoke, I wondered if the forecasts had been wrong. I turned over and used my Ipod to check my email. “Bonanza,” I thought as I read the first one, “Memorial University is closed for the morning, update at 11.” Instead of doing what most would on a snow day, rolling over and going back to sleep, I got instantly excited and wondered what fun I could have with the first snow day of the year.

I got of bed quietly and came down to the kitchen. There was a blanket of snow on the deck and a consistent skiff of an inch of the white stuff on the slack line. Instantly I knew. I’d never done a slack line in the snow so today would be the day and a sequel to last March’s snow day video would have to be created. I quickly dressed, donned helmet and helmet cam, and had lots of fun trying to manage staying on the very slippery line (much slipperier than usual). The snow on all the deck railings made for multiple shot angles as I tried to tell the visual story of slack lining in the snow. As usual, the sequel didn’t quite have the punch of the original but it was fun to do something creative before getting onto the business of the day–packaging and packing.

I spent the morning reveling in not being able to go anywhere in the city and just getting to stay home. I packaged up all the penguin T-shirts that need to get mailed and Marian and I had fun trying to fashion mailing envelopes out of berry bags and other assorted heavy plastic bags (we were trying to recycle as well as save people on shipping costs). It was great fun addressing all the packages and imagine the recipients opening what I see as a “tremendous bundle of joy.” I wore my tangerine one all day!

When we heard that the university would remain closed for the day, we jumped with excitement and thanked all the children (and adults) who went to bed last night with their pajamas on backwards and spoons under their pillows (local lore in how you invite a snow day). The gift of a day. The gift of quiet unscheduled togetherness in the midst of a flurry of preparations for Antarctica. The afternoon drew us down to packing central and beginning the process of putting like items into stuff sacks and dealing with some of the small fussy tasks such as checking the med and first aid kits. It’s still too early to stuff the wonderful fluffy down things into stuff sacks but the time is drawing nearer. You should never store down sleeping bags or parkas compressed (it stifles their lofting capacity) so when a trip has long travel times to the start, I try not to stuff them until as late as possible.

There is an RMI team climbing Mount Vinson currently (I’ve been calling them Team One as I’ve posted their updates to my Facebook page) and I’ve been tracking their progress with intense interest, of course. There is a Canadian woman from Ottawa on that team Christine Dube and she’s been reporting from Mount Vinson. Here’s what she called in today:

Christine Dube – 7 Summits Adventure
“Possible Summit on Saturday!!

Just chatted with Christine via Satellite phone, all is well but the going is extremely tough given the extreme cold, the pack weight of gear and the sled theyre pulling behind them. She has said this is one of the most difficult climbs and at least one person has already turned around.

A “warm” day is -15c while at night in the tent it can typically be -25c, so she sleeps in her down suit and inside her sleeping bag.

However shes in great spirits says hello to all, and thanks for the well wishes from all on Facebook (she was informed of the Facebook activity) and is looking forward to a possible summit attempt on Saturday after a rest day, providing the weather cooperates.

They expect a summit temperature of -35c , so as they summit they wont be sticking around to make phone calls. She’ll call somewhere down the mountain in a warmer position to let us know that she’s made it.”

When I read of the temperatures on the summit, the likes of which I had heard before, I shivered and wondered if I had enough warm clothes in my pile. Marian remembered a blog post from the First Ascent team last January where one of the women (Caroline George) made a video of what she packed for her Antarctica expedition. We watched it a few times tonight and then read through the rest of the team’s Antarctica posts and looked at all the pictures to see what they were wearing. It seems when the sun is out, it’s cold but manageable but if you are in the shade, the wind comes up, or you are up high, then Antarctica’s true cold nature shows through.

Reading through the rest of the entries, I was very moved by Jake Norton‘s post after he climbed Mount Vinson in which he explored why he climbs (which, of course, resonated with some of the reasons I choose to climb and put myself into cold, uncomfortable places far from home):

“The great climber and author Greg Child once wrote: “Somewhere between the bottom of the climb and the top is the answer to the question of why we climb.”

Climbing, and the reason we do it, is an elusive thing. There is no straighforward, definitive answer, and I’ve struggled with it since I began climbing in 1986. I guess to some extent it’s relative to each person. For some, it may be the overall challenge. Others are motivated perhaps by a specific summit or group thereof. To each his or her own.

For me, as I labored under a heavy pack today, dragging a laden sled behind me, the question arose as it often does: Why am I doing this? Why am I thousands of miles from my children, my wife, my home and my friends, struggling in tough conditions with aching feet and a sunburned nose? Why?

It was as if the mountain heard my query. As I moved, a gentle breeze brought a layer of Antarctic ice fog up the glacial valley. The sun above was muted, and a giant, irridescent sundog formed above me. The frigid snow crunched beneath my feet, and massive walls of rock, snow, and ice rose in every direction. It was absolutely silent, and yet deafening in its majesty.

Yes, this is why I climb. These moments of solitude that are wholly grounding, humbling, and innately inspiring. They rarely come to me on top of a mountain, and are never predictable. But, they always come, they always inspire, and they never cease to make all the pain, cold, suffering, and challenge worth it.”

And on that note, it’s back to packing…

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