This will likely end up my favourite image from the trip: My ice axe on the summit. I like a slight dash of red playing off the almost duo-chrome black and white. It reminds me of the awesome view from the summit of Vinson Massif and of the multitude of factors that must come together to stand atop any mountain. The ice axe is a mountaineer’s fundamental tool. It allows us to arrest a fall, chop steps in the ice, ascend step faces, and safeguard our teammates. The black tape on my ice axe holds closed-cell foam in place where I put my hand. This insulation keeps the hand holding the axe a bit warmer.
Here on the summit, my ice axe became a prayer flag holder. Some may remember that in 2009, I climbed Mount Elbrus in honour of my dad, Heinz, and took some prayer flags to that summit for him. Originally, I’d wanted to climb Vinson for him but I worried I wouldn’t get to Antarctica in time. Giving the timing of my Vinson expedition around the second anniversary of my dad’s passing, I felt very close to him throughout. There were several moments where I happened to check my watch (always an effort under four layers of clothing) and the time was 12:34. So here’s to you dad, we all miss you a bunch!
On the first day back at base camp after summitting, we were treated to a lovely day of blue and white. The rangers has been cutting new snow blocks for a privy privacy wall. They left their saw behind, the block quarry looked high quality and I suddenly found myself playing in the snow. I sculpted letters spelling TA and Vinson. At one point, one of my teammates came back as asked, “Why did you carve the word television?” I took down the “TA” to eliminate any confusion because I certainly wasn’t thinking about TV at any point while on the continent.
With the confidence of early success/beginner’s mind in place, my thoughts turned to Michael Beecher Smith and I decided to honour his memory once again by building him an inukshuk in Antarctica. In supporting his family in their grieving for him, I built an inukshuk for Michael looking over at Everest in 2007 and again in 2010. Although time has passed, I know they still miss him each and every day.
My time in Antarctica was rich with both remembering and remembrance. It was an experience of deep joy as well as deep sorrow (at times.) My memories of the specialness of Antarctica are imbued with the memories of some special people and of ice axes and inukshuks.