Vinson III: Low Camp to High Camp
Getting Higher. Getting Colder.
Today we climbed from Low Camp to High Camp. The route started out once more along the Branscomb Glacier. Relatively flat easy walking for the first hour. From there we headed up a steepish ridge, approx. 40 to 45deg to a plateau at High Camp. It was pretty easy climbing with hard packed snow underfoot. There were fixed ropes in place up the ridge which we could clip in to for safety but a pretty easy climb without need to rely on the rope.
As we got higher the views out across Antarctica opened up. Looking South, the mountain range drops away quickly, leveling out to a flat ice cap extending some 700 nautical miles to the South Pole. White as far as the eye could see. It was quite remarkable. At times hard to distinguish if you were looking out over white cloud or out over the ice.
High Camp is at approximately 3800m elevation and noticeably colder. I don’t have a thermometer with me but the weather reports which we get twice daily say it’s around -26degC to -28degC. It sounds cold but with full sun and light winds, it’s actually quite manageable. Add wind into the mix and I know it will be a different story, however. Fingers crossed for continuing good weather.
Taking Care Of Business
Something people are often (strangely) interested in is how you go to the toilet in the mountains and what happens to the waste. I know it’s not a pleasant topic but everything you do at home you still need to do up here, just in more challenging circumstances.
Some mountains I’ve seen do end up a mess with yellow snow scattered randomly along the routes and landmines you need to dodge around camp. And the higher and colder you go the worse it often gets because everything just becomes that much harder. But I was pleasantly surprised in Antarctica. There is a strict zero waste policy in order to preserve the pristine environment.
So how is that managed?
Well for No.1’s you must pee into a pee bottle and carry it with you. Then at camps and at a few stops along the route, there are pee holes, marked with a yellow flag on a bamboo stake, where you can empty your bottle. Everywhere else is a no go.
For No.2’s we’re issued with Wag Bags. I have no idea why they are called that or what it means, but basically, it’s a large plastic bag packaged inside a supposed military grade ziplock bag. Also inside the ziplock bag are a few sheets of toilet paper and a single hand sanitizer wet wipe. It is pretty self-explanatory but basically, you take the large bag out of the ziplock bag, open it up, squat over it, do what you need to do, then tie a knot in the bag and put it back in the ziplock bag and seal it. You then carry it back down the mountain with you and it gets flown back to Punta Arenas for disposal. However, we are issued with 3 of these Wag Bags for the approximate 10 day trip and that’s where it gets interesting. It inevitably means the bags need to be re-opened and re-used. Thankfully in sub-zero temperatures with everything frozen solid, it’s not as bad as it sounds.
You can probably tell today has been a pretty uneventful day when this is all I have to talk about, but sometimes uneventful is good. We’re at high camp, we’re settled in and comfortable, or at least as comfortable as you can be at 3800m camping on snow in -28degC.
Tomorrow is planned for yet another rest / acclimatisation day and then we’ll be monitoring weather for a suitable window to go for the summit.