Antarctica 2010: Explorers Finally Heading Home!


As I mentioned yesterday, a number of climbers and South Pole skiers have been stuck in the Union Glacier Base Camp in Antarctica for the past week while they awaited a break in the weather so they could be picked up from the ice. As the day wore on, they received both good news and bad news, but it looks like their extended stay in the Antarctic is nearly finished at last.

Mountaineer Caroline George posted an update to the Born Out There Blog, which is the official home of the First Ascent Team. She reports that the skies finally cleared yesterday, making it much easier for ALE’s big Ilyushin aircraft to land on the ice runway and collect everyone who has been waiting ever so patiently. In fact, the first flights were able to get in and out, so the process of evacuating the explorers and their gear has begun. But, there has been one more hiccup that has once again caused a delay to that process. It seems that the airport in Punta Arenas, Chile has run out of fuel.

Punta Arenas serves as the launching point for ALE’s flights to the Antarctica, and many climbers and skiers go there to begin their journey to the South Pole, Mt. Vinson, or one of a number of other locations on the frozen continent. But, civil unrest hit that city last week when the Chilean government announced a 17% increase in the price of fuel. There were protests and demonstrations in the street, road blocks were set -up all over the region, and many restaurants and shops were closed. While all of that has mostly calmed down now, it hasn’t helped in resupplying the city with some of the things it needs, including fuel.

Caroline says that it isn’t all bad however. She and the rest of the First Ascent Team have used their time in Union Glacier to bag a few unclimbed peaks and have some fun on a continent that few ever get to visit. While waiting has been a challenge for some, they’ve made the best of when they could. It looks like they’ll finally get to go home soon, and the curtain will finally drop on another Antarctic season. One that has been plagued with odd weather, but plenty of great stories as well.

Kraig Becker