Aaron went to Antarctica with Phil in November to guide our first Vinson trip of the season but then stayed on the ice to help ALE for a couple weeks while waiting for our second Vinson trip. If you kept up with the blog you, saw that our second trip was stuck on the ice for an additional two weeks for various logistical reasons which were out of our control. After a total of 8 weeks on the ice Aaron is back in Washington so we asked him a few questions:
Q.) You left before Thanksgiving; what was on the Thanksgiving menu?
We were still in Punta Arenas for Thanksgiving and I never saw Turkey on the menu. I guess it would have been kind of weird to have a harvest festival in the spring.
Q.) You spent Christmas in Antarctica; does Santa visit the ice?
No, without the cover of darkness, he has nowhere to hide.
Q.) And how did you bring in the New Year?
The second IMG team along with half a dozen other parties showed up to Vinson Base Camp on New Year’s Eve. Having all of those new folks in camp was very cool. Everyone was really excited to get started up Vinson and on top of that, it was New Year’s! ALE made a little platform outside and brought out some champagne and we had a big countdown with everyone in camp. We even had sparklers, although they were a little less spectacular in the daylight.
Q.) Two trips; two summits. What differences did you see between November and January on Vinson and/or on the ice in general?
Surprisingly very little. Compared to a summer season on Mt. Rainier or in the Cascades, Antarctica is a very static environment. You could start to see a few more cracks beginning to form, but it was very subtle. It was slightly warmer in January, emphasis on the “slightly”.
Q.) What distinguishes the two climbs from each other?
Every expedition has its own character, that’s what makes the job interesting. Different people with different life experiences and different perspectives make each expedition unique. About the only thing they had in common was that they both went to the top of Mt. Vinson.
Q.) You had an ‘extra’ two weeks at Union Glacier waiting for the flight…what’s more memorable:
a. Your “Union Glacier Ridge Traverse”
b. Playing in the Volleyball Tournament (Video)
c. Winning the Ping Pong Tournament
d. What else did you guys do?
I might have to go with “A” but add to that all of the other climbing that we were able to do while we were down there. This was the first year of the Union Glacier Camp and it was very cool to be able to get out and explore. Almost everything we did had never been done before and so it was fun to go cruise around the mountains and figure it out. Believe it or not I would love to have two more weeks at Union Glacier! As for the “what else” question- lots of UNO. Yeah, remember that card game you used to play when you were 6? Turns out it’s still fun even after adolescence.
Q.) The sun doesn’t truly set down there this time of year – did that mess with your senses at all? And how do you tell the difference between 4am and 4pm?
It is weird wearing sunglasses every time you go outside 24-7, but like anything, you get used to it. I “borrowed” an eye shield from the airline on the way down to Santiago and got a lot of use out of that. As far as 4pm vs. 4am, I bought a special Antarctic timepiece that worked really well. And if you believe that, shoot me an email because I have some snake oil for sale too.
Q.) How many books did you read? Favorites?
I came pretty well prepared on that front and did have some good ones. My dad actually gave me one entitled “The Last Place on Earth”, which is an account of the historic race to the South Pole between Scott and Amundsen. It’s a fascinating story and it was pretty fun to be reading it while I was in Antarctica. If you ever feel tough and want a dose of humility, pick up a book about early polar exploration. Those guys were something else.
Q.) What, if any, was your access to technology?
While working for ALE between IMG trips, I was able to send a few emails. Other than that, it was just the occasional SAT phone call.
Q.) What’s your biggest takeaway from being in Antarctica for so long?
Hmmm… I’m not sure how to answer that yet. Two months is a long time and I’m still kind of processing the experience. I will say this- Antarctica is a VERY cool place, no pun intended. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend a little time down there and I hope to be able to go back, just not right now…