Sunday, December 19, 2010


Hello USAF 7 Summits supporters!!  It's great to be back in the ol' USA.  After several hot showers/baths, our bodies are ready to relax to the idea we are going to be frostbitten for not wearing gloves or covering our faces up!  What an amazing experience the trip to Antarctica was.  We've said many times that it was the closest we'll ever come to setting foot on Mars or the Moon.... the landscape and overall environment was otherworldly, to say the least.  Of course, the adjective "beautiful" also sums things up nicely.


On Dec 9th, 2010, team members of the USAF 7 Summits Challenge reached the summit of Antarctica's highest peak, Mt. Vinson. They were lucky to fly onto the Antarctic continent as scheduled, riding a Russian IL-76 cargo aircraft from Punta Arenas, Chile to the new blue-ice runway of Union Glacier. Upon stepping off the airplane, it was clear to the climbers this continent was as close to visiting another planet as they would get. Only three colors ruled the visible images: blue (ice and sky), white (snow), and a blackish/brown (rocks, depths of crevasses, shadows). After one night in a semi-permanent tent near the runway, the team flew onto Vinson Base Camp (~7,500ft) via a Twin Otter aircraft. The flight out was one of the most beautiful and inspiring- a serious claim for pilots that have flown throughout the world.

Upon landing on the Branscombe Glacier, the climb truly began. Camp was established and preparations for the movement up the mountain began. The following morning, the first 'carry' (transporting supplies to a cache higher on the mountain) was accomplished to Camp 1, aka Low Camp. Traveling up and down the Branscombe Glacier there were several open and very deep glaciers, but excellent weather made the carry go smoothly. Luckily temperatures throughout the climb were not as cold as they could have been. Between Union Glacier and Vinson Base Camp, temps were roughly in the 10F to 20F range. However, the 24hr sun baked everyone on the mountain, requiring dozens of sunscreen applications and the covering of as much skin as possible. While sunburn became an issue, it was a far better problem to face than frostbite!

The following day, the camp at Vinson Base was taken apart and the team moved to Low Camp, where they had established the beginnings of a camp earlier. Little did they know they would spend the next week there due to bad weather. This camp is just below 10,000ft, at the base of a steep icefall and face that leads directly to High Camp. Blocks of snow and ice were cut from around camp to build a protective wall around the tents. The following day, the team ascended the steep face using fixed ropes to reach High Camp at ~12,500ft. Views from the steep face were arguably the best of the trip.

A cache of gear was left at High Camp, with the plans to return in 36hrs on the way to the summit. However, a low-pressure system moved over the entire Ellsworth Mountain Range, bringing low visibility and high winds. Weather at Low Camp wasn't bad at first, but the two teams pinned at High Camp experienced winds in excess of 50mph and low temperatures. At Low Camp, ambient temperatures averaged around 10F, with temps dipping below -0F on occasion. Of course, any small wind made the windchill significant. After several days of waiting, a return to Vinson Base Camp was necessary to replenish food and fuel supplies from a cache left below. Upon return, the resupply team found Low Camp immersed in a powerful storm blowing snow at 30mph and reducing visibility to 20ft. Over the next 18hrs, climbers on the mountain reinforced snow walls and hunkered down in tents. Two tents in our climbing team's group had poles break, but they were repaired the following morning. As hoped, the strong wind storm disrupted the stagnant weather system and soon after the weather began to improve.

Two days later, after six days of poor weather, the team moved to High Camp. The window for reaching the summit was closing on the team due to diminishing supplies and return flights to Union Glacier and then Chile. However, the weather was perfect for a summit attempt, so on the 9th of Dec, the team struck out from High Camp for the summit of Antarctica. Temps were -8F leaving High Camp and there was only light wind on the ascent. Approx 1000ft short of the summit, the team decided to turn off the main approach route in favor of a more challenging variation to the summit. It took them up part of the Vinson headwall to a rocky ridgeline, offering amazing views of Low Camp, the Branscombe Glacier leading to Base, and all the rugged peaks in the area. Finally, after roughly 8hrs of work, the team reached the 16,077ft summit at the bottom of the world. Temps were approx -15F with very little wind- perfect for summit high fives, photos, and of course pushups.

After 40 minutes of celebration on the summit, the team made a quick return to Camp 2, slept, then packed up and high-tailed it in one long day to Vinson Base. Weather was quickly rolling in and the opportunity for the Twin Otter to land on the snow was soon to be gone. Carrying loaded backpacks and later dragging laden sleds, the team descended the steep face via ropes, dug out gear at Low Camp, and then wound back through the crevasse fields just in time to catch the last Twin Otter. The next three days were spent awaiting better weather at the semi-permanent Union Glacier camp. Finally, the weather broke and the IL-76 landed on the long blue-ice sheet, ready to return the climbers to civilization.

We'd like to thank the companies that donated to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation on behalf of the USAF 7 Summits Challenge: Antarctica. Click on the link to learn more about them, or check out our charity page (currently updating).

Additionally, a special thanks to Capt. H.H. for the impressive push-up challenge pledge. This individual pledged over $2000 to the Special Ops Warrior Foundation on her own.

--==Climb High, Fly Low==--

Monday, December 13, 2010

Ready for Exfil!

Rob just called and said the weather has improved and the airplane is on its way from Chile.  They planned on departing Union Glacier at 2300 which will hopefully put them back in Punta Arenas at 0300.  They've been playing cards, reading, and eating backup rations to help pass the time and can't wait to get back.  They plan to continue on to Santiago, Miami and home as soon as possible. -Mark

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Stuck at Union Glacier

Rob and Graydon are stuck in Antarctica, despite their valiant efforts yesterday to make it back to Union Glacier in time for their flight back to Chile.  The forecast is keeping the IL76 from leaving Chile to come get them.  Our guys are first in line though, so as soon as the weather is good enough, they'll be heading home. -Mark

Friday, December 10, 2010

All the Way to Union Glacier

Our team woke up early today, broke camp and descended the fixed ropes before the sun was out.  They recovered their cache, loaded up their sleds and moved as fast as they could back to base camp.  They were racing the weather, but made it in time to get the twin otter flight back to the Union Glacier.  The weather caught up with them there though, and now they've got to wait for the IL76 to be able to make it in.  -Mark

Thursday, December 9, 2010

USAF7Summits Team Reaches Summit of Mt. Vinson!

Our team made an 8-hour push to the summit of Mt. Vinson at 1720 today, December 9th.  Rob said the weather could not have been better.  Temps were approximately -10F to -15F, and the wind was calm.  Our team completed a variation of the regular route and climbed the Vinson headwall to a great ridge that took them to the top.  The climbing was "phenomenal," and at the summit, the team flew Old Glory, the USAF flag and the Special Operations Warrior Foundation banner.  Rob wants to thank all of the donors who supported them on this epic journey.  The legendary climbing guide Phil Ershler and Rob teamed up and cranked out 110 push-ups on the summit!

When I spoke to the guys, they were getting ready to rack out at Camp 2.  They plan on getting a brief rest tonight and then they are going to pack up and haul ass down the fixed ropes to base camp. From there they will catch the twin otter to Union Glacier and then fly off the ice.  Rob said he's ready for a hot shower, and Graydon said today was awesome; he really loved the Ershler variation they climbed to the summit. 

Biggest hurdle left for our guys is getting back to base camp before the next storm roles in.  Let's hope they don't have any extra tent time! -Mark

Going For It!

Rob and Graydon moved up to high camp today.  Rob said its beautiful at the 12,500' camp but cold (-10F).  They plan on making a summit attempt tomorrow (9 Dec) and hope to be on top around 2pm Eastern time.  If all goes well, they'll make a hasty retreat and attempt to catch a flight off the ice on 10 Dec! -Mark

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Ready to Move

Our team had to stay put at Camp 1 today due to high winds persisting higher up on the mountain.  They plan on moving to high camp tomorrow and the forecast looks good for a summit push the next day. -Mark

Monday, December 6, 2010

Survived the Storm

Strong winds and blowing snow slammed our team. "Heinous" blasts of Antarctic air broke poles in two separate tents despite the thick snow walls the team built to protect them.  The wind was strong, and the tents flexed almost touching Rob and Graydon's faces.  Rob thinks the storm may have blown itself out tonight though.  He said it was calm now but very cold.  The forecast is calling for better weather, and the team may push up the mountain tomorrow. -Mark

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Getting Nuked

Rob said high winds and blowing snow have moved in on the team.  They're still holding at Camp 1, but they did complete a resupply run down to base camp today.  They'll be staying put now until the weather breaks. -Mark

Weather Hold

Rob and Graydon are staying put at Camp 1 until the weather outlook improves.  They are enjoying light winds and mild temperatures, but there are strong winds higher up the mountain.  They've taken the opportunity to practice their mountaineering skills such as cramponing, rope travel, anchors and belays.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Rest Day

Graydon reported that December 2nd was a rest day. The weather was great again and the team took the opportunity to improve the snow walls protecting their tents.  They'll stay put at Camp 1 tomorrow and wait for a good weather window before they move to the upper mountain.  Graydon and Rob are both feeling better.  Graydon also said the views descending the fixed ropes yesterday were "spectacular." -Mark

Carry to Camp 2 Complete

Rob did actually call last night; it was 2am his time and he said the sun was still very intense.  The team completed the carry to Camp 2, which they said was long and tiring.  He and Graydon are fighting colds, but are looking forward to a rest day tomorrow. -Mark

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

No News is Good News

Well, sorry, but I didn't hear from Rob today.  Don't worry though, because when it comes to expeditions, we always say no news is good news.  I'll let you know as soon as I hear anything. -Mark

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Team Settled at Camp 1

Rob said that the move to Camp 1 took 5 hours today.  It was 0 degrees Fahrenheit and breezy in the morning.  Fortunately, though, the wind died down, and it turned out to be another great day.  Tomorrow the plan is to carry up to Camp 2, but the forecast is calling for winds that may keep the team bound to their tents. -Mark

Monday, November 29, 2010

"Another Perfect Day"

Rob reports today was "another perfect day."  He said the carry to Camp 1 was an "exhausting" 5-hour push, but besides being tired tonight, Rob and Graydon are both doing great!  They plan on moving up to Camp 1 tomorrow. -Mark

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Team at Vinson Base Camp

Rob just called and reported that the flight from Union Glacier to Vinson Base Camp on the Twin Otter was the "greatest airplane ride ever," and the flight over the sea of ice was "magical."  At Vinson Base they were treated to light winds, lots of sunshine, and a hamburger dinner.  Rob says the sun feels really intense and they are applying sunscreen every hour or so to protect their faces from sunburn.  Tomorrow they plan to make a 6-7 hour carry up to Camp 1. -Mark

First Report from the Ice - Rob and Graydon Land at Union Glacier!

Great news!  I just received the first call from Antarctica.  After a 4-hour flight, Rob and Graydon landed on Union Glacier at 11pm.  They will sleep there tonight, and tomorrow they are looking forward to making the 1-hour flight to Vinson Base Camp in a Twin Otter.

The satellite phone reception was great.  Rob and Graydon both sounded like they were in high spirits and were really excited to be there.  Stay tuned for more...


--==Climb High, Fly Low==--

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Ready to Fly to Ice

This may be the last update we send until returning, as we are preparing to depart for Antarctica this afternoon. The last day and a half in Punta Arenas, Chile, has been a great chance to do a final sort of gear, get some sleep, and mentally prepare for the trip ahead. Yesterday the IL-76 made a cargo run to the Union Glacier ice strip and safely returned. The weather today is forecasted to be acceptable for another flight, however the winds are currently too strong on the glacier. In an hour we will receive another update from the logistics company as to whether or not we launch, but chances are likely we do. It is a four hour flight in the Russian cargo aircraft to the 'blue ice' runway. If we do make it this afternoon, we plan on making camp at Union Glacier, then flying via Twin Otter tomorrow morning to the base of Mt. Vinson. Since we like to think positively, if that goes well, we even plan to make our first gear carry up to Camp 1 and then return to sleep at the Vinson base camp the same day (tomorrow, 28 Nov). I'm (Rob) fighting a bit of a cold I picked up from the many nights of little sleep brought on by the last week of prep, long days at work, and travel down here, but it should be kicked soon. Either way, it won't slow me down. Graydon is feeling great now that he had a few nights of sleep. Our gear is already strapped down on the IL-76 Ilysuhin and we're simply on 'alert', awaiting the phone call to head to the airport.

The mountain will be pretty much empty, as no other mountaineering teams have been flown out yet. Other than our group of climbers lead by the famous Phil Ershler, there is a small brother and sister group who has two guides with them (including well known guide Wally Berg). That appears to be the extent of climbers heading to Antarctica at this time. I look forward to the relative solitude of such a small number of people in the area.

Attached are some photos from the slideshow we received yesterday from Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions. The presentation covered a lot of Antarctic programs- as there is a small number of people flying onto the continent to do research, cross country ski the last 50km to the South Pole, or just spend a few days watching and photographing Emperor Penguins.

If we do leave for the ice today, we'll check in with Capt. Mark Uberuaga via satellite phone once there. He'll then take over updates and occasionally keep you informed as we're able to feed him details. If you have any questions, Mark should be able to answer them or find someone who can, as he's not only a sharp guy, but also spent several years as a professional mountain guide!

Best wishes to everyone on your Thanksgiving weekend. (Sorry to hear Boise State choked and lost!)


Rob Marshall and Graydon Muller
USAF 7 Summits Challenge: ANTARCTICA

Friday, November 26, 2010

Charity Inspiration

Just woke up after a restful sleep here in Punta Arenas.  Looking forward to a hot breakfast and then a meeting with Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions.  It's mostly sunny here, windy, and just slightly chilly- nice.

I wanted to write about two people who recently made donations/pledges to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation on behalf of the USAF 7 Summits Challenge.  The most recent one came from Emma Prior, a high school junior from WI that we met on our flight from Puerto Mott into Punta.  She is an exchange student in Chile and after hearing our climbing story, said she wanted to make a SOWF donation.  She says, "I'll just give you everything I have right now"... pulls out her little purse and hands Graydon a wad of 6,100 Chilean pesos, roughly $13.  The kindness of a stranger can be unbelievably uplifting!

The other donor I'd like to mention will remain 'Anonymous'... this person is of average means, making no more than most people.  However he/she wrote us as we were in Miami and said, "I'll give you $25 per summit push up and $35/pushup for each one over 50!"  Talk about motivation!!  The donations will be made in memory of SrA Danny Sanchez, a Hurlburt Combat Controller who was killed in Afghanistan this Sept.  While Danny didn't have any children, the donor says he was an amazing person who could really play the drums well, made them laugh/smile, and they are sad terrorists took him away.  There is a chance we'll be able to get a recording or two of Danny going to town on his drum set played on Antarctica... we're told he'd like to be coming on the climb with us, so maybe the drum tribute will let him know he is.

--==Climb High, Fly Low==--

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Trying to Smell the Ice from Here...

Arrived in Punta Arenas. Windy! Plane had to go-around due to wind shear.  Hotel is literally 70yds from cold, gray Strait of Magellan.  All gear arrived in great shape. Breaking it down and resting b/f dinner with others.  After we tromp around this unusual and interesting town, we'll update everyone- post some photos.  Likely tomorrow morning or so!

--==Climb High, Fly Low==--


Well, we made it to Chile! Can I get a little, "CHI CHI CHI".... "LEY LEY LEY"?? Muy bien! The 8hr flight from Miami was easy. Graydon, who only had one hour of sleep the night before, was out quickly. He almost had a huge problem when his night training flight was diverted to Alabama due to dense fog in Florida. Somehow a hole opened up in the fog and he landed back at home base just as the fog came back-- someone's looking out for us.

I told him we needed to get a 'good luck' beer here in Santiago, as we had several of 'em before the Aconcagua climb and that was a great success. So, here we are enjoying a pint of Cristal cerveza. Mmm... delicioso.

Funny side note- we saw two people in line for visas that looked at us and said, "We're on your Vinson trip." I'm thinking- I don't recognize you! But they said they saw a Tweet about our trip and knew it was us by the 'USAF 7 Summits' shirts we are wearing. Funny how that works, I didn't think anyone saw those Tweets. Guess I'll have to keep up with it now! The couple is going with the famous owner of Berg Adventures. Should be a good time for them, but I have to admit getting to spend time with the famous (or infamous?) Phil Ershler is where it's at.

More to come once we get to Punta Arenas. I have some great news about a person who made a sizeable pledge/challenge for the # of pushups knocked out on the summit... it has me motivated! --Rob

--==Climb High, Fly Low==--
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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Solar Success!!

The team received a set of solar panels from Goal0, a company out of Salt Lake City that wanted to support the Antarctica climb.  I don't have much experience with powerful solar cells, so was very surprised when I walked outside today and heard my iPhone start charging before I even set the things up!  It's cloudy out today (about time- it's Nov after all) and this little sucker was pumping 7W of juice to the phone, which is quite finicky about the power it receives.

Bottom Line:  I'm impressed!!  Goal0 started from a guy's need for better power while doing humanitarian work in the Congo.  From that came some pretty amazing (light weight) tools.  We're going to use one of these Nomad 7's in Antarctica to charge our SAT phone, cameras, and iPods, so we wanted to test it out and get familiar.  It passes the test big time.  Now to see how it works in -40F!

--==Climb High, Fly Low==--

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

12 Nov, 4pm New Coverages

Here is more regional TV coverage of the 7 Summits Challenge and Antarctica! The local station has an average audience of ~800,000+ people, so this is fantastic promotion of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation and the Air Force.

--==Climb High, Fly Low==--

Saturday, November 13, 2010

AF 7 Summits: Prime Time TV

We generated some great media coverage on the largest local TV network: WEAR in Pensacola (ABC). Here is a link to the segment they aired last night during the 6 o'clock news. There was another piece on earlier at 4pm, but we don't have that yet. Hopefully we'll have a high-quality copy of this and will then post it to the website.

I've got to tell you- Laura Hussey, the reporter, grabbed that pack full of 65# weight and started walking around with it in high heels on soft dirt. Impressive!! We also got to teach them about the 'rest-step' while shooting the stairmaster part.

Our favorite part is how it ended with the 'Special Operations Warrior Foundation' bit... perfect piece of earned media!

Click below for the WEAR page:

Great Article from Top Local Paper!

Check out this great article just release from the NW Florida Daily News. It came out on the front page of Saturday's paper, just one day after they interviewed us. I think it's one of the best written we've seen in a very long time!

Sunday, November 7, 2010


We are excited to announce the USAF 7 Summits Challenge will be taking on the fifth peak in its bid to climb the highest peak on each of the Earth's continents. On Nov 24th 2010 (less than a month!), two active duty airmen will take the Air Force flag south to the frozen continent of Antarctica. Over the three week trip, they will endure temperatures averaging -25F in order to climb the 16,067ft Vinson Massif, Antarctica's highest peak. To date, the team has successfully climbed Mt. McKinley (N. America), Mt. Aconcagua (S. America), Mt. Elbrus (Europe), and Mt. Kilimanjaro (Africa) and are on track to being the first American military team to climb the famed 7 Summits.
Many of you already know the goal of the USAF 7 Summits Challenge: to not only put the Air Force into the record books, but to give both military members as well as the American public a positive event to rally around. Since the World Cup and the Olympics aren't on these days, cheering on this mountaineering team is an exciting way to get a little dose of patriotism!! We climb in memory of those Airmen that have fallen since 9/11 and in honor of all those who serve, both past and present. Additionally, we want to promote personal fitness and a sense of adventure, as the combination of these encourage people to expand their horizons and challenge themselves physically and mentally.

The first peak the team climbed was in 2005, after the crash of a USAF MC-130 and the loss of all 9 crewmembers. However the idea for the project began in 2001 after one of our member's visit to Everest Base Camp. It was there that the vision of the US Air Force flag flying from atop the highest point in the world was born. We can think of no better way to showcase the teamwork, camaraderie, pride, fitness, professionalism and drive found in America's Airmen than through this historic challenge. With your support, we will continue to gain the momentum necessary to climb Mt. Everest and hopefully lay the foundation for an ongoing adventure-fitness program throughout the Air Force.

There are three important ways to show your support!
==1st== If you use Facebook, link to the 'USAF 7 Summits Challenge' page. Our goal is to reach 1,000 supporters in the next month. The more support we can raise, the better position we will be to get the Air Force support necessary to climb Everest!
==2nd== Make a pledge or donation to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, the charity we have supported for the last 5 years. You can do so Sadly, we’ve seen it in action up close and in person, but it does an amazing job to help families when a love one is lost working in the dangerous Special Operations community. To date we’ve raised nearly $50,000 and we hope to double that soon!
==3rd== PASS THIS ALONG! Forward this e-mail to your family/friends/co-workers/anyone! How can we get people excited about American's pushing their limits and flying the US and Air Force flag around the world if they don't know about it?! Plus, we're always in need of sponsorship (everything is out of pocket so far), so if you know someone's company that might be interested in advertising through us (fly your company logo from the summit of Antarctica?!), send this their way!
Thanks for your support, whether you have been with us for the last five years or if this is the first you’ve heard of our program. We are EXCITED for the opportunity to take on this challenge and sure hope you’re along for the ride, as it’s more fun/rewarding with a crowd!